Sunday, January 10, 2021
Baptism of Our Lord / Lectionary 1, Year
B

Prayer of the Day

Holy God, creator of light and giver of goodness, your voice moves over the waters. Immerse us in your grace, and transform us by your Spirit, that we may follow after your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Genesis 1:1-5 God creates light God creates light
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7 Baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus
Mark 1:4-11 Revelation of Christ as God’s servant

Sermon

Title:  Baptized to Believe and Renounce

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, opens the gospel from St. Mark.  Good news! 
We could all use some of that right now.  Don’t you think?  After the week that was. 
With the event that played out on Wednesday in our nation’s capital seeking to affirm that: yes, it can worse. 
As if he knows just what we need to hear right now, the gospel writer has constructed a giant neon sign on the banks of the Jordan River, with flashing arrow pointing, the sign reading: “This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” That unimpressive guy standing over there in the mud with the sinners, with the seekers, with the guilty, with the despairing, with the hopeless. There is your good news, folks…world…all creation.

Mark doesn’t begin his good news with angel visitations or angel choirs, we get no Hallmark ready image of a cute baby in a barn or faithfully participating parents, no running shepherds or road weary magi.  He doesn’t say it didn’t happen, he’s just saying that here is where it gets good, good news, great news.  It begins in the river, with the crowds, with John the baptizer, and there is Jesus – the anointed one, the incarnate word of God.

In the first beginning, (we just heard it again from Genesis) when the good news was simply that this God is so filled with love and life that creation springs forth out of the formless void, the Spirit hovered over the water and God said let there be light.  And there was light.  This time, in this new beginning, at this time of a new creation, new life for the dead, new hope for the despondent; the Spirit is again hovering over the water, and God is saying: “Here is the light that I am sending into the world that has been made dark by sin, evil, and humanity’s rebellion against all that I love.”  Embodied in this messenger is the message that the God of love has not given up on creation, on us.  This is good news indeed.  And its unfolding is starting here. In the water.

And for each of us, the beginning of the good news was in the water, the water of our baptism.  When the Spirit hovered yet again.  When God again spoke.  This time words of promise and adoption. A candle was lit linking us to the mission of Jesus, the light of the world, with words like: Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your heavenly parent.  In those baptismal waters our old self is drowned, and a new creation rises up.  It is this good news that begins anew and continues on each and every day, as we open our eyes, as we splash water on our face or stand in the shower of cascading grace, as we share in the bounty of creation, as we share in the family of God.  It is good news. The Spirit of power is hovering. The Creator of all is speaking. And Jesus, the light of love, is shining. It is good news that breaks through pandemics and loss, corruption and insurrection, our sinfulness and our despair.

And how do we respond to this good news?  Not respond for God’s sake or to win God’s approval.  We have God’s love, mercy, and grace – freely.  Nothing we do or don’t do will change that.  We are God’s own, created and reclaimed.  That’s part of the good news.  But how do we respond for our own sake, for the world’s sake? 
For one:  I hope this good news of God in Jesus Christ brings you peace. Especially in trying times, in times of loss and confusion, in times of change and upheaval, in times of crisis and want.  A fearless peace that is rooted in undying hope, vocational purpose and meaning.  (I use vocation not in terms of profession but in terms of your calling as a disciple of Christ.)  And, we respond with words and songs of praise and thanksgiving.  That’s why we are gathered today, separated as we may be from the joys of fellowship, but still rejoicing for all the God has done, is doing, and will do in fulfillment of the promises made by our loving Creator in baptism.  We respond by living that gratitude in all that we do and say, in our service to one another, and the care we take of ourselves, and the gift of creation.

Yes, we respond by robustly and confidently embracing God and God’s promise of new life.  But we also respond to this watery good news of Jesus Christ by renouncing.  Whenever we celebrate this gift of baptism, raising another child of God to new life, we all recall our own baptism.  We all join in the responses that the candidate and/or parents and sponsors are speaking.  We hear: Do you renounce the devil and all forces that defy God?  To which we are all invited to say:  I renounce them.  Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?  Again, we say:  I renounce them.  Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God? I renounce them.

Any regular listener knows that I regularly weave in, rejoice in, and challenge us with our call to live our baptism daily.  However, I rarely, if ever, have brought into the conversation the renunciations that are included in our baptismal rite that I just quoted.  But today, is a very different day in our land.  A day when even more scabs have been ripped off age old wounds, diseases that plague us have shown themselves to infect deeper than we care to admit but now can’t ignore, and the need for reform and renewal grows more and more apparent.

I am not offering a political analysis.  That is not my desire nor my job.  Nor is it what we are gathered for or would it be helpful in our life as a diverse community of faith. Besides, others are doing that just fine on way too many media outlets. No, I wish to draw our attention to the spiritual viruses that are plaguing our land and interfering with the good news of Jesus Christ being heard and lived.  To be very clear, I am not naming any person a devil or labeling anyone evil.

But the events of this past week showed us yet again, and maybe in the most blatant terms yet, that there are evils that continue to possess our land.  And we must name and renounce them as we strive to live into our baptized new creation; as we, a diverse community of faith strive to tell the good news of Jesus Christ to all creation.  That’s what our mission statement says.  That is what Jesus calls us to do.

We renounce the white supremacy that unjustly claimed this land from its native peoples and proceeded to inflict a genocide upon the dispossessed. And it continues today. This same belief in racial superiority enslaved Africans violently ripped from their homeland. And this injustice and oppression did not end with the Emancipation Proclamation.  We heard and saw its evil in the chants and banners of the crowd.  And perhaps even worse, we saw it in the polar opposite treatment between how these insurrectionists looking to unjustly seize power were treated by authorities and how summer protesters seeking to ensure justice for all were treated.  We renounce by standing with those oppressed.  We renounce by speaking names, by being clear that Black lives matter.  That line from 1776 that all people are created equal just doesn’t seem to be sinking in.

We renounce the anti-Semitism with which the crowd polluted the capital and that continues to contribute to the rebellion against God raging in faith communities around the country that deign to call themselves Christian.

We renounce the culture of lies that is causing people to sin, resulting in death and destruction, and that continues to feed a pandemic that takes lives and kills faith and hope drawing people away from God.

In the baptismal rite, after we have renounced; we say “I believe.”  Both – renouncing and affirming – are important to our telling the Good news that comes in the person of Jesus, that is reborn in us in the waters of baptism.

Just as the gospel writer Mark begins his gospel with the good news of Jesus Christ leading us into the cleansing and claiming waters of baptism, so he ends his account with the good news proclaimed at the empty tomb of the resurrected Jesus who shared his baptism with us and now shares with us a life that knows no end.  So, fear not and believe.  Fear not and renounce.  For this is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, for us and for the world. It begins again with each new day, with each birth and re-birth, with each affirmation of faith that rejoices and give thanks to the God who creates, redeems, and sustains. 

The Rev Mark Erson,
Pastor

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