"When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among others…"- Howard Thurman
The writer of those words could also be speaking about what the work of baptism begins- what God does and brings forth in us. When I first read those words I chose to state them in a calming and peaceful way, but if we’re really serious about the power and meaning of God in our world, the Gospel of Mark would tell us it should be anything but calming. Because the heavens have been ripped open and they can’t be put back together as if it never happened.
Being lost, feeling broken, being hungry or imprisoned or torn apart by war and conflict- these are wild places. Places where we try to return from but we’re sure we’ll never be quite the same. Someone once pointed out that you can try to sew ripped fabric back up but you can always tell. It can’t be the same. That seems like bad news but today we hear in the baptism of Jesus- that things can’t be the same but through God’s power, things will be better. It’s the beginning of Jesus’ story and the power to make this so. Because the heavens have been ripped open and God is on the loose!
Today we not only commemorate the Baptism of our Lord, we’re celebrating the baptisms of Brandon and Ryan. Brandon is a baby and like most of us will not remember God’s work this day. Ryan, however is 8 and will be able to remember the moment he was baptized and tell about it. And for each of us every baptism is a chance to hear again and contemplate God’s words and promises. Powerful stuff. For an 8 yr old boy, conveniently our gospel lesson is from the Gospel of Mark. I say that because of the four gospels, Mark is the ‘action figure” version of the story of Jesus. Everything is BIG and things happen IMMEDIATELY and things get RIPPED APART AND THROWN AROUND and lots of other really great action words. The story explodes open, starting with Jesus’ baptism- the sky is ripped apart and the Holy Spirit comes down and possesses Jesus and God speaks. John the Baptist had said something big was coming and here it is! Cosmic power happening!
So we really should read those words about the lost and broken and people in need believing in that kind of power and believing that God is powerfully reclaiming all of the wilderness places.
It's not calm and domesticated, it’s disruptive! God’s moving into all the wild places, but God isn’t coming in Jesus and through the Spirit to just smooth it over and play nice. God is bringing spirit warfare. Ripping apart the things that have created separation, calling us back and calling us closer and calling us by name. And at the same time God is putting all the forces of evil on notice. Good news! Powerful stuff.
Jesus’ baptism confirms who he is and confirms the power that he has. Words not only for those who long for a savior. They are words to tell those who most fear one- that the game is on. And once the Holy Spirit possesses Jesus, the very next thing that will happen is that same Spirit will drive Jesus into the heart of the wild places to begin the work of bringing God’s will into being.
After this every other time we hear about spirits in Mark, it will be Spirit-possessed Jesus casting out and overpowering evil spirits, unclean spirits, demon spirits possessing others. Bringing life out of death. In events that are wild and disruptive. We too receive this Spirit in baptism.
I’m not sure we think of our baptism in this way. But what if we did?
Today we not only baptize two children, we're installing our congregation council members for the year. People who have responded to God’s calling, to living out of their baptism by serving as leaders of the ministry and mission we hope to carry out here. Work done for the sake of the good news we are hearing this day. To continue God’s work of claiming and restoring and calling people out of wild places and into life in Christ. Finding, bringing, healing, rebuilding, feeding and freeing.
Engaging in disruptive Spirit warfare for the sake of the gospel.
I’m not sure any of them really had that in mind when they agreed to serve as church leaders- disruptive Spirit warfare for the sake of the gospel? But what if we did?
All around us, there are wild places and rips and tears that need to be mended. When these are our places, we hear the God’s words as healing and comfort- "you are mine, you are my beloved." But we too are then driven and possessed by the Spirit and confronted by the rest of the world- and all those other wild places and torn apart people. To live as those empowered and possessed by the Spirit as followers of Christ.
The meaning of our baptism is a death to what causes separation, and a life where we're given a new identity and a new power- marked with the cross of Christ forever. As we each hear this, we know we are personal to God. Yet we’re also a people of God through this baptism. We’re not blessed, claimed and empowered to go off and do independent projects and just smooth it over and play nice in the midst of a hurting world. But to be a people of God who proclaim the new reality ushered in by Jesus is still breaking forth.
This may seem too wild and disruptive and frankly impossible. Indeed, there’s one final time in the Gospel of Mark when the word spirit appears- it’s when Jesus tells the disciples that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. But here’s where we can recall that where the Spirit sent Jesus, he is tended to and cared for as he tends to and cares for creation. As he brings restoration and new life to the wild places. We are promised this same Spirit that is willing and that brings power to respond. To we who are too small and too weak on our own to respond, God calls us to entrust our weakness to God's cosmic power.
What if we lived as those who believed God really is as powerful as we say?
Just think how powerful a force that would be in our world.
What if we responded to our Lord and our baptism in this way?
What if we did?