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“The Waters of Baptism” and “Be Prepared to Be Forgiven” : Sermon 1/7/2018

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Sermon Text: Mark 1: 4-11

I am beginning this morning by telling you that this sermon has changed from being about one aspect of baptism to being about another. Sermons have a way of doing that---of changing in mid-course, in mid-week, in mid-word. This is “Baptism of the Lord” Sunday---the Sunday the church remembers Jesus’ baptism by John in the river Jordan. I’m going to honor my earlier preparation with part of it in this sermon but then you will see where the Spirit took me….

You may get a smile out of this---this year Ash Wednesday is on February 14th otherwise known as Valentine’s Day---I’m guessing we may get to have chocolate with the ashes. That’s fine with me—chocolate is good anytime. Easter Sunday is on April 1st otherwise known as April Fool’s Day---let’s NOT have any pranks on Easter Sunday---we have too much to celebrate!!!!

Why am I talking about Easter? In the earliest years of the Christian church, baptisms commonly took place at the Great Vigil of Easter held on the day/evening before Easter. Water plays a critical role---water has the image of being life-giving—it nurtures crops, sustains life, and is used to cleanse our bodies. Water is not always a symbol of good---there are times when it is destructive—as in floods and drowning. Water brings both life and death. And so there is both death and life in baptism, for in baptism, we die to sin and are raised to life. Baptism unites believers to Christ’s death and resurrection. (from the Book of Common Worship/The Great Vigil of Easter)

So let us talk about water. Our Genesis reading reminds us that the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Genesis 1:2). The second day God made the “the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. God called the vault “sky”. The third day, God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear. God called the dry ground “land” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

In Genesis, chapter 7, we read the story of the Flood—“Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.” Only Noah and his family and the animals on the ark survived.
 In Exodus 14 (another reading from the Great Vigil of Easter) we read of the crossing of the Red Sea: “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.”

Our Psalm reading today from Psalm 29 lifts up: “Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor. The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters. The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.”

Water is prominent in the Bible and is a major part of Baptism. It signifies a cleansing but also a renewing. We die to our old sin and become new. One Declaration of Forgiveness is this: “Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation—the old life has gone, a new life has begun. Know that you are forgiven and be at peace.”

And then along came our Mark 1 passage and the sermon on the waters of baptism took on another theme---that of forgiveness and being prepared so the sermon title changed to “Be Prepared to Be Forgiven”.

Mark 1 begins with the words of the prophet Isaiah being recalled: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way---“a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” John did prepare the path for Jesus. He told the people to repent, to give up their selfish ways of living, to renounce their sins, to seek God’s forgiveness, and to establish a relationship with God. John’s baptism WITH WATER  prepared a person to receive Christ’s message. This baptism demonstrates repentance, humility, and a willingness to turn from sin. This was the beginning of the spiritual process. John’s baptism began the process. John’s baptism prepared the person for Christ’s baptism.

Paul tells us about this in Acts 19: “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.”

Here is the reading from Mark 1 regarding Jesus’ baptism: “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Author Joseph Donders wrote this of Jesus’ baptism: “The mud of human evil is very deep, it stinks forcefully, it is full of dangerous gases, and there was Jesus, in front of John, asking to be allowed to bend down in that mud, and John, no wonder, hesitated. But he, Jesus, he went down, and when he came up, the mud was still streaming…HEAVEN OPENED, and a voice was heard… and a new Spirit, a new life, and a new heart were announced, glory, glory, alleluia. He was bathed in light…drowned in God’s voice…full of spirit; but what about the mud, was he going to forget it?....No, because once he got the spirit, that Spirit drove him…to do his work in this world, to struggle with evil in us, in this world, in order to overcome it.”

AND here is what overcame the evil---God’s forgiveness! Henri Nouwen wrote: “the one who created us is waiting for our response to the love that gave us our being. God not only says: “You are my Beloved.” God also asks: “Do you love me?” and offers us countless chances to say “Yes.”

We needed to turn away from sin, to renounce it, to be cleansed from it. How many times do we decide to wallow in our ways rather than change?

Remember the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning? When she and Robert were married, their wedding was held in secret because of her father’s disapproval. After the wedding, they went to Italy to live. Even though her parents had disowned her, Elizabeth never gave up on the relationship. Almost weekly she wrote them letters. Not once did they reply. After 10 years, she received a large box in the mail. Inside, Elizabeth found all of her letters; not one had been opened! Had her parents only read a few of them, their relationship with Elizabeth might have been restored. When we turn to God, and repent, our relationship with him is restored. That’s what John was preparing people for---their relationship with God.

But what John began, Jesus finished. What John prepared, Jesus fulfilled. When Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit, the entire person is transformed (a new life has begun!) by the Spirit’s power. Jesus offers to us both forgiveness of sin and the power to live for him.

Martin Luther records a dream he had of being attacked by Satan: The devil had a long scroll which he unrolled and on it was a list of Luther’s sins. Luther read it and then asked the devil, “Is that all?”  “No,” came the reply, and a second scroll was thrust in front of him. Then, after a second came a third. But now the devil had no more scrolls. “You’ve forgotten something,” Luther exclaimed triumphantly. “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sins.”

Forgiveness is a gift from God because He loves us. Christ waded into the muddy sin-laden waters of the Jordan, was baptized by John and arose, freshly cleansed by God’s own love and forgiveness of the sins Jesus had bathed in---which were our very own. Definitely not His. That was a foretaste of the death on the cross yet to come. At his baptism, God spoke of His love as His Spirit descended upon Jesus. On the cross, Jesus asked for forgiveness for those who crucified him as well as for us. At Christ’s last breath, the temple curtain was torn in two---for now, forgiveness was for all and new life could begin. Christ’s death and resurrection, sent the Holy Spirit down at Pentecost so that daily God speaks to us of His forgiveness and love. So as we renew our Baptismal Vows this morning, let us remember Christ’s own baptism, and know that we are forgiven and loved. Be prepared to be forgiven!