"Defining Moments" Bible Study on Mark 1:4-11
January 7, 2021, 2:14 PM

Dear Members & Friends:

I invite you to read the following passage from Mark 1:4-11 (Common English Bible).

John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. 11 And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

What's a defining moment in life?  The dictionary definition of a defining moment is an event that influences or changes all subsequent related occurrences.  To put it more simply, a defining moment is a fork in the road.  It's one of those times where depending on the moment, and how you react to it, your life could go in one direction or another.  Here are some common defining moment examples: Getting married or divorced; Having a baby/birth of a child; Starting a new job or leaving an old one; Beginning a new business partnership; Taking that one big trip you'll remember for the rest of your life; Paying off all your debts; Graduating from High School or College (or a child's graduation); Retiring; Losing a Loved One.

I would say that nearly everybody worshipping this morning shares one thing in common, one defining moment.  We have all been baptized.  And yet, most of us can't remember anything about our baptism.  We hear stories about where and when we were baptized.  We have a baptismal certificate.  Perhaps some of us were baptized as a young person or an adult, so we do remember some aspects of our baptismal day.

I was baptized when I was thirteen years old, so I do remember certain aspects of my baptismal day.

This Sunday, the Baptism of Christ Sunday, we remember Jesus' baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit and the voice proclaiming, "You are my Son Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased" (Mark 1:11b, NRSV).

This Sunday is a favorite time for churches to do Services of Baptismal Remembrance.  Prayers are said; then the worship leader says to the congregation, "Remember your baptism and be thankful," just as we did in our Call to Worship and Gathering Prayer.  I suppose it seems to many an odd thing to say since, as we've noted, few of us can remember much about the actual event of our baptism.  But then, none of us were present for the long evolutionary process of the creation of the heavens and the earth.  And yet, we affirm the spiritual truth of the first biblical creation story, "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said, "Let there be light . . . . And God saw that the light was good" (Genesis 1:1-4a, NRSV).  For millions and billions of years and maybe even more, God has been creating everything good.  Are we not creatures of God created to do good things?

If we were an infant or too young to remember our baptism, we can still affirm that it is valid because God was choosing us as God's children, created in the good image of God for the purposes of bearing God's goodness and light in a sometimes dark and separated world.

Even before we hear about John the Baptist and Jesus' baptism, the opening verses of Mark's prologue remember how the life of Jesus is tied to the Hebrew Scriptures: "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,” Mark 1:1-3, NRSV).  As Racquel S. Lettsome notes: "Although his tidings of 'good news' announce a beginning, they do not stand as an isolated experience. Rather, he connects his story to the story of Israel.  Moreover, the content of his story will not focus on a single event but on a singular person: Jesus, whom he labels as both 'Christ' and 'Son of God.'"

John the Baptist stands as a bridge connecting the prophets of the Old Testament, particularly Isaiah, to the coming of Jesus who fulfills the promises of God for the purposes of God.  It is this Jesus, at work in the world, that not only garners a justifiable top billing in Mark’s Gospel, but whose actions center the text.  “The promised coming of God has taken place in the coming of Jesus. Where and when Jesus acts, God acts.”  What are God's purposes?  To express the goodness of all of God's creation of which we are a part.

These opening sentences also point to the opening sentences of the biblical corpus found in the first creation story.  Genesis 1:1-5 serves as the first line to the full story, with Mark’s text as one book in a series.  Both foreshadow what is to come.  Both prominently feature a defining moment that is initiated by the Triune God and that involves water.  All persons in the Trinity participate in creation, and while Creator God is at times used to name only one, the moniker aptly applies to all three. There is the One who speaks, the One who comes as a wind, and the One who comes through the water.

In Mark’s account, there is also the One who speaks, the One who comes appearing as a dove, and the One who comes through the water.  Like the Gospel according to John, who points back to the creation narrative to emphasize the divine nature of the Christ, Mark echoes the creation narrative to emphasize God breaking into the world as a human being.  Lettsome continues, “The heavens, the barrier separating the human and divine realms, are torn.  The Greek verb, schizein, suggests that the tear is irreparable. There will be no mending of this breach: God is now accessible to human beings, and human beings are accessible to God.”  The sky splitting at Jesus' baptism is a re-creation of God's goodness in the human form of Jesus.  God now has access to what it is like to be human, to live, suffer, and die.  And we have access to God.  It's a two-way access.  In baptism, we are reconnected to God through Jesus' baptism, life, death, and resurrection so "that nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."  The waters of Holy Baptism mark us as God's children forever.

Remember, “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2).  All of creation is connected to water, which has come to symbolize new life, restoration, cleansing, refreshing, redemption, and Christian identity.  Even Jesus identifies as the Living Water.  There is no life without water, and for followers of Jesus, the most prevalent public and private identifying act of belonging comes through the waters…through baptism.

Back to the question, if I can't remember my baptism, is it valid?  Should I be re-baptized?

While Christian communities differ in the sacraments and ordinances we claim, baptism is almost universally understood as a Christian rite of initiation, affirming membership in the body of Christ.  While baptism may take shape depending on the context, denomination, and theological view, it still comes through the water.  Whether sprinkled on the head of a baby or surrounding the body of an adult immersed in a pool, baptism features water as the prominent physical element.  But, that element serves as a conduit not as an end; hence, the baptismal life does not consider baptism an ending destination but the beginning of a journey through the many waters, the floods of life.

Another question often asked is why did Jesus need to be baptized.

I would suggest that we reframe the question from why did Jesus need to do what he did to why did he choose to do what he did. The creation story also neglects to inform readers of the motivations of God in shaping the heavens and the earth.  But, they do provide a clue as God declares the creative results and outcomes of God’s actions as good.  The new thing brought into being was good.  God was pleased by what God had created.  We can infer that creativity is such an essential part of the nature and character of God that it becomes an end unto itself.  We have an idea from the creation narratives of God’s intention and ultimate purposes for the kingdom of God.  God's intentions are always good.  Are all of our intentions always for the good of others?

I contend that Jesus did not need to be baptized, but that he chose to be.  “His baptism is understood as Jesus’ surrender to God’s will, his divine commissioning by God, his rejection of the dominant culture, and/or his identification with sinners.” (Lettsome) Underneath the actions related in the text, the message of Emmanuel - God with us - remains.  God chooses us.  Just as he chose to come into the world out of an abundance of love, Jesus chose to participate fully in the human experience.  Just as the light and dark were separated over the waters in the beginning, as the Genesis story goes, heaven splits open over the waters of the Jordan River.  The work of re-creation begins, according to Mark’s version of events, and a new earth, in communion with heaven, begins to appear. A new way of being ushers into public view. 

 Most people ask, "What's in it for me?'  In baptism, God asks us, "How will you live as my children?  How will you recreate my goodness, light, and love in your own lives and reflect it into the lives others in need of my goodness?

Baptism is a defining moment that is an ongoing process of renewing our commitment to God's purposes of goodness.  Yes, baptism changes our life's direction toward God's purposes.

When God looks at our lives, would God say of us, "This is my child, my beloved with whom I am well pleased?"

I sure hope so.

Peace & Light through Christ our Sovereign,

Pastor Greg Rupright



Comments

01-08-2021 at 4:04 PM
Pat May
Excellent summary of our discussion at Bible Study on Wednesday! Thank you!!!
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