Sermon: First Sunday after the Epiphany – The Baptism of Our Lord

Genesis 1:1-5

Acts 19:1-7

Mark 1:4-11

Psalm 29

The Collect

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

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We just got done with the Christmas season yesterday. And today we remember the baptism of Jesus. 

In the gospel according to Mark, this is where the story of Jesus begins. Luke and Matthew begin with angels and Mary and Joseph and shepherds and wise men. Mark jumps right in to the adult life of Jesus. Fully grown guy baptized by his cousin. It’s a very different way of starting the story compared to Matthew and Luke. 

For Matthew, what matters is that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and heir of king David. Matthew quotes so many prophetic texts to show how Jesus fulfills them. Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy through Joseph back to King David. It doesn’t really matter about the genetics of who Jesus’ dad is, just that he was accepted into the genealogy. Joseph accepts Mary as his wife and Jesus as his son because the angel told him it was alright. What matters for Matthew is that Jesus is accepted as a descendent of David, the next in line for David’s throne, the fulfillment of all the scriptures.

For Luke, what mattered is that Jesus was literally the son of God. That Jesus’ mother Mary conceived him by the power of the holy Spirit. Luke traces Jesus’ genealogy all the way back to Adam to make the point that Jesus was the son of God. Luke surrounds Jesus with miracles. His cousin John is also conceived miraculously. Angels are sighted at Jesus’ birth. Jesus is the son of God, and that’s undeniable with all the miracles happening around his birth. 

Mark though, he doesn’t say anything about the child Jesus. It’s like one of those sci-fi novels that drops you right into a crisis situation and you just have to figure it out as you go along. Mark begins with the baptism of Jesus, and something miraculous happens then. Jesus is recognized as God’s son at his baptism. There’s no genealogy or virgin birth to prove the story. There’s the holy Spirit descending like a dove and declaring the truth that Jesus is God’s son. 

Whatever Mark might have thought about Jesus’ earthly parentage, the important origin point is the baptism, not the genealogy. Sometimes we get so caught up in proving our worth through ancestry. Sometimes we feel like we need to show how valid our tradition is, how we are the true inheritors of the truth. 

But the important part of the story according to Mark is not what came before, but that Jesus was revealed as the son of God at his baptism. We don’t need more proof than his baptism that Jesus is God’s son. 

It was probably pretty spectacular to witness the holy Spirit descending and declaring “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” If there were any doubts about the identity of the powerful person John described, I bet those doubts were cleared up with those words spoken from heaven. There is no longer any doubt about who Jesus belongs to.

And that can be true for us too. Baptism is sufficient proof of what family you belong to. We don’t need Joseph to vouch for us with the descendants of David. We don’t need to trace our lineage back to Adam to prove we are children of God. We don’t need miracles to surround our birth. The holy Spirit descends on us at baptism and we are declared children of God along with Jesus. 

Paul baptized people in the name of Jesus and laid hands on them. The holy Spirit descended upon them. The same holy Spirit as descended at Jesus’ baptism. John baptized with water, but the baptism of Jesus is the holy spirit descending. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 

Today we are going to renew the baptismal covenant. Now, when I was baptized, it wasn’t in an episcopal church, so we didn’t say this baptismal covenant. In fact, many of us were baptized either before the 1979 prayer book, or in a different tradition that didn’t have the baptismal covenant. So it is a little weird to say that we are renewing a covenant that many of us never made in the first place. 

But what the baptismal covenant does, and why it’s good to renew it yourself even if it wasn’t spoken at your own baptism, is it reminds us of the promises that are made at baptism. Even if the promises were spoken with different words or not spoken at all, baptism makes a promise. 

When we are baptized, we join the family of God. This means that our lives are not just our own. We are all created in the image of God already. Baptism marks us as children of God alongside Christ. We are joined together with the waters of baptism into a family. And this family is not one that can be broken with merely human strife. 

We try so hard to break this Christian family apart though. There have been denominations of Christians who refused to get along since Paul was writing his letters to the churches. The Apollos mentioned in today’s epistle who was traveling to Corinth ended up with his own faction of Christians that were divided against Paul’s converts. The presence of the holy Spirit does not mean that there aren’t divisions and disagreements. 

The presence of the holy Spirit does mean, however, that we are inextricably bound together in baptism. The covenant, the vows of baptism are unbreakable. Once that holy Spirit descends and recognizes us as children of God, there’s no way to break that bond. As many disagreements with our fellow Christians as we have, we are still siblings. Our different factions try to put bounds on who counts as a Christian, maybe making you sign on to a bunch of beliefs as fundamentals when really, the one thing that matters is that God recognizes us as his children at baptism. It’s as if God is saying to each of us “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” You are my son, my daughter, my child, the beloved.”

When God says this at baptism, it’s a covenant, a commitment to us. Baptism, the holy Spirit descending upon us, is a sign of God’s covenant with us that we are God’s children forever. We are children of God, co-heirs with Christ. Whatever we can prove or not about our ancestry, we are God’s beloved children. We don’t need to earn that. The baptismal covenant is God’s promise to us that we belong to God’s family. 

The baptismal covenant is a serious commitment on our parts too. It means that we’re all bound together with responsibilities to each other. I’ve been talking about this as a family. But the ties are stronger than that even. The promises at the baptismal covenant don’t just tie a bunch of separate people together like lines on a family tree. The promises of the baptismal covenant join us together into a unified body. We have responsibilities to each other like you have a responsibility to drink water so your own body can live. 

The waters of baptism are the waters of new birth. Everyone who is baptized is born again through the same water. We all come through the waters of baptism to be born again into new life in Christ’s body. Whether you actually remember the day of you baptism or not, when we renew the baptismal covenant, we remember that we are born again in Christ’s body. We remember that though we are many people, with different and opposing views, we are truly one body. 

Maybe you don’t believe every statement in the baptismal covenant today. Maybe you’re struggling to keep those commitments. But because we are all one body, because we are all committed to each other not just as siblings, but as committed as your lungs and heart are to each other – we keep each other going. We renew our baptismal vows not out of rote memory, but our of true devotion to each other. If someone is struggling, we can hold them up in their struggles, just like you might take extra care with a hand you burned on the stove. If you struggle to keep the baptismal covenant, your fellow members of the body of Christ can take on that struggle, can support you throughout. We all share in one baptism, one body. We are committed to one another in that covenant of baptism. 

When the Holy Spirit descended at Jesus’ baptism and said “you are my son, the beloved”, God was declaring who Jesus belongs to. At this baptism, God was declaring a commitment to Jesus. A baptismal covenant. In our own baptisms, we are born again as children of God. We are born again in the body of Christ. We God says “you are my son, the beloved”, God is declaring a commitment to Jesus. God is declaring a commitment to the body of Christ. God is declaring a commitment to us. As we respond as God’s children. We respond, not with the strife of human families, but with the unity and commitment of a single body. We respond as those born through the waters of baptism into new life in Christ. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” You are my son, my daughter, my child, the beloved. 

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