Lectionary Texts (Year A): Genesis 1:1-5 • Psalm 29 • Acts 19:1-7 • Mark 1:4-11
Theme: The Transforming Servant
Reflection: “Remember your baptism!” In many churches this Sunday, Martin Luther’s famous words will resonate in a special way, calling us to anchor ourselves in that initial moment of God’s public claim on our lives.
But how many of us are actually able to remember that moment? Most of us who were brought up in mainline denominations were baptized as infants. As a result, it’s not very practical to take Luther’s exhortation literally in the sense of remembering our first day of school, our first kiss, or where we were and what we were doing on September 11th, 2001. And our baptism should be much more significant than any of those things.
Fortunately, we have an abundance of symbols and rituals to anchor us in “baptismal memory” anyway. Any time we pass by the font in our church – especially if it is open and filled with water – we can “remember” our baptism. Any time we have the pleasure of being in the congregation when a baptism occurs, we can “remember” our baptism.
But most significantly, whenever we turn to one of the Gospel passages that tell the story of Jesus’ baptism, such as this week’s Mark text, we can “remember” our baptism in an especially powerful way. And although there are admittedly several other valid theological reasons for Jesus’ insistence upon being baptized by John, I like to think that one of the best reasons is that it helps us remember not only our own baptism but the overall notion of baptism itself.
In this story, a poor unremarkable son of a carpenter comes to the waters of the River Jordan to be baptized by John. John is a classic archetype Hebrew prophet who has been saying some very frank and troublesome things to the powerful and some very hopeful things to the poor and marginalized. In both cases, though, he is calling for repentance and baptizing people in the river as a symbol of that repentance. But this man who has come to John today has not come for repentance. He doesn’t need to repent. He is the One. The One that Isaiah and the other prophets told us God would send. The One whose laces John the Baptizer claims he is not fit to tie. This man is the Transforming Servant promised of old, the incarnation of God come to us as Emmanuel.
And he insists upon being baptized.
Why? As I said earlier, there are many good theological reasons, and several theological minds more educated than mine who can discuss them. But for me, in this moment and place, Jesus’ baptism is a both an anchor point and a call to ministry. Jesus comes to the Jordan, talks John into baptizing him, and everything changes. The sky breaks open. The Spirit comes, announcing the fulfillment of that prophetic promise for which the people of Israel were desperately waiting. But it happens in a totally unexpected way, in the form of the most unexpected person, initiating a ministry of reconciliation, justice, and hope that refuses to remain safely within the boundaries of our assumptions. The Good News breaks into reality here and now.
And when we are baptized – whether we literally remember it or not – I think a version of the same thing happens. Hope breaks into reality. The Spirit comes down and makes herself known, claiming us as children of the Living God and calling us to anchor ourselves in God’s love and reminding us to go forward with both boldness and humility to share the good news of Jesus’ transforming ministry with everyone we meet, inviting them to be baptized in the same way, by the same Spirit.
Remember your baptism. It is both an anchor and a calling.
“We might begin our reflection on Matthew’s story of the baptism of Jesus by first reading the Hebrew Scripture reading for the day from Isaiah, a poetic suggestion of what is to come in Jesus Christ. The prophet reminds that God is faithful to God’s promises, and that how we live and order our world matters to God. It matters so much to God that God will send One who will “fix” the mess we’ve made, transforming it into a time of beauty and grace, healing and justice. This transforming Servant, the chosen one whom God upholds and in whom God’s soul delights, has the very Spirit of God within him. The same themes consistently appear in Isaiah and Matthew: righteousness experienced as compassionate justice and care for the poor and marginalized, humility and faithfulness that always point to God as the One who is at work in this transformation, and the hope – better, the promise – of new things that will dazzle us and rattle the foundations of our safe little worlds. When read, and heard, together, the texts from Isaiah and Matthew dramatically illustrate God’s own deep faithfulness and care.” – Kate Huey
“Lord, bring us to our Jordan of newly opened eyes. Through love, immersed in living, as you were once baptized.” – Brian Wren, Lord When You Came to Jordan
“John’s objection was that Jesus ought to be baptizing him rather than the other way around (verse 14). Jesus was the One, after all, and John but a messenger, a forerunner. Jesus insists not only that John should baptize him, but that he should let go of his objection, his vision of how things ‘should be,’ and that such letting go was how both of them could ‘fulfill all righteousness.’ In God’s kingdom, the least are blessed and are those so enabled to bless others.” – Safiyah Fosua, UMC/GBOD Lectionary Planning Helps
“One may at first be relieved by the sense of awe that rushes into our awareness of God becoming flesh and then, in the next instant, we may (with John the Baptist) struggle with the complicated (maybe embarrassing) work of using our hands, bodies, and voices (unclean, all of them) to announce the new thing of God in Jesus Christ” – Robert Hoch, New Proclamation 2011
Music: On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry; Down by the Jordan; Lord When You Came to Jordan; God the Spirit Guide and Guardian