“On the Responsible Use of Water”
Mark 1:4-11 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook
Northwood United Church ~ January 14, 2018
I know money is tight and we need to be careful with our budget…but I think we need a bigger baptismal font at Northwood. I really wonder if this tiny bit of sprinkling we do on a person’s head really conveys what is intended at baptism. I’ve seen massive baptismal tanks ~ filled with water where the minister gets right in with the person and they are dunked right under…held for a brief moment…and they arise. I’ve seen baptisms performed in huge rivers and lakes where the congregation gathers at the shores with guitars and drums and one by one, the baptizands get into the waters and symbolically emerge as a new person. And while I know … I know… I may not get my wish, I want for us to consider the gushing, surging power of what these few droplets of water truly / deeply are meant to symbolize. I want for us, during our reflection time this morning, to consider the ‘responsible use of water’.
In the Greek / English Lexicon of the New Testament, we find the semantic domains of words. And we would uncover some interesting epiphanies as we look at use of the word baptism ~ or ‘baptizmo’ in the Greek. We won’t be surprised to learn that this domain of words covers religious activities ~ and domain 53 lists it among “rites, rituals and related states”. No surprise there, but what is interesting is that domain 53 is also closely related to two other domains. Domain 88 enlightens us that baptism pertains to “moral and ethical qualities” and domain 12 pertains to “supernatural powers and beings”. And so, as we look at this curious practice, we start to unpack what is happening with Jesus’ baptism, and with baptisms which we perform in Jesus’ name. We are reminded that we are dealing with something of immense power, something that touches the very nature of how we are called to live our lives. These few droplets mean so very, very much. And when we begin to truly take Jesus’ baptism seriously, to take our baptism seriously, some profoundly powerful things occur.
As we look at the text, we find that Jesus’ baptism in Mark’s gospel is quite a unique account in that we don’t get any of the back story in what occurs prior to this event. We are only at verse four of chapter one and Mark chooses to tell the baptism story. As we are now into a new year ~ year B in which the church so uncreatively names it ~ we now move to focusing on a new gospel. Last year, it was the gospel of Matthew and this year it is Mark. Mark is understood to be the original gospel, that the other writers later expanded on for their communities. Mark does not include a birth story, no story of wise men or angels or shepherds. Mark begins by naming Jesus as being the Son of God ~ “the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”, then Mark quotes Isaiah’s prophecy of the ways being made straight, and then in the fourth verse, we have this rather brief account of Jesus’ baptism.
Yet, before any of this occurs, Jesus has grown from a newborn, birthed under the brightest star who shepherds greet and angels sang, and wise men had visited. The holy family had fled to Egypt to protect Jesus from the murderous wrath of Herod. Jesus was presented in the temple and the family gave a sacrifice ~ two pigeons or two doves. Jesus had grown over the years. And when his family were looking for him, they found young Jesus in the temple. He was debating with the elders and scholars assembled at Jerusalem, and to his parent’s query, he replied “Why were you searching for me, did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” Over time, Jesus had come to take his relationship with God very, very seriously. He “had” to be in God’s house. He was following his calling ~ his destiny. Approximately 18 years had passed since that time of young Jesus in the temple, and we meet Jesus ~ perhaps about 30 years of age ~ at the river’s edge, and we arrive at the moment of his baptism. And as Jesus is baptized, he comes out of the water and the words echo throughout the eons of time and space: “You are my son the beloved, with you I am well pleased”.
Now, I have a question…what do you think it was that made Jesus beloved to God? What caused those words to echo and continue to echo to our ears this morning? I would suggest that what made Jesus so beloved was in the way he had so faithfully followed and lived out his faith. In the ways he had lived and grown ~ the ways he had studied Torah, had challenged the temple authorities, had been a shining light of God for others to follow. And as Jesus came to be baptized, this was the moment that God speaks ~ not speaks but rather SHOUTS: “You are my Son the beloved, with you I am well pleased”. This is the same prayer and hope we have for our children who are baptized. Dressed in freshly pressed baptismal garments, we pray for their journey that they will know the Christ light and allow it to be a light to others. And as we baptize at this font, those same words continue to echo throughout the universe “You are my daughter / my son the beloved in YOU I am well pleased”.
And that, my friends, is why I think we need a bigger baptismal font. That is why I would love to go the river’s edge and be engulfed by the surging power of the waters of life. For the waters of our baptism touch us, and move us, and provoke us to follow the Way of Jesus and to be a beacon of His light in the world. On my holiday, the kids and I had the opportunity to play in the Caribbean Ocean ~ to experience the power of the waves. Water is truly powerful. It could toss our massive cruise ship around like a toy boat. And when you are playing on the beach, the waters can take you and toss you and throw you. The waters of our baptism are filled with the same power and potential. And when taken seriously, we are never the same again…when we remember our baptism. Where do the waters of your baptism guide you? Where do the waters toss you? Where do the baptismal waters throw you?
This Sunday is Kerry’s last Sunday with us. She has faithfully served as one of our ministers for 8 ½ years. In my observations, it would have been much easier for her to stay. As I have watched her pack up her office, it would have been easier to stay rather than pack up box after box. As I watched her weep tears of goodbye to people dropping in to wish her well, it would have been easier for her to stay and avoid the emotional goodbyes. As Janice and I took her for lunch, and she guided us through the back roads she knows so well to her favourite lunch spot, it would be much easier for her to stay because this is such familiar territory for her. Yet…Kerry cannot stay because the waters of her baptism push her, toss her, call for her to follow these next steps of her ministry which take her away from us and to a new ministry. Kerry must go for ‘Kerry is a beloved child of God, and as you follow your call, God is well pleased’.
Do you take your baptism seriously? If we do, then we are in for a rushing, gushing ride that God will guide us upon. Think about some of the amazing mothers or fathers out there who truly live out their faith. There is something in them that pushes and prods them ~ that guides and uplifts them ~ into being the amazing parents they are. Or think of the teachers and coaches, and Sunday School teachers, youth group leaders and ministers in your community ~ it is that same ‘something’ that pushes and guides them, unrelentlessly pushing them to be great models and guides in the lives of others. When we take our baptism seriously, we acknowledge ~ better yet ~ we submit to the raging waters of the spirit that guide and push us to be a beacon of the Christ light in our little corner in the world. “You are my son, in you I am well pleased” ~ “You are my daughter, in you I am well pleased”. When we take our baptism seriously, God is well pleased!
Some of you know that I like to take retreat time with the Benedictine community in Mission each year. It is a time for rest, and prayer and renewal, and worship. One of my favourite times occurs right before bed. After supper, we gather in the sanctuary for worship. And as evensong comes to an end, one of the monks goes around and asperges holy water on each us as we are kneeling on our prayer benches. And as I receive a droplet or two, it reminds me of the tsunami of water raging from God, pushing me to be a Christ light in the way I am gifted ~ and as that little water droplet rolls down upon my face, I hear those timeless words “You are my son, the beloved, in you I am well pleased”. May we take our baptisms seriously and live out our destiny as beloved sons and daughters of God.