January 7, 2024. First Sunday after the Epiphany. Sermon preached by Rev. Katie Holicky.

1.7.24, Baptism of Our Lord: Mark 1:4-11           The Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector 

*** please note this sermon is not the actual text presented via Zoom due to the changes from in person to digital worship due to the snow storm***

If I were to put on say…. THIS (sheep pageant prop)… and THIS (sheep pageant prop)… what story might it remind you of? Maybe a story we told just the other week on Christmas Eve? Yes! The story of when Jesus was born. Well, this Gospel does NOT start that way, like Luke and Matthew do. In Luke the story tells us of shepherds keeping watch over their sheep who visited Jesus the night he was born after angels appeared to them. Matthew tells the story of the Magi who came from the East to visit Jesus and bring him gifts a couple of years after Jesus was born. 

Instead, the Gospel of Mark starts this way. Not with baby or toddler Jesus, but with a grown up coming to see John who is baptizing in the wilderness. Here are a few things that are good to know about the Gospel of Mark. First, Mark is the earliest written Gospel (TTONL, 121). Now, all of the Gospels were written years after Jesus died, but this one came first in about the year 70 CE. There is a bit of a disagreement about where this book was written, but some scholars, or experts, think this Gospel came from Rome and so was an early Christian text taking this story westward (TTONL, 121). And that is a rather interesting point, knowing that much of the narrative of Jesus’ life and mission was countering the oppression and harm caused by the empire of Rome. And one other little fact for y’all….Since many of us have engaged with the writing of Howard Thurman in Sacred Ground (picture of book) and elsewhere, I wanted to also make sure you knew that the Gospel of Mark was Thurman’s favorite Gospel, “because of its early dating and emphasis on Jesus’ life and mission” (TTONL, 121). 

And so, here we have John the Baptist. What do you remember about John the Baptizer?  (show picture: camel hair clothes, bugs dipped in honey). I know for many of us the thought of eating bugs feels icky. And many people all over the world eat different types of insects and they are considered very delicious. In fact, insect farming is now noted as the most sustainable way to grow and harvest animal based protein. But, to be honest, people who saw John eating bugs might have thought it was a bit odd. So, John is out there in the wilderness teaching people to turn their hearts back to God, or repent (picture of repent word cloud), and baptizing (picture of John baptizing). And then, the one John has been telling people to get ready for just walks on up. Who might that be? Yes, that’s right! Jesus! Jesus arrives on the scene. In this Gospel Jesus is baptized by John, something other Gospel writers may have been scandalized by and so their telling is a bit different (TTONL, 122). 

As Jesus is baptized we see that a Dove comes down (move hands as a bird coming down, invite people to join) and a voice from heaven says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Wow! I wonder what that might have felt like? (wait for answers) What do you think? (wait for answers) Ok so who else is loved by God? (wait for answers) Yes! Everyone is loved by God! Sometimes, that can feel like such a good thing and like such a hard thing to understand. 

But why is it important that we hear this story of baptism? Why does it matter that we celebrate this feast day today, The Baptism of our Lord? Well, here is what The Episcopal Church (what we believe here at St. Paul’s) says about Baptism: “Baptism Is the full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the church.” In this sacrament we believe that God creates a bond that can’t ever be broken with each baptized person. “In baptism we are made sharers in the new life of the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sins.” And another important thing to know about baptism is that it isn’t JUST about the person getting baptized: “During the baptismal rite the members of the congregation promise to do all they can to support the candidates for baptism in their life in Christ.” (episcopalchurch.org)

While we will baptize folks as it makes sense there are some special days in our church year that are extra special for baptisms and one of those days is TODAY! Those days are Baptism, “the Easter Vigil, the Day of Pentecost, All Saint’s Day or the Sunday following, and the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord”. After hearing Andree read our Gospel today, and hearing me talk, which day do you think we are celebrating? (episcopalchurch.org). Correct! The Baptism of our Lord. 

So in just a few minutes we will invite Cole and his family to come up so that we might baptize him. Cole’s family will say yes to some promises about how he will grow up, and we will say yes to supporting and loving him on that journey. And as we all remember our baptisms today, we remember that: 1. We turn our hearts to God first and always! And we can always turn our hearts back to God when we make mistakes or cause harm. 2. That our baptisms are about our promises to God and how we will live as individuals, and how we will live and support each other as a church family. 3. YOU ARE BELOVED!!!! Everyone is a child of God who God loves deeply. There is nothing that can ever change that. 

So, as we prepare to remember all of those things today and always, may we open our hearts anew to Jesus who came to walk with us (picture of Jesus with people), to love us (picture of Jesus/love), and to show us how to love ourselves, each other, and the world (picture of people doing work of Jesus). May it be so! 

Resources: Ture to Our Native Land, NRSV Bible, episcopalchurch.org