I’ve been a minister for almost 17 years now. There are many things I love about the work I do but there is one thing that is always a joy for me – baptism. I enjoy meeting with the families and hearing about their little miracle and hearing about the challenges and blessings of being parents. But perhaps the part that I love the most is standing with person being baptised, placing water on their heads and reminding them that they are God’s beloved child. Every time I do baptism, I have the privilege of offering blessing in God’s name. It is a reminder to us that each one of us is special in God’s circle of love. We all are beloved children of God. The beautiful thing about baptism whether it is a baby, an older child, a teenager or a senior – is that it pure gift. You don’t have to earn the promise of God’s love. It is yours. It is mine. It is ours. No need to strive, or earn or be a certain way. God’s love is pure gift. And in our world where there is a price attached to everything or people have do or be a certain way to be accepted this is priceless.
I think this is why Mark in his gospel gets straight to what is important. In Mark’s gospel there is no Christmas story. There are no angels or shepherds or dreams or genealogies because none of that matters to Mark. He says it in the first line of the gospel. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1) Then we meet John, clothed in camel hair and eating nothing but locusts and honey. He is a teacher and prophet called to prepare the way for Jesus. In this morning’s reading John is preaching about a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4)
It sounds daunting doesn’t it? Repentance and sins are words with baggage. But repentance is about turning in a new direction and living in a new way. Sins are all those things that separate us from the love of God. Different perhaps for each one of us. They are the things that prevent us from remembering that we are God’s beloved. John is teaching and preaching to all who will listen about a new way living and a new of drawing closer to God. One day as the crowds are gathered, John says “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptised you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”(Mark 1:7 – 8)
The very next words of the gospel are, “In those days Jesus of Nazareth of Galilee was baptised by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from haven, “You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9 – 11) With that, Jesus begins his public ministry of teaching and healing.
That is the starting place for all of us to. We are God’s beloved children and God is well pleased with us. This past year, we started hearing the hopes and prayers of parents as they bring their children for baptism. Each family offers something different but they are all grounded in a deep love for their children. One family wrote, “Our hopes and prayers for our daughter are that she is healthy in mind, body and spirit. We hope to raise her in a supportive community of family, friends and neighbors - where she feels protected and supported, encouraged and challenged, and treated with respect. We pray that she learns and reflects Christian values in her everyday life: that she has optimistic faith, patience and peace; that she is thoughtful, confident and brave; lives with intention and purpose; gives thanks and finds happiness from within and shares that happiness with the world.”
David Lose writes, “In Holy Baptism God just chooses us. …God says that we are enough. Already. That we are pleasing to God and deserve to be loved. And that identity of being God’s beloved child – precisely because it is established by God – cannot be taken away from us or, for that matter, lost by us. Rather, God continues to come into our lives to call us beloved and blessed and promise once again to be always both with us and for us. That promise and blessing, in turn, helps us face all the challenges we mentioned earlier. Problems at home or in the community, concerns about the world or our personal lives. We can face whatever might be plaguing us with greater confidence knowing that God is on our side.” (http://www.davidlose.net/2018/01/epiphany-1-b-powerful-words-for-a-new-year/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+davidlose%2FIsqE+%28...In+the+Meantime%29)
As each one of us meets the challenges of this day, this week, this month we are reminded that faith is not a magical cure all but the constant reminder that God is with us lightening the burden and providing hope. Any challenges we face we do so with God’s help and the support with support from our community of faith. With the words beloved ringing in our ears each and every new day, we are called to be about God’s work in the world. And there are so many ways to respond but they are all grounded in a new way of living that is rooted in God’s grace. This makes all things possible. Rooted God’s love, Jesus showed us what that new way of living looked like. It was the face of compassion. It was mercy. It was grace. It was life giving. It was healing. It was hope.
We are invited to be about that work of compassion, mercy, grace, living-giving, healing, and hope. When we feed those who are hungry we proclaim the good news that God is with us. When we walk in the shadows with those who are lost and hurting we offer the light of new life. When we support our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our lives proclaim the good news that we are all God’s beloved children. It is the promise that comes with baptism and that has called us and claimed us as Christ’s own everyday since.
Baptism is a new way of living. Mark knew that. He knew that there could be no better way to start the story of Jesus’ life than on the day of his baptism. Today, we are God’s beloved and with us God is well pleased. Amen