Sunday, January 11, 2009

Mk 1:1-4 Baptism

When did your ears emerge?1 Mark 1:4-11 January 11, 2009

This morning, I want to continue to explore what it means to be a child of God. A few weeks, Claudia began our voyaging, when she encouraged us to look at children if we want to find out what it means to be children of God…and maybe start acting like children. Last week we looked at aspects of Attachment Theory and various ways that parents may behave with their newborns in order to create a secure attachment. And compared this positive behavior with our concept of our Heavenly Parent, and how we this parent behaves toward us, earthly children. And this week, on the Baptism of the Lord Sunday, we continue our discovery or affirmation, as we claim our identity as children of God, by thinking about the sacrament of baptism. What about our own baptism, that of others? Wasn’t Jesus baptized?

Let’s read our passage first from the Gospel according to Mark 1:4-11.
Let us listen for God’s word to us on this day:

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, "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 baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized 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 heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

There you have it. Mark starts his gospel off with his hair on fire. There is not birth scene, no angels or shepherds. It’s the beginning of the good news, John the baptizer, and then Jesus appears on the scene, heavens are torn apart, the Spirit descends, and a voice speaks from heaven. Imagine reporting on that scene: Live from the river Jordan. Wow! And from this event comes the practice of baptism in the Church. Early apostles did it. And now we do it.

It’s interesting to think about how this practice of John, a baptism of repentance for adults who had something to repent of, came to be used as a rite of initiation for both adults and infants, in order to become part of the church. And now it is common practice in Presbyterian and Reformed churches, along with others, to baptize infants. Why? What has that got to do with repentance? And we sometimes will tell ourselves: remember your baptism. We do this when we install and ordain officers; when we observe ash Wednesday; among other occasions. If we’re baptized as infants, how are we supposed to remember our baptism? We baptized Jaleesa last May. Remember? Does she remember? But this is what we do.2

Among the many reasons: such as it’s easier on my back to hold an infant than an adult; theologically we do this because it speaks to God’s gracious initiative in creation, and in our lives. That’s to say, God loves us even before we begin to respond to God in trust and love. It is a proclamation of the love of God as a sheer gift.3 But, because those of us who were baptized as infants, don’t remember, and the decision wasn’t necessarily ours, it’s important that we somehow make the significance of the event part of our life. That we remember: by seeing other infants get baptized, and by claiming it’s meaning in our own lives, as part of who we are.

Baptism is rich in meaning.
And this morning, I want to talk about just two aspects of this practice.
1. Incorporation as we unite with the body of Christ in Baptism.
2. And baptism being a sign of God’s coming reign.

Incorporation into the body of Christ
Okay, to get us thinking about this idea of incorporation, particularly when it comes to infant baptism…we’re going to get fancy and use…Multimedia. A video clip from The Lion King (1994). The opening scene, classic song by Elton john, in which the animals from all walks of life gather, as if they were shepherds guided by a star, to see this thing which has come to pass. A baby lion has been born to the king Mufasa. And it would only be appropriate to acknowledge the birth of this little one through a powerful ritual:

IMovie Clip or dvd (2:30-4:25)

How was this an initiation rite? How was baby Simba incorporated into the community? What were some of the symbols and gestures?
How does this scene compare with our practice of baptism?
What is different?
When we baptize in this church, we sprinkle water onto the baby’s head, and say, “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And we sign a cross on the forehead, a sign and seal of union with Christ.

In the movie, the animal “kingdom” bowed before the newly born king-to-be. We don’t necessarily bow, but we can affirm two things:
To look upon a baby is to seek the image of God born anew among us.
And to acknowledge the importance of the baby, we make vows to him or her:
Do you as members of the church of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture N. and N. by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging them to know and follow Christ and to be faithful members of his church?

There is sprinkling and hopefully no tinkling. Words spoken: in the name of the father, of the son, and the Holy Spirit. A sign marked on the forehead: the cross.
And then the presentation: recognize the image of God in the little one who is baptized. And the little one has no idea what’s going on.

When we have no idea what’s going on, there is a phrase that describes us: “wet behind the ears.” Okay, so here’s a good one for the next time you run into one of our Korean friends.4 Ask them if they have a similar phrase in their language. Evidently they do. I read in an article that the phrase is translated: “When did your ears emerge?” To which one would reply: “My ears emerged on such and such a day.” The person’s birthday.5

In making a promise to guide, nurture, and encourage our children to be faithful members of the church; we take on the wonderful responsibility to raise our them so that they may emerge into radical disciples. So we pray for them, teach them, and set and an example for them. Through baptism, a child is incorporated into a system of relationships, in which he or she inherits a whole slew of tios tias, abuelos y abuelas.

And through these relationships that the child and all of us may discover who we are. It was in baptism that it was revealed to all who Jesus was: “This is my son, the beloved.” And in our own baptism we too find our identity as beloved children of God, incorporated into the body of Christ, and in covenantal relationship with one another.

But we forget.

When I was interviewed for this church, Thomas Burnett, who was on the search committee, asked me: “What do you think the biggest challenge facing young people today?” The answer was simple. Identity. And this is not just a problem for young people, It is a problem for all of us. Who are we?

Later on in the movie The Lion King, a grown up Simba, who now makes company with Pumbaa the Warthog and Timon the Meekrat in the land of Hakuna Matata, is confronted by a significant person from his past, Nala—the lioness he was supposed to have married. In this encounter, he is forced to face his past. While doing some soul searching, he looks down into the water to find an answer, but only sees his own reflection looking back at him.

Then the wonderful scene in which Rafiki the Mandrill sings this crazy song:
Asante sana! [Thank you very much!] Squash banana! [Squash banana!]
We we nugu! [You're a BABOON,] Mi mi apana! [And I'm not!]

Real Video 0:50 – 2:04 [Simba is pressed to answer the question: Who Are you?
Simba, had just looked into the waters, he had seen his reflection. But he doesn’t know who he is. ] Is this mufasa’s boy? Or is this a Baboon?
Asante sana! [Thank you very much!]
Squash banana! [Squash banana!]
We we nugu! [You're a BABOON,]
Mi mi apana! [And I'm not!]

Are you a child of God? Or a baboon?

Reformed Father, John Calvin knew how essential this question of identity is. He is wrote tons on the the bible and theology…and he starts off his theological treatise with these words: Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God. Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.

Its like when we look into the waters and see not just our own reflection, but that of Imago Dei, God’s image, the image of Christ, staring back at us as well.

As our ears emerge and we gain wisdom and understanding of what it means to grow in the faith, to seek to know ourselves and to seek to know God, another aspect of baptism seems to emerge as well. Baptism being a sign of God’s coming reign.

Baptism in the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition means that we understand that by grace an entry into “Christ’s ministry of love, peace, and justice” is provided. Baptism is not a means of salvation but rather an obligation to service. This is who we are! With the beloved Son’s baptism began a radical servant ministry. 6

What about with our own baptism? Did we begin radical service as an infant?
(maybe to the diaper companies). For this reason, many who would advocate for an adult baptism would claim that it is important that the one being baptized know what he or she is doing. This is no small thing. Baptism means identifying oneself with the Christ, and partnering with him in ministry, and seeking to be a sign of God’s coming reign. It’s a big DEAL!

Here’s a wonderful story of a man who learned through his own baptism experience how big a deal it is:
“He was baptized when he was ten years old. He and his older brother had to walk down to the river in February, barefoot, wearing nothing but thin white robes. The congregation had gathered down by the riverside. The country preacher was standing knee deep in the cold water, telling stories to the congregation to keep them warm. The preacher was telling the old story about the country preacher who was baptizing in a cold river. The practice was three times down and under: once for the Father, once for the Son, and once for the Holy Ghost. After the second dunking the preacher’s hands were so cold he lost his grip, and the person was swept downstream as the preacher shouted, “The Lord gives; the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord. Bring on another one.” Upon hearing this story, he froze, “Nobody told me this may kill me,” he thought. So he said his first real prayer, standing beside the river. It was, “Jesus, hold on.”

Maybe, that’s what John said to Jesus, as Jesus was going under: “Hold on!” And after this scene, Mark’s gospel, which we are going to look at throughout this year, tells the story of this baptized one, the beloved, who fulfills the mission given to him by God—a mission that will eventually result in his execution. As children of God will we commit ourselves to doing christ’s work on earth no matter the cost? “Jesus, hold on!”7

A final movie clip for the morning…we’re on a roll. This one comes from the motorcycle diaries, which traces the journey of two friends Ernesto Guevara and Alberto Granado as they travel across South America. They are both aspiring medical doctors and spend time both at play and serving the people. They discover the cruel injustices that exist, particularly at the expense of those indigenous to the land. Their journey in the movie ends at a leper colony where they spend several weeks working. There are strict rules established by those in power, which further exclude and marginalize these people who are already outcasts. Those who are well live apart from those who have leprosy. And it’s the Amazon river that separates them. On the evening of his birthday, those who are well—staff, doctors, and religious leaders—throw a party for Ernesto. While he enjoys this party, he longs to be able to celebrate with those on the other side of the river. He goes down to the river and discovers that there is no way to cross, except the unthinkable, to swim.

See if you can see a baptism in this scene.

Video dvd (2:00 – 4:20) How might this be related to baptism?

He goes from one side, the side of comfort and security, to the side of the oppressed. How is this responding to a call? Solidarity with the outcast. In thinking about our practice: It’s almost like an infant baptism should be neat and tidy, a little sprinkle. And an adult baptism, in which a decision to follow, and acknowledgement of what that decision means, should be signified by swimming across a river, like the Pecos or the Rio Grande, from the side of the old life, to the side of radical discipleship.

May we, who have been baptized be constantly reminded of what that baptism means. That we are claimed and loved as children of God. That is who we are! Beloved. And that we are empowered by the Holy Spirit for loving acts of service, to carry out God’s mission in this world. No matter the cost. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 Phrase from Paul Junggap Huh, Baptism and Water Symbolism in Korea,” Call to Worship, Vol 39.4, 2006, pp 23-26.
2 There are some pretty convincing arguments for adult baptism rather than infant in the Reformed tradition, notably: Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 4/4.
3 Daniel Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, 2004, p 282-288
4 A Korean congregation shares a building with us.
Paul Junggap Huh, Baptism and Water Symbolism in Korea,” Call to Worship, Vol 39.4, 2006, pp 23-26.
Douglas Gebhard, “Baptism and the Small Church,” Call to Worship, Vol 39.4, 2006, pp 49-50.
7 Paul Junggap Huh retelling a story by Heather Murray Elkins, “Baptism and Water Symbolism in Korea,” Call to Worship, Vol 39.4, 2006, pp 23-26.


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