First Sunday after the Epiphany

Year B

Mark 1:4-11

The Rev. Denise Vaughn

The Power of Baptism

On this first Sunday after the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, and as we start a New Year, it is fitting that we hear a story about beginnings. Every year, on this Sunday, as we begin the season of Epiphany, we hear the story of the Baptism of our Lord. We hear this story because not only does Jesus’ baptism reveal that he was God’s son, but his baptism is a model for how all Christ followers are to live their lives.  Jesus began his ministry with his baptism and we begin our Christian lives with ours. Mark, in the gospel reading today, treats our Lord’s baptism as a kind of inauguration ceremony. His ministry and mission hinged on it for; he healed no one, taught no one, raised no one from the dead, cast out no demons until he had been baptized. In that baptism, he received the power of the Holy Spirit to do his ministry.

The message appears very clear: in baptism we receive power and authority through the water and the word. Prior to the event, John the Baptizer speaks of the coming ministry of Jesus. A ministry that would reach its climax in his sacrificial death at Calvary, which means that in a very real sense it was his baptism that began the way of the cross and everything he did from that moment on, was in line with his redemptive purposes. He was committed to do these things; he had come into the world to save, to liberate; to bring the people into God’s saving love. This was his task, and he undertook it on the day of his baptism.

With this in mind, the tie between Christ’s baptism and our own begins to become clear. For, we too are committed by our baptism to the redemptive task and purposes of God, and we agree to do this by the very same method as Christ, the method of the cross. Several of you may remember your baptism while some of us were baptized as infants, as Susan will be this morning. I was baptized at seven months old and only remember through story and pictures. Those of you who do remember, you probably remember the splash of water as it was poured over your head. Some of you even experienced being immersed beneath the water but what you probably did not feel was that instant when the Spirit of God was gifted to you in the holy blending of water and the word. It was at that moment that the heavens open and our lives are changed forever whether we can remember our baptisms or not.

A new day has begun. There is a new reality; for all who are baptized into Christ become disciples, empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit, and made new each day. The Voice tears open the heavens to declare us Beloved. It is clear that baptism changes everything; it did for Jesus and for the community we meet in Acts. In Acts 19, Paul baptizes disciples in Ephesus in the name of Jesus, laying hands upon them and bestowing the gift of the Holy Spirit. Immediately, we read, their lives are changed forever. Has it changed us? It can be sobering to think that we committed ourselves by our baptism to a way of life that requires us to live no longer for ourselves but for him who for our sake died and was raised. We can of course refuse to follow through with this, just as our Lord could have succumbed to the temptations in the wilderness soon after his baptism.

To do this means we deny our baptism and to be truthful, there are baptized people out there who do not live like baptized people and this includes every one of us at times. And like the disciples Paul finds in Ephesus, there are many Christians today who might say that they “have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” That is why it is so important that we live giving our lives, like Jesus did, to do God’s work. It means putting God as a priority in our lives. Paul talks about this as being baptized into the death of Christ. There is to be a real killing off of the old sinful self which for most of us, has to done daily so that every day is a resurrection experience where we become new in Christ.

We may underestimate the power given to us at our baptism, thinking that the primary gift of this initiation into the Body of Christ is just for the forgiveness of sins and not realizing that this forgiveness and cleansing are only the first step in embracing the Christian faith. The second is receiving the power of the Holy Spirit, which is the real substance of God acting in us and this gift empowers and calls us to proclaim with word and example the Good News. Baptism is often called the door to the church, but it is also the door into God’s vineyard where there is plenty of work for all. The uniqueness of that work lies in the uniqueness of Christ himself because his life was an ongoing glimpse of the embracing arms of God.

Today’s readings remind us we are to claim the full power of our baptism, which transformed us into God’s beloved children, which gives us the ability and the inspiration to take up the cross. Jesus, sinless and God’s Son underwent baptism so that we might commune with him in baptism and share his empowerment by the Spirit. If our baptism involves participating in Jesus’ and if Jesus’ baptism initiates his ministry of suffering obedience, then ours must include a similar acceptance and road. And as Mark tells us later in chapter 8 of his gospel; the path that baptism opens is a road symbolized by bearing one’s own cross, and of saving one’s life only by losing it.

This bearing one’s cross Mark describes in the rest of his gospel, of how this beloved Son fulfills the mission given to him by God. I pray we will commit ourselves to completing Christ’s work on earth.  As the water washed over us, for many of us these words were said and a cross was marked on our foreheads; “Child of God, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever. That promise is our hope and our mission. Let us now reaffirm those promises we made or someone made for us and as we do, we see the heavens opened and the Spirit descending like a dove on us.