Skip to content

Sermon: Water and Word

January 8, 2012

Genesis 1:1-5; Mark 1:4-11

We have two scriptures this morning that are practically at opposite ends of our Bible.  Genesis 1, of course, is the beginning, the very beginning, and Mark’s gospel is found near the opening of a small section of scripture we call the New Testament at the end.  Yet these texts share two very important elements: water and word.

In both stories, water is present.  The Spirit of God hovers over the waters before the earth takes inhabitable shape.  These waters cover the entire earth, and like a tempestuous sea, represent chaos.  Fast forward to the time of Jesus and we see more water.  This water is the river Jordan, not a particularly impressive body of water, but the place where John called people out of the cities and out of the countryside.  People of all types came to John just for the purpose of going down bodily into that water as a simple sign that their sins were forgiven.  It was a ritual cleansing, a ritual bath of both body and soul.

Jesus came to that water, too.  Some people have figured that Jesus did not need to be there at the Jordan with John.  They have decided that since Jesus was sinless, he did not need this baptism.  He did not need this cleansing.  And if baptism were only about forgiveness of sin, then perhaps they are right.  Baptism, though, is more than an act of cleansing.  It is an act of claiming.

Ever since Jesus was dunked in that water, baptism for Christians has had new meaning.  It is an act that put God’s own stamp on our lives.  Baptism is a means of grace.  That means that God does something for us.  God’s grace, that free gift of love, becomes real in our lives.  We believe that God is present for us in our baptism in a uniquely powerful way.  In the book of Acts, we read that baptism is that moment that God’s Holy Spirit comes to us to become effective in our lives, to take over our lives, as followers of Jesus.  We use for our model, the baptism of Jesus.  In all of our stories of Jesus baptism—from Matthew, Mark and Luke—the Spirit of God descends upon Jesus in his baptism.  Since in our baptism we participate in the life of Jesus, we believe God’s Spirit comes to us in a special way that changes us forever.

And so, just as the Spirit of God hovered over the waters of chaos in the beginning, creating a world of life out of chaos, the same Spirit hovers over the waters of baptism, creating in us a whole new life.  Our two texts share the important theme of water.

These scriptures also share a word.  In the beginning, God said, “Let there be light.”  And there was light.  God spoke, and it came into being.  At a word.  When we use the phrase “the word of God” we are never just speaking about words on the pages of a book.  The word of God is something that is active and powerful.  When God speaks, it is performative speech.  When God speaks, God makes it so.  God said, “Let there be light.”  And so, because God spoke that word, it was accomplished.  The word of God is something living and active.

As Jesus was coming up out of the water, there was another word.  Jesus saw the Spirit descending, and then he heard a voice.  The word from God was “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  As we noted from the Genesis passage, when God speaks, things happen.  God’s word is performative speech.  God spoke: you are my son.  In that moment, God both called and claimed Jesus.  The remainder of the entire gospel according to Mark will show us exactly what that means, and the unique role to which Jesus was called, but in this moment, whatever had come before in his life, Jesus was now called and claimed by God.

Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark gives us no birth story.  This story about John the baptizer and Jesus’ baptism is the first event in this gospel.  We cannot say what Jesus knew or thought before this moment.  We cannot know whether Jesus had some inkling as to his true nature and calling before he went out to see John.  But we can say that in the moment Jesus came up out of the water of baptism, he was transformed forever by the word of God.  “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  Once you have heard that word of God, you can never be the same again.

Our two scriptures this morning share the elements of water and word.  Both scriptures affirm that when water and the word of God come together, nothing is ever the same again.

We believe that our own baptisms are like Jesus’ baptism and unlike Jesus’ baptism.  It is easy to say how our baptisms are different.  Jesus Christ is a unique figure in Creation, and Jesus was called and claimed by God in a unique way.  That baptism at the Jordan so long ago was an important moment along the way as Jesus became the agent of salvation for all of us.  The voice he heard, unique.  The mission to which he was called, unique.

But our baptism is also like that of Jesus.  Just like Jesus, we are called and claimed by God.  When we accept baptism, the stamp of God’s identity is put upon us, and we can never be the same.  Whatever we were before is gone, and in that moment we are something else.  We are a new creation.  In baptism we participate in the death of Jesus to our old selves, and we participate in his resurrection to a new self, oriented to the God who calls us.

In your baptism, the word of God comes to you much as it did to Jesus: you are my beloved child.  That is performative speech.  If you have been baptized, you have been chosen and claimed by God.  God has called you a beloved child, with whom God is pleased.  When Alma was baptized this morning, that word came to her: you are my beloved child.  Just as God spoke a word over the waters of chaos at creation and it was so, just as God spoke a word to Jesus at his baptism and it was so, so did God speak a word to Alma today, and it is so.  She is a beloved child of God.  She certainly can’t yet understand all that will mean for her life, but she has now entered on a lifelong journey to figure it out.  After all, we’re still figuring that out, aren’t we?

But now, we are on this journey together.  Alma is now journeying with us.  She heard that word of God speaking to her, and she responded.  It is our job to teach her how to respond—and to learn from her—so we know what it means to live as a beloved child of God.

I ask you to share encouragement with Alma.  I want you to think of her as a fellow traveler in faith.  I hope you will both teach her and learn from her.  She is now your sister.  We have all been bound together by water and the word—for good.

Let us pray…

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 23, 2013 4:43 pm

    I have to thank you for the efforts you have put in penning this blog.
    I am hoping to view the same high-grade content by you in the future as well.
    In fact, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my
    own, personal site now 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: