The First Sunday after the Epiphany
The Baptism of Our Lord
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Mark 1:4-11

IN THE WESTERN CHURCH, WE MARK THE BEGINNING OF THE SEASON OF EPIPHANY BY TELLING THE STORY OF THE WISE MEN COMING FROM THE EAST TO HONOR THE NEW BORN CHRIST. SINCE THE WORD EPIPHANY MEANS A REVELATION OR APPEARANCE OF DIVINITY, OR A SUDDEN AND INTUITIVE UNDERSTANDING OF AN ESSENTIAL TRUTH, WE ASSOCIATE THE VISIT OF THE MAJI WITH THE REVELATION OF CHRIST TO THE GENTILES. IN THE EASTERN CHURCH, HOWEVER, THE TRUE EPIPHANY IS SEEN NOT IN THE VISIT OF THE MAJI, BUT IN THE STORY OF THE BAPTISM OF JESUS. AS THERE IS NO CHRISTMAS STORY IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK, NO ANGELS AND CELESTIAL CHOIRS, NO SHEPHERDS AT THE MANGER, THE WRITER OF MARK’S GOSPEL INTENDS THAT, IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHO THIS JESUS IS, YOU MUST START WITH WHAT WAS REVEALED AT HIS BAPTISM.

JOHN APPEARED IN THE WILDERNESS, A PLACE OF SPIRITUAL TRIAL AND PURIFICATION, PROCLAIMING A BAPTISM OF REPENTANCE. ONE MUST FORGIVE THE HYPERBOLE OF ALL THE PEOPLE COMING TO HIM TO BE BAPTIZED, SINCE THE SADDUCEES AND PHARISEES WOULD HARDLY HAVE BEEN AMONG THEM, BUT THERE WERE SUFFICIENT CROWDS TO CREATE DISCOMFORT IN THE ESTABLISHED RELIGIOUS ORDER; ESPECIALLY WHEN JOHN PROCLAIMED THAT ONE WHO WAS GREATER THAN HE WAS COMING. MARK TERSELY TELLS US THAT JESUS CAME FROM NAZARETH IN GALILEE AND STOOD IN LINE LIKE ANYONE ELSE AND WAS BAPTIZED BY JOHN IN THE RIVER JORDAN.

ON OUR PILGRIMAGE TO THE HOLY LAND THREE YEARS AGO, WE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO GO DOWN TO THE BAPTISMAL SITE ON THE JORDAN. AS WE APPROACHED THE RIVER, A SQUAD OF IDF SOLDIERS WAS IN THE WATER COOLING OFF, BUT QUICKLY GOT OUT WHEN THEY SAW OUR GROUP. QUIETLY AND REVERENTLY WE STEPPED INTO THE RIVER, EACH ALONE WITH HIS OR HER THOUGHTS. AS I SAT ON THE BANK, I REALIZED WHY JOHN PICKED THIS SPOT, WHICH WE KNOW TO BE ACCURATE SINCE THE ARCHAEOLOGISTS HAVE RECENTLY FOUND THE CAVE WHERE HE LIVED. THIS SPOT, SOUTH OF JERICHO AND NORTH OF THE DEAD SEA, IS WHERE THE TRIBES OF ISRAEL CROSSED INTO THE PROMISED LAND. THIS WAS THE BOUNDARY LINE WHERE THOSE WANDERING IN THE DESERT WERE LED INTO THE LAND PROMISED BY GOD.

WHEN JESUS CAME UP OUT OF THE WATER, ANOTHER BOUNDARY WAS CROSSED. THE HEAVENS WERE NOT OPENED AS THE OTHER GOSPELS RECORD, BUT WERE TORN APART. THE WORD IN THE GREEK IS SCHIZE, THE SAME WORD USED WHEN THE CURTAIN OF THE TEMPLE WAS TORN APART AT THE CRUCIFIXION OF JESUS. THE VOICE OF GOD WAS HEARD BY JESUS TO PROCLAIM, “THIS IS MY SON, THE BELOVED, WITH WHOM I AM WELL PLEASE,” AND THE SPIRIT OF GOD DESCENDED UPON HIM LIKE A DOVE. IN HIS BAPTISM, IN THIS JESUS, THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN HEAVEN AND EARTH IS CROSSED, AND THE FULLNESS OF THE MANIFESTATION OF GOD IS REVEALED, AND THE MISSION OF JESUS TO THIS WORLD AND TO HIS PEOPLE BEGINS. HE WAS BAPTIZED NOT OUT OF HIS OWN NEED, BUT FOR OURS; THAT IN OUR BAPTISM WE WOULD BE UNITED FOREVER IN HIS, AND THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN HEAVEN AND EARTH, BETWEEN GOD AND US, WOULD BE NO MORE.

IN OUR BAPTISM, WE ARE REBORN, NEW AGAIN AS AT THE FIRST DAY OF CREATION. AS GOD SPOKE, “LET THERE BE LIGHT,” THERE WAS LIGHT, AND, AS THE SPIRIT MOVED OVER THE FACE OF THE WATERS, BY THE WORD OF GOD ALL THINGS WERE MADE. SO BY THE BAPTISM OF THE CHRIST, BY THE WORD AND THE WATER, WE CROSS OUT OF THE DESERT WILDERNESS, MADE ANEW INTO THE PEOPLE OF GOD OF THE NEW COVENANT OF GOD’S PROMISE. AS MARTIN LUTHER WROTE IN THE CATECHISM, “WATER . . . WITH THE WORD OF GOD IS LIFE – GIVING WATER WHICH BY GRACE GIVES US THE NEW BIRTH THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT.” WE MUST REMEMBER THAT WE NEVER GET BAPTIZED; WE ARE BAPTIZED BY THE FATHER, THE SON, AND THE HOLY SPIRIT. EVERY BAPTISM IS AN EPIPHANY WHERE THE GRACE OF GOD SHATTERS THE BOUNDARY OF SEPARATION BETWEEN HIM AND US, AND CALLS US INTO THE NEW LIFE OF THE COVENANT WITH HIM, AND MAKES US HIS PEOPLE, AND WE BEGIN OUR MINISTRY IN THIS LIFE.

YOU MAY OR MAY NOT REMEMBER YOUR BAPTISM, BUT WHETHER YOU WERE BROUGHT TO THE WATER BY YOUR PARENTS, MOVED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT TO OFFER YOUR LIFE TO GOD, OR YOU, BEING LED BY THE SPIRIT, WALKED UP TO THE WATER ON YOUR OWN, IN THE WATER OF BAPTISM YOU HAVE BEEN LED ACROSS THE JORDAN INTO A NEW LIFE. FROM THE WILDERNESS OF SIN AND SELF, ALL WHO HAVE BEEN BAPTIZED HAVE BEEN LED INTO THE PROMISED LAND OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. RECREATED AS NEW BORN MEMBERS OF GOD’S KINGDOM, WHICH IS BOTH NOW AND NOT YET, WE ARE CALLED TO LIVE AS THE PEOPLE OF GOD IN THE MIDST OF THE WORLD. LED BY THE CHRIST, THE WORD MADE FLESH, WITH JESUS AS OUR MODEL, AND BY THE PROMPTING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, THAT NEW LIFE IS THE LIFE OF THE CROSS; THE LIFE OF GIVING OUR SELVES FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS.

TODAY ( AT THE 10: 30 WORSHIP SERVICE) WE WILL ONCE AGAIN STAND ON THE BANKS OF THE JORDAN AND BE WITNESSES AS THE SPIRIT OF GOD LEADS TWO NEW MEMBERS INTO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. TRISTAN NOAH HEDTKE AND JONATHAN REED SHERMOEN WILL BE BROUGHT BY THEIR PARENTS AND SPONSORS TO THE WATER OF LIFE; THE WATER OF GOD’S REDEEMING GRACE. AS THEY CROSS THE RIVER INTO THE LAND AND LIFE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD, WE WHO ARE PRESENT WILL STAND AND REAFFIRM OUR COMMITMENT TO THE COVENANT GOD HAS MADE WITH US, BECAUSE, IN THEIR BAPTISM, TRISTAN AND JONATHAN WILL BE BONDED WITH EACH OF US IN AN UNBREAKABLE BOND THROUGH THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD. WHEN WE DO THIS, WE OUGHT TO DO SO WITH A SENSE OF WONDER AND AWE, BECAUSE WHAT WE WILL WITNESS WILL BE NO MERE RITUAL; WE WILL STAND WITNESS TO THE GRACE OF GOD. IN THE WATER AND THE WORD, IN THE SIGN OF THE CROSS MADE ON THEIR FOREHEADS, THE HEAVENS WILL BE TORN OPEN ONCE AGAIN, AND, WHILE WE MAY NOT HEAR THE WORDS, GOD WILL SAY, “THESE ARE MY SONS, MY BELOVED, WITH WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED.”

IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. AMEN

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