July 18, 2021 “Water and The Spirit”
Ezekiel 36: 25-28, Ephesians 4: 4-6, Mark 1: 1-11
Friends in Christ…
Today, as we gather in worship of God, as Christ’s gathered body; the church, we are blessed to be able to celebrate the two Sacraments of our faith:
Baptism and Communion.
Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Baptism, as we have just experienced, is the laying on of water, the ritual washing and anointing that reminds us that just as Christ was baptized in water and the spirit by John in the wilderness, all of us are baptized, are welcomed, are made one in the same way, through water and the Spirit.
Similarly, when we celebrate Communion, the Lord’s Supper, as we are about to do in just a little while, we again celebrate our oneness with Christ and His Church through the simple elements of bread and wine.
And isn’t it interesting, friends, that these two acts, these two Sacraments are our most holy and essential practices?
That if we stripped everything else away from the church (as, indeed we experienced during Covid-19) if we stripped everything away: the building, the pews, the music, the gatherings, the meetings, the projects, all of it.
If we stripped everything else away, the church would be known in the presence of only these simple elements: water, a cup of wine, and a loaf of bread, and the Holy Spirit that gives these elements (and us) life beyond their simple form.
That’s all we need to be followers of Jesus Christ, to be Christians.
In a time when so many are asking, and so many are wondering “what does it mean to the be the church today,” our tradition, our Scriptures, our Sacraments remind us that the answer is “not as much as we may think.”
“Not as much as we may think.”
Being the church today doesn’t mean having it all figured out.
Being the church today doesn’t mean having political or social influence.
Being the church today doesn’t mean preserving traditions for the sake of preserving traditions.
Rather, “being the church today” means what it was always supposed to mean:
Coming humbly before the Lord Jesus Christ, receiving His baptism, and having the faith to drink from the cup He alone offers.
That’s what it means to be the church today.
That’s what it means to follow Jesus Christ today; to follow Christ with open hearts and open hands, lifting up our whole selves in prayer, and receiving the gifts of Christ that are given not because we have earned them, but because God is gracious beyond all understanding.
In our Gospel reading this morning (Mark’s version of Jesus’ baptism by John in the wilderness) we are provided with all the assurance we need that what we have just participated in, what we have just witnessed for Buck, and Boone, and Iman is one of the two essential ways we gather as Christian people. That aside from hearing the Word and observing the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion, and being transformed by them in our words and deeds and love of neighbour, there is nothing more we need to do to follow Jesus Christ.
And if I had more time this morning, I would love to unpack this Scripture and actually each of our three Scriptures with you, as we explore the Word, but we have squirmy babies with us today and still much to do so allow me to be brief and focus in on just the last three verses of Mark’s story.
After Mark describes John and his mission and those going out to be baptized by him in the wilderness, and also John’s humility before Christ whom he foretold, Mark says this in verses 9 to 11:
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.”
And once again, my friends, in the interest of time and squirmy babies and patient and wonderful moms and dads I am going to be bold.
And in boldness let me say: these three verses tell us all we need to know about who Jesus of Nazareth is, where He comes from, and why we still follow him two-thousand years later.
Who is Jesus of Nazareth? In one sense, just simply that: a man from Nazareth. Why does Mark tell us that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee? For no other reason than he wants us to be sure God’s only son came from the same places we come from; normal (boring even) home towns.
Yes, Jesus’ coming from Galilee fulfills Isaiah’s Old Testament prophecy but just as importantly it tells us that Jesus is one of us: a person from a place. A man from Galilee. No different really than a girl from Saskatoon or a boy from Martensville.
That’s where Jesus is from: Nazareth of Galilee. But who is He? Well, Mark tells us: He was one of the crowd.
Earlier at Verse 5, Mark tells us that as John was baptizing in the wilderness “people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him…”
Then at Verse 9, he describes Jesus “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”
Who is Jesus? At first, simply one of the crowd.
He was (by all appearances) a normal, everyday guy from a normal everyday home town, going to be baptized along with other normal everyday people.
And isn’t that what it means to be a Christian? To be a follower of Jesus Christ?
To know that every “normal” person you meet, from every “normal” hometown (including our own) is one of exactly the same humanity that God took on in Jesus of Nazareth?
That there is not anything fundamentally different from your flesh, your hair, your blood, your fingernails than His flesh, His hair, His blood, His fingernails.
That is the Good News of Jesus Christ: not that God is far away on some cloud out in space, but that God is right here in our human form: bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh.
If we recognize Jesus Christ as one of us, if we recognize Jesus Christ when we first meet Him in Mark as a human being among human beings, doesn’t that have just wonderful implications for all of us and for everyone we meet?
Doesn’t that mean that the God who saw it good to take on our flesh, to live our life, and die our death, knows us, understands us at a level that makes him as near to us as any person we come across?
Doesn’t that mean that the God who created the heavens and the earth has a special purpose and a special love for each of us? That having taken on human flesh, having sympathized with us, He knows each of us more intimately than we ever dared dream or imagine?
And that, because of this, God loves us as dearly and as personally as He loved His own Son, Jesus of Nazareth?
It does mean these things, friends. But it means even more than these.
One of the other wonderful things that Christ’s presence in human flesh means; his baptism in water, and his Communion in wine and bread, is that it means we are free to love one another as deeply as He loves us.
No matter who we are. No matter what we may have done or failed to do. No matter if we have lived a life of difficulty or whether we have not yet even begun to live our lives, we are each as precious to God, to Christ, and to His body the church as Christ was to His Father in Heaven.
Let me leave you with this:
When this love, this love of God, this love that has the power to transform the world into the Kingdom of Heaven was first put on display, it happened during a baptism.
It happened when Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, took on the waters of baptism from a man named John in the Jordan wilderness.
When that happened, as Jesus was emerging from His baptism, “he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven [and said], ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”
And to all of you, and especially Iman, Buck, and Boone, I say this: you are God’s beloved, and He is well pleased in you.