Saturday, January 10, 2009

Mark 1, the penetrating spirit

Our baptism is a special day. It’s one we prepare for with classes in order that we will know what we are getting ourselves into.
I remember when someone unfamiliar with COB asked “I don’t have to sign over my 401K, do I? We do make commitment in baptism and we receive something also. How that works, the giving and receiving of promises- is a great theological topic.
It begins with water, do you remember the water of your baptism? Was it in a nice warm (mostly warm) baptistery, or a cold river?
I’ve always wondered about the 1st Brethren baptisms, Dec. 25 , 1723
They say no one has ever gotten sick by being “dunked” in a cold river during a winter baptism. I’m sure December would not be my choice for an outside baptism.

Mark's story of Jesus' baptism is remarkable, not because of the water but because of the Spirit. God’s Spirit is a vital part of our ability to follow Christ. It enables us to hear and discern a call. It enables us to enter a particular type of service and feel certain that we are following God’s guidance. The Holy Spirit is key to the service of baptism.

BAPTISM marks a new start, a fresh beginning. And a new direction. This was true even for Jesus. although theologians debate why the ‘one w/o sin’ came to be baptized, it marked a turning and the beginning for his ministry.
We choose to be baptized when we recognize our need for covenant with the author of life and when we choose to follow Jesus’ Way.

Brethren believe:
1. Baptism is a response to God’s saving act thru Jesus, the Christ (God is the actor, we the responder. We act in free will, by choice, deciding to follow Christ.)
2. Baptism is an act of obedience to the teachings and example of Jesus. (In discipleship class I ask youth, “Why do we baptize the way we do--by immersion?” The answer is, “Because Jesus did.”)
3. Baptism is a symbol of cleansing and new life. It is an outward and visible sign of an inner experience of new birth.
4. Baptism is a public witness of the covenant relationship with God. (Baptisms are usually done in a public service and certainly with witnesses. While the inward experience is private, this outward expression has to be public.)
5. Baptism is an initiation rite into the church; the body of Christ. It is the moment of entering a congregation and assuming responsible membership.
6. Baptism is an ORDINATION into ministry. “All people, as they join the church thru baptism, are called to minister thru their life and work to their neighbors in the world.”
7. Baptism is a beginning.
a. It is understood not as something completed but as the start of the Christian’s pilgrimage of faith.

At baptism we take vows,
1. Affirming that We “believe in Jesus Christ as the revealer of God’s love and purpose for the world?”
2. Second vow – Will you turn away from all sin/brokenness and promise to live -according to the example and teachings of Jesus; taking the NT as your rule for living?
3. Third – Will you be loyal to the church, upholding it by your prayers, your presence, your substance and your service?

Then the waters symbolically wash us clean as we are baptized in the TRIUNE name, and we rise as a new creation, in and thru Christ. Then comes the laying on of hands and invoking the Holy Spirit. We know and trust that God’s spirit comes to us –it is the heart of our new beginning.

Perhaps you have experienced God’s spirit as a soft, descending dove – it is a favorite way we interpret Mark’s phrase
“he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.”

Yet, God’s spirit also comes as a burning flame, purifying, igniting with passion, stirring waters and usually stirring up trouble. This spirit doesn’t seem so gentle. (Someone said, when you think of God’s spirit as a dove, think of a dive-bombing bird aiming at a predator trying to protect her young. Or if you’ve seen Alfred Hitchcock’s classic movie, THE BIRDS, you might have a different picture of the Spirit as bird.)

Looking back at today’s scripture in Mark, how do you think Jesus experience God’s spirit?
This visible spirit drove him into the wilderness for a 40 day encounter with fasting and devilish temptation. And yet it was this spirit that gave Jesus the POWER TO withstand the trial of the desert and the trial of the next three years. How?
‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

This not-so-gentle spirit, this igniting and piercing/penetrating, all-powerful spirit states with a voice that breaks into our humanity, “You are my beloved”.

What could you do if you heard these words? You are my beloved? How many people that you know, feel beloved? “Our culture is competitive and judgmental. We never feel good enough. And yet our baptism is the sign that we are good enough thru Christ.” (Sarah Beck)
The words of affirmation cause us to look at the spirit differently, no longer are we likely to imagine the soft white feathers of a dove, but a strong presence of acceptance. This spirit presence is an intrusive power FOR life that only God commands.

We hear God command the spirit in the scriptures. --- -God commands that there be light and there is new birth and life for creation.
-God’s voice echoes over the waters and new life comes after a flood, and the same peace comes after our personal devastation, when we hear God’s spirit in reassurance.
-Christ speaks the words, “Your sins are forgiven.” And lives are changed forever.
- God’s spirit gives voice to God’s blessing when Jesus is baptized and thru his life of giving, we are blessed.

Our baptism makes it possible for us to hear God’s spirit say, “You are my Beloved”

In our response to God’s loving act, our ears are open to hear God bless us.
Our eyes can see the places God intends for us to work now that we have been granted the power of God’s Spirit.

YOU ARE God’s beloved and we must hear God say it, or we will continue to fall back with hesitation and we can’t act with conviction until we realize we have already been accepted…
YOU are accepted. If you are baptized, you have already acted in response to God’s acceptance. If you are not, the invitation is always open because God love us and desires that we embrace the Holy Spirit and know that we are God’s beloved.

We are all accepted, we are touched by God spirit. We are pierced and filled and empowered FOR something and it takes being reminded that we are God's beloved so we can have the strength to share it with others.

No comments: