After the Water
A Meditation on Mark 1: 4 – 11
Rev. Cathy C. Hoop Grace Presbyterian Church January 7, 2018
So John showed up in the middle of nowhere, dunking people in a river telling people to straighten up because it’s time to break free. People came from everywhere, even from Washington DC, to renounce their misdeeds and get cleaned up in the river.
John dressed in ratty coveralls and leather suspenders. He kept to a strict vegan diet. And his message: “Get ready for someone so cool I’m unworthy to even tie his shoes! I just got you wet. He’ll set your life on fire!”
That was when Jesus came. He arrived from Nazareth and John dunked him in the Jordan River. As he emerged from the water he saw the universe as it really is, and he felt it resonate to his core: that he was God’s precious child, and God was joy.
Caspar Green, TheScarletLetterBible.com
“Baptism might just get you wet. Or it might just change your life. In itself, there’s nothing magical about a dip in the water. Even if it’s a religiously motivated one, with a formal liturgy, specially blessed water, godparents, and the whole works. What makes it special is what you do with it after you get out of the water.”
After you get out of the water. After Jesus got out of the water, the heavens were torn open and God spoke, parent to child, saying, “You are my beloved. You bring me joy.” With this blessing upon his shoulders, what did Jesus do next? He faced his wilderness. Armed with nothing but a blessing, he walked off on his own to face his demons. It was his choice, just as baptism was his choice. Leading by example, he walked into those flowing waters, to direct our attention to God and God’s longing to live in relationship with us, and then he walked off into the wilderness.
He didn’t have to do this. He chose to do this because he knew that for each one of us, we don’t get a choice in the matter. I was baptized as an infant. I only know the stories of my baptism, and there isn’t much to tell. Some of you were baptized as infants, too, others as youth or adults. Whatever age, whatever point in your life story, you were living in the real world, surrounded by very real hardships and temptations. Sufferings that cause you to question God’s presence or even God’s love.
Jesus walked into the wilderness. With only God’s blessing to sustain him. No food. No water. No companions. (Although in Matthew, the angels do arrive to care for him when all is said and done.) But we aren’t Jesus. This is really, vitally, urgently important for us to remember. I am not Jesus. You are not Jesus. None of us is Jesus! Let’s say that out loud together one time. “I am not Jesus.” As a community, and in collaboration with Christians throughout the world, we seek to embody Jesus and the way of restoration, unity, justice, and reconciliation in which he walked. But we aren’t Jesus.
Why am I making such a big deal out of this? Because, while it might be okay – definitely not easy – but okay – for Jesus to go from those baptismal waters straight off into those wilderness cliffs alone, we don’t need to try this. We aren’t Jesus. We shouldn’t attempt to walk dark valleys alone. This is one of the reasons we don’t celebrate private baptisms. We baptize into community as a reminder that we are in this together; we need one another. Only together can we embody Christ in the powerful ways in which Christ is needed in the world. It does take a village to raise a child, and we are all children, right? We are God’s precious, beloved children. And we are one another’s village.
Alone, it is too easy to stumble, too easy to lose our way, too easy to become distracted, too easy to be mislead. We baptize into community, where we can care for one another, encourage one another, uphold one another, pray for one another. We baptize into community, so that we can practice forgiveness, practice reconciliation, practice the hard, hard work of washing one another’s filthy dirty, stinky feet. But that means it must be okay for us to talk about “real” issues in our lives. Our acceptance of one another means that we never look down on someone else for their struggles. We never shame someone for the hardships they are experiencing, or the sin which weighs them down. Church has lost its purpose if we see it as a place where we have to put on a perfect, happy face when we cross the threshold. This is the place where we can come as we are, and lay our burdens down.
So maybe in addition to allowing the waters of baptism to wash away our separation from God, we allow these ordinary waters to wash away our pretenses. Maybe we allow these waters to wash away our need to pretend that we have it all together. That we are independent. Self-sufficient. Super Heroes! We aren’t. We aren’t Jesus.
“Baptism might just get you wet. Or it might just change your life,” writes Caspar.
In another blog post about baptism, he says this:
“Whether or not there was any water involved at the moment it happened, your baptism is when you realized who you are at your very core and you accepted that realization with joy. So much joy, that as difficult as it may have been (and still be), it’s impossible not to live the rest of your life out of that moment.”
As someone who was baptized as an infant, I love this idea, the idea that I am even still living into the realization of my baptism. This concept can apply to you whether you were baptized as an infant, a child, or an adult. “Your baptism is when you realized who you are at your very core and you accepted that realization with joy.” Caspar takes this idea from the witness of Jesus’ baptism. When Jesus comes up from the water, and the Spirit reminds him who he is, and God reminds him of the boundless love that sustains and upholds him, he is birthed into his public ministry.
That moment was celebrated anew when Jesus’ mother gave him that look that only a parent can give, and told him to get busy turning water into wine so that a friend’s wedding party wouldn’t be a bust. That, too, was a baptismal moment. Jesus’ first public sign, a celebration of Jesus’ power to work in and through the created world. With his mother’s blessing (command?) he realized who he was at his very core and he accepted that realization with joy.
In the healing and teaching, the forgiving and restoring, we witness Jesus realizing who he is rejoicing in that baptismal knowledge.
I particularly love the story found in the second chapter of Mark. Jesus is teaching in a jam-packed house. Remember the house that is so crowded that the only way to get to Jesus is to rip off the roof? Four people desperate to get their friend with a disability down to Jesus decide make a hole to the sky. As God tore open the heavens to speak blessing to the son at the Jordan River, these four tear open the roof to reveal the heavens to Jesus. It is a wonderful reversal, and another moment of baptismal fulfillment for Jesus. In asking for his mercy and healing, in honoring who he is and why he walks this earth, these friends offer blessing to Jesus.
Which is what happens in community. We recognize and celebrate one another’s gifts, and in doing so we make possible those baptismal moments of realizing who we are at our core. No jealousy or possessiveness. No exclusive or rejection. For no ministry of the church belongs to one certain person, all ministry is shared, and all ministry belongs to Christ.
Baptism might just get you wet. Or it might just change your life…what makes it special is what you do with it after you get out of the water.
Imagine that water dripping from your head – your bald little infant head, your curious child’s head, your passionate teenage head, your thoughtful adult head.
Imagine that water dripping from your head anew.
What will you do, beloved child of God, now that you are out of the water?
What will you do?