Sermon for Epiphany 1, Year B, January 10, 2021

Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11

                Today we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord.  Jesus comes to John the Baptist, who is “proclaiming a baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins,” and Jesus comes to him to be baptized.  In Matthew’s gospel, John says, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? (Matthew 3:14)”.  John knows who Jesus is and does not feel worthy to be baptizing him. But in Mark’s gospel, we hear only, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” 

What follows in Mark is different from Matthew’s account.  Mark writes, “Just as [Jesus] 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.”  Matthew says, “Just as [Jesus] came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  And, in case you are wondering, Luke agrees with Mark, God says, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved . . .”

          In Mark and Luke, God is speaking to Jesus and we are not told if anyone witnessed what Jesus saw and what Jesus heard.  We are told simply this story from Jesus’ perspective.  In Matthew, God announces to those present, “This is my Son, my beloved, with who I am well pleased.”  The difference here can be attributed to the fact that these writers are telling the story of Jesus to different groups of Christians and doing so in a way they might relate to it. Differences in the gospels may bother some people, but I personally find value is hearing this story both ways.

          In today’s gospel, the message from God is for Jesus, “You are my Son …with you I am well pleased.”  Hearing it this way reminds me of the times when my father told me he was proud of me. It felt good and it encouraged and strengthened me to continue doing what I was doing.  Immediately after Jesus is baptized and hears this, he finds himself in the desert where his is tempted to abuse the power that is his for self-gain. 

          The significance of God’s declaration of love and support to Jesus should not be overlooked – especially today as we baptize an infant, Loyal Patton Ludlow, into our faith.  His parents and his sponsor will be accepting the responsibility of raising him as a Christian.  We, too, are renewing our baptismal covenant with them, in which we commit ourselves to being an example to him and to others of the Good News of God in Christ.  We commit to seek and serve Christ in him, and all persons, loving them as ourselves. 

          Many of us are content for our actions to serve as an example of what it means to a follower of Jesus.  This is important, but today we are also committing to proclaim the Good News – which means we are to encourage Loyal, just as God encourages Jesus in today’s gospel.  My father did not stop telling me he was proud of me when I grew up.  He continued to do so when I was an adult, married with children.  Even as an adult, his words encouraged me to be the person Christ calls each of us to be. 

I am sharing my experience, to point out that we should never underestimate the power of words.  Loyal will need our support and encouragement throughout his whole life.  When we see Christ shining forth from him, we need to tell him so, when he offers love and support to others; we need to let him know we are “well pleased.”  Raising a child to be a follower of Christ is a great responsibility that is sometimes very challenging, thus we make this commitment together – parents, godfather, and members of St. Paul’s. 

After his baptism, Jesus faced temptation, just as we do and Loyal will.  We need each other to resist the temptations we face throughout our lives.  And, when we fail to do the right thing, we need to “repent and return to the Lord,” as we say in our baptismal covenant.  Baptisms represent our intension to live as Christ did, and baptisms represent us joining the community of believers who have also made a commitment to live a life of love – love toward God, and love toward one another. 

We were born to live in community where we can learn about love.  Today we are committing to help one another to live the way of love Christ has shown to us. 

Let us pray.

          God of love, help us to fully commit ourselves to our baptismal covenant.  Fill our hearts with your life-giving Spirit that we might show forth your praise, not only with our words, but in our lives that others might be drawn to you.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.