A sermon, based on Mark 1.4-11, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 1st Sunday after the Epiphany, January 7, 2018

Epiphany. From the Greek, meaning “revelation.” Not of what, but rather of Whom.

Church Calendar

Centuries ago, the Christian church developed the year-round commemoration of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, placing Epiphany after Christmas so to proclaim the why of the birth of the Bethlehem baby. During Epiphany,(1) we will read and reflect on gospel accounts of Jesus’ mission of the calling of his disciples to follow him and his ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing, all to declare the nearness of the presence of the kingdom of God.

The Baptism of Jesus (Baptême de Jésus) (1886-1894), James Tissot (1836-1902), Brooklyn Museum

Today, we are bidden to reflect on Jesus’ baptism, which raises an immediate question. As John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness as God’s messenger to herald the coming of the Messiah, offering a baptism with water as an outward symbol of the inward, spiritual cleansing of repentance and forgiveness of sin, all to prepare to meet “the one who is more powerful than I…(who) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”, why did Jesus, the Messiah, the one more powerful than John, need to be baptized? Here, it is a wonderful thing that the Bible has four gospel accounts of the life of Jesus in which we can find parallel passages granting us other views of the same episode. In Matthew, when Jesus came to be baptized, John protested, “I need to be baptized by you!” Jesus answered, “Let it be so now, for it fitting in this way to fulfill all righteousness,”(2) that is, the will of God.

Thus, this revelation: The sinless Jesus, who needs no baptism of repentance, is baptized as a sign that he shares our life. Jesus is…can be our Savior because he identifies with the fullness of our humanity – our joys and sorrows, our triumphs and failings, our goodness and, yes, our sin.

Thus, this revelation: Jesus’ baptism is the paradigm for our baptisms. Through baptism, we are to see what Jesus saw – the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, the power of God, descending like a dove on us. Through baptism, we are to hear what Jesus heard – the vox Deus, the voice of God saying to us, “You are my daughter, my son, the beloved with whom I am well pleased.” Through baptism, we are called to do as Jesus does, to be as Jesus is.

Of the manifold ways to articulate, demonstrate what it looks like when the heavens are torn open and the Spirit descends upon us empowering us to do and to be as Jesus does and is, our Baptismal Covenant is one.

Thus, this revelation: Turning to page 304 in The Book of Common Prayer, please stand and, renewing our baptisms, let us recite responsively…

Do you believe in God the Father?
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will, with God’s help.(3)


Illustration: The Baptism of Jesus (Baptême de Jésus) (1886-1894), James Tissot (1836-1902), Brooklyn Museum

(1) Properly, the title of this period of the church year/calendar is the Season after the Feast of the Epiphany. The Feast of the Epiphany, being the 13th day after Christmas Day, always falls on January 6 and is accompanied by the reading of the story of the visit to Bethlehem to see the Christ Child by magi from the East (Matthew 2.1-12). The coming of the magi, who were Gentiles, traditionally has been interpreted by Christians as a sign that the mission and ministry of Jesus was not only to Israel, but to the whole world.
(2) See Matthew 3.13-17 (my emphases)
(3) The Baptismal Covenant, The Book of Common Prayer, pages 304-305 (my emphases)

2 thoughts on “

  1. Now this is AWESOME!! I was going to say HOT but thought that may not be acceptable!! How often we say these words at Baptism, but do we actually feel the words with the intentionality of living into them???

    I want to see what Jesus saw and hear what Jesus heard and feel what Jesus felt!! Yesterday there was a little mixup in the bulletin where the child’s name being baptized was misspelled. When it was announced what his actual name was some in the congregation started grumbling about incompetence etc. But the parents didn’t seem phased al all!! I remember thinking, the parents know his name AND most importantly so does Jesus!! So I felt all was well. I purposely said the words more intently yesterday as if to drown out any negativity about the misspelling. I simply love the Baptism service always have, but this sermon emphasizes for me why I love it!! Now may me all focus this season on living the way Jesus wants us to live as we welcome all of the newly baptized.

    Love & Thanks Paul!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Loretta. Hot is an appropriate response in my view!

      Of the many times I participated in reciting The Baptismal Covenant, and in this, having a sense that it defines and describes the baptized life or baptized living, I never connected it as a description of Jesus’ baptismal experience. When writing this sermon, I was struck with the violence – in a way I had not been before – of the heavens torn open. I wondered to myself why so powerful, even terrifying an image. Is it because God must tear open the heavens to break into our word, truly God’s world, to send the Spirit (the same Spirit that brooded over chaos at creation [Genesis 1])? Perhaps!

      As for the name of the child, yes, his parents know and Jesus knows. That is sufficient, spiritually and eternally.

      Much love

      Liked by 1 person

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