Mark 1:9-13

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 the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Mark 1:9-13

I never knew the date of my baptism until I was filling out the application form for seminary. Evidently, I didn’t need to know the date until then. I was able to live my entire life to that point, all those days since November 27, 1960, blissfully unaware of the date of my baptism. Should I have been surprised to admit that my baptism meant absolutely nothing to me?

Many years later, after my cousin moved into my Grandma’s old house, he and his wife went through all of the treasures that had laid long forgotten in her basement. They sorted the stuff out, cousin by cousin, and then one day a box arrived in my mail with all sorts of wonderful things in it. Including my baptism certificate. Only then did I learn who my baptismal sponsors, my godparents, were. Not a peep from them over the years. Should I have been surprised to admit that my godparents were absolutely meaningless to me, all that time, and since that time?

I have come to learn – first by going along with what my professors taught me and what I was expected to parrot from them, then by life experience – that my baptism actually was a pretty big deal. It was FULL of meaning. Lots of promises were made that day. Few were kept.

My parents promised to raise me in the faith. To see that I learned the basics of the faith along the way. To see that I was in church on Sunday mornings until I had a car of my own. My sponsors promised to help them with all of that. The church promised to be there for me.

Honestly, the only one that kept their promise was the church. For the rest of my life, in every place I have lived, I have been surrounded by Christian communities that stood like the prodigal son’s father, always looking down the road, anxiously hopeful that I would find my way home. And, with God as my guide, I did. And they told me, because God loved me, because Jesus died for me, and because I was baptized on a Sunday afternoon in 1960, when I walked through their doors, I was coming home.

Jesus public coming out party happened along the shores of the Jordan River. Like all of those other desperate people looking for something that their faith could hold on to, some reassurance that God wasn’t through with them, some promise that things would get better, he slogged through the mud, negotiated the slippery rocks, until he rested in the arms of John, who gently lowered him into the love of God.

The heavens were torn open – like the temple veil will be ripped in two when we get there later – and God’s affirming words thundered. Even as Jesus blew the water out of his nose, he knew, in his heart of hearts, he was God’s child. He was loved. His father was proud of him.

My father didn’t make it to my baptism. It was just my mom, the pastor, and his wife as a witness. But that wasn’t about God and it wasn’t about me. As far as God was concerned, and as far as I was concerned, I too was beloved. A work of art, crafted by the creator of the universe. That ain’t bad!

But life didn’t get easier for Jesus. It got harder. Baptism isn’t a “Get Out of The Wilderness Free” card. Baptism IS the assurance that, even when we’re alone in the wilderness, we’re not alone. And even though it feels like we will never get out of the wilderness, one day we will.

When will we ever learn that it is the wilderness that brings us the assurance of faith?

Let us pray: In your baptism, O Lord, you identify yourself with us. You don’t scold us from the front of the room, you sit in the desk with us. You don’t sit with the cool kids in the lunch room, you come back to the corner and sit with us. You might even have had pimples when you were a teenager. Through all these years, you are still with us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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