When we imagine baptism, most of us picture babies wrapped in flowing, white gowns, perhaps punctuated with a little cap or bonnet, anxious parents juggling pacifiers and bottles, and admiring grandparents and godparents oohing and gooing around the font. Today, we have a very different scenario. We have the traditional scenario names above combined with two young adults, who will stand here of their own volition. Two young adults who have sought out the sacrament of baptism. Two young adults who are literally taking this plunge at an important juncture in their life because of a calling and desire to join this Christian community–and more importantly, affirm what God has already done for them.
It seems fitting that we hear from the Gospel of Mark today because there is nothing sweet or cuddly about the harsh rhetoric that comes our way. And, indeed, when we flash back to the baptism of Jesus we are reminded that baptism is a dangerous thing. The gospel writer, Mark, probably wouldn’t be a fan of infant baptism at all. For Mark describes the heavens being torn apart at the baptism of Jesus. Matthew and Luke offer a more tepid version in which they say the heavens were opened. But, we are reminded that which is opened can be closed. However, something that is torn apart can not be easily put back together. It’s as if the whole creation groans when Jesus is baptized. We are informed that the Spirit descends into Jesus and he is declared as God’s beloved.
Today, we will declare that Dustin, Laura, and Olivia are God’s beloved. For those of you who already know them and love them, this comes as no surprise. These are two wonderful people who have joined our faith community and are now ready to make a public affirmation of their desire to join the communion of saints in an outward and visible way. When we pour water over their heads in the name of the Trinity, they will be enfolded into a bond that is indissoluble. They will receive Holy Communion as a sign of God’s nearer presence with them now and always. They will be sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.
All of these things are good. But, think about how brave Dustin and Laura are. Not just because they will be standing as adults, in front of a lot of people and get water dripped over their heads in a vulnerable way. But, rather, because as they stand here today they make a conscious decision to contend with Sin. No, I am not talking about sin with a lower case s. Both Dustin and Laura are sinners just like you and I. But, I am talking about Sin with a capital s.
In the gospel today, we hear about the challenges of sin as it pervades and enfolds our lives. Let’s remember, however, that up until this point, we don’t hear much about sin at all. But, now the disciples and Jesus are on their way to Jerusalem. They have left behind the backwater dealings in Galilee and are headed to the big city. And, we all know they will run into trouble with a capital T. We know that the culmination of sin with a capital S is the crucifixion of Jesus, outside the walls of Jerusalem, on the hills of Calvary. Sin gets in the way of his work. Sin traps him from his vocation. Sin ends up resulting in the crucifixion of the Messiah.
So, Mark is clear that if sin gets in your way, cut off that which makes you sin–eyes, arms, feet, whatever. If you are not familiar with the word hyperbole, you should familiarize yourself with it now. Jesus is not giving literal instructions. Rather, he is saying “This is how serious sin is; it would be worth cutting off your body to cure it, but nobody is going to do that, so let’s think more deeply about it.”
The Book of Common Prayer defines sin as the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation. In this perspective of sin, we can see Sin as not a series of things we do that are wrong. Rather, sin is a powerful force that gets in the way of our relationship with God, with others, and all creation. When we baptize infants, I remind parents that sin is a really hard word to casually slip into conversation with a creature who does nothing but eat and sleep, cry, and poop. But, it’s the pooping that reminds us that babies use diapers, lots of them, and most folks in the developed world use disposable ones, that go into landfills, and never, ever, disintegrate. We are trapped into Sin, with a capital s, the day we are born.
So, why so gloomy on a day of celebration like today? I’m not. I am applauding all who come here today who desire the truth, the way, and the life. The adults here have been on the way for a while, delving into Christianity, asking questions, and ultimately deciding that there is indeed not just something, but someone, greater than you. The someone is the Messiah, the Christ. At Jesus baptism, he was anointed with the Holy Spirit. And as I said, Mark uses a word that means that Spirit wasn’t just some pretty dove that landed on his head. Rather, it was ruach, the wind, the spirit that landed inside the heart of God propelling Jesus into his ministry.
And, so it is, for the baptized. In moments, they will be sealed by the Holy Spirit with oil. Anointed like kings and queens. And deserving as much as God’s beloved children. But, they will also be anointed to contend with the Sin of this world as they are likewise enfolded in God’s grace. These brave folks will die to self and be raised with Christ. And, because of this their lives can not be the same. They are now formally a part of this great communion and this great work of building up the kingdom. Sam Wells, an Anglican priest and writer says it better than I. He says this of his work as a parish priest in the heart of London.
I’m trying to do something beautiful; to run a church. Every day we seek to model the way Christ makes us companions through fun, fellowship, service, prayer, and play to draw all, Christian and non-Christian, in to the company of grace and glory for which the simple word is communion. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. A stranger might drop by the church, a homeless person might stop by for food, a person may meanader in for a concert or be a part of one of our many committee meetings. They might ask, “ This kingdom you speak of-this turning of society into community, this freedom and flourishing beyond market and state, this company of grace–what does it look like?” And we can sweep our hand over every aspect of our life together and say, gently, but truly it ,looks like this.
And standing here from this pulpit, I would direct your gaze to the font, where in moments, we too, will have a picture of this kingdom and this community, Dustin, Laura, and Olivia, welcome into this communion of grace.