Mark 1. 4-11
Baptism is Christ, Cross, and Charity|
It’s called ”The Duck Test.” When we begin with an observation or two or three and, then, look for the simplest, most likely conclusion. In other words … if it looks like a duck … swims like a duck … quacks like a duck … there’s a good chance it’s a duck! We all do it. And most of the time, it works well. Go to the duck pond at Wadley Barron Park, any given Saturday, any given Sunday, and what looks, swims, and quacks like a duck, will, probably, be a duck! Unless, of course, you happen to come across a platypus. Then, “The Duck Test” may not work.
It doesn’t work, all that well, with baptism, either. What looks like baptism, what sounds like baptism, what feels like baptism, according to the test, must be baptism, right? Ages vary. Infant. Adult. Amount of water fluctuates. Dunked. Sprinkled. Poured. But baptism’s like a duck! There has to be one, simple, most likely conclusion! Especially on a day like this! The Baptism of Our Lord! Especially here, on the banks of the Jordan! Truth is, there’s more to baptism than that. Not all baptisms are alike. Not all baptisms are created equal. We see Jesus and John in the river, and thanks to the duck test, we imagine they’re doing the same thing we do when we’re standing around the font. But we need to understand a couple things about what’s pictured in this week’s gospel reading …
First of all, John – the baptizer – isn’t a Christian. And I don’t mean like Jesus wasn’t Christian. John was not a part of the church. A prophet, yes. A preacher, of course. A Christian, never. John uses jargon of religious, spiritual people. Repentance. Confession. Forgiveness. Words that we ourselves use. So it’s to be expected that we hear them as our own. But John wasn’t one of us. And his baptism isn’t ours. John was more a motivational speaker. A self-help guru. His job? Exhorting. Encouraging. Try harder! Do better! Or else! Ax at the roots! Winnowing fork! And of course, the fire! Always the fire! John’s baptism was – pure and simple – a quid pro quo! A something-for-something! A this-for-that! And Jesus … Well, Jesus and the cross and the love had nothing to do with it! Sure, it looks like baptism. And it sounds like baptism. We, even, call it baptism. But if it is … it’s not ours. It’s not ours. It’s not a model we imitate. It’s not an example we follow. John’s baptism doesn’t save. John’s baptism doesn’t redeem. John’s baptism doesn’t deliver.
You see, here in the church … here in the gospel-rooted, Jesus-imbedded church … baptism isn’t, just, a symbol. And it’s not, simply, a metaphor. Baptism is Jesus! Baptism is the cross! Baptism is love!
Like we’re told, John’s baptism is a baptism of repentance. People confessed their sins and they were forgiven. And in baptism, the guilt and shame were washed away and they received a second chance. A new beginning. A fresh start. To – finally – get it right. But if you didn’t, if you couldn’t, if you wouldn’t, there was always – as Matthew’s been reminding us, for a year now – there is always the outer darkness and teeth gnashing.
But the church doesn’t believe that! We don’t believe that! Even more, we don’t believe god’s like that. An adversary. A roaring lion. Walking around. Looking for someone to devour. That’s not god; that’s the devil! Baptism – for us – isn’t, foremost, confession of sins. Baptism – for us – isn’t, above all, repentance. Baptism for us … Baptism for the church … is Jesus! Jesus and the cross and love!
“In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us! And for his sake – for Christ’s sake – god forgives!” That – for us – is baptism! It’s not, simply, the water! As it says in our hymnal … In baptism our gracious heavenly Father frees us! From sin! From death! By joining us to the dying and rising of Jesus! That’s baptism! We’re born children of a fallen humanity! By water and the Spirit, we’re reborn children of god! Inheritors of eternal life! Members of the church! And none of that … none of that happened, that day! In the Jordan! With John!
We’re not the subject of baptism, but the objects! Not active, but passive! Our baptism is a gift! Unearned! Undeserved! God does it all! Start to finish! Beginning to end! In baptism, we don’t pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps! In baptism, we don’t crawl out of the muck and the mud! God comes to us! And lifts us up! And holds us close! Forever! We don’t invite Jesus into our heart; Jesus places us into his! That’s baptism! Our baptism! The baptism of a gracious, loving god! The baptism of a gracious, loving church!
If it looks like a duck … swims like a duck … and quacks like a duck … contrary to the test, sometimes … sometimes it’s not a duck! Sometimes it’s nothing like a duck! And sometimes, sometimes, things that seem like baptism, but aren’t. What mattered that day – long, long ago – wasn’t the water. It’s what Jesus saw, what he heard, while coming up out of the water. The heavens torn apart! The Spirit descending! And the voice! The voice crying out from heaven! “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased!” And that, too, is a gift! Without limit! Without measure! For Jesus! For us! For all! Sometimes it’s infants, babies. Other times, adults. Either way, the underlying force isn’t the water. No matter how much or how little. And it’s not the person baptized. Baptism … Christian baptism … the baptism of the church … is Christ! Is the cross! Is the love! Is, especially, the love!
So, today, we remember! And today, we celebrate! The Baptism of Our Lord! But even more, we remember and we celebrate, we anticipate and await, the baptism of his suffering! The baptism of his dying! The baptism of his rising! The baptism of his love! In the name of the Father, of the Spirit, and of the Son!