Good morning. Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord—that’s why we have the baptismal font on the communion table. This is a reminder of Jesus’ baptism; his ordination into ministry, if you will. It’s a reminder of why God entered the created world in human form and it’s also a reminder of our own baptism. It’s a reminder that we are baptized into the life, the ministry, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord.
This was one of those weeks when I had a really clear idea of where my sermon was going—on Monday afternoon, no less! I was going to share a story about a time when I had a really cool plan, and it looked like all the pieces were falling into place, and then God said, “ah, not exactly.” All I needed to do was sit down and type it all out.
Then Wednesday happened.
I got a text from a member of this congregation. It read: “Turn on the news.”
I did. And I couldn’t focus on anything else, until 6:30, when we had our weekly prayer meeting. After that, I had a Zoom meeting for the new presbytery, but honestly, I couldn’t focus on that meeting. It seemed so silly, given the appalling images coming out of Washington, D.C.
I wondered if the sermon that I had planned to write would seem trivial, after the chaos that we all witnessed. At the same time, there was a part of me that wanted to stick with the original plan. It would have been easier that way. I had a lot of meetings last week. I needed to write and record a reflection for the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. worship service. Besides, I’m pretty sure that none of you stormed the Capitol Building on Wednesday. It’s not like I need to tell you that Wednesday’s violence was wrong.
Yet I couldn’t escape the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who said: “indifference to evil is worse than evil itself… in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” Of course, even Rabbi Heschel’s words are subject to debate. In our society, no one wants to take responsibility for the bad actions of others. Nor can we all agree on what is evil.
This was also the case in Jesus’ day—the society into which Jesus was born was every bit as divided as ours. In previous generations, God had sent messengers to God’s chosen people, Israel. The prophets preached peace and reconciliation; they offered words of comfort to those who were afflicted and they challenged the authorities to do more to care for the poor, the widows, and the orphans. The prophets called for repentance.
Sometimes the people heard the message; sometimes they didn’t. Over the last several weeks, we’ve heard a lot of readings from the prophet Isaiah. In particular, we’ve heard the words of comfort that God spoke through Isaiah to the exiles from Jerusalem—the words that upheld them while they were captives in Babylon. We’ve also heard the words of encouragement that God sent to the exiles as they returned home from Babylon, only to find Jerusalem abandoned and the temple destroyed.
Eventually, the temple was rebuilt, but the restoration was incomplete. The exiles never truly reconciled with the Jews who remained in Judah during the period of captivity. Factions emerged among the people of Judah; factions that grew more divided and more polarized over the centuries. That was the state of things when God entered the created world in the person of Jesus.
Our reading today from the Gospel of Mark is notable for what it says and what it doesn’t say. Mark announces that this is the “beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” There’s no birth story. No details about Jesus’ human parents. Mark starts with a very matter-of-fact statement of the relationship between God and Jesus: Jesus is the Son of God. Period.