The readings on which this sermon is
based can be found at: http://www.frsparky.net/r113.htm
s113g12 Baptism of Jesus 8/1/2012
‘he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit
descending’ Mark 1.10
This is the beginning of the gospel according to Mark, and perhaps
it is also the end of the gospel too. The good news is
that the heavens are torn apart and the descent of the Spirit on
Mark has nothing of the early birth narratives of Matthew and Luke,
and no pre-existent theology of John, but nevertheless Mark sees
just as clearly as the other writers that Jesus’ coming means a
different relationship between the divine and the human.
What was once thought of as separate and distinct is now merged and
identical. No longer can we look elsewhere for the
deity; the Spirit is alive and present with Jesus, and because the
separation between heaven and earth is shattered, the divine is
present with all of humanity.
And I point out that it is the heavens that are ruptured, not the
earth. As we in Christchurch New Zealand look to 2012 as
a year when the earth around here will be rather more settled than
it was last year, this is very pertinent. We have had
enough of earthquakes and disruption, thank you very much!
Jesus’ coming is not about changing people - getting the irreligious
to repent and come to church and be like us - it is about a whole
new relationship between the sacred and the secular.
Those who opposed this new relationship were the orthodox and the
devout, for it meant that others were included, others have to be
exalted rather than marginalised, included rather than alienated and
made first in the kingdom rather than condemned. So ‘the
heavens’ - so carefully defined and protected from ordinary folk -
are torn open. It is the orthodox and the devout who are
invited to repent, to rejoice that this is so.
I wrote recently about those who proclaiming the name of Jesus seem
to think that this excuses them from not treating others as they
themselves would wish to be treated. Further to this I
realise that this is so similar to those who pontificate about the
essential nature of God in their theological ivory towers - apart
from others. The HEAVENS are now torn apart.
Again, Jesus came to say something not about how humanity has got to
live up to some new (?) standard, knowledge or understanding, but
how God has acted to release us from eternally (but just as
inevitably unsuccessfully) trying to worship in the correct manner,
to understand God in orthodox manner, to believe in God sufficiently
strongly or to live up to what God wants.
I have also written recently about the dangers of believing in a
hell and today’s gospel tells us that it is as dangerous to believe
in a heaven which is ‘up there’, unchangeable, a haven of
security. If our straining for heaven means we avoid
contact with other folk then we condemn ourselves to a hell which is
as much a figment of our imagination as is heaven. We
don’t do anyone else any good straining for a personal heaven any
more than when we condemn others to a non-existent hell - let alone
doing something for God.
One of the things we say when someone is baptised is that they are
re-born. By far the majority of folk, including good and
orthodox folk think that this is some change in the essential nature
of the person having been baptised. But the real change
is that in baptism the whole of humanity and the whole of creation
is open to the newly baptised. Creation and humanity
itself has become heaven. Instead of baptism making us
members of a ‘holy huddle’ distinct from the rest of humanity,
baptism joins us with the rest of humanity, including the
marginalised, the alienated and the condemned, as when the heavens
were opened and the Spirit descended on humanity. For,
as I point out, it is only this that will actually be of some
benefit to others. This is and will be
heaven. And if heaven isn’t this - if it doesn’t include
other people here and now - if it actually condemns society to more
division and conflict - it doesn’t seem to me to be worthwhile -
indeed it seems to me to be positively demonic.
And hence baptism is all about ministry, because each and every one
of us has a unique and vital contribution to make in our acceptance
and care for those around us. If our ‘ministry’ is one
of marginalization, alienation and condemnation, who is
magnified? God? Hardly!
Others? No! Of course it is those who do the
marginalising, alienating and condemning who are magnifying
So baptism marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, where he
didn’t hide behind a holy huddle but was always out and about, going
from one town to the next - the hapless disciples struggling to keep
up and wondering where next he would lead them. His
journeyings were to take Jesus from his sojourn in the wilderness
(1.9), to where he perhaps had a house in Capernaum (2.1), to his
home town of Nazareth (6.1), the country of the Gerasenes (5.1),
crossing the sea back and forth to the towns of the Decapolis
(7.31), Galilee (1.28), to Genesaret (6.53) and Bethsaida (6.45),
then to Tyre and Sidon, where he met the Syrophoenician woman where
he had to remind himself that the was sent ‘only to the lost sheep
of the house of Israel’ (Mat 15.24 // Mark 7.24) and so began to
return, including a trip to Dalmanutha (8.10), the villages of
Caesarea Philippi (8.27), the region of Judea beyond the Jordan
(10.1), to Jericho (10.46) and eventually to Bethphage and Bethany
(11.1), Jerusalem (11.11) and crucifixion. For a person
on foot, Jesus covered an awful lot of ground.
So Jesus’ itinerant ministry was to include all; to leave no one
out. If he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house
of Israel, it was because these would deny and have him
killed. Had he not returned to the centre of devotion
and orthodoxy, but had travelled even wider, he would have been
It was precisely the broadness of his ministry that offended the
separated ones. It was precisely those who wanted to
maintain their religious superiority over others, who maintained the
integrity of heaven as distinct from earth, who decried secular
society as unclean, unworthy and damned, who opposed Jesus and
finally had him killed.
The christian message is incarnation - the tearing apart of the
separation between heaven and earth - the breakdown of the division
between sacred and secular. And ultimately this is that
which the orthodox and the devout would deny.
In the end the reason for the condemnation of those different, the
marginalization of women, the alienation of gay and lesbian persons
is all about maintaining the separation and the division. This
is why the issue is so heated, so crucial.
The christian task is ever towards the lost sheep of the house of
Israel, to the orthodox and the devout of every age and religion who
want to deny that the divine is found anywhere other than through
their rituals, anywhere outside their holy huddles, and they are
just as numerous in ‘christian’ and Anglican circles to this day as
As ordinary folk celebrate the birth of Jesus as a sign that they
are blessed in their humanity, so I suggest we celebrate the baptism
of Jesus, because this is a sign that secular society is similarly
blessed, and know that we are called to join in our communities with
acceptance, courage and love.
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