Homily for the Baptism of Our Lord

January 7, 2024. Texts: Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Mark 1:1-45. 

Sermon on the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 1

To read this passage online click this link to Biblegateway.com

As you may know, we follow an ecumenical three year cycle of bible readings. Gospel readings come from Matthew, Mark, or Luke. John’s gospel has no dedicated year. This year it’s Mark.

But, not completely. The fact is, we never read any of these gospels completely – every verse from beginning to end. During the course of any one year’s gospel readings, texts from other gospels are inserted for various purposes.

For example, Mark has no narrative of Jesus’s birth. So we couldn’t use the Gospel of Mark in December even though the church’s new year and cycle of readings began on Sunday December 3rd. We heard Luke’s nativity story instead. Mark also has no post-resurrection stories. Other gospels fill us in on those details.

This past Wednesday as the bible study group discussed today’s gospel reading – the first from Mark in 2024 – it occurred to us that we could read all of Mark between now and Easter if we take about a chapter a week. Mark’s is the shortest gospel at only sixteen chapters. Immersing ourselves in the bible is one aspect of or baptismal promised that few of us properly attend to. So, beginning today, we’re doing that.

Preaching each week will vary. Some Sundays there will be a more typical although shorter sermon since the gospel reading will be longer. Other Sundays it may some combination of a sermon and some guiding questions for reflection.

As we undertake this biblical scholarship, you will hear some texts that have never been part of the church’s regular cycle of readings. It may be surprising at times. It certainly will be interesting. After Easter we will return to the regular cycle of readings.

Today we read the first chapter of Mark. It will be a lost to take in. So here is some introduction.

Mark is the earliest of the four gospels to be written. Oral accounts about Jesus spread quickly and widely across the Roman Empire after his death. Thirty to forty years later Mark was the first to preserve the story in writing. Who was Mark? It’s not clear, although late in the gospel he may have placed a clue.. Mark wrote in Greek but not fluently. His native language was Aramaic – a dialect of Hebrew typically spoken by Jews in time of Jesus.

Mark begins his writing with a statement. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God.

The word gospel comes from Greek and Latin through Old English and means “good news”.

What two things does Mark tell us about Jesus in the first verse?

The following things happen in rapid succession:

Isaiah’s prophecy about a messenger from God is presented.

John appears in the wilderness with a message, of repentance and washing.

What specific purpose for washing does John give?

Who came to John for this washing?

Mark calls John “the baptizer” which means one who is washing. We all know the feeling of being washed in water. Among the commandments is the requirement to wash before entering into God’s presence. Special places for bathing were placed in every ancient Jewish community where people would go to pray and bathe before the beginning of the Sabbath. Jews still observe this commandment of purification.

Have you heard of the tradition of a Saturday night bath? Or clean clothing for Sunday church? These probably go back to washing before worship.

 John washed people to cleanse them spiritually from their sin. Being unclean is not just an external physical condition, it’s also an internal and spiritual condition. It is about restoring the purity that we all possess from birth as God’s beloved creation.

Would it change your understanding of John if he were called John the purifier?

So John proclaimed a second message about a powerful person worthy of respect, who would come bringing a purifying cleansing with a “spirit holy

And then Jesus came. And so did that Spirit.

The rest of the chapter deals with matters of the Spirit.

After being purified by John, Jesus was (literally) thrown into the desert by God’s Spirit.

For forty days he prevailed against an adversary who tested him. Mark does not say how.

When John was arrested, Jesus took on John’s message of resistance to unholy spirits and faithful commitment to good news.

What does it mean that Jesus received the same baptism as everyone who came to John?

Do you ever feel some threatening testing as Jesus did?

Do you find strength in your own baptism?

 Then Jesus called the disciples, inviting them to join him in bringing good news to others.

Wherever Jesus went, people found his message compelling.

For you, right now, what is most compelling aspect of Jesus?

His presence also drew unclean spirits who challenged him, but all of them gave way to his pure spirit.

Jesus is good news for us. Baptism in the name of Jesus offers us the same pure spirit that is in Jesus, the same spirit to us that is in God’s good creation.

What is good according to Jesus?

How can God’s good spirit be at work though you?

What good news do people need to hear and how could you bring it to them?