In Mark 1:4-11 Mark gives the succinct version of John the Baptist. The power of this narrative is so strong that every line could be read and pondered. “John the Baptizer appeared.” Why did he appear? How did he know when to do so? Was he told by his mother Elizabeth, relative of Mary? Did an angel prod him? Was he driven out into the wilderness but the Holy Spirit herself? And what is this new baptism that John proclaims?
A radical figure, John clearly had a strong magnetism where all kinds of people go out into the desert to be baptized by him. Distinct in dress and diet, John clearly did not mind being different. John the Baptist turns one’s mind to the radical side of Christianity. Do we have to be radical to be Christian? Certainly some of John’s power came from his uniqueness. John was “an original” or what we would call today an influencer. He called into question the accepted practices and preached repentance and change to the way things are going.
The idea of Christian being the hegemonic with culture, woven into the very fabric of society is definitely not how Christianity started. Here is radical John, pointing the way to Jesus the way he always does. Proclaiming, in the midst of his power and influence, that one far more powerful and impactful than him will follow.
And then comes Jesus with a quieter and subtler power. Jesus lends his authority to John’s baptisms, and affirms the power of baptism himself, by being baptized. His choice is clearly affirmed by God “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you i am well pleased.”
Indeed this is the power of baptism, for it seals God’s love for us. Though we are enveloped by God, the seal has not been glued shut until the baptism takes place. The power of God’s love proves to be mighty. Empowering and Ennabling us to love and accept people beyond our own human capacity.
This power is affirmed in Acts 19:1-7, where Paul affirms that there is only one baptism, and that is in the name of Jesus Christ. Back in an age when people would seek out the original disciples to baptize and then brag to each other that they were baptized by Apollo or Paul or John. Paul explains that it is God who empowers baptism, and it is not reliant upon the hands of the baptizer (thank God). This clarifies how it is John the Baptist can baptize Jesus. For though it legitimized baptism itself, and was a great honor. It was in no way dependent upon John the Baptist being perfect enough to baptize Jesus. For no one is perfect enough to baptize Jesus. We often think perfection is powerful, but Jesus and John the Baptist–in the dirt and sweat of the wilderness, choosing as common an element as water without special anointing or sacrifices–show us that the power is God’s, and isn’t really about perfection after all.
This comforts me, for although Jesus had to perfect in some ways–to be human he had to have some things that we consider to be imperfections. Surely Jesus wasn’t born potty trained, he definitely eluded his parents and got lost, and I’d imagine he had to learn how to relate to people in such a way that they truly understood his love and care.
So too, when God created the world in Genesis 1:1-5, God does not discuss superiorities of one thing over another. We humans tend to prefer light, but in the midst of the desert shade and dark can be a restful comfort. God does not call his creation perfect, for God did not create us and the world to be perfect–God proclaims creation and humans good. God separates creation into pieces and categories, so that they can interact and relate to one another. What is the light without the darkness? What is the darkness without the light? They are in relationship with one another–and God created the entire cosmos in the same relational manner.
Is it any wonder when our relationship with God soured, God created another easy way for us to relate to one another through the water of baptism? God’s power is ultimately about relationships.
It is in this light that Psalm 29 becomes the most fitting Psalm to fit in with these texts. The power of God, which grounds and legitimizes first creation and then the very waters baptism in the one love of God, becomes a song to be sung.
God’s voice is describes as being a part of, behind and within the waters. It is envisioned as thundering across the earth with the rain, and in the waters the trickle in streams and storm over waterfalls. It is described as earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes.
And yet, even as we ascribe to God all of the power, it is equally amazing to know that all of that power is also contained in one droplet of water. So when we baptize someone, or sprinkle water over the congregation–that one droplet can hold enough power to serve to renew our baptism with God.
The power of God can be bombastic and loud–and in the human world we are more able to see the power that is loud than the power that is quiet. It is little wonder that God uses both the more bombastic in your face John the Baptist and the quieter but obviously more powerful Jesus to draw people to baptism. They are, after all, two different expressions of God’s love.
How are the texts calling to you today? Are you focused on the belovedness of Christ? The sorting out of baptisms by Paul or the mighty ascribing of the Psalm? Let us know how things are going for you as you plan worship, and post about it!
Katy Stenta is a solo pastor at a tiny Presbyterian church that is bigger on the inside in Albany, NY since 2010. She blogs prayers & Narrative Lectionary at http://www.katyandtheword.com She is also the co-founder of the fledgling TrailPraisers inclusive Worship and is pursuing her Doctorate in Divinity in Creative Writing at Pittsburgh Seminary. When she is not dreaming up projects and ideas, some of which creep into the church, she plays with her three boys-boys or goes and visits her husband at the library, while he works, to read
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8 thoughts on “RCL: Power vs. Perfection”
RevGal friends, I have a question. Have any of you done baptisms in this time of Covid? If so, how did you do it? I’m Presbyterian (PCUSA) and we do allow baptism by “sprinkling.” Which I guess you could do. Would you wear protective gloves to dip your hand in the water, for the safety of the one receiving the sprinkling? Or just say to heck with it and sprinkle water from your hand? I suppose it is possible to do a contactless baptism…but have you done any?
This pondering could work in a sermon….and I may use it….but really, has anyone reading this done a baptism since last March?
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Kathy this is a great question you might get more feedback by asking it on Facebook
We had a baptism in mid-October and another one (cousin of the first) at the end of November. Used hand sanitizer just before the baptism, masked during the baptism. I held the child and baptized as per usual. The one change was that I did not carry child around the sanctuary during the sung blessing after the baptism (which is one of my favorite parts of the baptism service). We had a couple of options prepared about how the baptism would work and I talked with the family about their comfort level. One option was that I would say the words while a parent did the water.
The other change we had to make is that normally we have a cake during post-worship coffee on Baptism Sundays. But of course COVID-safe worship practices exclude post-worship coffee. So instead we bought cupcakes and folk were invited to take one on their way out of the building.
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Thanks, Revgord! Creative solutions!
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I’m United Church of Canada, and I’ve done several. I ensured the Baptismal font was sanitized before the Baptism, and required that everyone where face masks. I made sure there was 6 feet between households around the font. While leading it, I did take my mask off since there was distance, but I put my mask on for the act of Baptism. I sanitized my hands then moved in closer and had a parent hold the baby and did the baptism. I then moved away, sanitized again, took my mask off etc. We have also chosen to do Baptism outside of regular worship due to capacity limits. So I have the family and I at the front for the whole baptism, guests (which includes loved ones of the family, and some congregants) seated by household 6 feet apart. We were told by our denomination that if doing more than one Baptism, to have separate bowls of water for each person/child.
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Yes, I have done a baptism. I had the father hold the child and I used a shell to pour the water. I didn’t anoint the child as it is optional.
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AS I often do for this Sunday I am pondering what Baptism “does”, not what it means but what it accomplishes. The Acts passage pushes us to consider the “water AND the Spirit” piece, how is the Baptism of Christian faith the same and yet different for the Baptism offered by John?
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