Beginnings – I like beginnings. Beginnings are full of hope, wonder and promise. A new year 2018 has begun – not so long ago. What do you hope for in this new year? What do you wonder about? What have you promised to do or to be? Maybe in the spirit of this newness some of you made New Year’s resolutions, hoping and promising yourself to start or make something or become a better you. Don’t worry - I'm not going to ask how you are doing on those New Year resolutions.
Today’s lessons are about God beginning something new. In the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, a book whose very name means “Beginning,” we read: “In the Beginning…” In the beginning, God spoke a word into the darkness, into the void and said, “Let there be light” and there was “Light”. With those words, creation begins.
This year we are following the Gospel of Mark. The first verse literally proclaims: “beginning the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!” But, unlike the Gospels of Luke and Matthew in which we hear the story of Jesus as a baby, Mark begins with Jesus as a young man, going to be baptized by John.
John - John the Baptist – was doing a new thing. Dressed in all natural materials – camel’s hair and leather – and eating locusts and wild honey – John must have been a wonder to behold. But John didn’t leave people wondering for long. He called people to repentance – to change - to make not just a New Year’s resolution but to make a transformation of their life, to be made new so that they would be prepared, be ready for the One who was coming into the world. John washed them clean with water so that they could wash off their old ways and begin again. But John says: this is just the beginning. I baptize you with water but the One is coming who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
John knew that he could wash people clean and they could leave with good intentions – and maybe those good intentions would stick. But, they might not.
I went to the gym on New Years day – and it was FULL…. I didn’t ask.. but it looked like a lot of people made New Years Resolutions. The next week…the gym was back to being pretty empty with only a couple of people there. We have good intentions – myself included – but sometimes… good intentions aren’t enough. Good intentions don’t get the job done.
John preached the need for people to repent, to literally turn themselves and their lives around. His was a baptism of repentance… a reminder that people have not lived up to being the people God made them to be… and a reminder that they could act better.
According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus comes to the Jordan to be baptized too. But when Jesus is baptized, God does something new. The heavens are opened and a dove – the sign of the Holy Spirit – comes down and God’s voice proclaims: “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”
This is a new beginning. This is an epiphany – a revealing of God in Christ Jesus. God makes it known – no need to wonder - God knows Jesus, claims Jesus as God’s child and loves Jesus, calling him, “my beloved son.”
Today, you will be witnesses of a new beginning as Louie is baptized. You will hear Louie called by name. You will hear Louie claimed as a child of God. And you will hear that God loves Louie as a beloved son of God.
You are witnesses. But not only witnesses. You are also brothers and sisters of Louie – and of Jesus Christ. For, you too are God’s beloved child. You too have been washed clean – not with John’s baptism of repentance so that you can try to make yourself better but with the baptism of Jesus Christ in which God names you, claims you and loves you – no matter what.
This doesn’t mean that we are suddenly perfect. No, we still need repentance. We still fall short of living up to being the people that God made us to be – and that is why we begin our worship with confession and forgiveness. But we also know that we are forgiven and that we are named and claimed and loved by God – even if we break our New Years resolutions in record time.
Once during a children’s sermon about baptism, I told the children about the cross that was put on their foreheads, and that the cross would last forever. A little boy looked at me and said, “Can you see mine?” I told him – we cannot see it – but God sees it always.
I heard a story once about Karl Barth, a renowned German theologian whose writings are complex and not easy to understand. He was asked by a student, “what is the most import thing you have learned?” The student waited – and others gathered around pencils at the ready to take down his words of wisdom. But Barth apparently paused for a moment and then looked at this eager student and said, “Jesus loves me, this I know.”
If you remember one thing from this morning, remember this: Jesus loves me, this I know. Parents and godparents of Louie – teach him this: Jesus loves him. There are no if only he does this.. or if only he says that... No. Jesus loves him. There is nothing that can change Jesus’ love for Louie – or for you.
There’s even a song – a song that I am guessing most of you know: “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.”
I heard a variation on youtube that I really liked because it lifts up a second truth. The song begins “Jesus loves me this I know.” But the second line is: “Jesus knows me, this I love. “
Jesus knows me. Jesus knows you.
Jesus knows that all of your - and my -- good intentions do not come to fruition. Jesus knows that we sometimes mess up. We say things we shouldn’t. We do things we regret. We hurt one another – and ourselves. Jesus knows. And loves you anyway…
"Jesus loves me; this I know. Jesus knows me, this I love."
So… if you can only remember one thing, remember:
Jesus loves me this I know..
And if you can, expand it to include the second line: Jesus knows me this I love.
But if you can remember one more thing, remember that you are a part of the family of God. When you are baptized, it’s not just you and Jesus – no it’s you and the whole family of God.
And this is a good thing! For as the Family of God, we pray for one another, we care for one another, we show up for one another. When Louie is baptized, his parents and Godparents will stand up and make promises to him and to God to raise him to know and love Jesus. But they are not the only one making promises.
We ask the whole congregation to respond when asked the question, will you love and care for this newly baptized child of God? And the congregation does. We love and care for one another because we are God’s family – together. Amen.