The Sanctuary Sermon for
The Sanctuary Sermon for 7/18/21
“Torn Apart” Mark 1:4-11
Sometimes, I wish it were harder to join the church. I mean, honestly, sometimes I think it’s harder to get a membership at Costco than it is to become a Christian.
And that’s a bad thing. It’s bad, specifically, because if the church is easy to join, then any notion of commitment responsibility can just fly right out the window.
Sometimes, talking about what it means to be part of the whole Christian enterprise can start to sound like that part in a car commercial where the announcer starts talking legalese at a thousand miles an hour.
You know: Baptism is terrific but please plan on tithing, attending, and experiencing regular frustration and discomfort. Be advised that Christmas and Easter Sunday come just once a year, respectively. This offer isn’t for a limited time only, please see your Creator for details.
Who can blame people for just tuning that part out?
And so, I can’t help but wish that joining up, signing up on the dotted line were understood to be a much bigger commitment.
So, that has me thinking about baptism today. You know, one of the two Sacraments that we are instructed to observe.
Let’s look at our text:
4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
What if instead of a little chaste sprinkling of water on the forehead or even a full immersion on the banks of a local river or the Whitacre’s pool... what if the only way to ‘join the church’ was by skydiving?
The very idea makes my stomach do backflips. But think about it. Free fall, then the rip cord, and then a gentle floating down to the ground.
I mean, what’s not theological about that?
Because what is the reality of sin and redemption, the dangerous thrill of free falling while taking in the great vista of salvation and recognizing that our lives are not really in our own hands if it isn’t like skydiving? Or Rocky Mountain climbing or going 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu? Sorry. Just peaking outside of the box.
Stay with me a moment here. Because imagine what it would mean to go through that experience of sky diving, with its terrors and its rushes and its ultimate relief—and then show up here on Sunday to be greeted by a room full of people who had been through all of that, too?
Think how you would see them all as you walked in and found your seat: the older couple that sits up front and always shares a service bulletin; the super-cheery soprano who sings off key, and the person who always takes more than their fair share at the potluck; the lady who circles typos in the bulletin every Sunday and submits it back to the church office; (yeah, we have that lady) and the guy who seems as if he comes because his deceased wife liked to, and he may or may not miss Jesus, but he knows he misses her.
Look around. Think how you would see us all; the heavy, the creaky, the leaky, the busy, the humble, the bold, the young and the old, the happy and the sad—the people you would find in any church on every Sunday—think how you would see them all, if being baptized meant that at some point, however many years before, they had each had that experience—that day when they had somehow summoned enough courage to leap out into thin air and into the hands of God. Because that’s what baptism symbolizes. Abandoning ourselves to God. Coming up out of a water grave as a new person in Christ. Old things have passed away, all things have become new.
Think about it. Think about it, because when Mark’s Gospel describes the Baptism of Jesus, it’s that kind of radical act that he seems to have in mind. Mark writes that as Jesus “was coming out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and a dove descending.”
His word for ‘torn apart’ is schizo, and it means “to cleave, to rend, to tear” It’s a strangely violent word to describe such a happy occasion.
The way we tend to talk about baptism would have made more sense if Mark had talked about the dove gently cooing, fluttering over the surface of the water and settling on Jesus’ shoulder. But that’s not how he talks about it.
Instead, Mark talks about the heavens, schizo, torn apart. It’s the word Matthew, Mark and Luke all use to describe that moment on Good Friday when the curtain of the temple is torn in two. It’s the word John uses when the Roman soldiers at the foot of the cross determine not to tear Jesus’ garment and divide it between them, but to cast lots for it, instead. It’s a word that resonates in the prophecies of Isaiah, particularly when Isaiah says to God, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.”
Mark understands very clearly that in Jesus, this is exactly what has happened. God has torn open the heavens and come down.
And this is why, in Mark’s judgment, the baptism of Jesus is so very clearly a radical act. In Jesus, God has committed the act of breaking into and entering the world, and Mark wants the world to know.
And yet...how much of God’s active interest in us are we really prepared to admit? Because, God knows, I mean he really knows that if we took them seriously, our baptisms might just tear our lives apart, too.
So, if our final and deepest allegiance is to Jesus, to the life he has called us to lead, and to the manner in which the Gospels show he has called us to lead our lives, well, then, that is sure to bring not peace, but a sword to plenty of our living.
It will bring not peace, but a sword, to so much of what the world says our days should be about.
It will bring a sword, not peace to so many of our relationships, to our allegiances and to so much else.
Sadly, that’s not what many of us are looking for.
But if God has torn heaven open and broken into our lives, then what ensues is not something simpler and easier for us, but rather something infinitely more complex and urgent.
Baptism means that God has broken through; and so, we in turn are called to tear into the challenges and problems of the world with everything we’ve been given.
It’s a summons to be part of the remarkable, redemptive work of God. To give our lives to something more challenging than any other kind of work and in the end more beautiful, true, and enduring than any other kind of work.
Jesus came up out of the waters, and perhaps that is what he saw. A vision of his Father, and a vision of what it was that he would give his life to.
Thanks be to God, that’s also what your baptism and mine were pointing to... and that’s what they are still pointing to.
No matter where you are baptized...whether it was in front of the same font where your grandmother and mother were baptized or whether it’s by the banks of a river, or whether it’s in the sanctuary of a place where even you can hardly believe you’ve found a home...no matter where it is, the water and the promise and the prayer take just a few moments.
Honestly saying yes to our baptism is the daily work of the rest of our lives. It’s a profession of faith to the world and ‘yes’ to a life torn open by the love of God.
I suppose it’s unlikely that we’ll decide anytime soon to replace baptism by water and the Spirit with baptism by gravity and parachute. But the next time you walk into church and encounter God’s people in all our familiar shapes and sizes, remember that what unites us all is something God’s Word tells us is even more electrifying than jumping out of a plane.
In baptism, the heavens themselves are torn apart. And when we experience that for ourselves, when we know that for ourselves, and feel it on our hearts at last, it is the thrill of a lifetime.
It’s when everything finally begins.
So, come on in boys, the water’s fine.
This is the Word of the Lord for the day.