Mark 4:1-11 – Baptism of the Lord, First Sunday after Epiphany – for January 11, 2015
“John was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts . . .” (Mark 1:4)
In the wilderness, clouds bunch on the horizon like gray fists. Within moments a bright day becomes gloomy. Darkness for day, wind rustling trees, temperature plunging, and then . . .
The first rain falls and creation begins again.
Along the wild coast, fog smothers a desolate beach, a moist wall of white. Swirling and still, it blurs the land and sea, the seen and imagined. Flecks of moisture cling to skin, and then . . .
A shard of sun turns drops of water into diamonds.
With a wild heart, a child scampers from puddle to puddle, a parent’s warning to stay dry long forgotten. A splash here; a splash there. There’s a leap from one miniature lake to another. Failure is so much fun as the pants legs are soaked to the knee, and then . . .
There’s a yelp of joy and a dance of delight.
Into the wild yard, you venture, lured by ancient fears and fascination. Though it’s safer to stay where there’s central heat and insulated walls, why not explore the back yard during the worst of the storm? Rain pours, leaves shiver, the garden floods, the lawn transforms into momentary swamp, and you think . . .
Matthew 3:13-17 – The first Sunday after Epiphany – for Sunday, January 12, 2014
“And when Jesus had been baptized . . .” (Matthew 3:16)
When I served full-time in churches, my normal was always strange.
I recall one particular family, several months before I left my last church, that asked me to talk to them about baptism for themselves—the parents—and their two children. We negotiated calendar dates and, ta-da, I arrived at their home at the appointed time.
Talking about baptism was and is normal for me. It’s in my job description! I am ordained, according to the United Methodist Church, for “word, order, and sacrament.” Baptism (along with communion) falls into the third category: sacrament.
Most pastors, since the church became an institution, have a job description that includes baptism, communion, covenant ceremonies, preaching and supporting the living and honoring the dead during times of death. In the pastoring biz, we joke about hatching, matching and dispatching. Another version would be marryin’, buryin’, and baptizin’. We can make what we do sound humorous or serious, simple or complex.
And our normal is strange.
It’s strange to visit people in their homes. Who does that anymore?
It’s strange to talk about a ceremony that’s mostly a mystery.
It’s strange—in a world of Duck Dynasties, Dennis Rodman coaching basketball in North Korea, cute Hannah Montana becoming Miley Cyrus the wrecking ball and Lance Armstrong (and so many others before and certainly after him) confessing his selective sins to Oprah Winfrey—to spend time sharing about baptism’s meaning and value.
And yet I think, for pastors, it’s always been like that. The sacraments of the church have always been at odds with the odd world we live in. Continue reading →