Scripture: Mark 1: 4 – 11
Out of the Water
James A. Christopher, DMIN
When Jesus came up out of the water following his baptism by John, that was the signal of transformation from an itinerant preacher teacher healer, to the son of God. Its importance was underscored by Mark as the beginning of the gospel. The messenger, that is John, was calling people to repentance, when Jesus appeared at the Jordan, not needing repentance. In some ways, it was an odd situation because John recognized that Jesus was the chosen one, not needing baptism for the forgiveness of sin. Jesus prevailed upon John to nevertheless continue with the baptismal act. Here we have one of the most significant events in the entire New Testament, apart from the resurrection.
Jesus came up out of the water and the heavens opened, the voice of God declaring this his son, and the Holy Spirit float down like a dove upon the newly declared Savior. Prior to this event, God was understood mainly as creator, the giver of law, and the inspiration for rules. It is true that there were prophets who had direct contact with God, and who would interpret these demands and commandments in a way that was supposed to keep people on the chosen path. But the direct presence of God as expressed through his beloved son now became universally available. This makes the baptism of Jesus a pivotal event in the New Testament, and in fact, in the entire Bible.
To begin, look at the elements of the event. There is the water of the Jordan River, the open sky, John who facilitates the immersion, and the unexpected presence of God.
Think of the water as representative of the murky, unconscious realm of human experience. Even Jesus lived through such a time of his humanity, still somewhat underwater. Being underwater in our present terminology is a place of risk. Literally it can be a life risking venture to stay under too long. When businesses realize their finances are underwater, it creates great anxiety. Or consider ourselves, wandering through life without a clear sense of direction, insisting that it is the rest of the world that is at fault for our plight. This is to be underwater, unconscious, out of touch with saving reality.
Then there is John, the baptizer who puts people underwater for the moment, but who brings one up into the light. John and the light are two of the striking conditions of emerging from the murky waters of stagnant life. John is a catalyst, one who triggers a change. There are ways this process might be initiated in the daily events of ordinary life.
The pandemic through which we have been living for nearly a full year has brought many people to a recognition of resources and gifts previously obscured by demands of busyness. One woman wrote that she was in essence, addicted to being busy. During quarantine she discovered a new way to connect with her husband who was a quiet introvert. In the downtime she began to pay attention to things he did and joined him. They went bird watching, took walks together, discussed the events of the day and read new books. Perhaps they had the good fortune of reaching midlife where they could look with openness at the way other people live. Regardless, the pandemic had saving grace in this instance, and in many more if we listen to the testimonies. It is a high price to pay with the hundreds of thousands of deaths that have occurred around us in this time, but it is just a reminder that in the worst of circumstances, it is possible to get out of our unconscious and suffocating ruts.
The pandemic has also made obvious our addiction to rules. An example appeared in an interview with Nick Sabin. He is the now legendary coach of the University of Alabama football team, playing tomorrow night in the national championship game. He had tested positive for the Covid 19 virus several weeks ago, tested again, negative, tested twice more negative, and decided he was clear. But shortly after that he got the virus, had to be quarantined and said that this rattled his assumptions about life. He was a man of rules and routine and insisted he did everything he was supposed to do to avoid getting sick. He also had this approach to his coaching career. In a quote, in the Washington Post he said, “I’ve spent my whole life trying to keep everything in some kind of a controlled mechanism that I thought was going to lead to better performance, better production, more consistency, and this year that hasn’t been possible. There was a time in my career as a coach I would never have been able to tolerate some of the things we’ve had to go through, so that has made me better, I think.” We might like to know how he is better, but that may just be voyeurism. How are we better? What do we learn when our routines and our obsessive rituals are impossible to maintain?
The uncontrollables, the brick wall, the crisis we can no longer control is a part of being in the murky waters where a helping hand to lift us above the surface into clear light is the most important thing on earth. On the other side of that help is light, life, the new lease. For Jesus to be proclaimed as the Son of God opens the door for all to become children of God. On our part, the expectation is that we own up to that belonging. In doing so we claim qualities that emanate from living in the presence of that light.
I prepared these notes on Tuesday. Then on Wednesday the volcano of insurrection erupted in our nation’s capital. Jesus coming up out of the water with the Holy Spirit descending like a dove upon him was a peaceful, sublime moment. In contrast, our current news is of violence, hatred and cowardice. A positive result may be that we now see what has been lurking beneath the surface of tepid tolerance exposed, out in the open daylight. Our enemy is not just a virus that chooses victims without discrimination. Now the silent plague is in tandem with armed zealots who believe that NOT all people are created equal. Now we see clearly the fruits of churches calling themselves Christian, adding the label “evangelical”, making certain their members are politically in line.
Enough of the conviction that privilege is a commodity limited to the right color, tribe, ethnic origin, or religion! Now we see that the life of faith in God through Christ is a process. We come into the light of belonging to a better world. That world is illuminated by the creative love that brought us here, not to be enemies, but to be sisters and brothers till the end of time.
Now we move from a life of rules and regulation to one more spiritually directed.
Now we go from blind tradition to creative innovation.
Now we give up unconscious routine and slogans to recognition of new possibilities.
Now we go from uncertainty to faith.
Now we go from the unconscious murky waters to life in the light of God’s Holy Spirit.