Scripture: Mark 10:35-45
“Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized” ~ Mark 10:39
When I think of the things I have truly missed most in ministry during the time of the pandemic, baptism is right there at the top of the list. Baptisms are wonderful celebrations in the church, where families and the church come together to welcome someone, usually, a baby though not always, into the mystical body that we call the church, to welcome them into all the promises and the life of God’s children.
It is impossible (at least for me) to be too cynical or too downtrodden at baptism, with all the joy and wonder it brings, which makes the centuries of fighting over baptism all the more bewildering. Baptism is one of the most deeply divided parts of the Christian tradition – do we baptize infants or only adults? Is it a believer’s baptism that requires understanding or is it a mystical union that we can never truly understand? Or should there be no baptism whatsoever like the Quakers?
And on the surface maybe they are right! After all, if you take Jesus’ words in our Gospel reading today seriously, then baptism takes on a whole new dimension that we can struggle to reconcile with children joyfully entering into the family of God. Perhaps we should be a little fearful as we approach the font as some children are?
Our passage today comes amidst Jesus’ tri-fold prediction of his suffering and death, a few weeks ago we heard Jesus’ stern rebuke of Peter after his first prediction, then it was the disciples arguing over who was greatest after his second and now it seems that brothers James and John were still not getting the message about the God Kingdom and what it meant to truly follow Jesus as his disciple.
James and John’s request to sit at Jesus’ left and right hand would have fit right in amongst the kingdoms of the world, where the people closest to the king would jostle for positions of power – and that’s what they were doing, looking to secure their place in Jesus’ coming kingdom since they had been some of his earliest disciples. The brothers still didn’t understand that Jesus’ wasn’t planning on restoring the earthly Kingdom of Israel, that he wasn’t a conquering hero who would overthrow the Romans and bring the people of Israel into a glorious golden age with no end.
Jesus’ response to this talk was to say “But it is not so, among you”. Translation: my Kingdom is nothing like the Kingdom of this world, my Kingdom is not like the way the world works, my Kingdom does not operate the way society operates.
Jesus’ Kingdom was the inverse of the kingdom of this world, the Kingdom of God which he proclaimed in word and deed was one where the least were valued and respected, where service to others was the greatest form of power, where weakness and vulnerability are the greatest strengths.
And as God’s Kingdom broke through into the world it began turning things upside down: sinners and outcasts were welcome to break bread with the very son of God, the unclean and those broken by despair were healed and brought back into the centre of the community.
This kind of disruption was bound to bring conflict, and that was Jesus’ point – his proclamation and enacting of the kingdom were leading directly to his death; everything he was doing – from the miracles to the peaching, to his very life – was leading him directly to the Cross, because the powers of this world could not abide with his wholesale upending and transformation of the systems that had benefited them and kept them in power for so long. The powers and principalities of this world could only see one solution to their Jesus problem: death.
And that is the baptism that Jesus had prepared for his disciples. Not out of self-harm but as an acknowledgment that following Jesus and living his Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven would necessarily bring his followers into a confrontation with the powers that be; also out of an acknowledgement that following Jesus would also need a figurative death of self, a complete giving up of the ways that our life is shaped and intertwined in the kingdom of the world, in the sin and brokenness which hinders us and our neighbours from experiencing the abundant grace and mercy of God.
Baptism into Jesus’ life, means baptism into Jesus’ death – it means facing the same kind of opposition that he faced – even if it is not always so violent in our day and age. Think of the churches and church leaders who rallied with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s or even the Indigenous Water Rights movement more recently – and the intense and often violent resistance they faced as they sought to stand up for the dignity and equality of every human being.
As a church we are called to this life through death, we are called to serve the Kingdom of God as it turns over the old ways, the ways that have shaped our world for generations as sin twisted the good gifts of God’s creation. We are called to stand up for the oppressed even when it comes at great cost to our church, we are called to serve the least and the lost of the world even if causes our neighbours to look on us in derision, we are called to give up our ways so that God’s ways might be the guiding principals of our world.
As the Anglican Church, it will mean for example turning upside down the power of white supremacy and the power of male superiority that dominate our churches and twist our Gospel message– systems of power that have shaped our worship, our theology and our communal life for centuries. First and foremost, it means learning, listening and then acting to ensure that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not impeded by the ways of the world.
Learning can take the form of moments of recognition as we did for National Day for Reconciliation, or it can be by exposing ourselves to Christian voices from within the communities of black, Indigenous and People of colour. I have a long way to go in acknowledging and addressing my part in these systems, but I am committed to learning. To that end, I am currently reading, and highly recommend, the book The Cross and Lynching Tree by James H. Cone – a prominent black Theologian who struggles with the history of violence done to black people and how it intertwines with the Christian witness.
Following Jesus in his baptism of death, also means loving and embracing those who our society pushes to the margins, the poor, the destitute, the street-involved and those suffering mental trauma. It is easy to turn our noses up and look away in disgust as people who are unkempt and unclean walk on to a bus you are on or into worship – but Jesus calls us to give up our comfort, to give up our notions of self and rather be selfless, ready to serve these least of society.
As we take these steps we will face opposition – our friends, our families, our neighbours and the local community may not agree with us, maybe more comfortable with the status quo of the world as it is – but that cannot dissuade us, our calling is dying that figurative death on behalf of the world that our Saviour died for.
Should we be fearful as we daily take the plunge into the baptism of Jesus? Yes, and no – yes because there will be sacrifice, but no because baptism into Jesus’ death also means baptism into his resurrection, it means experiencing the abundant grace and mercy of God here in our lives right now and for all eternity in God’s presence. We may only baptize someone once, but living into that baptism of death and resurrection is a daily choice, it is something that shapes who we are every moment of every day. Choose to die with Jesus today and every day, because God knows you’ll be raised into a new life when you do.
Let us pray.