Baptism of Jesus

Pastor Elizabeth Bier

Baptism of Jesus

3 mins
February 22, 2021

Scripture: Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord. Amen.

First Sunday of Lent

Today marks the first Sunday of Lent. A season of lengthening of days, going toward Holy Week and Easter. Today’s Bible readings have a few threads of connections - the power of water and the power of God’s word, promise and presence. We also have the biblical number 40 that connects as well - the flood from our first story lasted 40 days and forty nights, for 40 years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness; many fasted or endured hardships for 40 days - Moses, Elijah, David and now Jesus. The decision for 40 days of the church season of Lent wasn’t arbitrary.

Noah and the Ark

I want to start with Noah and the ark. Often, when we tell the quick version of this story, we picture a floating zoo. And that’s a part. However, starting with the animals going two by two onto the ark skips over the important why of the story. The flood cost the life of so many people. In the time before the flood, God was angry about all of the violence amongst people and creation; physical and ethical harm. This violence on the earth was met with violence by God’s destructive hand. This may feel uncomfortable to hear, yet it’s true to the biblical account of this flood. 

This image of God in this story would have been familiar to non-Hebrew people of the time; an angry, vengeful god using weather as a weapon was similar to other storm gods of the area around Israel. Storms, winds and fierce rains used as weapons of war. There is a similarity, and then, the twist.

This story is the first covenant in the Bible. A Covenant is a formal, legal relationship, contract, pacts, treaties. Covenants in scripture have a promise and a physical sign. As soon as the flood ended, God hung up his bow - the archery weapon - in the air as a sign this would not happen again. This Yaweh God is different from those other gods - the rainbow is a physical, visual sign seen by humans, and it is seen by God. It is the divine archer’s weapon that had been used against humanity being put out of commission, stating that “I’ve hung up my weapon forever. I’m declaring peace toward humanity and making peace with humanity and creation.” The next step after overwhelming violence is moving away from violence.

Knowing the science of how rainbows work, light refracted, etc, doesn’t take away from the theological reflection when we look at a rainbow. The promise that God will interact with us in peace. A terrible flood ended with a promise to all of humanity and all of creation.  “One of the reasons that we hold onto the biblical flood story so tightly is because it reminds us to hope for the rainbow after the storm and to believe that, even in the midst of a tempest, a new tomorrow awaits us.” (Working preacher)

Divine destruction gives way to divine commitment

As in the first creation, God blesses humanity and establishes a covenant with all creatures. This pledge is with humanity and all birds, livestock, fish, and the earth itself. A covenant, a promise not to destroy the world. And it is more than not destroying. Moses and his family were issued a call again to care for, cultivate, and steward the earth, evoking the first creation story - we were created from dust, in the image of God, called to care for the whole world and all her creatures.

It is that relationship with all creatures that comes to mind when reading Mark’s account of Jesus being driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. Going into the wilderness, in biblical times and now, speaks to a place where encounters and transformation happens - a place of solitude, vulnerability, and an emotional, spiritual, or physical quest, refinement or discovery of one’s character. Jesus was hanging out with all the wild animals and angels attended him, all the while, tempted by Satan. Mark does not go into what those temptations were. Rather, there is more of an emphasis on the continued presence of God, even in a place of challenge. The Spirit that has come upon Jesus at his baptism, that has driven him into the wilderness, sustains him when he is tested by Satan so that he might proclaim the good news of God’s reign.

And this Spirit sustains us - as we live in temptation and wilderness AND the reality that the kingdom of God has come near. That Good News of God’s reign/presence/kingdom for us? 1 Peter names it - the promise of new life in baptism. “As God acted through Christ’s suffering and death to bring us to God, so God acts through baptism to save us from a sinful existence. This spiritual cleansing marks our new life in Christ.”

A New Covenant

In Christ, we have a new covenant - a new promise and sign of God’s presence with us. We hear these words in the Communion liturgy - a new covenant given in my body, shed in my blood, for you, for the forgiveness of sins. In baptism, we are buried with Christ and resurrected with Christ to this new life. Jesus who in his life showed us how to love others; who in his death and resurrection from the dead, declared forever that sin, death and evil do not have the last word in our lives. The baptismal covenant is made with us individually, but the new life we are given in baptism is for the sake of the whole world. We love because God first loves us, we live because Christ lives in us so that we learn to trust God, proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace. Amen.

This article was orginally reported by
Pastor Elizabeth Bier

Rev. Elizabeth Bier is the pastor of ONE in Christ Parish, a three-point parish in Greenwood, Longwood, and Withee. She is ordained with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and has served the ONE in Christ Parish since February of 2019.