Epiphany 2, 2018

Fr. Kevin Craik

 

IN THE NAME OF THE +FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY GHOST. AMEN.

This morning in this the second Sunday after Epiphany we are presented with the beginning of Mark’s gospel. Have you ever noticed how each one of the Gospels begin to tell the story of Jesus in very different ways? Matthew begins with a long genealogy, Luke (after addressing Theophilus) begins by telling the story of Jesus’ birth and John starts with the beginning of all things, in order to tell us that Jesus was present there...“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”

Have you ever thought about this? Have you ever asked yourself where you would begin if commissioned by God and the Holy Spirit to write the story of Jesus? It’s fascinating how God moved the four evangelists to start their respective gospels in different ways. In our Gospel reading this morning, Mark begins his gospel as follows: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” If you’re at all like me, you’ve probably read over this sentence a thousand times, not really giving it a second thought. Because let’s face it, to us these words seem, well...introductory, perhaps even perfunctory or superfluous. Mark! We know it’s the beginning of your gospel, duh, it’s the first sentence. If I turned in a term paper about the life of Jesus, I’m sure the professor wouldn’t be happy if I began by writing, “the beginning of the term paper of Jesus Christ.” I can imagine the slew of red ink that would be in the margins of that paper.

2nd Sun Aft Epiph Homily Notes 1

We have unfortunately missed the provocative and revolutionary nature of this seemingly “introductory” sentence. Seditionary is the word that comes to my mind as the best way to describe it. And here’s the claim that is being made: Jesus is King, everybody else, including Caesar, is not. Now Let me explain how Mark is making this claim. The word “gospel” in Greekis euangelion, itmeans“goodnews.”Butthisdoesn’t merely mean good news, like “hey I made you some food,” or “yay, the rain finally stopped.” Euangelion most often referred to royal good news, that is, something about a king. This could refer to the ascension of a new king, or his military victory, or the birth of a royal child or something of the like. So for Mark to say that this story that he is about to tell is the “gospel” of Jesus Christ is to have the audacity to put Jesus into this royal, kingly category. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is, Jesus the Messiah, that’s what Christ means, it’s not Jesus’ last name. Messiah means the anointed or special one. In other words. Jesus is the long awaited king of Israel.

And is if that wasn’t enough, Mark makes the daring and revolutionary statement that Jesus is the “son of God.” Everyone in that day knew that the title “son of God” was a Roman imperial title. Everybody knew that Caesar was the true son of God, and thus your loyalty was to be given to him. Hopefully you can begin to appreciate how seditionary it was for Mark to start his story of Jesus with the “beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God.” Jesus is King, and therefore nobody else, including Caesar is...Jesus is the King.

2nd Sun Aft Epiph Homily Notes 2

After making this very provocative statement about the Kingship of Jesus, Mark proceeds with this quote from Isaiah, which is actually a combination quote from Malachi and Isaiah. In it he intends to convey something remarkable about the person of Jesus, and that is this: in Jesus we see the long awaited return of Yahweh to Israel. Israel, because of her unfaithfulness had been subjected by God to a period of exile and foreign rule. From the Assyrians to the Babylonians to the Persians to the Greeks to the Romans, it just dragged on and on and on for them. They had experienced for quite some time this angst, “when will our God act again? When will he restore his people?” Isaiah 40 is very indicative of this sentiment: it is a word of comfort to Israel in the midst of her exilic crisis: Take hope, God is sovereign, God will deliver, he will come with great might and tend his flock. Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. So you see what is happening here? This exhortation from Isaiah to prepare the way of the Lord, which in its Isaian context could only refer to Yahweh himself, is being applied to Jesus. In Jesus, God is returning to his people.

And on top of this, we see next that John the Baptist tells us that this one, this king, will be the dispenser of the Holy Spirit. There was this long standing expectation for Israel that when God finally acted on behalf of his people, part of what would happen would be an outpouring of His Spirit. And John tells us that Jesus will be the one who does this. Again the message here, I hope, is becoming crystal clear. Wake up! The time is now. God is acting, Yahweh is returning to Israel in the person of Jesus.

2nd Sun Aft Epiph Homily Notes 3

Now after we’ve had this revolutionary introduction from Mark about the reality of Jesus, and after John had prepared the way for the giver of the Holy Spirit in verse 8, we meet Jesus, and are witnesses to his first act of public ministry, in his baptism. Now needless to say, Jesus’ baptism is very important, it is accounted for in all four of the gospels. But even though it obviously plays a central role in Jesus’ life, I have to be real with you and say that sometimes it appears that the reasons for his baptism aren’t so cut and dry. Matthew refers to John’s baptism as a baptism of repentance. If this is the case, why does Jesus need to begin his ministry by seeking a baptism of repentance, Jesus was without sin. It’s quite shocking, and in Matthew’s account we see how John himself can’t believe this. John says, “me? Baptize you?! You should baptize me!”

I believe that the answer to this is found in the reality of the incarnation, the incarnating work of the Word that was present with the Father in the beginning. This work is to associate and identify himself with sinners, the guilty deserving punishment, as the representative of all of us, to present himself as both priest and sacrifice to the Father, to make humanity whole again. In this we see the deep love of God. Think about it, after Mark goes to lengths to demonstrate to us that Jesus is in fact Yahweh returning to his people, what’s the very first thing that he does? The very first movement of the incarnate word of God in his ministry is to stand side by side with sinners in the muddy waters of the river Jordan and submit to baptism. This testifies to the purpose of the incarnation: for God to enter into humanity, all of it, take it all upon himself, in order to divinize it, to bring it up and out of the mud to make it whole again.

2nd Sun Aft Epiph Homily Notes 4

And what happens when Jesus does this? So much is revealed to us, which is why we read this during the Epiphany season. We see the heavens being torn open, the Spirit descending, echoing back to the Spirit that hovered over the waters in creation, thus signifying new creation. In all of this we witness the first revelation of the Holy Trinity, as the Holy Spirit descends on the Son, and the heavens are opened and the Father says to the Son, “you are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

It’s not unintentional that Jesus’ ministry is bookended by baptism: after John prepares the way, Jesus’ ministry begins with receiving baptism and his ministry ends with the mandate of the Great Commission. To “go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” This is because baptism is not some secondary add-on, it’s not a nice little cultural thing that Christians do, it is rather, essential to the mission of the church, it’s at the center of what we do. So, in faithful obedience, Andrew will be brought/was brought to receive baptism this morning.

2nd Sun Aft Epiph Homily Notes 5

And the same thing present in Jesus’ baptism we find present in Andrew’s baptism and in all of our baptisms: the curtain is pulled back, the heavens are torn open, the Spirit of God descends and he rests on you and and the Father says to you, “you are my beloved Son with you I am well pleased.” In our baptism, the Father welcomes us the way that he welcomes his only-begotten Son, not because of what we’ve done, not because of who we are, but because of who we are in Jesus. Jesus began his ministry in the muddy waters of the river Jordan, and he descended even further into the darkness of the cross, the loneliness of being forsaken by his Father, and all the way down into the depths of hell. So that he could rise again from the dead, ascend into heaven, and be seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from which he rules the world. Jesus took to himself our human flesh, so that he could redeem and glorify it, and in our baptism we are made partakers of his glorified humanity, and the Father welcomes us with the same love that he extends to his Son.

We (will) celebrate the baptism of Andrew this morning, and we recall our own baptism, being reminded of the vows that are tied to it. To renounce the flesh, the devil, and the world, and to put on Christ. And today and in all places where the waters of baptism are stirred, we celebrate and give thanks for the great, never-ending, never-failing love of God, with which he welcomes all who turn unto him.

IN THE NAME OF THE +FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY GHOST. AMEN.