Sermon Ideas For Mark 1:4-11 Part 3
Baptism has many levels of symbolic meaning. It brings up many images from previous biblical narrative: the waters of chaos at creation, the torrent of the flood, the covenant of God with all the world, death and resurrection, cleansing from sin...the list goes on and on. Primarily in Mark, however, I would like to argue that the baptism—at least the baptism of Jesus—is about claiming identity as God's child and accepting the peace that comes from that knowledge. An old saying says, "They who dance are thought mad by those who hear not the music." One of the main themes of the book of Mark is the constant unfolding of the identity of Jesus as the Christ. The baptism account in chapter one begins the story. It is clear that at least in the beginning, Jesus is the one who is dancing through life and not many others hear the music. It is, however, precisely because Jesus knows who he is that he can accomplish the task that is before him. Even if no one else hears the music, even if everyone thinks that he is mad (which is often the case in Mark), Jesus dances with a peace in his heart that only self-knowledge can bring.
On one wall of the new cathedral in Managua, Nicaragua is a visual recounting of the Baptism of Jesus. In the background—set apart from the scene—is the wildly portrayed John the Baptist. His hand is fisted—crying out for repentance. In the center of the painting is a three fold portrayal of Jesus. The three images portray the transformation from womb to glorification. In the first image, Jesus is submerged in the darkness of water in a "fetal" position, reminiscent of birth, or new birth in this case. In the second image, Jesus is coming out of the water and light is beginning to shine from his body. In the third image, Jesus is clothed in white, obviously glorified and transformed into the image of the light of the world. Interestingly enough, John does not seem to recognize the full identity of Christ revealed at the Baptism. We see the transformation of Christ, but it is questionable whether John, or the world, sees the transformation.
In his book, Illusions, Richard Bach tells the story of a man who knew his identity and the potential for his life to change those he met. He travels through life doing amazing deeds because he believes in his own special identity. Often, those who meet him do not understand his calling or his gifts from God, but he does not let the world dictate his path in life. He has a purpose, and that purpose is to live life to the fullest. He shares his miraculous life and deeds with those around him and encourages others to see their potential in life as well.
The protagonist of the book, Mr. God, this is Anna, by Flynn speaks of a very special relationship between a small girl and God. This relationship is not seen by all, but for Anna, the relationship is a reality that is greater than her temporal existence. One day as she and Flynn are talking, he is fiddling with a couple of copper wire circles that have been linked together. As he held them together, so that they were at right angles with one another, Anna speaks as she points to one of the circles. "I know what that is—that's me." Then she pointed to the other circle and said, "And that's Mister God." Then she tells the core of her own identity and her relationship to God. "Mister God goes right through my middle and I go right through Mister God's middle."1
One could argue that the critical point in which one understands their own identity is the beginning point of any mission in life. What has gone before and what is to come meet in that moment. In Disney's The Lion King the character of Simba has such a moment. Previous to the moment, Simba is separated from all that reminds him of his identity. He is away from home, away from his family, and away from his responsibilities in the world. In fact, he forsakes his true identity as a lion, much less the king of the lions. In his absence, his kingdom is over run by forces of evil, and it becomes a very dark and wounded place.
The baboon "priest" Rafiki finds Simba in the jungle and calls him back to his identity. In John the Baptist fashion Rafiki leads Simba to a great lake. As Simba stares into the pool of water, it is not only his face that is reflected. It is also the face of his father. The father and son are inextricably linked. As he recognizes his father within himself, the heavens open and father speaks to him from heaven. In that moment, Simba is transformed. He understands his true identity as the Lion King and sees the responsibility his identity carries. He is empowered for the mission that lies before him and is able to combat the evil forces of the world that have taken over. In the end, Simba is victorious and brings light and healing back to his kingdom.
One of the difficulties when dealing with the topic of identity as expressed in Mark's baptism account is the fact that Jesus was unique in his self identity. All of us are called to know our own identities as children of God and empowered to fulfill our own missions in life, but Jesus alone was able to grasp his identity and live his identity as God's unique Son to the fullest—no matter what life presented—no matter what others thought.
It is this understanding of his identity as revealed in his baptism that fueled his ministry and enabled his true identity to be fully revealed to all humanity at the cross.
1. My God, this is Anna, written by Flynn (Holt, Rinehart and Winston publishers, New York, 1974).