Baptism of Repentance (Mark 1.4-11)
In the cycle of special Sundays at this time of year, the Sunday after Epiphany is always the Sunday when we remember the Baptism of the Lord. On this Sunday we do two things; Mark’s gospel does not have the birth stories we associate with Christmas. Jesus’ baptism is the starting point of his ministry. And we think about our baptism and what it means to us.
The two readings we hear today (Acts 19.1-7 and Mark 1.4-11) both refer to the baptism that John the Baptist offers. Interestingly the Acts reading suggests that John’s model of baptism was somehow rolled out across the Near East. John certainly had disciples of his own because he tells two of them that Jesus is the “Lamb of God” (John 1). Both passages explain that John’s baptism was a “Baptism of Repentance.” We can read into this that a sense of moral failure was something that bothered people in those days.
Here’s a question. Do you think that a ministry built around pointing out people’s sins, their moral failure, would attract people today? It is a truism that people criticize the church for being hypocritical in talking about sin when the church has a sad history of failing (not the least in the whole safeguarding arena) but the reality is that, overall, this is not the starting point of church preaching today and few would listen.
So, here’s another question. What ought to be the starting point of Church teaching? If baptism is (partly) about identifying ourselves with the Church, where should we start? To put it another way, what is Good News for this generation? What is the Church about, what is God doing in our world, that is so attractive that people might want to belong?
The Acts reading gives us a clue. When Paul baptises people in the name of the Lord Jesus, they experience the presence of God the Holy Spirit in their lives. They are transformed. It is easy to be too sophisticated. The Good News people long to hear is that God loves and, in Jesus, makes himself known to us.