Vicar David Sivecz
Mark 1:4-11 “Accepted”
Do you enjoy a good movie? Well, I do. As my New Testament professor once joked, “If you want to know about theology read novels.” Well, since I read plenty of theology books, I tend to watch movies in my spare time. Although I occasionally catch them on television, there are times when I prefer to see them in the theaters. There is just something about standing in line - sometimes outside - waiting with friends all excited to see something that I’ve expected for months to come out.
Once I spend plenty of money on a movie ticket, I will enter the lobby and get a whiff of the popcorn. I can’t help but listen to the sound of it popping. If that isn’t enough, the smell of it surely grasps my nose. After it’s pulled to the counter, I will reach for my wallet, pull out some money… only to buy a box of candy. Hey, I said I like to hear and smell the popcorn.
After, I’ve gotten a ticket and bought some refreshments, I finally reach the theatre. With the lit aisles, I find a seat to be ready to watch the previews. Again, after another half an hour goes by, it’s time for the movie. The lights go down; the screen opens, and… (the Star Wars theme was played).
The movie begins. I’m sorry I have Star Wars on my mind. Because of the holiday season, I haven’t seen it yet, so don’t spoil it for me. If history serves me well, I can only guess that it begins the way other Star Wars movies start. I can picture it right now. The screen is pitch black dark. The big yellow words scroll into outer space. The Star Wars music plays in the background, as I try to understand the beginning of the story quickly. Star Wars has one of the most epic beginnings. Regardless of where we are or what we are watching, we know Star Wars from the beginning. It can’t be mistaken for Star Trek or any other Science Fiction movie. No other film has that same beginning.
Beginnings happen in many different ways. Sometimes when we read a book or watch a movie, it begins by jumping right into the action. Other times it begins by sharing specific information. Regardless of the story, the beginning often plays a major role in how we follow it. Beginnings provide us with a background to what we will hear and see. Beginnings set the stage to help us understand what is to come.
Two weeks ago, on Christmas Eve, we heard the Gospel of Luke shared with us the beginning of Jesus’ life. It’s the same story told every year. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and placed in a manger. Although it’s the only Gospel that tells us that story, the other Gospels have their own “birth story.” When I say “birth,” I mean that each Gospel has it's own beginning to Jesus’ life.
Unlike Luke’s Gospel, Mark’s Gospel didn’t tell the famous Christmas story. It didn’t begin with Jesus as an infant. It didn’t even begin with a lineage or a prologue as the other two Gospels. Instead, Mark’s Gospel began with John the baptizer appearing in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism for repentance for the forgiveness of sins. What Mark began with was the baptism of Jesus.
For many of us, it might not make sense that Jesus was baptized. If Jesus was sinless and came from heaven then again, why did Jesus need to get baptized? For some of us, who come from other church traditions, we learned that baptism is an outward sign of an inward commitment to God. For others of us, we believe that baptism means the washing away of sin and having a clear path to heaven. Perhaps, that’s why many of us continue to perform this ritual. Friends and family will come from all over to witness an infant or an adult, get baptized.
If your earlier experience of being baptized in the church was similar to mine, you were baptized six weeks after you were born. Like many people who grew up in an Eastern European Lutheran church, parents learned they had to get their child baptized as soon as possible. Before a child went out of the home, they had to get baptized before anything happened in his or her life. It was that crucial.
However, what if our baptisms were more than just a one-time event? What if our baptisms aren’t just something that happened in the past or help us in the future? Rather what if our baptisms impacts every facet of our lives inside and outside of this building?
In the baptism of Jesus this what we see. We see God claiming Jesus as God’s own. As we heard, “Just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from the heaven said, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
Within our baptisms we aren’t committing to God, we aren’t given a direct line to heaven; instead, God claims us as one of God’s children. We become one of God’s beloved. Don’t you see what this means? We don’t need to “fit into a mold.” We don’t have to be pressured by society and have to fit in, if we want to get ahead. Our families, our friends, our children and ourselves aren't forced to be someone we are not.
But on the other hand, being someone who is claimed by God is the exact opposite. As a child of God, God accepts us as we are. God embraces us and values us with all of our scares, warts, and wounds. There is nothing more important or necessary in leading a healthy, productive life than feeling accepted.
Within our baptisms God promises to claim and accept us. It means we have a new beginning, the possibilities are endless, and we get another chance to experience a change. That’s what happened to former televangelist Jim Bakker. Maybe some of us remember him. He was sent to prison for a number of fraud charges in the early 1990s. What he shared after his immediate release from prison is perhaps a testament to God’s acceptance.
It began when he transferred to his last prison. Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, said he wanted to help him when he got out by getting him a job, a house to live in, and a car. During his fifth Christmas in prison he thought it over and told Franklin, “You can't do this. It will hurt you.” Jim explained that the Grahams didn’t need his baggage.
Franklin Graham looked at him and as he said, "Jim, you were my friend in the past, and you are my friend now. If anyone doesn't like it, I'm looking for a fight.” When Jim Bakker got out of prison, the Grahams sponsored him and paid for a house and gave him a car to drive.
After his first Sunday out, Ruth Graham, Billy Graham’s wife, called the halfway house where he was living and asked permission for him to go to the Montreat Presbyterian Church with her that Sunday morning. As he walked in, the pastor welcomed him, and Jim Bakker sat down with the Graham family. To his surprise, there were two whole rows of them. Every Graham aunt, uncle and, cousins were present.
When the organ began playing, the place was full, except for a seat next to him. Then the doors opened and in walked Ruth Graham. She walked down that aisle and sat next to inmate 07407-058. Jim Bakker had only been out of prison 48 hours, but she told the world that morning that he was her friend.
Afterwards, she had him up to their cabin for dinner. When she asked him for his address, he pulled this envelope out of his pocket to look for it. In prison, he was not allowed to have a wallet, so that's all he could carry. After five years of brainwashing in prison, he thought an envelope was a wallet. She walked into the other room and came back and said, "Here's one of Billy's wallets. He doesn't need it. You can have it.”
We can say whatever we want about Jim Bakker. At that time, not only did it seem as though God accepted Jim Bakker after prison, but the Graham family also accepted him. That’s the other side of being God’s beloved. Just as we, the church, remember how much God loves us and accepts us we are sent to accept others.
When society wants to shun, shame, and castaway people we remember where they began. They began in the loving arms of God. Even when we forget and fail to do so, it’s because of our baptisms there is nothing that can remove God’s claim on our lives. Not even our failures, our sins, our mistakes, other people, and our rebellion can take it away.
Baptism was not only the foundation for the life of Jesus it was also the foundation for his ministry. It wasn’t just a one-time event; instead, it was the beginning of Christ’s long journey to his death and resurrection. We are impacted by this through Jesus breaking into our world in his own baptism.
It’s through that same Holy Baptism we continue to live in that covenant with God and among God’s faithful people. It’s through that same Holy Baptism we hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper. It’s through that same Holy Baptism we proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
If those words sound familiar, they are said every time we baptize someone in the church. Yet, that’s not the only thing we do. Immediately afterward, we light a candle, and we say “So, let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” That’s what we are going to do before we sing our next song (“You Are Mine”).
When you walked in here today, you should’ve received a candle. It’s the same candle we used on Christmas Eve when we sang “Silent Night.” Today we are going to light our candles in remembrance of our baptisms. As we pass our light, similar to what we do on Christmas Eve, to the person sitting next to us. What I want you to do, as you pass your flame, is say four words… “You are God’s beloved.” Don’t just it say it, but say with gusto or enthusiasm. Say it like you believe the other person matters. Say it as though God accepts them.
If we are sitting here and haven't baptized; don’t miss out on it. You can be a part of this. You matter and are accepted by God as well. Better yet, find a time and get baptized. As I said it’s not about what you need to do; instead it’s God actively working in you. So, join us and see how being claimed as God’s child will bring transformation.
What a way to begin a new year. It’s perfect by remembering that we belong to God. Although many of us have launched into the new year with full force, with the Christmas season is a distant memory, the wrapping paper is decaying in the ground, and most of our decorations are boxed up ready for next year, we can’t forget that God accepts us as God's beloved children.
As we’ve gone back to school, work, and to our daily routines, as we’ve experienced the January snow, freezing temperatures, and high winds, we need to remember God’s claim on our lives. Even when nothing says welcome to the beginning of a new year like the Buffalo Bills finally making the playoffs, we absolutely need to hear that we are accepted as God’s beloved.