Monday, January 19, 2015

3 Hand Washings

Mark 1:4-11, Baptism of our Lord B, January 11, 2015

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

Even though the world outside is bitter cold and covered in snow and ice, I would like you to think back to this past summer. Consider the yard work that you might have done. No matter whether your yard was carefully planted full of flowers or simply has some evergreen bushes, all of our yards had weeds. 

Remember how after spending much time weeding and planting, your hands were quite dirty. Covered in mud, dusted with pollen and flaked with bits of roots, your hands are filthy. Then you turn on the hose and let the water wash over your hands. You watch as all of the dirt and debris return to the earth. 

There is something immensely satisfying about watching the dirt wash away from our hands. Now your hands are clean, ready to move onto the next project. Now you can safely go inside your home without spreading dirt on every surface that you might touch. 

Isn’t this like baptism? We come to baptism caked with muddy sins, dusted with wrong intentions, and flaked with self-absorption. Whether as an infant or as an adult, we come before the Lord dirty with wrongdoing. Then in baptism, we are washed of our sins, cleansed from the eternal consequences of our wrongdoing, and blessed with God’s love. 

At baptism, we cannot sees the dirt of our sins being washed away, yet it happens. We may not have the satisfaction of watching our sins wash away, yet we have a similar satisfaction when we remember our baptism. We have the opportunity to remember our baptism here on non-communion Sundays, and we also can remember our baptism every time that we wash our hands.

Today we hear in the gospel of when Jesus was baptized. Unlike us, Jesus had no sins to be forgiven of. When John baptized Jesus in the River Jordan, there was no metaphorical dirt being washed away. We can imagine our baptism as being like hands washed clean after hours of weeding, yet I wonder what Jesus’ baptism could be compared to. Maybe it was like a different hand washing.

Although I only auctioned off a dozen of my grandmother’s snowflakes at the Harvest Feast, I had about fifty more of her snowflakes to stiffen before Christmas. Oddly enough, the best way to stiffen lacework is by dipping them in Elmer’s white glue, squeezing the excess off, and then pinning it flat onto wax-paper-lined cardboard. With two bottles’ worth of glue in a bowl, I set to work. For each snowflake, I dredged it in glue, pressed the extra glue out, and then laid it flat on the cardboard. Over and over again. 

When working with that much glue, there is no clean way to do the job. So, after doing this twenty-five times with the first half of the snowflakes, my hands were completely covered with glue. I felt like I was in preschool again! My hands were so sticky that I had to have Brett turn on the water. Then I enjoyed gently scrubbing all of that glue from my hands. I felt like I was washing away an extra layer of skin. The water became white from all that glue. 

Isn’t this a better image for Jesus’ baptism? He didn’t have any dirty sins to wash away with baptism, yet he still needed to have John baptize him. Before he could begin his ministry, he needed to have this spiritual experience. Whatever was washed away, it must have been as holy as he was. 

Baptism is about a whole lot more than just forgiving sins, though. When Jesus was baptized, he also was prepared to begin his ministry. At his baptism, he received a sign from God. When Jesus was rising out of the water, he saw the sky seem to split open. Out of the abyss, the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove. 

Yet the most important part of this vision is what comes next: God the Father speaks directly to his Son on Earth. God says, “You are my one dear Son; in you I take great delight.” (Mark 1:11 NET) This baptism has given Jesus the emotional strength and willpower he needs to defend himself from the devil’s temptation. For immediately after being baptized, Jesus is driven into the wilderness by the same Spirit that descended upon him.

Just as God descended upon Jesus during his baptism, so also God comes to us in our baptism. We may not hear God speak directly to us, yet even so God’s love is poured out upon us in word and water. This baptism that we receive is more than just forgiveness of sins. It is the restoration of our souls. 

Now hear one last hand washing story, something that some of you experience every day. When I was on my internship, I often visited the homebound. One woman, named Georgia, told me of the terrible pain and suffering she experienced every single day. Her hands were knotted and misshapen by Rheumatoid arthritis. 

She told me of how she literally could not move her fingers when she got out of bed every morning. Georgia would have to run warm water over her hands for many long minutes before she could flex her fingers. Only after this long wash did she feel like she was whole again.  

I cannot imagine what it must be like to suffer from arthritis. From what I have heard on my many visits, it must be absolutely miserable. Even without experiencing it first hand, I can see that this a beautiful description of baptism.

Before God comes to us in baptism, we are broken people. We are misshapen by the cruel world that we live in. We are turned in on ourselves. Yet in the healing waters of baptism, God restores us to wholeness. God takes our weak minds and bodies and prepares us for ministry. God comes to us in baptism, promising to restore us to the best image of ourselves. 

It is no mistake that this sacrament is often used to welcome new members to the church. We are made right before God before we can live out God’s law. This ritual washing is a way for God to claim us as daughters and sons, for God to wash us from our sins, and for God to restore us to wholeness. We and our sponsors make serious promises when the water rushes over us, and in return God also makes some eternal promises.

In baptism, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. We die to sin and are raised to new life. God comes to us in the water and the word. God prepares us for all of the challenges ahead. In baptism, God prepares us to be God’s hands and feet in this world. Amen.

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