A Reading from the the Book of Genesis (1:1-5)
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
1 Ascribe to the Lord, you gods, *
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his Name; *
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
3 The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
the God of glory thunders; *
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; *
the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; *
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, *
and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire;
the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; *
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
8 The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe *
and strips the forests bare.
9 And in the temple of the Lord *
all are crying, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sits enthroned above the flood;*
the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.
11 The Lord shall give strength to his people; *
the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.
A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles (19:1-7)
While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—altogether there were about twelve of them.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (1:4-11)
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
“Who are you?” That question is at least implied whenever we meet someone new.
“Who are you?” It’s a question to which I begin to respond by giving my name; but, after that constant, the rest of my answer tends to vary. The way that I further identify myself depends on where I am, whom I am addressing, and what the circumstances are at the time.
If, for example, I am meeting someone in the neighborhood where we live, I might continue by saying that we live at 7 Lonsdale; on the other hand, if I am meeting someone in this part of town, I would probably respond that I am the Rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. If the encounter takes place at Kemp Elementary School, I would explain that I was a tutor, working with the Intervention Specialists; but, if we were at Smith Elementary School, I would say simply that I am Mark and Micaela’s Dad.
There are many different facets to our identity in life, and the way that we self-identify depends often on the circumstances in which we find ourselves. And yet, there is always something at the core of who we are: something so basic that it forms an integral part of our distinct identity.
The gospel according to Mark leaves no doubt as to its understanding of Jesus’ core identity. In this morning’s gospel reading, during the account of Jesus’ baptism, Jesus sees the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And then a voice, obviously intended to be the voice of God, informs him of his core identity: “You are my Son, the Beloved.”
At this point, the revelation is made only to Jesus: no one else seems to hear or see anything out of the ordinary. By the time we come to the Transfiguration scene in chapter 9, that same revelation is made to Peter, James and John, as a voice from a cloud informs them: “This is my Son, the Beloved.” And, in chapter 15, at the scene of Jesus’ death, it is a Roman centurion who declares to everyone who hears the gospel: “Truly this man was God’s Son!” This, for Mark, is the essence of who Jesus is.
What is the essence of who we are? What is our central identity?
In the course of our lives, we come to identify ourselves in a variety of different ways. We identify ourselves by our profession. We identify ourselves by the community in which we live. We identify ourselves as members of particular organizations. We identify ourselves as members of a particular church. We identify ourselves as citizens of this country.
Usually those varying parts of who we are fit together fairly well: we are able to find ways to make those multiple identities compatible with one another. But sometimes we reach a point where we have to choose: where one identity conflicts with another. It is then that we have to ask ourselves about our own core identity, about who we are in the very depths of our being, and about what fundamental values we hold because of that core identity.
Sometimes, the choice is obvious. But other times, we find ourselves struggling in our consciences, asking what it is that we value most deeply, asking who we are at the very heart of our being.
Some members of the military, for example, face those kinds of choices as they struggle to decide what their obligations are to be loyal to the other members of their unit when that identity comes into conflict with their higher obligations as an officer or an enlisted person. Potential whistle-blowers face it when have to decide between illegal actions that benefit their companies but may be harmful to the wider society. Members of Congress and of our state legislatures face it when they have to choose between partisan political stands and choosing to do what is best for the state or country as a whole. And we face it in the sometimes difficult choices that we have to make between what actions would benefit us as individuals versus what actions might be best in serving the needs of the wider community.
It is then that our identity as people baptized into Christ is most critical. In the rite of baptism, after the pouring of the water, the bishop or priest takes some of the oil of chrism and makes the sign of the cross on our foreheads while declaring: “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.” From that moment on, that is the core, the heart of who we are: Christ’s own for ever. That identity must take precedent over all others, as it has for faithful Christians throughout the ages.
There is a story that I heard several years ago, although I have not been able to track it down recently. It is about a funeral that supposedly took place in a small principality in central Europe during the Middle Ages.
The prince of that place had died, and the royal family prepared for the official state funeral. When the appointed day and time arrived, the procession made its way down from the castle up on the mountainside to the cathedral that stood at the heart of the city. As the mourners remained standing down in the street, the man who had served as chief minister of the city-state walked slowly up the steps of the church and knocked on the closed and locked doors. From inside, one of the monks called out, asking who wished to enter. The minister announced “the glorious Prince of our land” to which the monk replied, “No,” and the doors remained locked. As was the custom, the minister walked back down the steps, paused for a moment, and then made the journey a second time. He knocked on the great doors and received the question again, “Who wishes to enter?” This time he replied, “The Father of our People and our Defender against all who wish us harm.” Again the answer was “no.” This continued over and over again until all the royal titles had been exhausted.
The minister then climbed up the stairs one final time. Again he knocked. Again the question, “Who wishes to enter?” But this time, the minister responded simply, “His name is Christian.” And, at that, the doors were opened wide and the procession and the people entered.
What is our name? What is our core identity? When push comes to shove, when we are faced with those difficult decisions in life, which part of our identity do we cling to above and before all others?
You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever. For ever.