A Reading from 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
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? In some ways, this is the simplest of questions; in others, it is the most complex.
Simply identifying ourselves can be a pretty straightforward thing. Sometimes, it requires only our name. At other times, the answer depends on who is asking and on the situation. If, for example, I am at a gathering of Judy’s side of the family or visiting the place where she works, I might answer the question by identifying myself as “Judy’s husband.” In and around Oakwood High School, I am “Mark and Micaela’s dad”; but, for the students at Kemp School, I am usually “Mr. K.: one of the volunteer tutors.” At church functions, I could say that I am “the Rector of St. Mark’s.” Who I am to a particular person depends on the context.
Who are you? It is a fundamental question with which adolescents struggle as they move, ever so gradually, out of childhood and wrestle with their personal places and roles in the world. Even some adults who are far past adolescence continue to find it difficult to answer that question with any depth and self-assurance.
And, as life moves on, as we grow and develop, our identity changes along with us. It’s not that we become somebody different, but rather that our identity grows and expands. In addition to being the same individual that we have been from birth, we might become, for example, someone’s spouse, someone’s parent, someone who takes on new roles and new responsibilities within our family, within our community, and within the wider world. Our identity is enriched and enlarged.
Who are you? That is the fundamental question asked of and about Jesus in today’s gospel reading. And St. Mark gives what he perceives to be God’s answer to that question. Notice that, in Mark’s version of Jesus’ baptism, and unlike those in the gospels according to Matthew and Luke, the voice that comes from heaven is addressed to Jesus alone, and Jesus alone sees the heavens torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. Nobody else seems to see or hear anything out of the ordinary. And the voice informs Jesus: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Who are you? That is the fundamental question that is addressed whenever we celebrate the sacrament of baptism, just as we are doing here today. Those who are being baptized are taking on, if not a new identity, at least a fuller, more complete identity. They are allowing God to expand and enlarge their identity: to transform them into being something and someone more than they have been. Specifically, by water and the Holy Spirit, they are made “Christ’s own for ever.”
That’s a pretty powerful statement; but then, baptism is a pretty powerful event. It is a major commitment: one that carries with it implications for the place of the baptized within the entire church community; and it is a commitment that carries with it implications for the place of the baptized within and for the rest of the world.
First, that new identity, that expanded identity, is not just about God and me. It is about a commitment to a lifelong relationship within a community. At the conclusion of the baptismal rite, all of you will affirm that lasting relationship as you will declare to Robert: “We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” That will be Robert’s new identity, his expanded identity and ours as well: one in which we are permanently linked to and interdependent with one another as fellow members of the household of God and sharers in Christ’s eternal priesthood.
Second, that new identity, that expanded identity, is not just about the relationship of the members of the church with one another. It is also about our mutual responsibility to serve the rest of the world in God’s name. As Matt and Justine will promise for Robert, and as the rest of us will reaffirm for ourselves in our baptismal promises, we have taken on the responsibility of living and proclaiming what we profess, of seeking and serving Christ in all persons, and of giving ourselves to a lifetime of working actively for justice and peace and of respecting the dignity of every human being.
Because of our baptism, these roles, these responsibilities toward one another and toward the rest of the world, are now an integral part of our identity. They are now an inseparable part of who we are: Christ’s own for ever.