Sermon by Pastor Ben Cieslik

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ. Amen.

2016! It’s a new year. Full of potential and promise. And even if you don’t feel that way, at least it can’t be as bad as last year right?

It’s a fascinating phenomenon. Each year, the calendar changes, the year rolls over and for many people it’s like the sky is the limit.

This year, I’m going to start eating better. This year I’m going to drink less. This year I’m going to make more money. This year I’m going to send thank you notes! This year I’m going to exercise. This year…

You know what I’m talking about right? And it’s not just New Year’s resolutions either, there’s this sense that pervades the culture that with the coming of the new year change is in the air.

A feeling that everyone seems to carry with them that finally, things will be different in my life, my health, in the world, in your family.

It happens every year. But by mid January the wheels have come of our New Year’s resolutions, we likely find ourselves in winter ruts and nothing is different.

Sorry to be Debbie Downer, but it’s kind of how it goes.

The New Year is the definition of unfounded optimism. And yet it’s everywhere, social media is especially chock-full of new year’s inspiration. Someone posted a jazzy image on Instagram that read,

May you have a heart of courage, and a mind of will, and may you get whatever you desire always at your will.   Happy New Year.

 I’m not sure what it means, but it’s sure cheery. I was more partial to this one that said.

 May your hair, your teeth, your face-lift, your abs, and your stocks not fall; and may your blood pressure, your triglycerides, your cholesterol, and your mortgage interest not rise.

At least I understood that one.

But when you stop and think about it, why do we think that we’ll be able to make pretty significant attitudinal, physical, emotional changes simply because the calendar ends in a “6” instead of a “5?” What are we doing to get ready to change? How are we preparing to be different? To live differently?

Happy New Year aren’t you glad you came to church?

Over the past few years, following Christmas, we’ve started reading one of the four gospels from the beginning in January and following it’s telling of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection all the way through Easter Sunday. It’s been a great exercise where we are able to see the particular nuances of each gospel, and what each author is after.

And today we are beginning Mark’s gospel again.

Mark moves fast. There’s no birth story. There’s no wisemen. There’s no shepherds. There’s not even much of an introduction. There’s just an announcement of something new.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

It’s not particularly descriptive or even all that exciting, but in it’s brevity it signals that something different is about to unfold. This Jesus will challenge the powers of this world and conflict will ensue. Jesus’ way is not the way of the world. Even his closest followers won’t really understand what he’s about. They’ll have silly arguments about who’s the greatest. They’ll want to build little houses up on the top of the mountain after Jesus is transfigured, changed into something dazzling white before their eyes.

And then one by one they abandon him as he suffers and dies on the cross. At the empty tomb they flee in fear because they don’t understand, it doesn’t make sense. It’s one of the peculiarities of Mark. People who should get who Jesus is and what he’s about don’t. And the ones who do, Like demons and Roman soldiers, you can’t count on for a testimony.

Yet through it all, we see that Jesus is deeply committed to the road that is ahead of him. He is deeply committed to beginning something new, he’s bringing in a new era, a new epoch a new age where God reigns. Jesus is all in, all in on this world, all in on us.

But even the Son of God needs some grounding.

We aren’t always quite sure what to do with the fact that Jesus was baptized. Most of us associate baptism with the forgiveness of sins, a washing, a cleansing. So why would Jesus do it?

Because it happened.

It was a moment in time that occurred. Something to point to. An event in Jesus’ life in which the barrier between the divine and human was rent, when the heavens were torn open, the Holy Spirit came into him and God spoke to him and said, “You are my son the beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

In that moment there was no ambiguity about who Jesus was, or what is purpose was in this life. He was reclaimed by God, publicly, it happened and Jesus could remember that. He could point to that moment, he could remember and trust God’s words.

You and I have access to that same promise and purpose. In baptism, God speaks those words to us, “You are my daughter, you are my son – you are beloved, with you I am well pleased.” It happened there was a moment in time that you can point to.

There was a date and a time in your existence when the pre-existent God of space and time, the God who made heaven and the earth, tore open the heavens and spoke to you.

You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased.

Each and every day you can point to that event that moment, when God’s promises to you became tangible in and through very ordinary stuff, water. We are surrounded by water, it’s something you can taste and feel. It’s a gift that sustains our bodies but more than that it renews our souls because, each and every day you can reclaim God’s promises that you belong to God, that you are loved.

Today, in a season filled with shallow and fleeting yearly resolutions, I want to invite you to choose daily renewal instead. Our resolve is fleeting, fickle and finite but God’s renewing love is eternal and ever-present. This week, each time you encounter water, I want you to repeat God’s promise to you. “You are my son, You are my daughter, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.” It won’t take long and you’ll have the bonus of memorizing some of scripture. It’s a two for one exercise.

Each time you wash. Each time you drink. Each time you see water. Touch it. Remember. You are God’s child, the beloved, with you God is well pleased.

May that promise give you the strength to live that way, this day and always. Amen.