Tag Archives: Jesus’ baptism

The Importance of Knowing Your Name

A Sermon for 7 January 2018 – Baptism of the Lord Sunday

A reading from the gospel of Mark 1:4-11.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  5And 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.  6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  7He 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.  8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  10And 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.  11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

 

Have you ever been to a naming ceremony?  We’ve heard of one these past few weeks in our Christmas readings.  The event is so matter-of-fact that after all the hype of the angels and shepherds and birth out back among the animals, the gospel of Luke simply records:  “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21).  One little verse, recorded only in one gospel; tells us Jesus’ parents observed his naming ceremony.

If you want to know what to expect today in a naming ceremony, just goggle it.  Reformjudaism.org includes Rabbi Karen Companez describing “What to Expect at a Baby Naming.”  Though the number of days after birth differ for little boys and little girls, you can expect a naming ceremony for a Reformed Jewish family to be held either in the baby’s home or at the synagogue.  The child receives a Hebrew name – the name they will be called at every major milestone of their lives.  From their first Consecration ceremony at the beginning of their religious education, at their coming-of-age bar or bat mitzvah, when they wed, when the are called upon in worship to read the Torah, and at last, when they die.  The Hebrew name given at their naming ceremony will be used at their funeral.  Then to be inscribed on their tombstone.  At a Reformed Jewish naming ceremony, parents typically explain why it is that name has been chosen for their child.  Blessings are said that remind all that this child has “entered into a brit, a covenant, with God.  . . .  The traditional wish is offered – that this child may grow into a life of study of Torah, of loving relationships, and the performance of good deeds” (https://reformjudaism.org/what-expect-baby-naming).

Hindu naming ceremonies are considered sacred and elaborately performed on the twelfth day after an infant’s birth.  For the first week-and-a-half of the baby’s life, no one but it’s mother and a helper – typically the mother’s mother – is allowed to touch the baby or mother.  After a ceremonial bath for both infant and mom, relatives are invited to the home.  In some Hindu cultures, the paternal aunt has the honor of naming her brother’s child.  After the mother “wets the head of the baby with drops of water as a symbol of purifying the child,” the auntie “whispers the newborn his or her name in the ear and then announces it to the gathered family and friends.”  After, in some Hindu communities, “the sacred fire is lighted and the priest chants sacred hymns to invoke the Gods in heaven to bless the child” (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naming_ceremony).  . . .  What beautiful rituals to welcome a new little one into the world!  To ensure that child and all who will surround his or her life know how special the little one is.  How cherished and honored and excited the whole community is to watch the life of that little newborn unfold – to become all that little one can be as a blessing to the world.  The naming ceremony tells all how important this child is for the life of the world.

If you were here last week, I asked you to bring a photo of yourself from your baptism – or the photo of another one you love on the day of their baptism.  I hope you did and that you take a good long look at it.  . . .  Today is the time in the liturgical calendar to remember what most likely was our equivalent naming ceremony:  our baptism.  . . .  Spiritual blogger and Millennial spokesperson Rachel Held Evans speaks of baptism as a naming ceremony.  In a Work of the People clip, which is a resource we’ve been using as part of our curriculum for Sunday School these past few weeks; she says:  “Baptism is a naming.  Naming someone a child of God.  Baptism acknowledges someone’s belovedness.  Jesus’ baptism was an acknowledgement of his eternal belovedness.  Baptism acknowledges our eternal belovedness too” (www.theworkofthepeople.com, “Baptism Named Beloved,” Rachel Held Evans).  In the baptismal liturgy, we renounce evil and its power in the world.  We’ll do so in our Reaffirmation of the Baptismal Covenant later in this service.  Rachel Held Evans makes sense of this renouncing by explaining that it is a “renunciation of all those competing voices that try to tell you who you are.”  She says:  “The world gives you names like screw-up, faker, fat, slut, addict.  In baptism you are named beloved.”  We are beloved, she explains.  And that’s enough!  “Baptism is a defiant thing to do,” she says, “because the world always will try to name us.  And in baptism we say:  ‘No!  My name is beloved!’  We are named by God and that is enough.  It’s good news!” (Ibid.)

It’s why we Presbyterians baptize publicly – at the time of worship, not in some separate private ceremony.  Whether a newborn baby, a pre-teen, or an adult; we declare as a community that the one to be baptized must know their name:  Child of the covenant, Beloved of God!  As we acknowledge the one being baptized’s name, we are charged likewise to remember our own baptisms and be grateful!  To call to mind our own name – beloved – lest the names of the world are left to resound in our heads.  We all are beloved!  And from the moment of our vows on, we resolve to live as those who know our own and show others’ their names too.

I love this day and I love that it falls so close to the beginning of each calendar year.  What better way to begin a new year than with this very important reminder?  And today, being that it’s a first Sunday of the month too; we’ll re-affirm the baptismal covenant, then move into the joyful feast of the people of God.  In the Lord’s Supper we’ll do what biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann calls a “regular re-performance of what we claim in baptism.”  We’ll partake of “concrete, tangible signs of the generosity of God” (www.theworkofthepeople.com, “Faithful Practices,” Walter Brueggemann).  We’ll eat of the food and drink of the cup that proclaims, in Brueggemann’s words, that we “belong to the narrative of Jesus and not the narrative” of the world (Ibid.).  We will taste and know our names:  beloved children of God who are “sealed as Christ’s own forever” (Ibid.).  . . .  It’s very good news!  News that changes how we understand ourselves, how we interact with our neighbors, and how we resolve to live our lives this day and forevermore!

Happy Baptism, brothers and sisters of Christ!  Come now, to the font.  Again, let us know our names!

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

Pilgrimage Remembrances #2

More from an amazing Holy Land Pilgrimage from one year ago:  Lent 2014!

9 March 2014: The Jordan River (in Galilee) 

Jordan River in Galilee.  Photo by JMN, 9 March 2014.

Jordan River in Galilee. Photo by JMN, 9 March 2014.

Here we sit – toes nearly touching the water. Catfish swimming all around. Doves cooing as birds sweetly sing the eternal praises of God. (BTW: I can’t get over the fact that my own toes have been where the toes of Jesus have been! It’s really cool when I bend over each morning to touch them thinking of the God who lived among us – touching this earth with toes too!) MY BSFFFF (Best Spiritual Friend Forever Forever Forever) is here at my right hand. The beauty of this place was most unexpected! It’s not dry and desert (as it must be 100 miles south, closer to Jerusalem – where Jesus most probably was baptized). But here it is lush and glorious – alive with birds and fish and greens and people! Amazing! Through this river, God’s people entered. In this river, God’s people were washed clean for a new life in the Promised Land. In this river, God’s Christ was anointed to ready himself to bring new life to the world. With him, God was well pleased!

". . . 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."  (Matthew 3:16)  The heavens at the Jordan River, Galilee.  9 March 2014.

“. . . 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.” (Matthew 3:16) The heavens at the Jordan River, Galilee. 9 March 2014.

In the telling of our baptismal stories – in sharing our confirmations and ordinations, here my BSFFFF and I have renewed each other for the work that lies ahead. Here we have shared God’s laughter – God’s peace. God’s all-encompassing love. God’s strength. God’s refuge. . . . From these waters we can go forth to do anything. Be anything; for we are God’s. Let these moments, this time, our prayers and tears and laughter shared, ready us. Heal us of all the NOs to a life of YES, YES, YES!!! I love you, God, and give you thanks for this very special time of remembering Jesus’ baptism here. Of remembering our own! Praises be!  Amen. 15890171

Next: on to Magdala and an active archeological excavation of one of the only untouched First Century synagogues! Keep reading to find out more!

First Century Synagogue in Magdala, Galilee; discovered in 2009.

First Century Synagogue in Magdala, Galilee; discovered in 2009.

MAGDALA — a First Century Synagogue:  Our pilgrimage leaders tell us that Magdala was a First Century city that was destroyed in 67 A.D. It is right in the wadi – a place that is a dry valley until it rains to become a raging river. The synagogue was always in the center of town. Therefore, Magdala probably was much bigger than it first was thought. According to historian Josephus, 40,000 people lived in Magdala. He claimed it was one of the biggest and most important cities in First Century Galilee. It was a one day’s walk right down the Valley of Doves, on the Valley Road from Nazareth to Magdala on the Sea of Galilee. Supposedly it was too muddy in this wadi to walk from Magdala to Capernaum – you had to take a boat. Magdala was the wealthy port over to Capernaum – a place of rest and entry into the country for all nations. Magdala was filled with Jews who were fishermen, who would take their fish to the commercial shops of Capernaum, the crossroads of the world where those from all walks of life lived.

First Century ruins of houses & shops found near synagogue in Magdala.

First Century ruins of houses & shops found near synagogue in Magdala.

Magdala was all about fish – ruins reveal pools for sorting fish near the sea, then small pools in shops for storing fish until they were sold. There even are salt water pools a bit further from the sea where fish that went unsold that day would be dried for later use. To this day, Magdala is known for its fish! . . . As far as history reveals, Romans also lived in Magdala alongside Jews – right at the foot of Mount Arbel. In 67 A.D. Magdala was destroyed by the Romans. Thousands were killed. Others were sold into slavery. Very few people survived. When the rainy season came again, mud buried the ruins of this First Century city. It all would have gone unknown if not for the efforts of a prominent Jerusalem hotel.

Remains of Mosaic found in First Century synagogue of Magdala.

Remains of Mosaic found in First Century synagogue of Magdala.

Early in 2000 A.D., they wanted to expand their enterprise to the beautiful retreat area of Galilee. When they began to break ground for their exquisite resort, the earth revealed the ruins of Magdala, or Migdal as it’s known in Hebrew. A city that had been hidden for over one thousand, nine hundred years. In 2009, the Magdala synagogue was unearthed. The Franciscans now own the property and have built there an amazing basilica. . . . Magdala remains an active archeological site to this day.

A Mikvah found in First Century Magdala -- 7 steps down into living/running water for purification baths in Jewish homes.

A Mikvah found in First Century Magdala — 7 steps down into living/running water for purification baths in Jewish homes.

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Pulpit and Table of chancel area in new sanctuary overlooking Sea of Galilee in Magdala.

Pulpit and Table of chancel area in new sanctuary overlooking Sea of Galilee in Magdala.

One more entry from 7 March 2014 — ARBEL in Galilee: Our pilgrimage leaders tell us that from Nazareth, the childhood of Jesus, to the Sea of Galilee, the place of his ministry, is just fifteen miles. At 30 years of age, he walks the Valley Road to begin his ministry. What strikes me from Mount Arbel is that this place (Galilee) is so small. Magdala is the city between the two. He walked this short distance from childhood to adulthood. One Galilean town of about 200 people to another small Galilean place. All in an effort to change the world. Four miles from his home, the city of Sepphoris was destroyed by the Romans in 4 CE when he was just four (or so) years old. [See Jesus in Matthew 5:14: “A city built on a hill (as Sepphoris was) cannot be hid.”] From this mount you can see the Valley Road.

The Valley Road from Nazareth, past Mount Arbel, to Magdala, to the Sea of Galilee.

The Valley Road from Nazareth, past Mount Arbel, to Magdala, to the Sea of Galilee.

He walked right here. Leaving his home. On the way he passed Arbel – where his fellow Jews hid out in caves on the mountain to try to resist the occupation of his land – from Syria in 167 BCE and Herod the Great closer to the time of his life in 39-40 BCE and then from Rome in 66 CE. . . .

The Sea of Galilee from Arbel.  7 March 2014.

The Sea of Galilee from Arbel. 7 March 2014.

Why did he go to the sea? What called him to walk down the Valley Road to begin to make the effort to try to change the world? . . . Was he drawn to the Living Waters of Galilee? . . . And how deeply did Arbel and Sepphoris affect him? . . . How deeply did he desire freedom for his people? An end to the violence. Hope. Lives of simple gratitude and freedom and joy instead of the foot of another on your neck telling you no. Holding you down. . . . How much of this was for freedom – not just of our sins for life everlasting; but here and now. For right-relationship together TODAY?!

© Copyright JMN – 2015. All rights reserved.

The Cliffs of Arbel and the Valley of the Doves.

The Cliffs of Arbel and the Valley of the Doves.