Summary: A sermon for Baptism of the Lord Sunday.
"Splitting Heaven Open"
If you ever watched Sesame Street you might remember the song: "One of these Things is Not Like the Others."
There would be a short vignette with, perhaps Cookie Monster looking at four plates of cookies.
Three of the plates would have 2 cookies each and one of the plates would have three.
Then Cookie Monster would sing: "One of These Things is Not Like the Others."
Sometimes it would be Grover trying to figure out which circle was bigger than the other three.
Or maybe Big Bird would have three number 2's on a board and one W.
He would sing the song while the children watching at home on t-v were supposed to try and figure out which of those things was not like the other.
Pretty cute idea.
In any event, this morning we are starting at the very beginning of the Gospel of Mark.
During the weeks leading up to Christmas, we focused mostly on Matthew and Luke.
Matthew and Luke both begin with Jesus' birth.
There are shepherds, there is Mary and Joseph and no room in the inn.
But unlike Matthew and Luke--where Jesus first comes on the scene as a baby--in Mark Jesus shows up for the first time in the midst of the crowds of sinners who have come from near and far to be baptized by John in the muddy waters of the Jordan.
And there isn't any special attention drawn to Jesus.
There aren't any angels singing the heavenly chorus.
Jesus simply goes down into the water with all the rest of the folks.
Instead of being set apart from the rest of us sinners, Jesus takes part in the same baptism; He joins all the "unclean" people in the water.
John was "calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and wanted God to forgive their sins."
And John baptized people as they were confessing their sins.
And without a word of explanation, Jesus comes and is baptized along with all the rest of the people.
Does this imply that Jesus was a sinner who repented and confessed His sins when He was baptized?
Not at all.
Jesus' baptism, does though, make clear that if a firm line is being drawn between the holy, sinless God and fallen sinful humanity, Jesus is taking His stand on the side of sinful humanity.
Jesus is standing in solidarity with you and me and everyone else who has ever walked this earth.
Jesus is standing on the side with you, me and everyone else who has ever been lost in the darkness, broken by sin and despair, harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.
Jesus--God made Flesh--is identifying Himself with humankind.
He comes humbly.
He doesn't come as a king, He comes as your average, everyday person.
"For God so loved the world..."
In Jesus' day just like today, when kings would take office there were all kinds of ceremonies that were performed.
There was pomp and circumstance.
All attention was given to them.
Thousands would watch as oil was poured on the forehead of the royal king, and it was believed that God's spirit came to rest upon that king when he was anointed.
Jesus begins His work with an anointing as well, but not a kingly one where He is on a stage far from the crowd.
There are no precious oils.
There is no band...
Instead, Jesus' anointing begins when He gets in line with all the others and walks into the dirty Jordan River to be baptized with everyone else.
Rather than setting Himself apart and above the rest of us sinners, Jesus partakes of the same baptism.
Jesus' baptism was done in the same way as everyone else's, but at the same time, it was not like anyone else's.
This is because, "While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him.
There was a voice from heaven: 'You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.'"
Another way of saying that heaven was "split open" is to say that heaven was "torn apart."
And tearing doesn't happen neatly or with a pair of scissors.
Hands are usually involved.
God's hands, in this case, rip open the chasm between heaven and earth.
Mark uses the same language at the moment of Jesus' death when the veil in the temple, a symbolic barrier between God and humankind, is torn in two.
The "spitting open" of heaven means that there is now a new connection between God and people.
It means that God, Who was once far away, has come close.
It's an answer to the prayer of Isaiah recorded in Isaiah 64:1 which says: "If only you would tear open the heavens and come down!"