It probably won’t surprise most of you to know that I am a big fan of the Harry Potter books and movies. (Melissa and I stood in a long line at midnight the day the final book was released several years ago and then stayed up all night to read it). In the Harry Potter universe, there are two worlds that operate parallel to one another: the magical world full of wizards and witches, fantastical monsters, and an epic battle between good and evil, and the ordinary, or what’s called “muggle” world which is what we all see and know. The two worlds occupy the same space, but the magical world is mostly invisible to the muggles. Occasionally there are breeches in the wall that separates them, and the muggles get glimpses of this larger reality that influences their own world.
That’s a good way to understand what Jesus calls the “kingdom of God”, or the “kingdom of heaven.” In most of the Bible, heaven isn’t some far away place, but rather is a reality that runs right along side the world we see, influencing it, and bubbling up, and occasionally crashing right into our world. The Bible from start to finish tells a story of a God who is always working to break through to us, and show us glimpses of this heavenly reality. Our job as people of faith is to learn how to see those moments of heaven breaking through, and to help show those moments to the world around us, until it is indeed done “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Our gospel lesson today reminds us that one of the most important and dramatic ways God breaks into our world is in baptism. The church has variously taught that baptism is a kind of fire insurance against going to hell, the church has used baptism as a kind of membership control system to delineate who’s in and who’s out, who is entitled to burial from the church and who isn’t. But the way Mark describes Jesus’ baptism doesn’t support any of that. Jesus’ baptism is wild, it takes place out in the wilderness, away from the center of religious authority and control. Jesus’ baptism isn’t gentle or orderly. When our translation says that the heavens were opened, it really softens the Greek word. The word really suggests that God literally tore open the heavens. And God tears through the wall that separates heaven and earth for one reason, so that he can say to Jesus: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am will pleased.”
In baptism, that’s what God says to each and every one of us, too. In a few minutes, when we baptize Emmet and Grayson, the water we pour on their heads is God unmistakably breaking into this place, touching them, calling them beloved, and declaring there is nothing they can or anyone else can ever do to take them beyond the reach of God’s love. When we are baptized, God has said to us, “You are my child. You are my beloved. I am pleased with you.” That’s why I’m pretty wild sloshing the holy water around after, because we feel the water as an unmistakable reminder that God has said to every one of us in baptism: “You are my child. You are beloved. I am well pleased with you.”
If we are honest, that’s what every single person on the planet is desperate to hear. A whole lot of the brokenness in our homes and in our world can be traced back to the fact that everyone longs to know that they are loved, that they are good enough, that they are noticed and cared for and that they matter to someone. Baptism is God’s wild declaration of that for us.
Right after he is baptized, Jesus is sent out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. His experience of seeing the heavens ripped open and called beloved is what gives him the strength to endure it. Our lives can at times seem like a barren wilderness and a trial. And as we wander through it, we are called to draw strength by being literally soaked in the same words of love. No matter what happens, no matter what is thrown at you, you matter, you are beloved. Our baptismal font here at Trinity has had three homes in the 131 year history of this building, and I think where it is now is the best. Every time you come into church, you can touch that water and make the sign of the cross as a way of hearing God call you beloved again.
Recalling this over and over and over opens our eyes to see the heavenly realm that is always breaking into our world.
As you watch the heavens torn open again this morning, remember that you are loved. You, as you are, are good enough for the God who made you, who is pleased with who you are. Let that be a strength for what you have to face this week. Let the waters that hit you today remind you to look for the way heaven is always being opened in your life, the way God’s reign of peace, and life, and love is always breaking through, to saturate this present world, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.