Sunday, January 8, 2012

String of Pearls

Happy New Year! Good time for beginnings, and the Feast of Jesus' Baptism kicks off the church year.

Rabbis had a name for teaching scripture from different parts of the bible by connecting word: making a string of pearls. The gospel this week for celebrating Jesus’ Baptism is a great example of this. Rabbis think it’s especially nice when they can connect the three different parts of the Hebrew bible: the Torah, the Prophets and the Psalms.

Mark 1:4-11
John the Baptizer was in the desert telling people about a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. All Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went to him. As they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.  John was dressed in clothes made from camel’s hair. He wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.  He announced, “The one who comes after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to bend down and untie his sandal straps.  I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan River. As Jesus came out of the water, he saw heaven split open and the Spirit coming down to him as a dove. A voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, whom I love. I am pleased with you.”

So what are the connections? One book suggests these three:
Psalm2:7 I will announce the Lord’s decree. He said to me: “You are my Son. Today I have become your Father.”

Genesis 22:1-2 Later God tested Abraham and called to him, “Abraham!”
“Yes, here I am!” he answered.  God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will show you.”

Isaiah 42:1 Here is my servant, whom I support. Here is my chosen one, with whom I am pleased. I have put my Spirit on him. He will bring justice to the nations.

1)    What are the connections?
2)    What do the connections lead to? I mean, what else connects with Jesus or his baptism in those other scriptures?
3)    Do you see any other connections?

Another preacher points out two other connections with that place: Joshua led the people of Israel across the Jordan, and the great prophet Elisha receives a “double portion of spirit” of Elijah, and parts the waters of the Jordan as Elijah did.
4)    What might make those important connections?

More connections: There are two other places in Mark’s gospel when Jesus is proclaimed the Son of God:

Mark 9:2-7
After six days Jesus took only Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone. Jesus’ appearance changed in front of them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah and Moses appeared to them and were talking with Jesus.  
Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s put up three tents—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (Peter didn’t know how to respond. He and the others were terrified.)  Then a cloud overshadowed them. A voice came out of the cloud and said, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Mark 15:37-39
Then Jesus cried out in a loud voice and died. The curtain in the temple was split in two from top to bottom.  When the officer who stood facing Jesus saw how he gave up his spirit, he said, “Certainly, this man was the Son of God!”

5)    What connections might Mark hoped you would see among Jesus’ baptism, transfiguration and death, connected by this phrase?

Your Baptism
How did we go from Jesus getting baptized to us getting baptized? Because of New Testament stories like this:
Acts 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 official scoop: A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace. Baptism is the initiation into Christian faith. Water and sometimes oil mark you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. There’s three parts that you or your godparents commit to: renounce and reject sin, a statement of belief in God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and a commitment to follow Christ as Lord and Savior. The effect of baptism isyou receive the Holy Spirit to live in you.

6)    Any questions about your baptism or baptism in general?

7)    Jot down one connection you want to remember from today.

For the men's study on this topic I made small changes to the questions and added a section before the Acts reading.

Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote a sermon where she contrasted the warm, fuzzy moment of the Holy Spirit hovering like a dove, to the following verses 12 and 13: “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” She comments that we often treat our spiritual life or church practice as a “wilderness avoidance program.”

6) What other scripture connects to the idea that the Spirit may send us out into the Wilderness?

7) Have you had any experiences where close contact with God or a filling with the Spirit drove you into a spiritually or faith-challenging place?

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