Mark 1: 4 – 11 Filled with the Spirit Sunday January 10, 2020


Filled with the Spirit

Mark 1: 4 – 11


(preached January 10, 2021)


“You are my son, whom I dearly love; you make me very glad.”  How wonderful to hear those words, spoken to Jesus after his baptism.  How wonderful for you and me, as followers of Jesus, to know that because of him, those words are also spoken to us.  When we follow Jesus, our lives are woven into the ongoing story of his life.  When we follow Jesus, we realize that the grace and love he received from God are also for us.  We hear the words he heard, spoken to us, “You are my child, whom I dearly love.”  Hearing those words is like finding water in the desert.


Those words are especially good to hear after the year we’ve had.  This past year has been a year like no other.  The coronavirus pandemic has ravaged our world.  In our country alone, more than three hundred thousand have died.  While the pandemic has taken many lives, it has also brought into focus the inequalities in our society.  Communities of color have been ravaged on a scale way out of proportion to their numbers in the population.


Beyond the effects of the virus, this year has brought a new reckoning about racial injustice and the prejudice that still pervades American life.  Speaking for myself, I know that I’ve become more aware of my own prejudices against African Americans.  I’ve resolved to root out those prejudices and, with God’s help, get rid of them.


It’s been a difficult year.  And just last week, I was shocked and appalled when an angry mob stormed our Capitol, armed and violent, moving with destructive intent through the halls of government.  The actions of those extremists didn’t just threaten the safety of members of Congress.  They endangered our democratic way of life.  The calendar may say it’s a new year, but it’s still a difficult time.


But right now, in this moment, we’re doing something wonderful and rare.  We’ve come together in this place to praise the living God, to hear God’s word, and rededicate our lives to service in God’s name.  Because the virus still rages, we gather carefully, but we have gathered in this place, at this moment.  By doing this, together, we’re taking our place in a living tradition, a long line of women and men who have decided to follow Jesus; to weave our lives into his life, to receive the love and grace that God freely offers, and to release that love and grace in service to the world.


We are part of a tradition of people who have been gathering in Jesus’ name for hundreds of years.  Centuries before us, men and women gathered, as we’ve gathered, to hear the story from Mark’s gospel about the baptism of Jesus.  They heard, as we did, that Jesus came to be baptized.  They heard, as we did, that when Jesus came up out of the water, he felt the Spirit of God descending like a dove.  He heard God’s voice saying, “You are my son, whom I dearly love; you make me very glad.”


Think for a moment about what Jesus might be feeling as he is baptized by John.  This baptism by John in the Jordan River is the first thing Jesus does in his public ministry: he’s at the very beginning.  So we might imagine that Jesus, like anybody starting something new, isn’t sure how it’s going to go.  He feels, deeply within, God’s call to heal the sick, bring good news to the poor, and set the captives free.  But he might well be wondering, how would people react to him?  How would they respond to his message?  Would they come to see in him the salvation God had promised?


For hundreds of years before Jesus, the people of Israel had longed for a Savior.  But they had no idea what that Savior would look like.  They had longed for salvation, but they didn’t know how that salvation would happen for them.  Would the Savior be a mighty warrior, leading them in battle to defeat their Roman oppressors?  Would the Savior be a majestic monarch, ruling from a royal throne?


You and I know that Jesus was neither of these things.  Instead, his ministry was one of service.  He joined people in all the pain and mess of their lives.  He touched lepers and made them clean.  He put mud on his fingers and made a blind man see.  He didn’t recoil in disgust at the touch of a woman whose clothes were stained with blood.


But before any of that happened: in the very first act of his ministry, Jesus stepped into the waters of the Jordan River to be baptized.  We can’t know what he was feeling as he was baptized, but we know he heard God’s voice, saying, “You are my son, whom I dearly love; you make me very glad.”  We can see from the way he carried out his ministry that hearing those words gave him strength for a ministry of healing the sick, bringing good news to the poor, and setting the captives free.  At his baptism, filled by the Spirit with love and grace, Jesus released that love and grace in a life of service.


It’s been a tough year.  But people who follow Jesus have been through other tough years.  For hundreds of years, tough and not so tough, people have come together, as we do this morning, to take their place in a living tradition.  May you and I also be filled with the Spirit.  May we weave our lives into the life of Jesus.  May we receive the love and grace God freely offers, and may we release that love and grace in lives of service to the world.


Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Epiphany I



“The Holly and the Ivy” Benjamin Jacques

Maria Ferrante, Soprano           

Joyce Carpenter-Henderson, Pianist