The Polar Plunge
I’ve never done this myself, but I was there in person a few years ago, when several of our church pastors and staff took the plunge. The Polar Plunge. Into a giant hole cut in the ice of Lake Mendota, our church team made the leap.
They went into the icy waters all together. Their purpose was to raise money for Special Olympics. But they also showed that people of Christian faith go out into the public to make a difference in the lives of others and to have fun. It was a witness.
Those who plunged into the icy waters —- they ran out of those waters as fast as they jumped in. They described the experience as taking their breath away. It was an experience they will always remember!
What if we thought of our baptism in that way? That it took our breath away. That we took the plunge. That it was and is an experience we’ll always remember.
Oh, I know, most of us were baptized as infants, so it wasn’t our decision to make the plunge in the first place. And most of us weren’t baptized by immersion – dunked fully underwater. Instead, more likely 3 splashes of cold water got sprinkled on our head.
But we’ve been raised to believe the bigger truth. That the day we were each baptized, whether as an infant or adult, we were plunged. Plunged into an experience given to us by God – an experience where our old selves died and we were raised out of our baptismal waters to new life. It was an experience that took our breath away. It removed our sin, claimed us as children of God, made us part of the body of Christ, and gave us eternal life forever. That’s quite an immersion, isn’t it?!
So, what if we looked at each other, as fellow Christians, as though we each had been brave enough to take that polar baptismal plunge? What if we looked at each other as people who one day each had experienced a big leap into the life changing waters of baptism and were raised up into the hands of God? Babies, children, teenagers, middle-agers, young adults, elders. Isn’t that something? All of us as Christians, we’ve all taken the plunge! Ever since, God has broken into our lives. And ever since, we’ve been held as children of God. We have been forever changed by our baptism. Therefore, we are to live each day, for the rest of our lives, as those people who have been filled with the Holy Spirit and grafted into the life of Jesus, forever.
Now the baptism John the Baptist offered, was a forerunner to the baptism we’ve experienced. As we consider our baptized lives, let’s consider two other facets which Mark describes in this gospel (Mark 1:4-11), that connect to our own baptisms.
It is impressive to note that Mark tells us that “people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to John the Baptist, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” Think about that. People living such different types of lives, city people and rural people, they all went out to be baptized by John.
Instead of going where they’d usually go for religious cleansing—up to the big temple in Jerusalem, which was the center of everything powerful and religious—these people (all people) took a very different turn.
They turned from their usual ways to go to be baptized. They all go in a different direction to be baptized by John. And no matter what direction they are coming from, they all confessed their sins.
Given the acts of violence and threats of violence that occurred during a riot within our U.S. Capitol building last week, I believe that current event is cause enough for all of us to look deeply inward as well as outward, right now. We all need to keep taking a hard look at ourselves in this grueling time and keep confessing our sins.
We are all participants in this complex mess of humanity.
You’ve all heard the quote in response to a number of unsightly incidents this year, where someone has said, “This is not who we are.” I’ve heard it said recently, “This is who we are.” The quote is better stated, proposing, “This is not who we want to be.”
Even from 2000 years ago, in this very first story of his gospel, Mark is telling us that a huge shift is underway. We’re all called to pick ourselves up from our own comfort zones to confess our sins.
We’re called to take a hard look at who we are individually and as whole groups of people – from every walk of life – and to lay our broken, sinful, hurtful, hateful selves before the Lord. We’re to repent of our thoughts, words, and deeds in order to be washed in a forgiveness that only God can give.
Forgiveness happens by being plunged into water. In today’s story, baptism for the forgiveness of sins took place in a particular body of water. The Jordan river.
A river that was known by people who lived in the cities and in the country sides. Everyone knew this as a river of life for God’s people.
A river that reminded people that God had brought previous generations out of hardship when they crossed that river and God took them into a new life of promise and possibility.
Jesus joins the crowds at the Jordan river to be baptized. This too is quite a plunge, wouldn’t you say?
One of my seminary classmates this week, wrote eloquently about Jesus joining the crowds at His baptism, saying,
“As the epitome of God’s power, Jesus gets in line for baptism behind the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the poor and powerless. He does not use his power to be in front of the line. Stooping down into the water for John to baptize him, Jesus subjects his power to identify with and enter into relationship with sinful humanity. Instead of holding himself apart, instead of using his power to rise above others, Jesus stepped into the same water we stand in, and he wed himself, his reputation, his power, and even his destiny – to ours. And the voice from heaven confirms him: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ (vs. 11) (Kurt Jacobsen, Facebook posted sermon, January 10, 2020)
Jesus Joins Us
Jesus joins the flow of people baptized in the River Jordan. As he does this, God rips open the heavens and blesses him.
Right from the start, by being baptized with all sorts of people who turned their lives over to a new direction, asking for God’s forgiveness, Jesus joins God’s people in these waters and God’s Holy Spirit anoints him. Jesus’ earthly ministry begins here.
As God’s beloved Son, he will now give his entire life over to meeting people, to forgiving people, to healing people, and to changing their lives.
He will reveal God to those who need to see God in the most difficult of circumstances.
He will serve others, and give his life over, even to death, in order to save our lives from the grip of sin and death.
It is into this live of Jesus Christ that we’ve all been baptized.
Consider Your Plunge
So, consider your baptismal plunge this week, my friends. I hope it not only takes your breath away, but gives you new cause to consider your sins so that they can once again be washed away through God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ. And may you and I emerge in that renewed gift of forgiveness to live out the new promises and life we’ve been baptized into. Thanks be to God! Amen.