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Worship Service Message

January 14, 2024
Baptism of the Lord Sunday

In the Beginning

Genesis 1:1-4 & Mark 1:1-12

Rev. Dr. Jaegil Lee

The beginning…

We are at the beginning of 2024.  We celebrate a new beginning, which is often referred to as an “opening” or a “Grand Opening.”  When we celebrate birthdays, we directly or indirectly remember the beginning of our lives.  Similarly, when we celebrate our wedding anniversaries, we directly or indirectly remember the beginning of our relationships. 

A beginning holds a unique significance to the human mind.  We desire to understand the beginning of almost everything, such as the beginning of the universe, the beginning of the solar system, the beginning of life on Earth, the beginning of the human species, the beginning of our nation, the beginning of our town, the beginning of our church, the beginning of our homes, and so on.  Oh, one more… the beginning of our own lives—where, how, what time we were born…

Today’s scriptural readings are both interested in “the beginning.”  The first reading from Genesis concerns “The beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.”  The Gospel reading from Mark draws the readers’ attention to “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.”  By the way, if you recall the beginning of the gospel of John, it also discusses the beginning, stating “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God…” 

Why do the two gospels—Mark and John—begin their stories with the words, “The beginning”?  Why are the authors of both gospels concerned about the “beginning”? 

This is most likely because the Book of Genesis is open with the phrase, “In the Beginning…”  Remember that when Mark and John were writing and editing their gospels, they had the Hebrew Bible, commonly called the Old Testament, as their only Bible.  So, I believe that Mark and John probably wanted the beginning of their books to resemble that of The Book of Genesis by opening their books with the words, “The beginning.” 

However, what I found fascinating is that Mark’s beginning is not concerned with the beginning of the universal or the entire world, but with the beginning of good news of a single person named Jesus Christ. 

What does it imply that while he knew the story of the creation of the universe described in the beginning of the Book of Genesis and wanted his readers to be reminded of it when they read his book, Mark did not discuss anything in a universal dimension, but instead brought his spotlight to a person who came to John to be baptized in the Jordan River? 

Even though it could be my mere imagination or even my flawed reasoning, I find it fascinating and inspiring that in the gospel of Mark, the beginning of one person and the good news of that person is seen as almost equally important as the beginning of the entire universe.  Or it may imply that the beginning of a single person’s entry into a committed relationship with God is absolutely essential for the universe to transform into New Heaven and New Earth. 

Personally, I strongly believe that a single person’s fully embracing and embodying one’s divine task or duty can change the whole trajectory of not only the Earth but also the entire universe.  And that is why the gospel of Mark radically connects the “beginning” with a single person, instead of with the universe, a nation, or even a group.  In other words, that is why Mark replaces the beginning of the universe with that of a single person, who is known to us as Jesus Christ.

I also strongly believe that Mark indirectly teaches us the unique place of the human being in the universe.  Some people may criticize my message as being too androcentric, human centered.  However, I gladly accept this criticism.  Despite possible criticism, I adamantly claim that it is human beings upon whom God and the cosmos rely to bring forth New Heaven and New Earth.  The world has witnessed this truth through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. 

If you think what I am saying is nonsense, then there is another symbol given to us in today’s reading which helps us recognize the significance of the human being in the universe.  That is, the heavens open, being torn apart when Jesus was baptized.  As baptism is a symbolic act of entering into a new birth and life, the life of being fully taken and led by God, the heavens—higher dimensions of the universe—open up, recognizing the significance of Jesus’s baptism and the divine task and mission he would carry on throughout his life. 

I further want to say that the heavens opening up signifies the entire universe’s enthusiastic response to a single person’s full commitment to God’s vision for the humanity.  For Jesus, his baptism marked the beginning of his public life, leaving his family life behind and instead creating a new community focused on following the will of God.  Therefore, the higher worlds, symbolized as the opening of the heavens, resonated with a new direction of life that Jesus just had just begun to walk. 

However, the reason that Jesus was able to boldly embark on his new sacrificial mission was that he knew his true identity as God’s beloved child.  He continued following his path of love and justice even when his opponents plotted to kill him because he was able to hear the divine voice speaking to him, “You are my beloved child!”  He was able to ultimately embrace the cross itself because he fully realized that his divine identity as God’s beloved child could not be destroyed even by death on the cross or anything else. 

The same is true for us!  We must realize the truth of our belovedness to overcome fear and shame.  We must fully accept that we are the beloved children of God to step out of our small world of comfort and to boldly live the life that God envisions for us.  We must have faith in the truth that our self-worth does not depend on our past achievements but on the divine belovedness that God implanted in our soul in or even before the beginning of the universe.

To claim our true identity as God’s beloved child means to recognize our neighbors as God’s beloved children as well and treat them accordingly.  The more we realize our neighbors’ belovedness, the more we embody our own belovedness through our actions. 

The beginning of the universe and the beginning of the good news remind us of the indestructible truth that we are God’s beloved children.  Possibly, that is why we love to celebrate the variety of beginnings, which helps our souls to remember our ultimate beginning—the “beginning” of our belovedness. 

Furthermore, beloved siblings in Christ, when we reclaim our identity and live a life following footsteps of Jesus, we are opening a “beginning” of a new world.  Each time we celebrate the belovedness of our neighbors, especially of the marginalized, we are opening a “beginning of a new world.  For this reason, we don’t need to go to the past to experience the beginning.  Rather, when we claim our belovedness and proclaim our neighbor’s belovedness through our actions, we enter into a beginning of a new world, New Heaven and New Earth, where God’s ultimate vision comes true for everyone. Let us pray.

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