Sunday, January 11, 2009
The Baptism of Our Lord, 2009
January 11, 2009
Baptism of Our Lord
(RCL Year B)
Genesis 1: 1-4; Mark 1: 4-11
Continued New Year greetings to all, as we sail, shovel, and plow our way through this Pittsburgh winter.
All of us back to school now and back to work and working on our diets and paying holiday bills and addressing New Year’s Resolutions of all kinds, I know. Several times of the year in our church we have this sense of “turning the page” on the calendar and beginning something new and fresh—Round Up Sunday in the Fall, of course, and Advent Sunday, and of course Easter Sunday. But the New Year is distinctive, even if I’m still occasionally writing “2008” when I date a letter or write a check. A sense of a fresh start. A new beginning. Happy New Year!
So in the lessons appointed for the day, also new beginnings. The first book of the Five Books of Moses, in the canon of the Hebrew Bible and our Old Testament. And the opening scene of St. Mark’s gospel, which most scholars believe to be the earliest of the four gospels to have been written, and to have been one of the references and sources for Matthew and Luke in their gospels. So standing near the headwaters.
In this wonderful opening of the Book of Genesis and the first moment of the unfolding of the grand procession of creation the Spirit of God moves across the face of the waters—and then so again, with just a slightly different choreography in the opening of St. Mark, this time in the story of Jesus baptism, in verse 10 of the first chapter, as the Spirit comes sweeping down from heaven over the waters of the Jordan. Water and Spirit, and the freshness of beginning.
A familiar pairing, certainly an echo, as in the third chapter of St. John, when Jesus addresses Nicodemus. Remembering Nicodemus, “How can a man be born when he is old?” And Jesus: “Truly, Truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Water and Spirit.
Here in the opening weeks of the New Year, as all the beginnings of Advent and Christmas and the new light shining forth in Epiphany are before us: the story of the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus at his baptism. Act one, scene one, and there are oceans and rivers without end, flowing and overflowing beyond the limits of our imagination, and the creative and renewing and life-giving Spirit, God’s sacred presence and mission. And as an invitation, a New Year’s invitation, an invitation to walk in a new way, to open our eyes and our ears and our minds and our hearts to him—to open ourselves to him, and to be transformed in that opening, to be renewed, refreshed, forgiven, healed, and sent out again in his name.
These beautiful images for the first weeks of January, inspiring images, to be born and reborn of water and Spirit, into God’s presence, into God’s life, his Kingdom. Even for us introverted males of Northern European descent, an invitation into a mystical union with Christ in the divine Love at the heart of the universe.
Again, to say that it is wonderful to have these texts and images, almost as a kind of poetry, music, to surround us. It is such a hard season. The stories from the Gaza Strip this week weighing so much down upon us, the hard edge of war and especially the heartbreaking tragedies of innocent civilian bystanders on both sides of the fighting. As the psalm asks, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” And just one difficult headline after the other in terms of the economy. Downsizing, lay-offs and cutbacks, rising tides of foreclosures and bankruptcies. And even for those not directly affected, a cloud overhead of worry about what might happen next. Just our world: and not that there aren’t good things happening too and perhaps hopeful signs. But all the same, not the easiest transition to a new year.
But in the midst of it, again, this morning, for us: an affirmation and song this morning of God’s creative power. God’s Spirit, and the possibility of transformation and renewal.
As I am reminded of how many years ago when we lived out in Bloomsburg our Linnea’s Brownie Troop was in the town park for a day with one of the moms, who happened to be (and still is) a very accomplished sculptor. And the girls spent time going around the park finding random objects—funny looking branches, rocks, and hubcaps and a couple of beer cans, maybe an old running shoe, and on and on. Most of it just trash, really. Cast-offs. Litter. And how they then worked together bundling and stacking and arranging, to create this amazing—well, “object.”
When I arrived to pick Linnea up one of the other girls ran over to me almost shouting, “Look at what we made! Isn’t it great!” And it was beautiful, actually. The thing itself, and of course more especially what had happened for the girls as they put it together. The creative act itself, the miracle of transformation.
These moments when the ordinary fabric of our everyday reality seems to be pulled apart to reveal something so much greater, so much more beautiful. Miracle and mystery, as in the definition of a sacrament, and certainly the baptismal sacrament, the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.
“Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his Name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.”
It is all about potential: about what God can do and will do with us, in us, through us. As we would open ourselves to him, accept his presence, his guidance, his authority, his love. The Spirit moving across the water, and a whole new creation rising up out of the emptiness, a universe of potential, possibility.
This is what a life in Christ can be for us. Not being crushed by Law, oppressed, hurt--not being left in our brokenness, unforgiven, hopeless. But through his life and his death on the Cross and in the light of his resurrection: new life for us, and healing and forgiveness and hope. New creation, the Kingdom of God. As we would seek to know him, by water and Spirit, and to follow him out of the Jordan, as disciples and friends, and day by day faithfully to live in him.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.