Sermon for January 10, 2021

Baptism of Our Lord, Mark 1:4-11
January 10, 2021

The holy gospel according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord.

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “After me the one who is more powerful than I is coming; the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

    9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

As we begin a new year, it is fitting perhaps that we have as our first reading for today the first verses of the Bible which commence with the very familiar words, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…” (Genesis 1:1).

But then listen again to the first half of verse 2, “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” Sometimes I wonder if we’ve gotten to that point again in our sad, sorry world.

Formless void and darkness. It feels that way sometimes when I read, hear and see the news. What a list. A variant of the coronavirus that is more contagious seems to be sweeping the globe. The roll out of vaccinations is going much slower than anticipated and needed. Institutions and organizations reveal their incapacity to deal meaningfully with our crises. I sometimes refer to our current circumstances as a world as the age of the great unraveling when so many institutions and traditions and norms and alliances are breaking apart. Formless void and darkness indeed.

Moreover, since we have the first part of the creation story as a first reading, it’s natural to be drawn to contemplate the condition of our whole earth, our ecosystem itself, the loving object of God’s creation in the beginning.

To our long list of ills, we add climate change and the waning capacities of our ecosystem to provide habitable environments to people and creatures. Rates of species extinction are skyrocketing. Coral reefs are bleaching and dying out. And more and more. Scientists are calling our epoch the Anthropocene, when human activities, not asteroid hits or volcanic eruptions, are radically affected the environment.

In the beginning, God addressed the formless void and darkness through divine intervention in the work of creating, first of all in speaking light into existence to limit the darkness to half of the day.

“…a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.” (Genesis 1:2b-4) Hence the creative activity of the first day – with more goodness to come on subsequent days.

God spoke the word, ‘let there be,’ and it happened as the wind, the Spirit from God swept over the waters to render the formless void into the beautiful world that we inhabit, full of light as well as the balm of night.

God did not intervene just once to deal with our voids and chaos and darkness. In these latter days, God also intervened by sending the Son.

On this day, we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, when again the Spirit, the wind from God, was active at the place of the waters of the River Jordan.

“And just as [Jesus] was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” (Mark 1:10-11)

This Son with whom God is well pleased was present, according to John’s Gospel as we heard last week, at the beginning, at creation as the very Word of God who was integral in speaking all things into existence. In these latter days, from the generative, creative dance of the Trinity, the Word of God as Son was sent on a mission to heal, to renew, to save, to redeem the world – all part and parcel of God’s continuing creative activity.

 

 

At the baptism by John, Jesus “saw the heavens torn apart” and the Spirit descending like a dove, the very same Spirit that swept over the creation that the Word shared in creating. In this rending was the blending of heaven and earth, things divine and things worldly. What was separated out, made distinct from each other in creation here is joined together.

Sometimes it takes being torn apart to bring things back together again. Such was the nature of the divine mission on which Jesus, the Son, the Word, was sent in the power of the Spirit.

This renewing, saving creative mission was accomplished in Mark’s Gospel with another rending near the story’s ending. This is what the Gospel Mark reports when Jesus was on the cross: “Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’” (Mark 15:37-39)

So, God in Christ was active yet again in creative ways on the cross and in resurrection victory for repairing the torn fabric of our humanity by offering his own torn, broken body. This was the one who “wonderfully created the dignity of human nature and yet more wonderfully restored it” (Prayer of the Day for First Sunday of Christmas Year B, ELW p. 20), returning order from chaos, reintroducing light into our darkness.

Lest we conclude that that was then and this is now, that God’s creative and redemptive work in Christ is relegated to the remoteness of human history, the promise and the reality is that this divine work continues to this day, our day in the Anthropocene.

Lest we lament that we are left orphaned, I bring these good tidings: The wind from God which swept over the waters at creation is the same energy of the Holy Spirit that blows where it wills in our own day, at our own baptisms. The same Spirit, the same generative, creative, restorative, redemptive energy of our Trinitarian God in whose name we are baptized.

We may, like the faithful twelve in Ephesus described in today’s second reading, conclude with them, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” (Acts 19:2b) But like them, who when baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus and Paul laid hands on them, received the Holy Spirit to speak in tongues and prophesy.

The Spirit in ancient Ephesus is the same Spirit invoked not just in baptism, but affirmations of baptism and prayers and anointing for healing and ordinations and more.

It’s the same Spirit we invoke in relation to bread and wine at the Supper of our Lord Jesus when we receive Christ’s true presence.

Furthermore, the Spirit of the living God in Trinity is not just available to our individual lives in the sacramental activity of the church. This Spirit is also for the whole creation, as it was in the beginning.

And it’s for us as a species, in this era of the Anthropocene, that we may be empowered to be more faithful stewards of our precious ecosystem, that thin little layer of habitable world that we call home.

In the Spirit, the wind that sweeps the waters, we Christians have a particular calling, I believe, to be about creation care in ways that we have not been before. We are late in coming to embrace the centrality of care for creation in our mission as a church.

But think of this: the sacraments have their origins in the goodness of creation, in water, in bread and wine – and the word and the Spirit. The words we use in our sacramental rites make things happen, bring divine realities to be in the Spirit, even as God made things happen by speaking the order of creation into existence. The very same, sacred energies are available to us sacramentally and for our mission to be about the healing of the natural world.

Insofar as we have been redeemed in Christ through his death and resurrection, we get to be part of God’s ongoing creative energies in seeking the redemption of our whole planet.

This is not peripheral to our mission today, it is central.

Stopping or at least slowing down the ill effects of climate change may seem impossible. Perhaps it’s too late. But that does not diminish or render superfluous our calling to be faithful stewards.

And we are not left orphaned in this mission. Indeed, the Spirit present at creation, at Jesus’ baptism, at our own baptisms, sweeps over the planet today and in what we manage to do.

God in Christ help us in the power of the Spirit. Amen.

And now for your reflection and holy conversation at home:

  • Name occasions when you have witnessed the creative, restorative Spirit of God at work.
  • Perhaps as a New Year’s resolution, identify ways in which you and/or our congregation might take concrete steps in caring for creation. 

 

More in this category: « Sermon for January 3, 2021