St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Epiphany I 2015 Sermon
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Corby Varness

A surgeon, a civil engineer, and a software engineer were chatting. The discussion rolled around to whose profession was the oldest.
 
The surgeon said that his was, since in the Book of Genesis, God created Eve from one of Adam's ribs, and surely that involved surgery.
 
The civil engineer countered by saying that before God created man, he created the heavens and the Earth from chaos, surely a feat of civil engineering.
 
The software engineer just smiled and said, "Where do you think chaos came from?"
 
We start this new year with the first words in the Bible, the first words in Genesis: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
           
What a scene!  The Rev. David Lewicki describes it this way: “God sets down in the midst of a formless darkness.  God draws near the empty waste.  God gazes into the water that could not bear life, and from this face-to-face encounter, a sensible world begins.  God creates order out of chaos.”
           
What a beautiful beginning!  A Divine Creator who stares down at nothing until there is something beautiful!
           
Many scholars believe that this story of beginnings in Genesis 1 was written down during the exile of the Israelites in Babylon, in about 600 BC.  What that tells us is that this is not the oldest story in the Bible, so it must be placed first for some other reason.  Maybe this kind of beginning story is the kind that we need, a story that shows us God staring down chaos and making beauty.  Because when the world feels like chaos, (and it sure does, sometimes) when God seems to us to be nowhere...in that time when we are desperate for a new beginning, we have a God who reshapes the chaos into order, even into beauty.
           
We also start this new year with John baptizing his cousin, Jesus, in the swirling waters of the Jordan.  A new beginning for Jesus, a culmination of years of prophecy for John.  But why does Jesus get baptized?  John’s baptism was about repentance of sins.  Did Jesus sin?  How could that be?  Well, he was human, wasn’t he?  John calls for repentance in baptism and that repentance is the act of turning; both away from sins and turning instead toward God.  Jesus formally starts his ministry with this act of turning toward his father.
 
Jesus wades in next to John.  Can you envision that moment, see in the rippling waters of the Jordan, where Jesus stood and looked down and saw his own reflection on the face of the deep?  It was creation happening all over again.  The wind blew down that river as John scooped up the water and poured it over Jesus' head.  A voice broke the silence, "You are my child, with you I am well pleased."

And just as before, there was light in the darkness.  As it was in the beginning, here God was in the world, wresting order from chaos.  This time it was by proclaiming good news to the poor and release to every captive.  God was making order through chaos , this time in the person of Jesus.
           
Jesus hears the beautiful, incredibly affirming words of his Father; "You are my child, with you I am well pleased."  I love that God tears open the heavens to address his son with this beautiful blessing.  God is breaking through the heavens into the world as Jesus; breaking through all barriers to be human, to walk with us.
           
The Rev. Maxwell Grant writes that as Jesus "was coming out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and a dove descending.”  Mark’s word for 'torn apart' is schizo, and it means "to cleave, to cleave asunder, to rend."  It's a strangely violent word to describe such a happy occasion.
           
Mark understands very clearly that, in Jesus, this is exactly what has happened.  God has torn open the heavens and come down.  At the baptism of Jesus God has committed the act of breaking and entering the world.
           
Baptism is a call to be part of the remarkable, redemptive work of God.  To give our lives to something more challenging than our daily grind--and in the end, surely more beautiful, true, and enduring than any other kind of work we could do.
           
But truly saying yes to our baptism is daily work for the rest of our lives.  It is saying yes to the world and yes to a life torn open by the love of God.  We love because God first loves us.  In baptism God declares that love; in Christ, God calls us to respond.
             
Baptism means that we are not alone in the wilderness.  It means that God's love for us doesn't depend upon us.  It means that God's grace doesn't wash off.
           
Jesus turned toward God at his baptism.  Let’s do the same as we recite our baptismal vows today.  Let us say these words as a conscious act of turning toward God as we start this new year.  Really, what could be a better resolution? 
 
Let us vow that through God’s grace, we will forgive others as we are forgiven; we will seek to love our neighbors as ourselves, and strive for peace and justice.  We will accept the cost of following Jesus Christ in our daily lives and work; with the whole Church we will proclaim by word and action the Good News of God in Christ.  Let’s try to live into these words in 2015!


 
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