Let Healing Begin

Let Healing Begin

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; January 28, 2018

4th Sunday after Epiphany

Psalm 111; Mark 1:21-28

 

The writer of the Gospel of Mark has a way of moving us rapidly through time, so much so, in the very first chapter we learn:  John the Baptist prepares the way; Jesus is baptized; the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness where he’s tempted by Satan and cared for by the angels; John is arrested; Jesus comes to Galilee to preach the good news and, by the Sea of Galilee he calls out to four fishermen, “Come with me and I will teach you to fish for people.” Twenty verses of Scripture bring us to the synagogue on the Sabbath where Jesus is about to inaugurate his kingdom campaign.

 

One of Mark’s favorite words is “euthys” which is translated “immediately,” “at once,” or “right away.” Like a newspaper reporter, Mark rushes us from place to place to witness Gospel-making, life-changing history. Unfortunately, in many translations, the “immediacy” of Mark’s gospel is lost. However, Eugene Peterson does an excellent job capturing the essence of Mark. Here this short reading once more, from The Message:

 

Then they entered Capernaum. When the Sabbath arrived, Jesus lost no time in getting to the meeting place. He spent the day there teaching. They were surprised at his teaching—so forthright, so confident—not quibbling and quoting like the religion scholars. Suddenly, while still in the meeting place, he was interrupted by a man who was deeply disturbed and yelling out, “What business do you have here with us, Jesus? Nazarene! I know what you’re up to! You’re the Holy One of God, and you’ve come to destroy us!” Jesus shut him up: “Quiet! Get out of him!” The afflicting spirit threw the man into spasms, protesting loudly—and got out. Everyone there was incredulous, buzzing with curiosity. “What’s going on here? A new teaching that does what it says? He shuts up defiling, demonic spirits and sends them packing!” News of this traveled fast and was soon all over Galilee.

 

It’s no surprise news of this travels fast. Jesus speaks with authority AND he makes things happen! Truly, Jesus teaches in a way that astounds the people. At this point we might be tempted to give the teachers of the law (the scribes) a hard time. But before we go off on a tangent, let’s note that in this passage, while the scribes are mentioned, we are not sure if they are even present. Since people are gathered in the synagogue on this Sabbath, we assume scribes (biblical scholars of the time) are there—but we don’t know. Another thing to remember is that even later, when tension escalates between Jesus and the religious rulers, Jesus seems less concerned with what they teach and more concerned with how they live.

 

In today’s reading, what is crystal clear is Jesus’ teaching carries an authority unlike anything the people have ever heard. Keep in mind—Jesus doesn’t have to rely on “borrowed” authority. Moreover, Jesus does not just offer information. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus offers transformation. Now that is something both new and amazing!

 

You may have noticed the people are not alone in their amazement. In fact, the one who may see the situation more clearly than anyone else is the unclean spirit. Translations vary here—unclean spirit, evil spirit or demon. One scholar explains: “In biblical language, “impure” means, simply, contrary to the sacred. All that is against the sanctity of God is considered impure.”[i]  So regardless of how we choose to think of it or name it, the important thing to recognize is that this presence is against the things of God. Still it is the unclean spirit that speaks the truth, interrupting Jesus like a heckler at a campaign rally.

 

It is safe to say everyone in the synagogue is riveted to the scene being played out before them.  The unclean spirit cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” The unclean spirit is disturbed, for good reason, because he recognizes Jesus for who he is. Evil has come face to face with the source of its ultimate demise. Two questions are put to Jesus. The first is “What have you to do with us, Jesus?” I like the way The New American Standard Bible and The Message translate this question: “What business do we have with each other, Jesus?” Business—yes, there is business to be done!

 

Then, lo and behold, the unclean spirit speaks an even greater truth: “Have you come to destroy us?” In a word—Yes! Yes, that’s exactly what Jesus has come to do. Jesus has come to destroy all that is broken in humanity. Jesus has come to restore all God’s people to whole and abundant lives. Jesus has come to shut down the powers of darkness and Jesus can—because he is exactly who the unclean spirit says he is—the Holy One of God.

 

Basically, Jesus responds to the evil spirit with something like, “Shut up!” A more literal translation is: “Put a muzzle on it!” Isn’t it ironic that Jesus, who is possessed by the Spirit of God, faces off with a man, who is possessed by a demon? [ii] Ultimately, Jesus’ authority is made known when what he speaks comes to fruition—word and action unite, and the evil spirit is silenced and cast out of the man. And in a moment, the healing ministry of Jesus begins. With at least 13 miracles of healing documented in the Gospel of Mark alone, there is no denying that for Jesus a strong relationship exists between faith, healing, and wholeness.

 

But returning to the man with the unclean spirit, don’t you wonder what he is doing in the synagogue in the first place? Wouldn’t that be the last place an evil presence should want to hang out? It makes me wonder, in the midst of being nearly overwhelmed by something evil and beyond his control, is there something that draws the man to a place where he might find a glimmer of hope? Is that how he happens to be among the people that day?

 

And while the brokenness of this man and his need for healing are so obvious, doesn’t he in some way represent all of humanity? Whether by anger, greed, selfishness, anxiety, hatred, pride; whether by discouragement, despair, depression; whether by obsessions, addictions, disease—aren’t we all broken in some form or fashion? But for the possessed man, and for all who meet the person of Jesus, a muzzle is offered for our brokenness. Through Jesus, there is hope for healing and wholeness.

 

Jesus comes to the synagogue and makes the gospel message real. It’s not the same old story about a prophet or a king or some people back in the day. No, Jesus brings transforming power into the room! And the news spreads like wild fire. As one scholar put it, from the very first chapter of Mark, we are put on notice: “the boundary-breaking, demon-dashing…Son of God has arrived in the person of Jesus, and he expects of his followers far more than amazement. [iii]

 

Bonnie Rackley is a friend of Sissy Almand’s who has become a regular at our First Friday Contemplative Service. Last month she shared a story that she has given me permission to share this morning. Bonnie’s sister’s first and only grandchild, Archie, is 6 months old. Late last year he started wheezing. After many tests the pediatricians discovered Archie had a cyst growing near his vocal chords. Surgery was scheduled the first Sunday in December. Bonnie said she thought it strange that surgery would be scheduled on a Sunday until she learned it was a Jewish hospital. On the Friday evening before the surgery, Bonnie came to our Contemplative Service and lit a candle and offered a prayer for her grand-nephew. Then Sunday, when the doctors took Archie in for surgery, much to their surprise, the cyst was gone. Bonnie’s sister called to give her the good news and Bonnie responded: “God answered my prayer. It was the votive candle I lit and the prayer I prayed. It was those Presbyterians!”

 

Jesus was in the business of healing. Still is! But do we believe it? Or are we like one of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who has gotten so used to doing the same old thing in the same old way with the same old result that the very idea of Jesus breaking into our lives and into the lives of others—well, it’s unfathomable?

 

Whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual—we are all in need of healing. We need transformation and Jesus has the authority and the desire to fix what ails us. Sometimes healing comes through spiritual practices like laying on of hands and different forms of prayer. Sometimes healing comes through the God-given wonders of modern medicine. Sometimes healing arrives through the blessing of a community of believers who surrounds us with love and light—even in our darkest hour. Sometimes—it happens through all the above. And sometimes healing may begin in this life only to be completed in the life to come. Yet, no matter the circumstances, for everyone who meets the person of Jesus, there is hope.

 

Richard Foster has penned the following prayer that, perhaps, speaks words of truth for each one of us:

Lord Jesus Christ, when I read the gospel stories I am touched by your healing power. You heal sick bodies to be sure, but you did so much more. You healed the spirit and the deep, inner mind. Most of all I am touched by your actions of acceptance that spoke healing into those who lived on the margins of life, shoved aside by the strong and the powerful. Speak your healing into me, Lord, body and mind and soul…Heal my heart, Jesus, heal my heart.[iv]

 

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[i] Ibid. 310.

[ii] Feasting on the Word, Ofelia Ortega, 312.

[iii] Ibid., Gary W Charles, 313

[iv] The Westminster Collection of Christian Prayers, Richard Foster, 148-149.

*Cover Art by Elise Phelps of First Presbyterian Church of Valdosta

 

Dear James and John

Dear James and John

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; January 21, 2018

3rd Sunday after Epiphany

Jonah 3:1-5; Mark 1:14-20

 

Often, when I begin to prepare a sermon, I sit quietly in my prayer room at home with Scripture before me. Using the ancient practice of lectio divina (or sacred reading) I read the text and then sit in silence, listening for a word or phrase that speaks to my heart. I generally read through the passage several times, and prayerfully listen after each reading. Using this process for our gospel reading today, I notice it is set at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. John the Baptist has been arrested and then Jesus sets off for Galilee. Walking alongside the sea, Jesus calls two sets of brothers to join him.

 

When I close my eyes to meditate further on this scene, I am taken back to a beautiful, sunny day in 2009. Walking along the banks of the Sea of Galilee with other clergy, a holy presence is palpable. I can almost hear Jesus’ voice to those would-be disciples, “Come, follow me, I will make you fish for people.” Hopefully, you noticed the photograph on the front of your bulletin. It was taken by Rev. Rachel Crumley, a dear friend who was also on the Pastoral Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Looking at it this morning, doesn’t it suggest to you another time and place? Two men—gone fishing! Simon and Andrew? James and John?

 

Jesus approaches first Simon and Andrew, and then James and John. “Follow me,” he says. And they do.  As simple as that!  Or is it? Eventually, my holy pondering cause me to settle on one person in the scene—Zebedee. Imagine with me for a moment, Zebedee, sitting in the boat with his sons and a couple of hired hands. Then along comes Jesus and takes his sons away. What must that have been like for Zebedee? His sons’ decision surely affects him deeply.

 

Such ruminating compels me to invite you on a journey. Off to the Galilee we go—to the Sea of Galilee Public Library. In the room of archives, we pilfer through ancient documents. And there, on something like papyrus, we happen on a letter addressed, “Dear James and John.” Wait! Could it be our James and John? Looking closer, we realize that, yes, it is. And, lo and behold, it is written in English. (My oh my, Jesus really did speak in King James English…just kidding…) What insight might we gain from this ancient document? Let’s take a closer look.

 

Dear James and John,

I miss you both, still. Some evenings I sit by the Sea of Galilee and remember those days long ago when we worked as successful fishermen alongside Simon and Andrew. Even then, you had the look of wanderlust in your eyes. I knew about your visits to the Jordan River to hear John the Baptist preach. I knew you were captivated by his passionate message. I kept silent, but oh, how I worried.

 

Then along came Jesus. You never stopped talking about him. Of course, in due time, you weren’t the only ones talking about Jesus. Everyone was!  Initially, I admit I was skeptical. Other Zealots had come through and preached hellfire and damnation, eager to take up arms to overthrow the Roman government; eager to set things right for our people—no matter what! I guess it’s no wonder then that, at first, I was concerned about your relationship with Jesus of Nazareth. I feared he might be a Zealot, too!

 

On the day he came along the banks of the seashore and invited you to follow him, I couldn’t believe you did it. Without hesitating, you left me sitting there with only the hired hands to keep me company. My heart was broken. We had dreams for the future of our family. We had plans to expand the business. As you well know, fishing is one of the few lucrative enterprises available for those of us under Roman rule who live by the sea. But in a moment, everything changed. When you left, I sat in that boat, with my head in my hands, fighting back tears, for what seemed like forever. What was I supposed to do and how could I do it without you?

 

Thankfully, as the months went by, you visited your mother and me whenever you were nearby. You kept us posted about what was going on in the life of Jesus, yourselves and the other disciples. It didn’t take long to realize that Jesus was not a Zealot, at all. Oh, he spoke his mind against evil and against the religious authorities who cared more about themselves than the people. But he showed no signs of wanting to take up arms; lead a revolution; overthrow the Roman Empire. Quite the opposite! All this humble, compassionate man wanted to do was demonstrate Yahweh’s love, call us to repentance, and offer forgiveness and new life. Abundant life! The signs were everywhere! The sick were healed, the blind gained their sight, outcasts were invited back into the fold—no Zealot here—only the Son of Man zealous to do his Father’s bidding.

 

As a father myself, I dreamed of grand things for your future. From the time you were both young lads, I urged you to strike out on the unpredictable seas. I wanted the best for you and I thought I knew what that meant. In retrospect, I confess I was blinded by my own ambition. On that day when you stepped out of our boat and bounded after Jesus, all I wanted to do was call you back, “Don’t go on those seas, my sons, don’t go!” I thought all was lost but nothing was lost, and everything was gained—for us and for all who have ears to hear! What you found was Jesus who first found you and called you. I thank Yahweh that you listened and obeyed. Because you did, you are part of the wonderful story of redemption—repenting, believing, following, and fishing. You have learned to keep time in a different way.[i]

 

Unquestionably, there have been difficult days since Jesus returned to his Abba Father’s side. But you have witnessed God’s power in ways I can only imagine. Oh, what I would give to have been there with you on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came into the world in power and might. What a day that must have been!

 

For all time, for all the world, Jesus the Messiah, changed everything. I see that now. At first, when you left, I worried about you leaving the family business. I worried about having to do it all alone or ending up alone. But now I know I am never alone. Christ is with me. I have learned that the love and invitation Jesus offered you that day is now available for everyone—even me—and I praise God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit!

 

Words can hardly express how proud I am of you both. You followed Jesus. You followed your hearts. What courageous men you have become. No doubt, you stumbled many times along the way, disappointing Jesus and yourselves. But every time you fell, Jesus was right there beside you to pick you up and set you on the right path. He gave you strength for your journey of faith. He still does! Remember that!

 

Even though you have faced more than your share of challenges already, it’s not over yet.  Now, more than ever, there are those who want to silence the message Jesus proclaimed. There are those who will try to silence you, too, before all is said and done. But you will not back down; of this I am sure. With all your heart and soul, you have cast your lot with Jesus who gave his life for the poor, the lowly, the marginalized, the forgotten. Because of Christ, there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.

 

On Easter morning, when news began to spread that Jesus was missing, it didn’t take long for the report to reach Galilee. All seemed lost.  But then we began to hear rumblings that something miraculous had happened. Jesus was not dead because no tomb could hold the Son of God. Oh, how we rejoiced! In my heart, I know that the empty tomb still speaks to you. It speaks to me, too. Jesus’ victory over death means that death is nothing to be feared. It’s only temporary—for Jesus and for everyone who believes.

 

So, my sons, do not fear the days ahead. Whatever you do, in word and deed, do it for the glory of God. Continue to spread the good news that new life is possible—for us, for our children, for our children’s children. It is my prayer that this message rains down through the pages of history—never to be silenced—never to be lost! To point the way to Jesus has been your vocation since that beautiful morning by the Sea of Galilee, when Jesus the ultimate fisherman, caught you in his net.[ii] And just as he said he would, he has made you fishers of people. Well done, my beloved sons, well done!

 

Your devoted father,

Zebedee

[i] Feasting on the Word, Ted A. Smith, 287.

[ii] Ibid. Lee Barrett, 286.

 

*Cover Art Photo “Sea of Galilee” taken by Rev. Rachel Crumley in 2009 when she, Dr. Glenda Hollingshead, and several other clergy were on a Holy Land Pilgrimage.

 

Greater Things

Greater Things

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; January 14, 2018

2nd Sunday after Epiphany

I Samuel 3:1-10 and John 1:43-51

 

After his baptism and temptation in the wilderness, it is time for Jesus to choose his disciples.  He heads off to Galilee, finds Philip, and extends an invitation: “Follow me.”  Philip can’t wait to share the news with Nathanael. “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”  But Nathanael has doubts, and asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” At this point, Philip doesn’t try to defend Jesus, he merely extends the invitation: “Come and see.”  Then when Jesus says to Nathanael, upon his approach, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit,” and explains that he saw him under the fig tree even before Philip called him, Nathanael is taken aback. And just like that, he becomes a believer.

 

“Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” It appears that Nathanael’s easily impressed. Jesus must think the same for he responds with what must have been laughter in his voice. “You believe because I told you I saw you under a fig tree? You’ll see even greater things…”

 

One of the best-kept secrets about the life of Jesus may be this: Jesus had a sense of humor! Think about it for a moment. Could Jesus have been truly human without having a sense of humor? I don’t think so. Honestly, I cannot read today’s passage without smiling. It’s funny! First, Nathanael can’t believe anything good can come out of Nazareth. Then, when Jesus reveals that he has a little supernatural information, Nathanael is blown away. That’s all it takes! Well, Nathanael, hold on to your horses!

 

While life is filled with challenges, it is also filled with joy. Take, for example, last fall when our Mission & Evangelism Committee met to discuss, among other things, items to include in our new visitor’s bags. Since our marketing guru, Jane Shelton, had already emailed me a few ideas, I got the conversation started by sharing them. We might include some candies beautifully wrapped with a note that reads, “How sweet of you to drop by!” Another idea: a packet of hot chocolate during the cooler winter months, with a note that says, “Your visit warmed our hearts!” Or maybe a packet of nuts, labeled, “We’re nuts that you chose to worship with us today. We hope you come again soon.”

 

The thought of including nuts in the gift bag raised concerns for Kerri Routsong (who happened to be wearing her “Good Mother” hat that evening). She suggested sunflower seeds instead, to which—without batting an eye—Libby George exclaimed, “And we can add a label saying, ‘We SEED you here and we hope to see you again!” We SEED you here and we hope to see you again. By this time, we were all in stitches. It still makes me chuckle—every time I think of it! In fact, Libby and I have gotten into the habit of greeting one another with, “I SEED you!”

 

The Christian life is worth living, and along the way, how much better it is to journey with our brothers and sisters and enjoy a laugh or two. Make no mistake; Jesus is not a sour person. He does not go through life glumly and without joy. Remember—he and his disciples are called wine-bibbers and gluttons. That’s not a reputation you get by being solemn and serious all the time. Furthermore, I ask you, when you get together with friends to eat a meal and enjoy one another’s company, isn’t laughter one of the best parts?

 

In James Martin’s book, Between Heaven and Mirth, he speaks of Jesus’ full humanity and his fully developed sense of humor. Says Martin, “[Jesus] told clever stories, made funny asides, and welcomed apostles who had a sense of humor. Indeed, his sense of humor may be one largely unexamined reason for his ability to draw so many disciples around him with ease.”[i]

 

When Nathanael hears that the Messiah is from Nazareth, he cannot believe it—and he says exactly what he thinks. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It’s a slur regarding the insignificance of this little backwater town is. But does Jesus scold Nathanael for making fun of his hometown? No, instead he says to Nathaniel, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” In other words, “I can trust you. You will tell me exactly what’s on your mind.”[ii] Then, when Nathaniel seems so impressed that Jesus even knows where he was sitting when Philip finds him, in essence, Jesus says, “Wait until you see how this story turns out—I’m just getting started.”

 

To Nathanael, in whom there is no deceit, Jesus declares, “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened up and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Now we move from the humorous to the holy, because what Jesus is alluding to is another story in another place. It is the story of Jacob—you remember—the one in whom there was plenty of deceit! He lied and tricked his brother Esau out of his birthright, and had to run for his life. One night, while using a stone for a pillow, Jacob goes to sleep. He dreams of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending upon it.  Then, Yahweh renews the covenant that had been made with Abraham saying, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac…all people shall be blessed in you …I am with you.”

 

Many years have passed under the old covenant, but now, in Jesus, a new covenant begins.  “You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man,” he says to Nathanael.  The ladder has been replaced by Jesus himself who connects heaven and the earth. Jesus is the center point between this world and the world to come—Jesus, who is both human and divine, Rabbi, Son of God, King of Israel.

 

The humorous and the holy mark the life and ministry of Jesus. Hopefully, they mark our lives, too. As we journey forth together, may we find moments to stop and give thanks for the ways in which Christ enriches our lives through one another. Without a doubt, we live in individualistic times—maybe now more than ever. People claim to be spiritual and not religious. People find endless things to do on Sunday morning besides gathering with other believers to sing and pray and worship God. But wise ones who have gone before us—wise ones like Martin Luther King Jr. have left us words to ponder: “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” The broader concerns of all humanity—we need each other just like Jesus needs his disciples—for the work, yes, but also for the fellowship and the laughter and the abundant life available for us all.

 

You may have noticed that both our Old and New Testament readings for today are call stories—Samuel as a little boy, laying in the Temple, and Nathaniel sitting under a fig tree. It does not matter where they are, God knows, and God calls. Thankfully, they listen. Today we have three elders who have responded to a similar call.  A few months ago, the Nominating Committee began to meet and pray about whom God might be calling to lead our church. By the Spirit’s leading, each candidate was approached: “In you, we see spiritual gifts for leadership that our church needs. Will you join with us?” Thankfully, these three answered yes to the call. (Actually, two of them are serving a second term.)

 

We need good leaders. Along with the other seven who are currently serving on session, our new ruling elders will help us seek both the holy and the humorous to bring us closer to God. They will help us explore the way ahead. They will pray and work and listen for the voice of God. They will help cast a vision for the coming days of our church life. All of us are invited to join in the work—to create something even more beautiful!  “Greater things than these!” Jesus said. All to honor Jesus—the Good One who came out of Nazareth—the Good One who connects heaven and earth with the new ladder of salvation. Greater things, indeed!

 

[i] Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life, James Martin, SJ 58.

[ii] Ibid. 54.

*Cover Art “Come and See” © Jan Richardson; Subscription.

 

A New Day

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; January 7, 2018

Baptism of the Lord

Genesis 1:1-5; Mark 1:4-11

 

4John the baptizer is on a mission. Even before his conception, the mission is foretold to his soon-to-be father, Zechariah. The angel Gabriel brings the message: “…your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John…many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord…he will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him…to make ready a people for the Lord.”

 

Our reading today brings us to the edge of the River Jordan. Here the grown man (John the Baptizer, he’s called) appears in the wilderness. In your mind’s eye, can you see him? Wearing clothes made of camel’s hair, and a leather belt, and living on the most meager of rations—John is on a mission and he has a strong message to deliver. Without a doubt, John will never be accused of preaching the cotton candy gospel. There is nothing sweet and syrupy about what he has to say as he calls for repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In Luke’s Gospel, John goes so far as to call the crowd gathered around him a brood of vipers!

 

Now be honest, if you came to church this morning and I called you a snake and yelled at you about your dirty, filthy ways—would you come back? Would you even stay for the rest of the service to see how it all turns out? Probably not! Yet people do come, and they do stay. They are drawn to this wild and crazy guy. Why? Could it be that they are starving for a word of truth from God? In the life of the people of Israel, God has been silent for so long. Then this wild man comes from out of the blue. The people see his strange ways and they are reminded of the prophets of old. They hear his words and the passion with which he delivers them, and their hearts burn within them. Could it be that only the grace-filled waters of baptism will cure what ails them and point them in the right direction?

 

Although we tend to think that baptism is a Christian invention, it is an ancient Jewish practice. The ritual of immersion was required for all kinds of things—like after giving birth to a child or after touching the dead. The ritual bath, or mikvah, is still practiced by many Jews today—particularly Jewish brides in preparation for their wedding day. In our reading from Mark, John the Baptist uses the mikvah, as a way of symbolizing repentance, using physical water to demonstrate spiritual purity.[i]

 

The people come to the Jordan River and hear the message proclaimed. They repent and participate in a ritual cleansing. And all the while, John reminds them that this is only a foretaste of wonders to come—the Wonder to come!  “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 

With these words still floating overhead, Jesus comes to be baptized. Jesus, the One without sin, comes to the cleansing waters. Why? Marcus Borg says that in baptism Jesus identified “with the faults and failures, pains and problems, of all the broken and hurting people who had flocked to the Jordan river. By wading into the waters with them he took his place beside us and among us.”

 

The renewing waters of baptism hearken us back to another beginning…in the beginning of creation when the earth was formless and a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light…God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” In the beginning, order is created out of chaos and the first day is inaugurated. With his baptism, Jesus’ earthly ministry officially begins—it’s his inauguration. Creation takes part, as the heavens are rent asunder. The Spirit descends like a dove, and for us and all creation, a new day dawns.

 

After Jesus’ baptism, a voice comes from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you, I am well pleased.” Before any test is passed, before any deed is done, God declares his pleasure with his Son. And while God expects great things of Jesus, so does John. It is why John remains faithful to his mission. John expects something to happen and it does. Do we? Do we expect our baptism to mean something; to equip us for something?

 

The truth is Baptism is our inauguration—our beginning—our new day. It is a pivotal event in the life of any Christian—whether administered to those presented for Baptism as children or those who profess their faith later in life. In the Book of Order we read, “In Baptism, we participate in Jesus’ death and resurrection. In Baptism, we die to what separates us from God and are raised to newness of life in Christ. Baptism points us back to the grace of God expressed in Jesus Christ, who died for us and was raised for us. Baptism points us forward to that same Christ who will fulfill God’s purpose in God’s promised future.[ii]

 

As a community of believers, we gather here this morning around the renewing waters of baptism. By the waters of our Baptism, we are marked for service, we are filled with the Spirit and we are commissioned to go forth to spread the love of Christ in our little corner of the world. Using the litany provided in the bulletin, together, let us reaffirm our baptismal covenant.

 

REAFFIRMATION OF BAPTISM

Brothers and sisters in Christ, united by faith in Jesus Christ, we remember the waters of lifestreaming forth to make all things new. Now, through the remembrance of our baptism, let us recommit ourselves to lives overflowing with love, justice, and righteousness:

 

In the beginning, O God, you separated the waters from the earth and saw that it was good. By the care of your hands, creation flourished. You provided grain; you watered earth’s furrows and softened it with showers and blessings.

(Silence is kept.)

For your life-giving waters,

O God, we give you thanks and praise.

Creator God, you gave us the breath of life and the freedom to choose your way. Instead, we followed our own heart’s desires, but you did not turn away from us. You sought after us and through prophets, like Ezekiel, you spoke words of hope: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you…a new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you…”

(Silence is kept.)

For your life-giving waters,

O God, we give you thanks and praise.

When we failed to listen to your prophets and priests and kings, you sent your blessed Son to beckon us back to you. You led Jesus to the river’s edge to be baptized and as he came up from the water, the heavens opened, and your Spirit descended like a dove.

(Silence is kept.)

For your life-giving waters,

O God, we give you thanks and praise.

Later, Jesus proclaimed to those gathered around him, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”

(Silence is kept.)

For your life-giving waters,

O God, we give you thanks and praise.

Faithful God, we praise you for Jesus, for his baptism; for his life, death, and resurrection that sets us free and gives us new life. We rejoice that through the waters of baptism, you make us holy and whole. And, by the power of your Spirit, you equip us to live into our baptism.

(Silence is kept.)

For your life-giving waters,

O God, we give you thanks and praise.

INVITATION TO THE FONT

At this time, you are invited to come forward to take a stone from the Baptismal Font. May the stone remind you that through the life-giving waters of God, you are a new creation. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, remember your baptism and be thankful. Amen.

 

 

[i]  http://web.me.com/lindyblack/Sermon_Fodder/Lectionary/Entries/2012/1/8_First_Sunday_after_Epiphany.html

[ii] Book of Order, W-2.3002.