Genesis 1:1-5 Acts 19:1-7 Mark 1:4-11
Today is an amazing day for our congregation. It is an amazing day because of the opportunity to baptize these young ones that God has entrusted to us, but it is also an amazing day because we are all given the opportunity to reaffirm God’s claim on our lives.
Truly, we can do that any time – and I hope that you do – but reaffirming God’s baptismal claim takes on special significance when we do it together. That doesn’t mean that God’s claim is stronger or better because we are together. It doesn’t mean that you are more important to God because you are here rather than in a fast food restaurant or out on the streets trying to stay warm.
No, it is different because we are here together, forcing ourselves to be open to the active presence of God. I say, ‘forcing ourselves’ because worship is centered around the one thing that goes against our nature more than any other – letting go of control. We have to make ourselves do that in order to truly worship God.
It is in our worship of God that we recognize that there actually is a lot of chaos in the world, and in our worship, we express our need to know that the one who first spoke light into darkness is still involved. We worship God because we need to turn over the chaos of our own lives to the one that holds all things and even works in and through you and me to bring order to the chaos all around.
At least that’s the claim that we find in our readings today. In our first reading we are reminded that the first thing that God does in the creation story is to simply exist in the presence of chaos. God hovers – some even translate it as dancing – over the waters, which for the ancient Hebrews meant unpredictable, life threatening chaos. Then God speaks and allows light to shine – God’s own light – and gives it value apart from the darkness. It is good.
In the same way as God created them, God opens the heavens to claim Jesus as beloved son. The Spirit of God descends on the one Mark calls “the Son of Man” (or the “Human One” in the CEV).
Now, this is one of those points that we have to take a wide, but focused, view of scripture. Through other scriptures and Christian tradition, we know of Jesus as God’s self-revelation – very God and very man – yet Mark’s gospel speaks of Jesus as being claimed by God as God’s son and even rested upon by the Holy Spirit.
As weird as all of that may sound – if Jesus is God – we have to remember that Mark was written before a formal Trinitarian doctrine was being used to describe God. What matters to Mark is that we understand that it is through the person and work and death and resurrection of Jesus that God breaks down the barriers between us and God almighty!
That’s what Paul was truly concerned with when he asked believers in Ephesus if they had received the Holy Spirit. He wasn’t concerned whether or not they had said the right words or been sprinkled instead of dunked. He wanted to know if the experience of repentance and baptism truly had an impact on their lives or not.
And we receive these readings today with the same questions. Did you know that the heavens have been ripped open for you as well? Have you received the Holy Spirit?
Let’s take those one at a time. First off, I’m doubtful that any of us have had visions of the heavens opening up. If you have, that might lead us to another conversation later. For the early followers of the way of Jesus, those words would have connected to a very different understanding of what the heavens were actually made of, and they would have reflected Isaiah’s battle cry for God to come down and reclaim the people of Israel.
For us, it means something entirely different. For us it means that the heavens were ripped open not only for Jesus, but for us to know that God is in the business of breaking through the cosmos in order to demonstrate grace and mercy. That’s the baptism that claims us!
That’s the sacred making, unifying love that pulls us to this table like a hungry child to a feast! God’s constant action of showing up and demonstrating grace upon grace is the qualifying passion that drove Paul to ask if the baptized believers had received the Holy Spirit. And it is God’s boundary crossing character that asks us the same thing. Have we received the Holy Spirit?
Few things make Presbyterians as uncomfortable as talking about the Holy Spirit outside of Pentecost. But the reality is that we who live on this side of the Pentecost event must expect God to be active and present.
We must expect that God has claimed us and has involved us in the ongoing project – that we see throughout Mark’s gospel – of crossing lines between social classes, taboos, and the ongoing use of religion to separate and divide those whom God has called into a more perfect union!
Certainly, we are going to keep working on this project as a congregation – the project of calling and claiming and announcing the kingdom in our midst – even as we seek to follow the way of Jesus in our own lives. Certainly, we must recognize that even as the star guided the Magi, and the angel sent them home by another way, Jesus is that same guiding light for us.
Even as I say those words, I need you to know that I am aware that we are already following the light of Jesus together. Having been away and seeing and hearing of your work from a distance, it has been nothing short of brilliant to see your efforts to care for the vulnerable in our midst.
And while I could lift up story upon story of the evidence of the Holy Spirit in our midst, I want to close by giving you a very practical example of light breaking forth from an unexpected place – Sarah Silverman.
For those of you who don’t know who she is, Sarah is a comedian. She is very brash and sarcastic, and sometimes rather crude. She has no qualms about dropping “f bombs” in her comedy sketches or her social media. She is someone many would consider to be very liberal in her social views, and she is also very clear about her ethnic identity as a Jewish person. But this isn’t about any of that.
One of her recent twitter exchanges has gone viral because a young man responded to something she said by attempting to belittle her by calling her a slang term for a female body part. Now, given the conversations in our nation regarding the preponderance of women that have been abused and harassed verbally and sexually, you would expect someone like her to call him out for his behavior. Instead she responded in love. She took the time to read his other posts and recognized some specific experiences of pain and suffering this young man was experiencing. Then she started a conversation with him, recognizing that he must be coming from a place of pain and suffering. Then she started networking with others to encourage them to help him, and they did.
What matters here is not her faith or lack thereof. What matters is that God calls light out of chaos. What matters is that God has put a claim upon each of us, so that we might be the next story that encourages someone else to respond in love.
And for those times when we don’t, because sometimes we won’t, there is this table where we come to taste and see that God is truly in our midst, that God will never give up on me or you, and that even we have a roll in inviting others into the presence of God. That is the truth telling prophetic claim that the Holy Spirit gives to each of us – even here, even now. And to God be the glory! Amen.