This past week, the day of Epiphany, marked a trying day for our nation and our history. We are all upset and jarred by the events of the day. This is certainly not the first time in our nation’s history that our nation has been divided. Epiphany is a manifestation of divine, or a sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning something. It speaks to an illuminating discovery or realization. Epiphany marks the following of the light for the magi.
I certainly will not strive to attach meaning to the events of yesterday in this short amount of time I have had to think about it. But there are themes of light and darkness, and fear and anger, that are permeating our country. I will remind the church to be the church. To be the representation of Christ on earth. To sow peace, and not discord. To love our neighbors as ourselves and to follow the light.
Both the Gospel of Mark and the Bible itself, begin with a water scene as depicted in our readings today. And as Genesis begins, there was no light. There is no dry land; there is no light, just water everywhere. The only movement is the Spirit of God hovering over the water. When God speaks, the creation responds. God speaks, “Let there be light” and light appears. And God saw that the light was good. God separates the light from the darkness and calls the time of light, “day” and calls the darkness, “night.”
God separates light from darkness; God separates land from sea because God has plans for humans and that is the kind of environment a human will need to survive.
For ancient people, their world was impacted by processes and events that they couldn’t understand. Much as we may feel today.
Genesis is their statement of Faith. Their creator God loved them and had created a world that was made for them. Rather than inhabiting a world that was an accident, their world was the result of God’s intentional acts. The story which began with God’s intervention continued with God’s constant care and nurturing his people and creation.
As we begin this New Year, the Genesis creation story reminds us that God is the God of new beginnings. God is in the business of nurturing new life and new beginnings. Rather than simply continuing old patterns, the hope for a fresh start is a cherished gift. As God’s Spirit moved over the waters, stirring and calling forth something different, even so the Spirit of God calls us into a new year and a new future. God took the darkness and light and reconfigured them to create something new.
There is a continuity with the past as well as a reconfiguring for the future. As individuals and as a congregation, we are always involved in this process of change. We are constantly being transformed from “who we were” to “who we will become.” That process can be pretty remarkable.
This past week is a time that traditionally people may spend reflecting, reflecting on the past year and thinking of the year to come. Many of us have spent time thinking about 2020, bemoaning its trials, and expressing hope for 2021.
I have not had as much time to reflect as I would like, on leaving the chaplaincy, ordination to the priesthood, becoming your priest here at St. James - I suspect that reflection for me will be on going - but in thinking of the past, views that I held without questioning thirty years ago, now seem so far away.
Growth and transformation are a part of this process of life and some people like to think and speak of God “calling us back to the way things used to be,” I prefer to think of God as the one up ahead urging us to catch up.
In so many ways, we have made progress. I believe that God isn’t through yet. God is calling us as individuals, as a church, and as a nation to keep moving forward. While we don’t always live up to who God has called us to be, we keep hearing God’s call to move forward into the future. God keeps urging us on.
In Mark’s Gospel, there are no shepherds, no angels, no wise men, no star, no stable. Not a word about Mary and Joseph. Mark’s Story of Jesus begins down by the river. “In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth, in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” No listing of ancestors. He doesn’t use the high and majestic language of John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God, and the word was God.” No, Mark’s Story of Jesus has Him joining the line of pilgrims entering the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist. One by one they enter the river and receive baptism at John’s hands.
In Matthew’s Gospel they argue about whether John should baptize Him or not. John says, “You should be baptizing me.” But here in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is just one of the crowd. The line of sinners was there and he joined the crowd, right in the middle of them. That is where he spent his earthly life, surrounded by sinners, eating with them, talking with them, healing them, calling them. Why would His baptism be any different? Jesus walks into the same river his ancestors had crossed when they came to the promised land.
When Jesus came up out of the water, He looked up and saw the heavens being torn apart, not merely opened, but torn apart—ripped apart, in such a way that they could never be put back the way that they were. The Greek verb here (skizo), translated torn apart is, used only once again in the Gospel of Mark, when the temple curtain is “torn apart” in the moment that Jesus took his last breath. (Mark 15:38).
Something torn apart is not easily rendered back together.
There is no indication in this baptismal account that anyone else saw the heavens torn apart, or saw the Spirit descending like a dove, or heard the voice.
But that doesn’t mean that nothing happened. Something changed. Jesus heard the voice, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well-pleased.” Jesus saw the heavens torn open and they would never close exactly as they had been.
The tearing apart that began that day continued throughout His ministry. He tore apart their distinctions between who was clean and who was unclean. He broke through their rigid legalism and extended compassion to those who hurt. He tore apart their ideas about what it meant to be God’s beloved Son. He broke through their rituals and rules that had become so formal and routine. Nothing would ever be the same, because the heavens never closed again so tightly.
When Jesus came to the end and was suspended between heaven and earth on the cross, as he breathed his last breath, the curtain in the temple was torn from the top to the bottom. The Holy of Holies was no longer separated from where the people were gathered. The curtain could never be restored to the way it was. Something was torn apart—never to return to the way it used to be. There was as centurion who witnessed the death. He was keeping order, marking time, waiting to pronounce death. When he saw Jesus take his last breath, he exclaimed, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” How did he know? The word that came through the torn place in the sky. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
May we look to the torn places and may we see the Son of God. May we know on this Sunday and all Sundays who we belong to and why.
Today we read the story of Jesus’ baptism; the beginning of His public ministry.
Today is a day to remember your baptism and think through our baptismal covenant, - the first question that is read to candidates for Baptism in the Episcopal faith is:
Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God? (BCP 302)
Lord my prayer for us - as we turn toward the light, as we look to the torn places, is that we renounce the evils powers which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.
Beloved Children of God, go forth in the light and love of God, giving glory to God in all that you do…