Genesis 1:1-5, Mark 1:4-11
There are moments when we long for God to do something.
2020 was one long year of longing for God to come near in many ways.
But this week is one more example -striking example, of how much we need God- but we need to recognize which ways are the ways God acts, and which ways are not.
If you remember back to Advent we talked one Sunday about how Isaiah called on God to rend the heavens and come down. An impassioned plea, in the midst of distress, for some real, tangible help, a clear sign, even for God to come and make things right when everything is going wrong. Come, now, quick, God! Isaiah cried.
Well today we hear the story of when God did just that. Rend the heavens, at least in the eyes of Jesus. In the moment of his baptism, Mark says Jesus saw the heavens torn open and the spirit of God descended like a dove- like how the spirit of God had hovered over the waters in the beginning, the spirit comes upon Jesus as he is rising up out of the water.
Genesis tells us that before there was any kind of shape or form, the wind of God, the spirit of God swept over the waters and God’s voice rang out “Let there be light!” A good creation. Then a separation, light from darkness, a naming, day and night. A procession, evening and morning, one whole day.
Remember Genesis does not try to be a science book, this is poetic language about who God is and who we are and how we find meaning. In Genesis, the good voice of the good creator called the good things to be made, not for everything to forever remain murky and shapeless and unordered. God desired life, so God created. The ones opposed to God throughout the rest of the story, from the tempter in that story to the time of Judges to deceitful kings of Israel to Herod, rely on causing confusion, chaos, and lies. Like calling night, day or evil, what is good, instead of speaking clarity into being.
Light- which for millennia has had the meaning of understanding, clarity, perception, even truth. Truth is important to God. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor, ie lie. Lies are not of God.
The Spirit of God descended on Jesus, rending the heavens, tearing apart the sky. Remember the ancient understanding, named in that Genesis account of creation, there is a barrier, a firmament, a veil, whatever you want to call it, between earth and heaven. The spirit of God descended on Jesus and a voice was heard like on that first creation day, speaking a blessing, with words like the words that created at the beginning, creating something there if only in Jesus’ heart- to know without a doubt he was beloved by God and pleasing to God- so he could go on to do his ministry.
The Spirit of God descended on Jesus- not on any Roman official, not even on any temple official. On a simple, poor peasant, the one God had chosen as his Son. God took a side in Jesus.
But even though there were many around him at the time who wanted to spark a violent revolution, to take their land back by force, Jesus was committed to non-violence. To peace. Not, if you look at his whole ministry, not to maintaining the status quo or pretending things were alright to not ruffle feathers, because he ruffled plenty, ruffled enough to get himself killed. But he did not permit his followers to take up swords. He did not use force but believed in the ways of God that create a loving community.
The spirit of God descended on Jesus, assured him he was beloved, and took a side. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water of his baptism, baptized as he was by John, the one who was calling people out of the cities, away from Jerusalem, into the wilderness, into nature we might say, calling them away from the ways the Roman empire was imposing in their occupation. Ways of domination by strength and shows of force; ways of taxing poor people, taking and taking, ways of flattery and deception and trying to win favor with the powerful to get a little more power. I remember asking you to ponder with me in Advent what some of those sins might have been that John was calling the people to confess and what the ways they needed to turn around might be, and I do think his pattern of throwing off all the regular comforts and dressing in that camel skin, eating locusts and honey, it was all symbolic of exiting all of that society life and trying to find just God, just God leading in everything, down to his clothes and food.
And we don’t have record of many copying quite exactly his lifestyle, but we know he had an influence, the gospel writers tell us people were going in great crowds out to hear his message, Mark says everybody was going to be baptized by John.
And it was while John was calling people to repent and giving them a symbolic washing, a way for many people to show they wanted to join and try to find just God leading and leave everything else behind, that Jesus went to him to be baptized. And it was when Jesus participated in that confession of everything the people knew to be against God’s deepest desires for them, when they were deciding to turn around and live a new way, that the spirit of God descended on Jesus.
Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down! Isaiah said.
My God what is happening! We may have cried, or something similar, this week, on Wednesday.
Or a few weeks ago when we started to pass 3000 people dying from this virus just about every day, or Thursday this last week when we topped that and got to 4000 dead in a day.
God, do something! We might cry.
I want God to do something too. But since Jesus came to this earth, revealed God to us, was killed and rose again and ascended to God, we who follow him believe that we now have a hand in being what God does or does not do. That Jesus showed us the way so we can enact that way, and be how God is active in the world.
The Holy Spirit, the very same that descended on Jesus on the day of his baptism, the very same Holy Spirit that hovered over the waters before creation began, has been given to us. John said, the one who was coming after him, Jesus, would baptize with the Holy Spirit. The original meaning of the word baptize is immerse. Like going under in the river. Jesus’ baptism, which we Christians receive, is an immersion into the Holy Spirit. Not just a little bit, not just a slice. An immersion into the holy breath of God.
At the same time we are still living this earthly existence with its many many problems, many complications, many hurts. So we cry out to God. It is right to do so in such moments as we are living and have lived this past week, and all of this past year.
But even as we cry out our longing to God, we remember that God has already come to us in Jesus. Has already given us the light. Has immersed us in the spirit. Has shown us that God loves life, God loves truth, God loves for people to care about one another and not follow some of the ways that were carried out to extremes this week. Lies upon lies led to extremists entering our capitol building by force. Believing in the way of might makes right helped it happen. So many leaders ingratiating themselves to one powerful figure wanting a little of that power for themselves. These are not the ways of God.
What bothered me the most- and there is a lot that bothers me about all of this, including how the race of rioters seems to be the determining factor to how they are treated by police- yes that bothered me a lot but watching the live coverage I saw a sign held up that said Jesus Saves. In the middle of the throng of domestic terrorists, someone was trying to do evangelism. Beloved, I think that is the worst possible way to try to evangelize.
But it leads us all to reflect just how twisted everything can become. How can that person, sibling in Christ trying to sow a seed of the gospel- how can they join a group violently worming their way into our nation’s Capitol to delay a constitutional process? How is that even really happening?
It reveals just how flip-flopped everything has become in this invented story where there is no real truth and you just say things over and over again until people believe it and use any means necessary to secure power- and people actually believe God is on their side.
But the holy spirit descended on Jesus. God picked a side. But it was not to pick a fight. It was to teach a way. So that we could not emptily declare Jesus Saves while engaging in destruction and fighting for a lie. So we can embody the message we have received. So we can repent, again and again of those Roman empire ways and choose kingdom of God ways.
I wanted to focus again today like last week on how we are dreaming for 2021 to be better than 2020. It seems clearer than ever that just flipping a calendar page won’t be enough for real change to be enacted. But we all can be a part of what God wants to do.
today, in the theme of how God tore that barrier open at Jesus’ baptism, remembering Isaiah’s longing for God to do just that- today I invite you to confess to God the longing of your heart, how you would like to experience God coming near, right now. Your deepest prayer of what you want God to do.
We have these lovely cut out shapes From last year’s epiphany season. Write down on it the way you long for God. It can be one word, or a full prayer, or a drawing.
And maybe you will need to consider more later, maybe not, but how you are longing for God for yourself, consider then also, what God can do through you. Because you have the Holy Spirit. Because we know through Jesus what God wants to do. While Miles plays the next song do listen – but you might take the time now to reflect and write something down.
God hears you, may the longing of your heart be fulfilled.