Sunday, January 7, 2018

Baptism of our Lord/Epiphany 1
Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Romans 6:1-11
Mark 1:4-11

Yahweh’s voice is powerful. Yahweh’s voice is full of majesty.

“Holy God, mighty Lord, gracious Father: We give you thanks, for in the beginning your Spirit moved over the waters and you created heaven and earth. By the gift of water you nourish and sustain us and all living things. By the waters of the flood you condemned the wicked and saved those whom you had chosen, Noah and his family. You led Israel by the pillar of cloud and fire through the sea, out of slavery into the freedom of the Promised Land. In the waters of the Jordan your Son was baptized by John and anointed with the Spirit. By the baptism of his own death and resurrection your beloved Son has set us free from the bondage to sin and death, and has opened the way to the joy and freedom of everlasting life. He made water a sign of the kingdom and of cleansing and rebirth. In obedience to his command, we make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Pour out your Holy Spirit, so that those who are here baptized may be given new life. Wash away the sin of all those who are cleansed by this water and bring them forth as inheritors of your glorious kingdom. To you be given praise and honor and worship through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, now and forever.” (Prayer at Baptism from the Lutheran Book of Worship.)

The baptism liturgy differs from church to church, but these are the words we hear when someone is baptized in mine. I love the way the pastor proclaims God’s use of water in this prayer so that we see the connection of our baptism to the creation, to our sinfulness, to God’s grace. “He made water a sign of the kingdom and of cleansing and rebirth.” We are called to be instruments of His grace by using water and His Word to make disciples of all nations. This is an act of worship; it is an act of trust and obedience. We believe that God’s voice can put order to the chaos of our world; it can free us from the bondage of sin and death and grants us new life.

We have this new life because God had a plan. In the beginning, the earth was formless and empty. Darkness was on the surface of the deep. We often think of the world before creation as being nothing, and yet the formless void which the scriptures talk about was not empty but filled with dark, deep waters. The wind, or Spirit, of God blew over the face of those waters. This was chaos, a world without light or order. The world was not empty, but it was overwhelmed by darkness, out of control and hopeless.

The image of that chaos is as frightening as a churning, dark and stormy sea might be, because there is no order and no light. But God had a vision for the formless void that was earth. The text from Genesis says, “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” It took only a word and everything changed. The chaotic formless void now had light. Even with nothing else, there is a peace in knowing that something, or someone, has dominion over the chaos.

I am creative. I have piles of canvas around my studio just waiting for paint. I have piles of craft supplies for other projects. I have paper, pencil and computer for writing. I have lots of ideas in my head, but those ideas are invisible to the world until I reveal them; the only way the world will experience my creativity is to make them tangible. I speak with paint and canvas or with other supplies. I speak with words on the computer. When I speak in words, arts and crafts, my ideas are made concrete and are shared with others. The same is true with God. He had a plan, but He had to put voice to the plan for everything to come into being.

God had a vision for that formless void. The text from Genesis says, “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” It took only a word and everything changed. The chaotic formless void now had light. Even with nothing else, there is a peace in knowing that something, or someone, has dominion over the chaos. That was only the beginning. As He spoke light into the darkness, He was already planning to save us by sending the Light into our darkness. That Word, “Light” was the first revelation of God’s plan. It was the first revelation of Jesus Christ.

What does it mean that there was light and there was darkness? What does it mean that there was Day and Night? This story makes us consider the darkness, particularly in our confused and difficult world. Why is there darkness? Even more difficult is the question, “Why is there evil?” This is a question everyone ponders, some wrangle with it so long that they are left with nothing but doubt. They can’t believe in a God that would create darkness. Yet, the story does not say that God created darkness. “God divided the light from the darkness.” The darkness is a lack of light.

Evil exists; we know this to be true. Besides our experience with evil, the Bible tells us that evil is in the world. We have suffered from the sins of others and we have suffered the consequences of our own sin. We die because of sin, even though that was not God’s intent. So, we are left once again with that question. “Why?” Why is there sin? Why is there evil? And the worst question of all is, “Why would God create evil?”

As with darkness, the reality is that evil is not part of God’s creation, but rather exists because some of God’s creation rejected the light. Evil exists outside the Light; it is the lack of God. Some of God’s creation rejected God, and thus we are left with evil. It did not take very long for the evil to draw others away from the light. Even in the Garden of Eden, Paradise, Adam and Eve were swayed to turn from God and to leave the Light. Since that moment, sin has been a part of our world. We can’t fix it. We can’t defeat it. We can’t overcome sin by our own power because it has overpowered us. In the beginning, God spoke and our salvation was revealed.

With a word, God made the chaos orderly, the darkness light. With just a Word, He changed a formless void into the beginning of His vision for the world. Though it seems like darkness and evil still rule and that the world is still chaotic and void, today’s scriptures remind us in a very real, tangible way that God did not stop speaking. God had a plan to bring order to this world that was filled with sin. The voice of God ripped through the fabric of creation and God incarnate was born.

The Word He spoke on Christmas Day was His Son, Jesus Christ. In today’s Gospel lesson, we meet that Son as He enters fully into the lives of His people through the ministry of John the Baptist. John is the voice crying out in the wilderness, calling God’s people to repentance, making the way for the Lord. The people flock to John no matter who they are: young and old, rich and poor. Those who believed John’s message were baptized in the river Jordan, but even as he did this baptism he told them that another would come. The one to come would be greater than John, so great that John would not even be worthy to be His slave.

Then Jesus came to the River Jordan and was baptized by John. At that moment, God spoke again; with His voice He divided light and dark. He spoke hope into the world. Mark writes, “Immediately coming up from the water, he saw the heavens parting, and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. A voice came out of the sky, ‘You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’” The plan came to fruition when God named Jesus His beloved Son.

The voice of God is powerful; when He speaks things happen. In today’s Psalm, God’s voice breaks the great cedars and shakes the desert. The voice of God is also majestic, an oasis in times of suffering and pain. He comforts us with hope and peace. We like to be in control of things, but the voice of God can do things that we could never do. God is the One whose voice can bring order out of chaos. When He speaks, the Light and Darkness are separated; the Day and Night are set apart. The psalmist calls us to attribute to God glory and strength, to worship the One whose voice can bring peace to His people.

The voice of God continues to be heard today and when He speaks, things still happen. The Holy Spirit still hovers over that which is formless and void and brings life, light and peace. We hear God’s voice and believe through the beloved Son who came into the world to be just like you and me. Though He is different, though He is the incarnate Word of God, He came to be one of us, to live as we live, and to die as we die, so that we might become like Him. His voice gives us light and peace. His voice gives us life.

In the beginning there was a formless void and darkness covering the deep. Sometimes we feel like that chaos still rules our world. We all have aspects of our life that need light and order. God is working on us, daily speaking His grace into our life. Like my pile of papers and the Christmas decorations, we need to be organized, changed, and picked through. Some things need to be thrown out while other things added. As God continues to speak in our lives and the world, the darkness will still exist. Through the Word who is Jesus Christ, we will be set apart in the light and will live in this chaotic world with peace and hope.

We face temptation every moment that we walk in this world. He knows how difficult it is for us to walk away from those things that are harmful to our spiritual life. Jesus Christ came in flesh and was tempted so that He could truly identify with the failures of our flesh. However, Jesus did not fall to temptation; He remained perfect and true to the Word of God no matter what Satan offered Him. His understanding of the grace and mercy of God was so perfect, that He was able to keep from sin. By His death and resurrection, we are forgiven our failures and given the freedom to live in His grace and mercy.

We join in His death and resurrection through our baptism. Cleansed by the waters and the Word, we are made new creatures, no longer under the hold of sin and death, but embraced by the God who knew what we needed long before we needed it. We still dwell in a world filled with chaos and darkness, and we still need God’s grace because we continue to fall. Paul tells us that faith changes things. We walk in newness of life, and though forgiveness continues to be ours, we are reminded not to live as if we have never been baptized. We are no longer lost in the chaos and darkness; we dwell in the Light. We are dead to sin, called to trust and obey His Word as inheritors of His glorious Kingdom.

Though we are not Jesus the Beloved, we are beloved children of God. The Light shines in, with and through our lives when God speaks our name. On this Sunday as we remember the baptism of Jesus, we are called to remember our own baptisms. And yet, we should not simply recall the experience of getting wet in church one day.

Martin Luther said, “Remember your baptism.” He was not calling us to remember the event or the day. He was reminding us to remember God’s Word that came to us at that day. In the words “You are my beloved child,” we have the assurance of God’s grace we need to get through each day. We will struggle because we live in a fallen world. We will face difficult times. The Gospel is no more acceptable now than it was to Jesus’ contemporaries. Yet we know, as we remember our baptism that we can live the words of the psalmist who said, “Yahweh will give strength to his people. Yahweh will bless his people with peace.” In that peace we can go out and make disciples of all nations, sharing His grace so that others will see the Light that overcomes the chaos and darkness of this world.

When Martin Luther said the simple statement, “Remember your baptism,” he was telling us to daily remember God’s voice and the Word that came to us at the font. At your baptism God said, “You are my beloved child.” He named you His own and sealed our life with His Holy Spirit. He spoke and your world was changed forever.

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