Baptism of Our Lord Year B; January 7, 2018
Genesis 1.1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19.1-7; Mark 1.4-11
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
To begin this morning we are going to have a peek into the world of the Hebrew language. The Old Testament in the Bible, including the book of Genesis, was originally written in Hebrew.
I remember being in seminary and needing to translate Genesis Chapter 1 from Hebrew into English. I didn’t have a great start because I got stuck on the very first word. It didn’t make sense in the English language and sentence structure. The first word in Genesis 1, בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית, in the Hebrew simply means, “beginning.” It literally translates, “in beginning.”
No matter which way around it, I needed to add in an English word. An obvious pick is “the” to make it, “In the beginning.” The first sentence of the Bible communicates creation’s origin and the existence of all that is.
These first words are a great start to God’s story with us. We learn that in the beginning God creates the heavens and the earth.
There are some who teach and believe that Genesis 1 conveys that God creates out of nothing, and there are others who believe that God creates “from an untamed something that is formless and void [www.workingpreacher.org, Victoria Bridgeman].” The formless void and the face of the deep represent chaos.
Either way, Scripture tells us that God has the power to bring life where there is none, and that God takes something that is chaotic, dark, and a mess, and gives it shape and form, direction and substance.
God does this through what is called “a wind from God” in verse 2. Again, a lesson in Hebrew, “wind,” is from the word, Ruach.” Ruach really means the very “breath” or “Spirit” of God. So we have the Spirit of God sweeping over the waters. This can even be translated “moved,” and has the sense of a dance.
So we could say that creation came to be “while the Spirit of God danced over the face of the deep.” Theologian, Victoria Bridgeman writes: “Creation was a joyful party full of cosmic sound and motion of what could be [www.workingpreacher.org].”
Reading THE BEGINNING of our creation story sets us up for what we hear in the Gospel reading. When we hear about the waters of the Jordan, and the heavens, and the Spirit, and God speaking, it takes us back to Genesis 1, to the beginning.
These stories tell us that we have a God of beginnings, and a God who continues to create. What we come to learn as we read the Gospel of Mark throughout this next year is that in Jesus, God again is creating a new beginning for all of creation and each one of us.
We just celebrated Christmas when we heard the story of God coming to earth in Jesus. We truly believe that in Jesus, God became a human being. We know that through Jesus God experienced what it is to be hungry, to not have a place to sleep, to be sad and to cry, to have people plot to kill you, to be betrayed by your best friends, and ultimately to die.
But we also know that through Jesus, God experienced all the beauty of life: laughter, friendship, good food, sunsets, and love.
We can hardly wrap our minds around the Creator being so vulnerable and committed to people and life here on earth. We hear story after story in the Gospels of God’s faithfulness to loving and caring for God’s creation.
And what an example we have today of God’s identifying with you and me and God’s commitment to being with us no matter what.
Today is called, the Baptism of our Lord, Sunday. We hear the story of Jesus being baptized by John. Well, what’s the big deal about that?
The big deal is that the God who creates in Genesis, the One who speaks creation into being, the sustainer of all life, is the same one in Jesus, who gets in the waters of the Jordan River with all the rest of the sinners.
People came out into the wilderness in droves to be baptized by John. To be washed clean, to confess their sins, and to have a new beginning. Why would Jesus need this kind of cleansing? What sins would he have to confess?
The answers are: he didn’t, and none. Just like God choosing to create, then choosing to become fully human, Jesus chooses sinners. Jesus comes among those who are at the Jordan to repent of their sins and gets into the water with them.
This act is Jesus saying: “I’m with you. I’m not afraid of chaos or sin or the mess of your life. I enter it with you fully, and I will make for you a new way and a new beginning.”
Jesus getting in the baptismal waters of the Jordan River to identify with all those who lives aren’t perfect is unwavering commitment to you and me. This choice of Jesus is why we know what Paul writes in Romans is true: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Now for a brief lesson in Greek. The writer of Mark shares with us that when Jesus was baptized the heavens were torn apart and the Spirit descended on him. The word that gets translated, “torn apart” is the word, schizo, in Greek. It has the sense of being ripped open. The same word occurs in the Gospel at the end when Jesus dies on the cross and the temple curtain is torn in two (Mark 15.38).
Some would interpret, and I would agree with them, that the heavens being torn open at Jesus’ baptism and the temple curtain being ripped in two when Jesus died is God’s way of communicating to us that there is no more separation between God and God’s creation.
Theologian Caroline Lewis writes: The heavens beings torn open “was God ripping apart that which we thought could separate us from God so as to be with us and one of us. And it would be God splitting open the grave so that death would never, ever, be the end.”
Jesus knew who he was and he chose to identify with each one of us in all of our brokenness and beauty.
I can’t remember where I heard or read this, but it’s worth saying today: “Jesus is God’s new beginning for all who face dead ends.”
We all know what a dead end feels like. It feels like no hope. It feels like all the work we have done amounts to nothing. It feels like depression. It feels like messing up again. It feels like getting arrested. It feels like a loved one dying. It feels like chronic pain or a terminal illness diagnosis.
Sometimes our lives become like the primordial chaos at creation, formless and void. Everything has become such a mess we can’t even fathom a new beginning. But God loves beginning with you again.
God knows what to do with the nothingness, the mess, the losses, the dead ends, and the chaos life can bring. Like in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, with each day, God offers us a new beginning.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote: “Every new morning is a new beginning of our life. Every day is a completed whole … As the old sun rises new every day, so the eternal mercies of God are new every morning (I Want to Live these Days with You, Bonhoeffer, p. 5).”
What does a new beginning look like? Sometimes I think we can’t even imagine what new beginnings God has in mind for us because they are so much better than we could dream up for ourselves. Are we even open to what God is creating in our lives?
We trust and we pray: “God, you are a God of beginnings. You are faithful. Gracious Lord, who gets into the water with me, please give me a new beginning. Amen.”