Sermon January 10, 2021
When I was in college many years ago, I sang in a men’s glee club. There are about fifty men’s voices in the group. We loved to sing all kinds of music but the songs that were our favorites and the ones most remembered by the alumni were powerful and strong songs with an important message. I am sure there was a sense of masculine pride coming out in our wish to sing in a controlled and blended but louder voice. One of the songs we sang was called “The Creation”. The first words of Genesis were put to music. It began quietly and grew in volume. The song ended with the verse, And God said, Let there be light and there was light. The last word “Light” was sung with the full force of everyone in the group.
I often reflect on the personal relationship that I have with God and with Jesus because it is such an important part of our spiritual life. But in so doing, I leave out some of the other attributes of God such as Omnipresent (always with us) and Omniscient (all knowing). Today I ask you to consider another attribute of God which is omnipotent or all powerful. Our all-powerful God gave us light in a physical sense, made life possible and gave us light through the presence of Jesus, our Savior.
Our first reading takes us back to the beginning, as we read the first words in Scripture. I love the images we are given in the Bible and I ask you to close your eyes and imagine that you were there when God created the heavens and the earth. In our translation it says that the earth was a formless void, a mass of uncertain dimensions. And on the surface of this strange mass was a darkness. One translation indicates that the earth was covered by a raging ocean that kept everything in total darkness. And God decided it was time for life on earth. God said Let there be light and boom, there was light over the earth. Can you feel and maybe see in your mind’s eye the power of God’s mighty hand creating Light? Forty years ago, Mount Saint Helens exploded. The explosion leveled millions of trees, killed 57 people and impacted people hundreds of miles away. If that explosion was impactful, it is hard for me to imagine what the creation was like, how powerful it was.
As someone who believes that evolution took many years, that things didn’t happened suddenly I have wondered if God’s creation may not have been so immediate. But in the last few years, astronomers have given us amazing pictures of things going on in the Universe, like a massive black hole swallowing a star. Incredible things can happen quickly. Perhaps God’s light came all at once onto the earth. All through the power of God.
This is the God I ask you to consider today. God created light. God created order out of chaos. God’s light shines and all things make sense. God’s light creates order.
The power of God continues in our readings today. Let’s go forward to the gospel. John the Baptist is out in the wilderness with the locusts and the wild bushes and walking around in a strange outfit. God chose the wilderness as the place for Jesus to be baptized. It was another case of God bringing order to the wildness of the earth. It wasn’t just a quiet little event either. We may think that the dove descending upon Jesus was a quiet event but that is not what Scripture says. It says that the heavens were torn apart. God may come to us in the stillness of a quiet sunset, but God can also come to us in the majesty of the mountain or the power of an earthquake. God is present in powerful ways.
How quickly we have moved from the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. The baptism of Jesus occurred when he was an adult and is one of the early stories of his public ministry. Jesus’ baptism was a declaration, God jolts us into the importance of Jesus’ life on earth. Jesus declares that he is one with God, that he will bring God’s kingdom to earth. It is a time to remember our own baptism and what it means to our life.
My own baptism happened when I was still a baby. I have seen pictures, but I remember nothing. At a baptism the child is usually dressed in white and everyone else has smiles. The water usually is sprinkled on the baby’s head. All those nice surroundings may cause us to miss the point. For baptism is our commitment to God. We enter into a covenant, an agreement to be one of God’s children. Some faith traditions actually have a baptism with full immersion in the water. The idea is that all of our sins are washed away. I like the significance of the physical act of immersion. Everything about us is making a commitment to God. It is powerful just like the baptism of Jesus. Perhaps you can imagine putting your entire body including your head under water and coming out into the light of Christ, being changed by God’s awesome power and grace and love.
When we were baptized, we were changed, I like to say we were transformed. Because we opened our hearts to God, we allowed the light of Christ to enter into us. God is with us and in us. However your baptism occurred, whether you remember it or not, I ask you today to reaffirm your covenantal relationship with Jesus. We will once more make those promises again right after this sermon.
Scripture is filled with stories about God’s covenantal relationship with humans. As Christians, we are thankful for the covenants between God and Noah, Abraham and Moses, but we focus on the new covenant based on the coming of Jesus Christ. Each time we experience a communion service the priest lifts the chalice and says, “This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus brings us into a new relationship with God and offers us forgiveness for the sins we have committed.
In today’s world we think of the covenant that is reached when two people come together in marriage. They agree to live together in good times and bad, supporting each other for whatever comes. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, offered this perspective of marriage, “Marriage has a unique place because it speaks of an absolute faithfulness, a covenant between radically different persons, male and female; and so it echoes the absolute covenant of God with his chosen, a covenant between radically different partners.”
Today, as we listen to the story of Jesus’ baptism and remember our own baptism, I ask you to reflect on your relationship with God. Is it one of absolute faithfulness? Do you remember our promise to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior? Are you committed to put your whole trust in his grace and love? Are you ready to renew that commitment again?
The other day, a group of us were speaking about the three most important virtues of faith, hope and love. This individual said that love and hope have been inconsistent experiences in life, but faith has always been present. It is the rock of that person’s relationship with God.
Commitment is a hard thing and we know of many examples of people who have struggled with it. I think of times when a repair person has promised to show up at a certain time but doesn’t. I am sure that you have your own stories of commitments made but not completed. As a priest, I receive commitments from people all of the time. Some say they are going to attend church here but never show up. I have become jaded by talk without action, no longer expecting people to do what they say.
But I trust in God. We understand that the commitment we make to follow Jesus is a hard one to live up to all of the time. That is why we come together in community. We seek to support each other as followers of Christ, hoping that our joint efforts will make it easier to stick to our commitment.
In a covenant relationship, each party gives something to the other. Our baptism is not just about what we commit to but about the promise that God makes to each of us. In the water of baptism, we are cleansed from all of our sins, we are washed in the glory of Jesus and we become one with him. We receive God’s grace, and God’s love and yes, even God’s power and might.
The theme for Epiphany is the light of Christ. It is a statement about the coming of Jesus, for he brought God’s light into our world. During the season of Epiphany, I will ask you in many different ways how that light has impacted you. But today, I wish that you would remember that at the creation, God brought light to bring order to chaos. God’s light calmed the violent waters of the world.
In our baptism, Jesus and the Holy Spirit bring order to our life. Our lives are grounded, they give us guidance and help us to find our way. It is not the same cataclysmic event as that described in Genesis, but it is a dramatic shift in our lives. May you feel the presence of God transforming you and may the light of Christ keep you on the path of peace. Amen.
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