Baptismal Living Amid Division & Chaos

Sermon #216 St. James the Less #123 1/10/21


In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Genesis 1:1-5


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John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:4-11


The Country’s Division

From Acts this morning the new Christian believers in Ephesus said this: “We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”


The events of the past few days will be added as another chapter in American history books, one that will not be soon forgotten. Division covers our land like a dark cloak—anger and fear are no longer teaming below the surface but it’s now right in our face.


And tragically, our relationships have fallen victim; sacred relationships that have been formed over many years are being tested to the breaking point after a year of tensions, culminating in what we saw this week at the Capitol.


Facebook is a graveyard of lost friendships. What used to be impolite conversation during dinnertime, is now fair game 24/7 between acquaintances and strangers alike.

And sadly, the deep divisions in our country seeps into our churches like a poison—trying to splinter even the people of God.


Congressional Internship

I’ve always found it interesting how we talk differently about our life and what we value inside and outside the church. It usually depends on where we are and who we are talking to.


In the summer of 2017, I had a free month between the end of my seminary classes and my wedding day. Somehow, I convinced Megan to let me go to Nebraska for that month to live with one of my good friends—mind you, I was only in charge of creating the bulletins for our wedding.


For that month I worked for the US Congressman representing that district of western Nebraska. My buddy was the Community Liaison for the Congressman, and so it was a good excuse for me to be able to tag along during work trips.


Most of my summer jobs over the years had been in different churches (I don’t think anyone is surprised by that). And so, I saw this internship as an opportunity to hear what people talk about and how they talk in a very different environment than a church.


Many times, during that month, if you had called the Congressman’s office in Scottsbluff, I’d be the one to answer and take down the message you wanted me to convey to him, and then I’d put it into the system and it would be sent to Washington.


If you walked into the office, I was the first door on the left, and would usually greet any visitors. At other times, I would drive with my friend all around western Nebraska, listening to the different concerns constituents had, whether it be the trouble with rural health care or how trade with China was affecting ranchers’ livelihood.


When I talked to disgruntled voters on the phone, I knew I was an outsider on many different levels (I didn’t know what it was like to live in Nebraska, I didn’t know their history or what they valued).


There was a different way to talk, with a different lingo to learn, and I had to realize that, unlike church work, we didn’t have a common religious belief that our conversation could be centered around—I couldn’t just say, “Well let’s pray about that.”


But all that said, it was an eye-opening experience at how local representation is actually lived out on the floor of Congress—it all begins in those little offices, sprinkled throughout our country where average citizens can voice their honest opinions.


I learned quite clearly that things people are willing to say in a Congressman’s office, they would likely not repeat in a church. It got heated occasionally.


The great irony of that fact is that we are called to be Christians inside and outside these sacred walls. There is an ethic to live by—a code or creed that is embodied in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.


And sometimes, in our weakest, most fearful moments, we, like the Ephesians act out rather than say, “We haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”


Baptism

Today we celebrate Jesus’ baptism, and it is a good time to reflect on the implications of our own baptism as well. In both our readings from Genesis and our Gospel, two things are present: water and the Holy Spirit.


As we see in the story of creation, a deep, formless void is swept over by the wind or breath or Spirit of God. And from this watery chaos—this “tohu va-vohu,” wild and waste, as the Hebrew says—God creates.

Water was always a symbol of chaos in the Old Testament—look what happened to Jonah when we got on a boat… Water was a dangerous power that could not be tamed.

And yet, out of this chaos and disorder, Genesis tells us that God brought forth life and order; that he is sovereign over even the chaos.


The same themes are being played out in Jesus’ baptism as well—from the chaotic waters, God was forming a new creation—God’s work of recreating and renewing were happening once again.


Looking at icons from the Christian East, Jesus is usually depicted neck-deep in the water, and beneath the waves are the river gods of the old world, representing the chaos that was being overcome (Williams 3).


Jesus was showing us, through his own baptism, that God was not afraid of darkness and chaos, but met it head-on. That he went down into the depths, into a form of a watery tomb, and came back up with the voice of God reaffirming who he already was: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And all who follow him into those waters will rise as a new creation, restored as a child—beloved by their Heavenly Father.


As Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said, “To be baptized is to recover the humanity that God first intended” (Williams 4).


Recovering God’s intentions for humanity has a major implication on each of our baptisms. Maybe you remember the day you were baptized, maybe you don’t, but the implication to be the people of God for the sake of the world has a claim on all of us.


We are reminded that even as God comes to each of us in the watery chaos of our baptism, we cannot walk away from the chaos in our world and in our own lives. Being the baptized believers of God doesn’t allow us to lock the doors of our ivory towers—or better yet, to lock the beautiful red doors of our church.


We can’t say, “Well thank goodness we’re baptized. Those poor, sad people outside don’t have a clue what they’re missing!”


Baptism doesn’t separate us from others, in fact, it pushes us back into the mess of humanity, back towards the need and brokenness of ourselves and our neighbor.


Jesus shows this most clearly by himself being baptized when he had no need of it. He was willing to get into the muddy and muddled waters of humanity with us.


Baptism is about being open to human need in our world and in our neighborhood, but it also calls us to be open to the Holy Spirit and his work in our lives. He is the Paraclete, the Advocate, who helps us to live out our baptism.


Baptismal Living is not easy in this day and time, but there has never been a convenient day or time to live the way of Jesus. But this way of life is the pathway through the suffering and chaos of our world—it doesn’t lead us around it, but straight into it—so that we in turn can be the light of the world for the glory of God.


Baptismal Covenant

Thankfully we have been given a gift in our prayer book that helps us. Our Baptismal Covenant spells out what Baptismal Living looks like for each of us.


(You can see it in our bulletin today) It brilliantly follows the Creed, and if you notice, the majority of the Covenant asks what you believe. Only after saying what you believe does it ask what you commit to doing—to persevering, to proclaiming, seeking, and serving. We really like that last part because we know our marching order; we have a checklist of what to do.


But beliefs matter. As tempting as it is to say that actions are more important than beliefs, what we learned this week in Washington is that beliefs shape actions.


Our convictions will drive us to act in the world a certain way. And so, it’s important in our Covenant to clearly lay out what we believe before ever committing to any form of action.


Thankfully, in both our beliefs and actions, we invite the Holy Spirit to lead us—to guide and direct us in the way that we should go. Because we know full and well that our way, the human way, is broken and in need of deep healing and restoration.


To a world that says, “We haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit,” it is our call to show them—through our beliefs and actions—through faithful Baptismal Living.


And so, let us stand and reaffirm our Baptismal Covenant:


Celebrant: Do you believe in God the Father?

People: I believe in God, the Father almighty,

creator of heaven and earth.


Celebrant: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

People: I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit

and born of the Virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again.

He ascended into heaven,

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.


Celebrant: Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

People: I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting.


Celebrant: Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and

fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the

prayers?

People: I will, with God’s help.


Celebrant: Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever

you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

People: I will, with God’s help.


Celebrant: Will you proclaim by word and example the Good

News of God in Christ?

People: I will, with God’s help.


Celebrant: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving

your neighbor as yourself?

People: I will, with God’s help.


Celebrant: Will you strive for justice and peace among all

people, and respect the dignity of every human

being?

People: I will, with God’s help.



1st Sunday after the Epiphany: Baptism of Our Lord. Year B. Gen. 1:1-5. Acts 19:1-7. Mk 1:4-11. Being Christian by Rowan Williams. Photo by Giga Khurtsilava on Unsplash.

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