And the Spirit Moved

(sermon 1/10/21 – Baptism of Christ)

Photo by pexels.com – tim-mossholder-1439227

Genesis 1:1-5
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.

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Mark 1:4-11
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.”

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Before anything – before the earth had form, before the waters had boundaries or purpose, before even the beginning of time, as contradictory as that phrase might sound – Genesis tells us that the Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters, and speaking out “Let there be light;” and calling it good, the sacred story of creation begins. Throughout the remainder of this story, God speaks creation into being, creating a unity, a connectedness, assuring acceptance by virtue of that goodness and connectedness.

And the Spirit moved, and is continuing to move.

Before beginning to call disciples and preach to the people, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River. Mark’s gospel tells us that as he did, the Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters, and speaking out “This is my Son, my beloved; in him I am well pleased;” and calling him good, the sacred story of his public ministry begins. Through this, the Spirit proclaims the unity inherent in the very nature of our triune God, a God whose essence is a unity of relationship; and assuring acceptance by virtue of his goodness and connectedness with God.

And the Spirit moved, and is continuing to move.

And at some point in your past, just as was the case with Jesus, you were baptized, too. You might actually remember it, as we always remind people to do on this Sunday, Baptism of Christ Sunday; or more likely, you just remember stories that your parents told you about it; it might have been administered with water measured in feet or in fluid ounces; but whatever the details, the Spirit of God moved over the face of those waters, too, and spoke in the same way, calling you good, and the sacred story of you own faith journey began. Throughout the remainder of that story, God has spoken into being within you a unity among Christ and all who trust in him, and an assurance of acceptance.

And the Spirit moved, and is continuing to move.

We see the overall creative witness of the Holy Spirit in the original creation, the creation of the cosmos, and in the new creation seen and made possible through Christ, and in that, there are at least two important things going on that we should take note of.

The first of these is affirmation. Validation. Assurance that the universe is good, and Christ is good; and through your baptism, God affirms and assures you that you’re good, too. There’s no need to worry, or to beat yourself up over whether your good attributes are enough to offset your bad ones in God’s eyes. We believe that what we see in baptism is that God has preemptively proclaimed us good and accepted, and because of that, we can be grateful and not fearful.

The second thing that the Holy Spirit is doing in these events is creating unity. There is a unity of common goodness and purpose, seen first in the order, and beauty, and connectedness, of the universe that we’re continually discovering more and more deeply. We probably all know that a coin toss has a 50% probability of coming up heads, or 50% tails; and the more times you toss the coin, the closer and closer the outcome will mathematically approach exactly 50/50. But I recently learned that experiments have shown that if a coin is being tossed, and a person is told to concentrate on the coin landing on one particular side, the outcome actually starts to move away from the 50/50 split, and to come out more in the direction the person was focusing on. Similarly, an experiment was performed where a common house plant was placed in the corner of square, windowless room, where the only light source was an electric light designed to randomly beam light into just one of the four corners of the room. But once the plant was put into place, the beaming of the light became less random, favoring the corner where the plant was – and whenever the plant was moved to a different corner, the light began to favor that corner instead.

There is a unity, a connectedness, of being and relationship and purpose throughout creation, and throughout all of us. Our baptism is a reminder to us of both the unity that we have with God through Christ, as well as the unity we have with one another, and that we’re called to live out that unity in all that we do.

That’s an important thing for us to keep in mind, living as we do in times that are full of ugliness, and division, and disorder and chaos. The kind of chaos and division and ugliness and violence – the actual, violent sedition, the insurrection, that we all saw in Washington DC this week. As people of the kingdom of God, we are called to speak out against that kind of chaos and discord and violence, not to mention the underlying oppression of people embedded within it, and we’re called to speak out against anyone who would encourage or enable it, as being completely contrary to the key tenets of our faith; the key teachings of our understanding of our place within God’s creation, and how we’re to live in unity within it.

We are called to live in unity with one another. But I don’t want you to misunderstand what I’m saying. To call for the kind of unity called for within our faith – the kind of unity instilled within us through the Holy Spirit – isn’t just to agree with, or go along with, everything that comes down the pike. This unity isn’t just ignoring serious, harmful, sinful – maybe even evil – differences, pretending they didn’t exist. God’s unity isn’t unity at any cost – there can be no real unity without responsibility. And God’s unity isn’t some sort of always just splitting the difference in any disagreement, because honestly, the truth isn’t always somewhere in the middle, but is often much closer to one end or the other of the spectrum of the debate. We’re called to unity, but a unity for God, a unity for good. We’re called to a unity that renounces sin and evil in the world, as we do in our baptism and when we receive new members, as you’ll hear in just a little while this morning.

I believe that this is one of those times, when we need to be clear in renouncing what we’ve seen – what we’ve all communally experienced – this past week. This isn’t a matter of mere politics or ideology, but is a core matter of our faith. We need to declare without any ambiguity that the God in whom we live, and move, and have our being calls us to stand in peace and unity against violence and division. And that includes standing in unity to renounce any group or any person who would incite, encourage, energize, or justify, that kind of division and violence. It’s important to remember that consistently throughout the scriptures, and as is pointed out powerfully in both the Barmen Declaration and the Belhar Confession, part of our Book of Confessions, the wrath of God is voiced more often – almost exclusively – against authority figures who abuse their position and who work contrary to the good of the people they have authority over. God’s wrath is reserved almost exclusively in the scriptures for leaders who oppress; who suppress; who ignore the health and well-being of the people; who trample on the people in their greed and their lust for power and privilege, and more power and more privilege.

And the Spirit moved, and is continuing to move.

In the beginning, the Holy Spirit moved over the waters, and separated the light from the darkness, the land from the waters, and set into the very essence of creation an inherent goodness and connectedness and unity. At Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit moved over the waters and affirmed Jesus’ life and teaching as the very personification of what that unity looks like in human existence. And today, as we think of our baptism, whether we literally remember it or not, remember that the Spirit confirmed and assured us of our goodness and acceptability in God’s eyes, and called us to live in that same eternal kind of unity seen in Christ – a real unity, the unity of being, a unity of essence and of purpose, defined by not by any earthly person or power, but by God; and that it is in God alone that we have our life, and hope, and our greatest joy, and that it is in God, and God alone, that we trust.   

Amen.


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