Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
O Lord, give strength to your people; give them, O Lord, the blessings of your peace. Psalm 29:11 (ELW)
We live in an emotional, anxious time, dear sisters and brothers.
Chaos broke out in the Capitol building on Wednesday when the sacred order of the democratic process to elect a new president was thrown into mayhem after violence was incited. Lives were lost.
We have not experienced such a thing. We struggle what to say.
And here we are, it is Sunday, the pandemic precludes us from being together when we needed to be together, and yet are greeted by the beauty of God’s Word of creation that speaks order and meaning into the universe; we are greeted with John’s baptism of forgiveness and hear Jesus named as the Son of God, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
God must have heard our prayers, “O, give strength to your people; give us the blessings of your peace,” that we would have these readings today.
The darkness of the earth, the shapeless void at the beginning of creation was disorienting and frightening, the deep waters a chaotic, threatening swirl. When God began to create and order, first of all God’s breath swept over those waters, God’s spirit, God’s wind – I like to think God tended to it all with a big, giant smile. And then God gave light, all the light, distinguished from darkness. And God saw that the light was good. Light was the first good thing in a long sequence of thoughtful actions, all of them ensuring that all life in this universe can thrive. God sees that what is created is good; at the end of the sequence God looks over it all and sees that it is very good.
It is profoundly good news to know God’s thoughtful preparation and actions in creation that ensure the thriving of life, especially today as we are still anxious and numb from the breaches on Wednesday, wondering what it all means, and at the same time confronting the reality of COVID-19 raging among us. We are reminded that the world which God has created is at its foundation a blessing.
Not only from the creation account in Genesis but also in our own worship life do we know the blessed benefits of ordered time and process. We are deeply attuned to the blessing of ordered time and space. We set aside time in our lives for the sacred rituals of worship, to return then to regular time and space strengthened, changed, blessed.
To watch the destruction and unlawful disruption on Wednesday of the formal ritual set aside for the count of votes of the electoral college in the Capitol was horribly shocking – order descending into willful chaos.
We are as individuals and as a nation stressed, injured and grieving. We yearn that God would not hold back strength but give it freely, help us up, calm our hearts: grant, O Lord, the blessings of peace.
On this Sunday of Baptism of Our Lord we meet John the Baptizer in the desert and for the first time in the gospel of Mark, Jesus.
John is in the desert by the Jordan. He proclaims repentance. Change your ways! Here at this river God so long ago parted the water again, renewing the covenant, to let the people enter in to the new era after 40 long years in the desert.
All the people of Jerusalem and Judah are back there now to be baptized, they listen to John, they are ready to turn from their ways, ready to put their lives freshly back into order, compelled to respond to God’s ordering of life in which all can thrive.
To this place comes Jesus and stands in line with humanity, in line with us sinners, waiting to be baptized. Not to repent, not to be forgiven, but for the heavens to be torn open so that we see who he is, the Son of God, the One in whose death God has reconciled the whole world to God-self. O God, you indeed give us strength; the blessings of your peace dwell now among us in Jesus, your Son, the Beloved. Amen to that!
Dear sisters and brothers, when we are baptized with water and the Holy Spirit, as we rise or are lifted up out of the water, the forgiveness, the reconciliation of Christ is put on our bodies. We are now ready for life in the life-giving order of the baptismal life. The threat of chaos, of sin, of shortcoming and wrongdoing cannot win over the new life put on us.
Baptismal life has an order to it, and it is meant to be life-giving for ourselves and others. It goes something like this (you will hear it today in the baptism of Henry, by way of the questions we ask of his parents):
In this order, we pledge to anchor ourselves in the life of the Body of Christ in worship and in the congregation.
Then we commit to proclaim the good news of God in Christ, through word and deed. (Not just pastors and deacons, no, everyone.) Then, serve all people; – stakes rising higher yet: following the example of Jesus.
And lastly, to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
The beauty of this order, dear ones, is that we are given a whole life time to live it, to learn it. We will stumble, but we return, repent, refresh, relaunch.
We all respond differently to the invitation to live out our baptismal life. Many live out their faith in private, not so public circles. Others feel that God’s compassion for humanity, for peace and blessing places a claim on them that immerses them in public life, in the life of society, in activism. Others choose the political stage to speak up. Pastors and church leaders often face the challenge that their witness to Christ, faithful to the confessions of the church, is heard as partisan, too political. It can lead to contention.
In a time like ours, so fraught with conflict and division, it is good on a day like today to step back and reflect on the gifts we have received from God in the healing order of a universe that is meant for blessing, for thriving, and to consider again how our faithful response to God’s gift of baptism contributes to the healing and reconciliation we so need. All can and all shall contribute.
God created light and calmed the waters using not violence and conquest, but speaking: let there be light, and there was light; appointing the waters to their places, and it was so.
Let us act in peace, let us be led by the light of God, manifest in God’s beloved Son – by our side-, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.