1 In the beginning when God createdthe heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God[b] swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, 2 happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah:
Look, I am sending my messenger before you.
He will prepare your way,
3 a voice shouting in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight.”[a]
4 John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. 5 Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. 6 John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. 11 And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”
I still remember one of my favorite teachers in high school, my creative writing teacher, telling us beginnings are meant to be memorable. Perhaps you may recognize some of these beginnings? “Four score and seven years ago…” “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was an age of wisdom…it was an age of foolishness.” “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.” “Call me Ishmael.” “Is this the real life, is this just fantasy?” “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me.” “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house.” “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Hopefully you were able to recognize at least one of those memorable beginnings.
Friends, beginnings matter. Beginnings are telling. Today’s scripture readings are two stories marking beginnings. Our Old Testament text begins the very canon of Biblical literature as we know it and our text from Mark captures the beginning of earliest gospel within the Biblical canon. During this season of Epiphany, we are encourage have epiphanies, to pay particular attention to the ways God reveals more and more of who God is. We are invited to look for and see glimpses of God sightings each day as Dan mentioned last week.
So what might we learn this week? In Genesis, we have God making order out of chaos and giving boundaries to sweeping waters. We see a God who makes good and wondrous things. In Mark, we see the good news begin in the wilderness of all places. We see God revealed in Christ who is not distant or apart from us but who in radical solidarity steps into the same waters of baptism, who desires an intimately messy relationship with humankind.
Our beginnings are important as well. Baptism also often marks the beginning of our own faith journeys. Journeys that are filled with the highs and lows of life, journeys where sometimes we get things right and other times we get things horribly wrong. We are called to remember our baptisms every time we wash our hands or interact with water. We are called to remember God’s claim on our lives, to repent daily and continue to learn. But what might this look like?
Baptism and faith are by nature risky. Pastor Debie Thomas observes, “To embrace Christ’s baptism story is to embrace the wild truth that we are united, interdependent, connected, one. Whether we like it or not, the bond God seals by water and by the Spirit is truer and deeper than all others. It makes a stronger claim on our lives and loyalties than all prior claims of race, gender, tribe, nationality, politics, preference, or affinity. It asks that we bear all the risks of belonging. The risk that others might hurt us. The risk that others will change. The risk that they will change us.”
Baptism creates a bond, a common thread, and also declares no group is better than or superior to the other. ALL are equal and beloved by God. Our Book of Common Worship does a good job at listing what baptism is. “Baptism is the bond of unity in Jesus Christ. When we are baptized, we are made one with Christ, with one another, and with the Church of every time and place. In Christ barriers of race, status, and gender are overcome; we are called to seek reconciliation in the church and the world in Jesus’ name.”
Baptism connects us to each other and holds us together in God’s transformative love. Reminds us we are all called to sit at the same table, invite others, and make room for more. Baptism is a bond that binds us as well as individual challenge to repent and turn from evil; it represents God’s call to justice and righteousness and reminds us of God’s immense love.
So friends, a question we can ask ourselves today is how do we imagine, claim, and express our role as baptized believers? What difference does it make in our lives? What are some ways we can live into our baptisms? Friends, I am not going to pretend I have all the answers about this—or that I have any answers on what happened last week. But these are a few examples of what I’ve come up with.
We live into our baptisms when we show radical hospitality and love of neighbor. When we buy work shoes for a neighbor in need. When we serve our neighbors at Jubilee Kitchen and partner with other churches in our area to make sure WATTS runs smoothly.
We live into our baptisms as we do the hard work of being a Matthew 25 congregation: to work towards building congregational vitality, towards dismantling racism, towards eradicating poverty step by step and day by day.
We live into our baptisms as we strive each day to pray for our enemies, as we hold space and conversation for those who are different from us, but still our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we seek and pursue peace.
We live into our baptisms when we lead by example, when we show our children the world can do better and be better.
We live into our baptisms when we point to the broken places of our lives and world and look for God’s love among the brokenness. When we point to God’s helpers- to those who offer a hand up, clean up after others, or provide comfort and hope.
We live into our baptisms when we offer love and support to those who are grieving, those who are lonely, and those who are depressed…when we call, take meals, or send cards.
We live into our baptisms when we renounce the evil in this world and try our hardest to point to all that is wonderful and good. When we build bridges instead of walls. When renounce our biases and all the “ism” of life. When we renounce times violence wins over peace, when hatred wins over love, and when division wins over unity. When we pick up pieces and work towards a better way of reconciliation.
We live into our baptisms when we renounce evil in ourselves and others- when we do the hard work of allowing our baptismal vows to open us to transformation and when we work for change.
Friends, we were made for more, made to live as God’s beloved children, made for goodness. Our Wednesday morning women’s faith study group recently read “Made for Goodness” by Desmond and Mpho Tutu. If you haven’t read, I highly recommend. I invite you to hear this poem from “Made for Goodness” by Desmond and Mpho Tutu:
“You are my child,
With you I am well pleased.
Stand beside me and see yourself.
Borrow my eyes so you can see perfectly.
When you look with my eyes then you will see
That the wrong you have done and the good left undone,
The words you have said that should not have been spoken,
The words you should have spoken but left unsaid,
The hurts you have caused,
The help you’ve not given
Are not the whole of the story of you.
You are not defined by what you did not achieve.
Your worth is not determined by success.
You were priceless before you drew your first breath,
Beautiful before dress or artifice,
Good at the core.
And now is time for unveiling
The goodness that is hidden behind the fear of failing.
You shut down your impulse to kindness in case it is shunned,
You suck in your smile,
You smother your laughter,
You hold back the hand that would help.
You crush your indignation
When you see people wronged or in pain,
In case all you can do is not enough,
In case you cannot fix the fault,
In case you cannot soothe the searing,
In case you cannot make it right.
What does it matter if you do not make it all right?
What does it matter if your efforts move no mountains?
It matters not at all.
It only matters that you live the truth of you.
It only matters that you push back the veil to let your goodness shine through.
It only matters that you live as I have made you.
It only matters that you are made for me,
Made like me,
Made for goodness.”
May we remember that in our baptisms we are beloved children of God, may we remember the beginnings of our lives with Christ, and that whether we like it or not, the bond God seals by water and by the Spirit is truer and deeper than all others. Friends, may it be so. Amen.