Genesis 1:1-5, Mark 1:4-11
During a preaching class in seminary, the professor mentioned that we should use examples from everyday life in writing sermons. This way, those listening will understand and be able to apply the message to their lives. We have been hearing about the snowstorm bearing down on us for the last week. One person joked on Facebook that we would be getting somewhere between 0 and 85″ and that it would start between now and Monday. However, we may never get it.
Now I know that weather prediction is a complex science; that is why it is called a prediction and not a certainty. As one who has responded to disasters in the past, I appreciate advanced warnings and the ability to prepare, but I miss the days of Don Kent and not knowing what was going to happen until just before.
So, this week, I retrieved the snowblower from the shed, started it up, and ensured it would run. I dug out the snow shovels and the ice melt. We did go to the grocery store, but not just for milk and bread; we also needed other stuff. I went to bed last night, not knowing if we would have church this morning, but knowing we were ready, and then there was morning. No, this is not why I have given this message that title.
You may have noticed I added another scripture passage to the lineup this morning. The Lectionary provides four readings for each Sunday. An Old Testament selection, a Psalm, a reading from one of the letters, and the Gospel. The intent is to try and show that there is a connection between what has passed and what is coming. Sometimes, that connection is obvious, and other times, not so much.
In the past, I have limited the scripture selection to three, but, new year, new idea. I want us to spend our time together taking a deep dive into what Scripture says and how we can apply that to our lives and look at how what we believe has been influenced over the years.
I believe in doctrine and that we must have a basis for our belief; there must be a common frame of reference, or, to put it another way, we need a starting point. With that said, I appreciate that for some, doctrine, creeds, and all the rest can be troublesome, but again, we need a starting point that grounds us and a place we can grow from and towards. Yes, faith is a journey, and what we learned in Sunday school may not always be what we should believe as adults.
This morning’s first reading takes us back to “in the beginning.” This is one of two creation stories in Scripture. In this one, humanity is created last. Every culture has some story about how it all began. One of the problems we face in our Western mind is that we need an explanation for everything. Faith allows us to dream; faith permits us not to figure it all out. It does not matter how it began; we know it has. The point is, what lesson can we learn from it?
We heard the “earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” We see God, the Creator, separating the light from the darkness. We also heard that a wind from God “swept over the water.” Living here in Hull, we are no strangers to the wind coming off the water, so we should have a clear picture.
“In the beginning God.” That is the whole story. Then comes the verb: “created.” Then comes the object of that verb: “the heavens and the earth.” The first thing that happens in the story is the spirit of God moves upon the face of the waters.
We pause the creation story and jump to Mark’s Gospel and the day of Jesus’ baptism. Now, I will not argue about the necessity of Jesus’ baptism; I will leave that to others. I will, however, point to the fact that Jesus has a connection back to the deep waters of creation. Jesus goes from being without form to being someone with form. Jesus goes back to the original. Jesus has a heaven-opening event. Jesus does what God does in the beginning: He reopens the world.
We can have a long discussion about the fall of humanity, its root cause, and the penalty. It would be a fascinating conversation taking thousands of years of theological understanding. However, it does not matter. Something happened in the relationship between the Creator and creation, and things changed.
The creation story tells of a time when humanity walked with the Creator in a garden or what has been described as paradise. This was the time before humanity’s self-realization, before humanity became arrogant and decided it no longer needed help, whatever it was, caused a rift, a chasm in the relationship that the Creator tried to repair.
In my Christmas message, I mentioned that when Jesus was born, that relationship was repaired, and the Creator, once again, walked with creation. That in the birth of that baby, thousands of years had been repaired, but there was more to come, and we see that today.
There is something pagan at the beginning of creation time. “Pagan” originally meant “of the country,” a kind of sensual simplicity. This has to describe the time before us. It is just day and night.
There is no doubt in my mind that humanity has abused creation. Humanity has taken the gift of stewardship of creation to mean we can do what we want with it. Entire species have been wiped off the face of the earth due to humanity’s inability to regulate itself. We have lost the reverence and awe we should have, and greed has replaced it.
It is no secret that Nicky and I are the new stewards of the Loring House just down the street. The house is believed to be the oldest house in Hull and is purported to have been built around 1658, which makes the structure 365 years old. It’s not as old as the creation itself, but still, it’s pretty old. We consider ourselves stewards or caretakers rather than owners, and we embark on a restoration, not a renovation. Sure, we will have electricity, indoor plumbing, a modern kitchen, and heat, but we will honor the hands that built the house and all those who lived in it before us by preserving it in the future.
How do we get this sense of reverence back and make it part of our daily living? Baptismatus sum, said Luther. I am baptized and renewed in creation that had my name in it from the very beginning. I am christened to creation. My DNA comes from the original light and lightness.
We have lost reverence. Reverence is a deep understanding of human limitation. We have been taught that we have no limitations. We can send humans to the moon but cannot figure out how to feed people.
The Gospel is earthy, grounded in the real, tactile, sensual, fleshy world. This morning, we hear of rivers, clothing from camels, diet from bugs, tying shoes, a bird analogy, and an interesting weather phenomenon. This earthiness reminds us that we are not set over or apart from creation but part of creation. The dirt came first, and we were fashioned from that dirt. Jesus stepped down into the water of Jordan not to be cleansed from some made-up sin of people that lived eons before him; Jesus stepped into the water to show us the connection back to creation itself.
Along with reverence, we have lost a sense of awe. “Awful” and “awesome” come from the same root in “awe.” These two words used to be the same side of the same coin. We have awe at awful things. We have awe at wonderful things. We have awe. Now awful is reserved for bad things, and awesome is reserved for good, and, if you are from Boston, “wicked awesome” is even better!
This word change has robbed us of integrity, unity, and oneness of experience. We need a return to reverence, an all-encompassing appreciation of mystery and its root in human limitations. Reverence is not just a religious value. Reverence is the virtue that keeps us from acting like gods!
How do we change? We practice the great lightedness that separates night and day. We can remember our baptismal waters and the connection to creation. We can reclaim the moment before humans when God created. We can reclaim time before time when God’s spirit moved upon the waters. We can regain a sense of awe and our part in creation.
The baptism of Jesus was not the start of something new but a continuation of something that began in the beginning. The baptism of Jesus and our baptism is a reminder that we are connected to creation by the very elements of that creation.
The birth of Jesus restored humanity’s relationship with the Creator. The baptism of Jesus restored humanity’s relationship with creation. Our task is to care for and learn from creation and understand our limitations.
At the end of each day of creation, the Creator sat back, looked upon all that had been accomplished, and proclaimed that it was good. Today, remind yourself of the awesomeness of creation and commit to being better stewards and caretakers of the awesome gift we have been given.