The Beginning – Jan. 10, 2021

The Beginning

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Genesis 1:1-5

Mark 1:4-11

January 10, 2021

Main Idea:  God calls us to a new beginning.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

Today is the second Sunday of the new year and already 2021 is one for the history books.  This week we witnessed the sad and shocking events at the US Capital as US citizens rioted within the Capital building with 5 deaths resulting, plus numerous injuries, theft, and destruction.  This week, the COVID-19 deaths and infections continued to rise to unprecedented levels.  We are already tired and we are only 10 days in!   What are we to do?  How are people of faith supposed to react?  How are we to hang on in the depths of winter as we wait for the pandemic and the chaos to recede?  How are we to live out our calling as followers of Christ in these difficult days? 

We don’t often connect the creation story in the book of Genesis with Jesus’ baptism, but today we will.  Both stories are about beginnings.  Both stories have the Holy Spirit brooding over the earth.  Both stories tell us God’s words of power and love.  Both stories are about God bringing order out of chaos.  This week we have watched chaos unfold before our eyes. The whole past year has been a struggle to bring order out of chaos.  This morning, as we explore these texts from Genesis and from Mark, we will hear God’s call to a new beginning.

The book of Genesis starts with the beautiful and reverent story of creation.  How God took the formless void and shaped it, bringing order out of chaos.  “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.” (Gen 1:1-2) Another translation reads “When God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was wild and waste, utter darkness covered the deep, and the Spirit of God brooded over the face of the waters.”  Let’s think about this image – a formless void, an undefined, shapeless something, wild and waste, and over it, a wind from God, the Breath of God, the Spirit of God, brooding over it, sweeping over it, giving it boundaries, form, and definition.  The wild, uncontrolled, and uncontained is attended to, wrapped up and given structure by the Spirit of God.  Think about how this order from chaos feels in our own experience, to be filled with wild, uncontrolled, uncontained emotions that then can be given over to God who soothes and defuses them.  The chaos is not outside of God’s love and providence. God has the power to contain it.  In the story, the first new thing God creates is Light so that all might be illuminated.  God does not get rid of the darkness but puts light and darkness in balance. 

This was the first day of creation, and from there God continued to create and differentiate until all that we know, in its uncountable variety, had been created.  And God saw all that had been made and declared that it was all very good.  And then God rested.  

This is the beginning of our story, but as we know, and as Scripture tells us, creation did not remain in balance.  God’s order was disordered by us, by the free will of humanity.  And that leads us to the second text for today.

Mark’s gospel begins in much the same as does Genesis.  “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  It is a new beginning, and the account of the baptism has echoes of the creation story.  Jesus goes to John the Baptist in the wild wasteland to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan.  The story has wilderness and water just like the Creation story.  Just as God created heaven and earth and separated the light from the dark, so the heavens are torn open as Jesus comes up from the waters.  And the Spirit of God, the Breath of God, the wind of God, descends, sweeps, broods over Jesus, just like the first moments of creation.  God’s voice is heard at the baptism declaring God’s love and approval just like God’s declaration of the goodness of creation.  

The baptism of Jesus inaugurates a new creation, a new beginning, a new opportunity for God’s order to prevail against chaos. Jesus is the bridge between heaven and earth, embodying God’s vision and plan for all of creation.  This is incredibly good news, yes?

So why is the world still so chaotic?  Why are we stuck in division and disorder?  Why, at the beginning of a new year, do we already feel so tired and discouraged?   First, we must recognize that what the world thinks of as order is not necessarily the same as what God thinks of as order.   God’s order and peace is not the same as a lack of conflict.  It is not the same as the majority deciding on the rules for everybody.  In Jesus’ day, the Pax Romana, the Peace and Order of Rome, came through military might and oppression, the embodiment of Might makes Right. The incarnation of Jesus was a new beginning, the work of God to bring order out of chaos, but we know that Jesus certainly caused a hubbub and brought disorder to the Roman peace so that true peace and true order, where all might live freely as beloved children of God, might prevail.

This true order out of chaos inaugurated at Jesus’ baptism continues today.  We, as followers of Christ, participate in making it manifest.  And this leads us to the part of the text about John the Baptist.   “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4) Jesus also proclaimed “Repent and believe the Good News.” (Mark 1:15).  To repent is to turn around.  It is to change, to have a new start, a new beginning.  We as individuals, and we as a society, have much for which to repent.  This past year has shown us the inequalities in our society; the structural racism, sexism, and classism that privileges the white and the wealthy while making life so difficult for people of color, for the poor, and for the immigrant.  The myth of American individualism and the lies told by our leaders have led people to protest simple safety measures that would keep our communities safe from Covid 19.   The attack this week on the Capital not only betrayed our democracy and our community bonds, it revealed the idolatry of Christian nationalism where symbols of the church; crosses and flags saying Jesus, were carried by the mob along with weapons and the Confederate flag.  The attack also revealed white privilege as the mostly white rioters were allowed to leave the building without arrest.  The scene was quite different from the Black Lives Matter protests this summer where peaceful protesters were met with tear gas and rubber bullets.  Many people in our nation still believe the lies told by our leaders and some still threaten violence.  There will be more, difficult, chaotic days ahead of us.

But here is the good news.  God’s work in the world is not finished.  The power of chaos and division is nothing compared to the power of God’s order and love.   As people of faith, we are invited to participate with Jesus to bring God’s true order, true peace to our communities. As baptized believers, we too can be a bridge between heaven and earth.  We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to see Christ in the world, to open our ears to hear the truth of God, to open our minds in order to understand the needs and the stories of those who may not look or think as we do, to open our hands in welcome, fellowship, and service.  We do this by reaching out to our neighbors with help and friendship.  We do this by working together in service of others.  We do this by speaking the truth in love to those who have been misled.  We do this by trusting in the grace and providence of God; handing over all our fears, and stress, and worry to our God who loves us and will not let us go.

The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was an English Jesuit priest who understood the tension between God’s order and the chaos observed in the world.  His poem God’s Grandeur ends this way …

    “Oh morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs –

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

     World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.” 

In the days to come may we be comforted and empowered by Christ’s love and may we be bold in declaring God’s new beginning made manifest in Jesus and in each one of us.

Let us pray,

O God of creation and new beginnings, we thank you for your grace and your power.  Help us to share your love with our tired and hurting world.  Amen.