Baptism of the Lord (First Sunday after Epiphany) January 11, 2009 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Baptism of Christ B January 11, 2009January 11 , 2008 Textweek

Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

The Old Testament reading is short enough to read again. ‘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.’

‘In the beginning’ gives us a starting point, it gives us a reference point, but in reference to what? Is this a story of God’s creation or is it a story of creation’s God. Our reading of the story makes a difference, not in terms of whether we read it rightly or wrongly, but it makes a difference in terms of relevance and context. Genesis 1, 1 to 5: this is the word of God we hear today. Is this the story of the creation of the world? Is this another telling of the Nativity, the Christmas story, the coming of the light? Is this the story of the Kavisha’s baptism, her calling into the divine creation to shine as a light in the world to the glory of God? It’s all of these and more.

The word of God, like the very breath of God, the very breath of creation, is not referenced to an event, but rather is realised as a process. The creation of the world, the Christmas story and Kavisha’s baptism all have echoes of the divine activity of creation. ‘In the beginning’ is not a reference to a date, it’s a reference to the start of a movement, it’s a reference to a process. Over the last two weeks we’ve heard the 'in the beginning' of Luke’s gospel - that’s the Nativity story, the story of the birth of Christ. We’ve also heard the ‘in the beginning’ of John’s gospel – ‘the Word was with God, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’. Today we have the ‘in the beginning’ of Mark’s gospel, the baptism of our Lord. These three writers each sought to proclaim the gospel, to proclaim the Good News; they each sought to document the revelation of the Divine that was made manifest in Christ. And they each begin with a quite different starting point. Why is that? Because what’s being revealed is not event; the gospels are not seeking to tell about historical events; they’re seeking to reveal divine process – the activity of God. And the activity of God is not located in the past, it’s made real in the beginning of each and every moment in each and every age. The word of God was, is and will be.

An orthodox reading of the scriptures can so easily confine them to the irrelevance of history and so cloud their relevance to the present moment and their relevance to us as a starting point for our re-creation. It’s funny how we can sit down on the last day of the year or the first day of the year and plan and contemplate our re-creation – what we won’t do and what we will do. We do that maybe once a year. We’re invited to do that in each and every moment. Today we participate, we witness and are part of the divine activity of creation – Kavisha is baptised. Baptism used to carry a subtitle, which was ‘the making of a Christian’. It’s not an activity of conversion, it’s not something that has been done to her, nor is it a course-correction from wrong to right. The orthodox teaching on baptism would hold all those, however, as true. Baptism is a process of orientation and invocation. It’s an alignment of life and an alignment towards life. That’s why Mark chooses to begin his gospel with the ‘in the beginning’ of Christ’s baptism. It doesn’t make Luke’s ‘in the beginning’ wrong - they’re the same; they’re telling the story of the process in a different way.

Baptism itself is a reference point, it’s an ‘in the beginning’ for the creation of community. Again, the orthodox focus for baptism focuses on what’s being done to the child, to the one being baptised. Each and every act of baptism, however, changes the very shape of the communion: the whole church is changed. Before Kavisha’s baptism, if you weighed the church, if you photographed the church, if you measured the church, if you spoke of its many members, it was different before to what it was afterwards. And when you reflect on that, it raises the question, why on earth does the church invest so much in creating barriers to change, when each and every act of baptism changes the church? Why do we socially and culturally seek always to hold onto what we have, seeking to maintain the ‘what is’, specially when we have gospels that we’ve heard that promise so much more?

There are a couple of ways to maintain the orthodoxy of the church: one is to keep people out. If we stop people coming into the church we can actually hold an orthodox, an unchanging position. The other way to do it is you invite people in but you invite them not to participate once they’re in – once again you can keep things as they are.

Today we have participated in another ‘in the beginning’. Let’s acknowledge that we, we are changed by Kavisha’s baptism and let’s reread the gospels. The old ones that belonged to the church before it changed this morning, maybe no longer make sense. Let’s reread them with ourselves as a reference point. Let’s reread them in a way that allows us to align ourselves with the divine activity of creation, knowing that our baptism provides us with an ‘in the beginning’ in each and every moment.

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,
“Give me a light that I may
tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied, “Go out into the darkness
and put your hand into the hand of God;
That shall be to you better than the light
and safer than a known way!”
So I went forth and finding the hand of God,
trod gladly into the light.
‘Look, I have set before you an open door.’*

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris

*[Revelation 3.8 NRSV]