Awe-Filled Ordinary

Baptism of Our Lord – Jan 8, 2012
Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Mark 1: 4-11


In the beginning . . . God . . .

Can we pause here for a moment and take that in . . .  In the beginning . . . God.  That’s it! In the beginning God was all there was.  No light . . . No Sound . . . Nothing to taste . . . Nothing to touch . . . complete and utter nothingness.  We cannot even really get our minds around that, because there wasn’t even empty space to imagine . . .  because there was no space . . .  All there was, was God.

Then God spoke.  When God speaks, things happen.  On the first day God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light.  God spoke it, and it was.  That is utterly, amazingly, incredible, and yet we have heard this story so many times before, it no longer fills us with awe.  God created light out of nothing and to us it is no more amazing than anyone of us walking into a dark room and flicking a light switch.  We just take it for granted, don’t even really think about it.

And what about our worship?  Do we worship in awe-filled amazement? When Ed read the beginning of the creation story from Genesis, did it stir anything in us?  Or has worship become so routine, so ordinary that we just take it for granted, don’t even really think about it?  Do we expect anything amazing to happen here in worship?  We must admit our approach has become very casual and nonchalant.  We come hoping to hear perhaps a bit of practical advice, or maybe just to escape the world and all our problems for an hour.  An hour of rest without the guilt doing nothing would inflict on us.

My preaching professor loved to quote writer Annie Dillard when speaking of the worship experience.  She wrote,

“Does any-one have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so casually call upon? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” [i]

How many of us came to worship today expecting that type of worship experience.  I don’t see any of you wearing protective clothing so I am sure none.  In reading the Psalm appointed for today, Psalm 29, it would seem that the ancient Israelites were a little more open to that kind of worship.  It was written as a psalm of praise, and uses awe-inspiring mystical language.  In it God speaks and brings order to chaos. It is a psalm traditionally associated with the celebration of the baptism of our Lord because it attempts to break through our complacency.  Listen to some of the words of this powerful psalm,

Give glory to God, you heavenly court,
Give God glory and strength!

Give forth the glory that God’s Name deserves,
and worship God in the splendor of holiness!

The voice of God resounds over the waters;
The God of glory thunders over the raging seas.

God’s voice is powerful,
God’s voice is full of majesty.

The voice of God snaps the cedars,
shatters the cedars of Lebanon.

The voice of God strikes with bolts of lightening;
the voice of God shakes the wilderness,

The voice of God twists the oaks,
and strips the forest bare;

and in God’s Temple all cry, “Glory!”

In this hymn of praise the mighty God of creation is revealed.  It is an epiphany that speaks of the manifestation of God in the thundering power of creation.  The mere voice of the Lord shaking the wilderness, and thundering over the raging waters.

I think we have to admit that we are just a little bit afraid of that kind of God.   We expect and prefer a more domesticated God, Thank-you very much.  We like to keep our God under control.  If we were open to, and able to have a real encounter with God it might just get messy.  Jesus knew that.  His baptism was no casual event.

Our readings move from the awe-filled story of creation, to the baptism of Jesus.  The story of God forming the world in the beginning to another beginning.  The beginning of the Good news according to Mark, the beginning of God’s kingdom breaking into the world.

Mark tells the story of Jesus dunked in the murky waters of the Jordan by the smelly Baptist in the scratchy clothes.  Immediately as Jesus emerges from the water, the heavens are torn apart, and the Holy Spirit descends like a dove, and the very voice of God lays claim to him.

“You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

What if the baptisms we celebrated in this font were like that?  What if immediately upon coming up out of the font the ceiling here was torn apart, that dove descending with the Spirit.  What if we heard from the heavens the booming voice of God laying claim to us.  As awe inspiring as that would be, it would also be messy, and not only for the property committee.  It would be messy for all of us because when the heavens are torn apart and God breaks into the world, things are never the same again.

Here in Mark’s gospel, at Jesus baptism the heavens are torn apart.  The Greek word for torn or split apart is σχιζω  (schizo) and we will see this word again near the end of Mark’s gospel.  Upon the death of Christ the temple curtain is torn apart.  This tearing in Mark’s story brackets Christ’s time on earth.  It is a radical breaking into the world, things are torn, ripped, split apart and will never be the same.  God is on the loose.  Mark is trying to tell us, we can attempt to repair it, we can attempt to sew it back up but we can never be fully successful because we know things are forever totally different.  Jesus’ entry into the world changes everything.

And it’s messy. Allowing God to take claim of your life and becoming a part of the kingdom is no sanitary procedure.  It certainly wasn’t for Jesus.  Still dripping from the murky waters of the Jordan without even a chance to dry off, Mark tells us that immediately the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. Out into the unknown to be with wild beasts and tempted by Satan.  Baptism for Jesus didn’t mean he wouldn’t get his hands dirty.  Didn’t mean he wouldn’t spend a lot of time with those in the gutters.  Didn’t mean he wouldn’t have to fight the oppressive powers of his world.  Didn’t mean he wouldn’t end up tortured and hung on a cross. What it did mean is that he didn’t go it alone.  Before he was sent into the wilderness he was named, claimed, blessed and filled with the very Spirit of God.

Most of us here are Lutheran’s, and so the majority of us were baptized as babies or young children.  We don’t remember what happened when we were baptized.  We can assume it was a special ceremony for our families, everyone got together to go to church that day.  We got sprinkled with a little water, marked with a little oil, paraded around for all to see by pastor and proud parents.  A heartfelt moment for sure but was it really all that far from ordinary for us?  Much different than any other bath and rub down with baby oil morning?  There were no big tearing open of the heavens moments for us and yet . . .

We are sent into the wilderness.  The wilderness filled with childhood illness and terminal illness, poor self esteem and no self esteem, sibling rivalries, family feuds, finances, addictions, loneliness, anxiety and depression.  Every one of us must face our wild beasts, must deal with our temptations.  And how do we get through it.   Whenever Martin Luther found himself ready to give up, whenever worry for his own life and the life of the Church he loved overwhelmed him, it is said that he would touch his forehead and say to himself: “Remember Martin, you have been baptized.”

Our baptism like Jesus’ baptism means that we are not by ourselves in the wilderness.  When things don’t go our way we are not alone.  We too have been named, claimed, blessed, and filled with the very spirit of God.  That means that God’s love for us doesn’t depend upon us. It means that God’s grace doesn’t wash off.  God has claimed each one of us and so the heavens have been torn apart.  The power of God has been unleashed and won’t be contained.  God is by our side.  As it was in the beginning, is now, and forever shall be . . .

Let us pray,

You God who terrified the waters, who crashed your thunder, who shook the earth, and scared the wits out of chaos.  You God who with strong arm saved your people by miracle and wonder and majestic act.  You are the same God to whom we turn, we turn in our days of trouble, and in our weary nights[ii]; we look to your steadfast love, and there we find you, drenching our dryness, and making us whole.  The heavens have split open and the curtain has torn apart.  All by your grace, for us, your undeserving sons and daughters.  Able to stand as part of your creation, redeemed with water, claimed by your Word, and filled with your Spirit.  Amen.

[i] Dillard, Annie Teaching a Stone to Talk, Harper & Row, 1982
[ii] Brueggemann, Walter Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth, Augsburg Fortress, 2003
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