From A Lament in the Shadow of the Capitol by Pastor Roger Gench
We lament, O God, the tragic display of violence at the U.S. Capitol this week, and pray that the horror of it might open our eyes to the sins that are on the loose in our nation. We pray for a country so divided, so full of anger.
Help us, God of justice, for we have failed to discern and to name the myriad ways racism has warped our common humanity. Forgive us for the divisions that have kept us from really knowing one another across the lines of race and religion and class, making us oblivious to the pain, to the real-life struggles and joys of people who don't look like us or talk like us and who may live across town, but who are all God's beloved children. Yet we know that the Spirit of the crucified and risen Christ can help us to regain our sight. Empower us by your Spirit to become people who more fully live into the promise of our baptism and trust your assurance that in Christ the dividing walls of hostility have come down.
You have called us to be a beachhead of your new creation—a new community united under Christ's lordship in which there are no longer divisions and subordinations. Help us to name our own brokenness. Empower us to stand with all who are crucified by the power of institutional violence and discrimination, and to recognize our participation in all such inhumanity.
We lament what this week has laid bare; we ask for your strength and courage to be all you have called us to be and to participate in your reconciling work in all the world. Amen.
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
6Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
Ordinary Time; Baptism of Jesus
We're in the season of Epiphany and we've moved into a short segment of Ordinary Time. You may remember Sundays after Pentecost stretch into about six months of Ordinary Time. In this context ordinary means ordered, arranged, organized, arrayed, planned more than it means common and conventional, yet with the Spirit of Pentecost filling the world, and the Pentecostal people of God freely at work in the world, Ordinary Time is common, conventional, and everywhere.
This week for the baptism of Jesus we continue in the short, energetic gospel according to Mark. Here's the summary of Mark I blogged when Advent started.
Very few events are in all four gospels; surprisingly, all of the gospels don't even have a birth story or a resurrection narrative. But we find Jesus' baptism in all four, strongly signaling us to take notice! Lots of "spilled ink" has asked why Jesus, the sinless Son of God would need baptism. However:
• John's baptism wasn't as much about individuals as it was a political, religious, and economic new beginning for Israel. Earlier on, before entering Canaan that was full of other gods and death-ridden claims, they had to cross the Jordan River. The Jordan formed a border and boundary between their old existence of Egyptian slavery, decades of exodus desert wanderings, and a new life of repentance, obedience, and grace in covenanted community. During their wilderness trek, God's people received the ten words or commandments of the Sinai Covenant.
• When the gospels were compiled, questions of Jesus' divinity hadn't yet started circulating. Those concerns belong to a century or two later, so no one would have drawn upon "our" baptismal theology and wondered why the sinless Son of Heaven needed to be baptized. The Definition of Chalcedon that describes Jesus Christ as fully human, completely divine, dates from 451.
• Although it has similarities to Jesus' baptism, our trinitarian baptism is into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus was not baptized a Christian.
Describe, Draw, Map, Picture…
Notice how all four gospels begin telling about Jesus' baptism with a physical, geographical, location: Nazareth, Galilee, Bethany, Jordan. Throughout the witness of scripture and in our lives, God acts at measurable longitude, latitude, and linear time. Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann talks about "The Word that Redescribes the World." Describe, inscribe, scribe, script, prescribe come from the same root. When we write, speak, design, or draw, we create a picture image of place, person, or event. When God's written Word the Bible, and God's living incarnate Word Jesus Christ Redescribe the World, they redraw and remake what's there with justice, mercy, love, grace, and newness.
"And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him." Mark 1:10
The end of Jesus' public ministry joins heaven and earth even more dramatically:
"Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom." Mark 15:37-38
In both passages "tear, tore, torn" is a rip or rupture that can't be mended. We've discussed how the Jerusalem temple had been modeled after temples of other religions because people wanted a place where their God (actually the name of God that in Hebrew Bible theology is God's identity) could reside and be kept safe. Ripping apart the temple veil that separated the holy of holies from the rest of the world revealed a God for all, God of all, who cannot be limited or contained. Tearing the temple curtain tore away distinctions between heaven and earth, sacred and profane. So here at the start of Jesus' public ministry and later at the end, an irreparable tear unites heaven and earth.
Doing the Word
Heaven opens wide to earth at our baptism and fills us with the Holy Spirit, literally equipping us to serve others directly in a plethora of ways, to advocate for justice, sometimes to challenge empire—directly and indirectly. In his small catechism, Martin Luther asks, "How can water do such great things?" It is not only water, but water combined with the Word of God…
This is the word that redescribes, redraws, and remaps the world into God's justice, love, mercy, and shalom. With the Spirit of Pentecost filling the world, and the Pentecostal people of God freely at work in the world, Ordinary Time is common, conventional, and everywhere, with the Word that changes fear into understanding, hatred into love. A Word to subvert injustice into justice, to transform poverty into shalom.
Moses read the book of the covenant in the presence of all the people, and the people responded with one voice, "We will do all the Words of the Lord." And we – or our sponsors – heard the words of our baptismal covenant and promised to renounce sin, death, and the devil, to work for justice and righteousness. When God's people doing the word Redescribe the World, we redraw and remake with justice, righteousness, love, grace, and newness. At our baptism, water and word unite heaven and earth in a way that cannot be undone.
Five weeks from now (on Valentine's Day!) in Mark's Transfiguration account we'll hear God announce, "This is my Son, the Beloved" and command, "Listen to him!" Listen to Jesus. Listen to God's Living Word. Do not pay any attention to all the confusing noise and conflicting claims that clutter our ears. Do. The. Word.