Gospel: Mark 1:4-11
1st Reading: Genesis 1:1-5
2nd Reading: Acts 19:1-7
The formless void stretches out in front of us as we survey the face of the deep. It is dark—so dark we can barely see our reflection there on the surface of the water. We feel for a moment as if we could be below the water, rather than above it, we could be drawn into that darkness. That deep chaos calls to us, invites us, coaxes us. It tells us lies about who we are. It lies and tells us we are powerless, that nothing we do can change the problems of this world, so why even try. It lies and tells us that we don’t matter, that no one will remember us, that nothing we do will last. It lies and tells us that we are not enough, that we aren’t influential enough, rich enough, beautiful enough, young enough, smart enough. It lies and tells us that we are not important, that we are nobodies. It keeps us divided from others around us, isolates us by making us fearful and suspicious of one another.
Sometimes we believe the face of the deep. Sometimes we try to buy our way out of the deep void. We try to prove by the things we surround ourselves with that we are good enough, important enough, powerful enough to matter. But we find that we only increase the void and only see our reflection there more clearly, drawing us in. Sometimes we try to run away from the suffering, watch happy movies, eat what isn’t good for us, hide behind a false image of ourselves, but we find that it follows us.
It is so dark. Aside from the last 2 days, the weather is dark and wet and dreary. The divisions in our country and our world are so deep and dark. The pollution, the suffering, the hunger, the illness, the grief—it is so overwhelming and upsetting, sometimes I feel like I’m being swallowed up by this void. Sometimes I feel like giving up. Sometimes I don’t see how I am making any difference. Do you ever feel this way?
I’ve felt this way many times in my life and if left to myself, I would surely throw in the towel. Noah probably felt this way as he floated on the ark with the all the animals and his small family. He looked out to see water in every direction, and I’m sure he wondered about the seaworthiness of his vessel—how long it could hold out. How long could the food hold out? How long could the patience of the people and animals hold out? Would this deep chaos swallow them up?
Martin Luther King, Jr. stood up in the face of the void that would tell him and a whole race of people that they were nobody. He faced the evil of racism in every part of our society. He resisted being drawn into it, or resorting to violence, and he was able to do that because of his faith. He must have wondered if the chaos would win the day, especially as he and his family faced death threats and his house was firebombed with his 10 week old child and wife inside. We can all feel overwhelmed by the formless void, the face of the deep, and many of us have good reason to be.
In the midst of this overwhelming, chaotic, dark, deep, powerful sea, a little breeze picks up. We see a ripple, then a wave, then wave after wave. Instead of silence, we hear a far-away rushing sound. We start to hear the waves against the shore, the splash of the water, the trickling sound that is like music. The waves become strong and start to crash against each other. It is a frightening power. It is loud, but it is moving.
In the midst of this dark, deep void, a pinprick of light appears on the horizon. It is small, but it begins to grow. The sky begins to get lighter. The outlines of forms are visible. Trees, plants, people, creation. We are not alone. The light illuminates all that was hidden, reveals all that was secret. Colors start to play off the surface of the water. We reach down and touch what was once so scary, and take a refreshing drink, splash our face. We feel the cool water flow through our fingers and our lips, and feel more alive. We immerse first our feet, then our legs in this water. Then we plunge ourselves into it. The waters cover us. What was dragging us in, buoys us up and lovingly surrounds us. We feel it on our eyes, dripping off our hair, under our feet. We swim, we play, we float. And then we burst out of these waters to stand on the shore, washed and new, ready for life.
In the midst of this void, we see a bird, a dove, we see the Holy Spirit. We see the dove fly across the waters, Noah waiting to find out if the world was fit for human habitation, if the bird would find a place for new life yet, if humans could begin again. We see the heavens open and the Holy Spirit, alight on Jesus, a signal for us to know that this is where and how life can be found. This is the new life God has been promising out of chaos from the beginning, to Noah, and Abraham and Sarah, and to the believers and disciples in Ephesus, and to John the Baptist, and to the saints and Martyrs, and to Martin Luther King, Jr., and to us.
In the midst of this quiet, still, sea, we hear a voice. It is a powerful voice, a comforting voice. We hear a word. “Light!” We hear a word in our own language, tongues and prophecies. We communicate, we hear and understand, and we know we are understood. Into this quiet we hear a voice, the voice of the one who created us, spoke us into being, called us forth. We hear the voice speak the word made flesh, the promise embodied in Jesus. We meet him. We find we are his sisters and brothers, part of Jesus’ family. We are included in the saving power of his life, death, and resurrection. We hear this loving voice name our brother, Jesus, “Beloved Son” and speak words of praise for him.
But we feel pulled back to the formless void. How could we ever measure up? Jesus was very special, and look how far we are from that kind of perfection. Why even try? What would he ever want to do with any of us?
But that word is for us—beloved. Are we not created by God, God’s good creation? If we weren’t beloved, would God have tried so hard to help us? It is because God calls us beloved that God created this beautiful world, that God called light into being, that God revealed our brokenness and brought us healing. It is because we are beloved of God, that God sent the Holy Spirit to help us to connect with each other and with God, and so the most powerlessness among us would experience the power of God’s love, the only thing that can transform this chaotic void into the Kingdom of God.
This story is about the baptism and power of Jesus, his connection with the Father, God. But it was never meant to stop there. We are the body of Christ, together. We were there at the baptism of Christ, as his body. We were baptized with him. God says to us, “This is my precious child, Beloved.”
That deep calls to us, the chaos calls to us, and we are invited to enter those waters, to move toward what we are afraid of. But we find we aren’t alone. When I hear the story of Martin Luther King, Jr., I am inspired. Here is a man who faced terrible hatred, but because of his faith, he moved toward those who hated him and engaged them in conversation. He acted lovingly toward those who wanted to hurt him and his family and his friends and people who had already suffered so much. When I hear his story, I feel that Holy Spirit Power. I know none of us does the work of justice alone. We have God leading us through that chaos to eternal abundant life for everyone.
So walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, in this chaotic void, telling the truth about the deep and how very deep it is, but also exposing the lies this void tells us. Walk in the light of God, opening our eyes to signs of God’s grace and love among us. Swim in the waters of baptism, washed, refreshed, renewed, our old self drowned, new life promised. Become reborn each day, each hour, each minute, hopeful, faithful, beloved, strong, and vibrant. May God’s vision be written in our hearts, that all tears will be wiped away, that no one will know hunger or pain or need any longer, that nothing will divide us, that we will find connection with each other and with God, that we will share all we have, that we will find ourselves grateful for all God’s gifts to us, that God will bring in the Kingdom through us, that God will reign.