January 11, 2009
Edwards (Knox) United Church
The Baptism of Jesus
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The Rev. Dr. George Hermanson
Liturgy is our way of shifting gears. It's purpose is to ask us to stop in mid stride and ask again where do we want to go? What is it that will inform us for our living? As we know, the Christian New Year began with Advent, a time of preparation for us to welcome the light of wisdom to guide us on our journey. This Sunday we reflect on Baptism as the foundational experience for our ministry in the world. Our texts tell us that baptism began Jesus’ ministry and we are called to live out that symbolism.
The words of baptism reflect on the images of water. Here are some of the images we use:
Then we bless the water by references to Genesis 1, where in the myth God broods over the water of creation, over the waters of chaos and calls forth life.
Images of water flow through our narrative, for we remember the stories of the flood, the exodus, water flowing from the rocks in the wilderness, then the nurturing of Jesus in the waters of Mary’s womb, to end in the baptism of Jesus by John.
Water is crucial to us, informs us, carries us. Even though I grew up on the prairies, I find my spiritual renewal in the waters of the Pacific, and the river that flows by us. We are haunted by rivers, as in the book and movie a River Runs Though it. Water is the next political and global issue, for it is so crucial to the life of this planet and to all who live on it.
In our liturgies we speak of the Spirit poured out as water on us, to inspire us. The words we use in baptism are: "May the font become your womb of new birth, a font of blessing and source of Grace." Water flows in us and through us, and as we are watered, we water the earth. This is the call of our baptism.
Our images tell us that God creatively and artistically brings forth an orderly world in the context of chaos. As Catherine Keller notes, God creates within the chaos: "the turbulence, the uncertainty, the storms, and the depths of our actual life process."* There is in the evolutionary process a presence of creativity we call God. God is the source of creative interplay of novelty and order in every moment. This interplay brings forth new forms of novel and enchanted experience. This image of order out of chaos tells us that God never rests, but is in the mix of life offering an aim of wholeness and love.
Baptism tells us we are located, rooted in this creative possibility toward goodness. Baptism is not a once and for all event, for each communion service is a reaffirmation of the ongoing creation.
It is true we often experience events in our life in random ways and we seek to make sense of this fact by ideas like, it was meant to be, as if predetermined. The image, though, of order out of chaos suggests things are not meant to be. Rather it is within randomness order is created. It was not meant to be as if everything is fixed, for creation is an ongoing process where novelty and order alike emerge in the context of randomness. Baptism prepares us to live without a safety net. It reminds us that meaning can be found. We can risk. For we are schooled in the metaphor of blessing of the waters of chaos. This prepares us for living in chaos for order does come out of it.
This way of living is not one of optimism, as if despite things, they will turn out well. We know that is not the case for tragedy does happen. Some things overwhelm.
One of the reactions to this reality as been, we and we only create reality. Through some superhuman activity and thought pattern, we hold back the sound of fury. The problem with such a view, and it is one of the dominate views of our time, is when we can not hold back the sound of fury, that chaos overwhelms, we end in despair. And despair leads to nihilism - all is hopeless, so let us eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die, for nothing we do matters.
In reaction to such nihilism some revert to magical thinking. We posit a force that has created a final and full end, that this force is in absolute control. All is OK but we don’t see it. The religious perspective that comes from this is: Trust God and things will work out and this ends in a quietism. This is a withdrawal from the events of history. What creates problems are unfaithfulness and lack of trust. But when things overwhelm such a view does not sustain. We hear this in the comment: "I lost my faith because - how would a good God allow suffering?" Thus for those who have a magical god, when it fails, they end up with, "There is no God but us," and that leads us back to, "it is all up to us."
In the image of Baptism we are offered a third religious vision of how to deal with chance and randomness. Each moment is a process of emerging novel possibilities. In the brooding over chaos new moments are created. God works in the moment offering an aim of more novel reality which we actualize. God receives that which we have created and uses that for the next moment in harmony with God’s aim toward beauty. Beauty is being created.
There is no predetermined plan or route. There is, though, in each moment the aim of God working offering beauty, compassion, justice, and harmony. Each achievement is a new moment of possibilities, a new moment of choice.
Sometimes life presents us with a choice and we never know in that moment where it will lead, but choose we must. There is a moment of decision where we take a road never traveled. The future is radically open. In the moment of choice there is a clarity that emerges.
In the third way of understanding God we are formed to live with an open future, for we begin in the baptismal affirmation that God works with chaos to offer new possibilities. God broods over the water of creation, over the waters of chaos and calls forth life. In Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism we are invited to see an invitation to reflect upon our own revelatory experiences. Those moments when we take a risk and move into the unknown. We know that in that moment God is there offering the aim of harmony, intensity, peace, compassion and justice. In our risk, based on this faith, we help make these aims real. All life is sacramental, but some moments and practices awaken us to the holiness of the world and the blessedness of our lives. God’s covenant with creation is universal, but expressed to us one moment at a time.
Brooding over the water tells us God has made a fundamental engagement with creatures. God is the most available resource of love, available at all moments, is engaged with us in every moment. Because we know ourselves as God’s loved ones, we can grow in wisdom and courage. Baptism tells we are companions with God in the healing of this time. We are those who live with boldness and love.
*For more on the relationship of divine creativity and chaos in Genesis 1, see Catherine Keller, "On the Mystery: Discerning God in Process and Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming." Thanks also to Bruce Epperly in Process and Faith.