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Baptism of the Lord - God With Us...Creator Out Of Chaos

God With Us  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  21:40
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God hovers over the chaos of our lives, calling creation (and us) out of the water to discover new life.

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Revised Common Lectionary 1-10-2021: Baptism of the Lord

OLD TESTAMENT

Genesis 1:1–5

1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 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. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Welcome to the Chaos

What chaos!? What utter disregard for order and decency? I’m talking about the events this week on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, where a mob of domestic terrorists stormed the chambers of the US Congress amidst their proceedings to finalize the 2020 election results. But, I am also talking about what the last few years have been like. Chaos, disordered — pandemic rages around the world, the climate pushes ever closer to the brink of collapse, the rich fill their coffers and the poor cry for mercy.
And I’m also not only talking about the plight of our nation for the better part of the beginning of this century, but I’m also thinking bigger. Is there not chaos and disorder all over our ordered, beautiful world? Don’t we call this sin, brokenness, the separation for God, a concept which we use to scapegoat so many problems and define the “why” behind all that is out of place?
I know you may tire of hearing bad news, but this morning we have to hear it once more — things are not as they are meant to be. While we are surrounded with God’s grandeur, the light on foil glimmering that we recognize as God’s creative handiwork, we struggle to maintain reverence for that order as we are constantly distracted by disorder.
Lord, have mercy. Is this all we can expect of life? Chaos, some minor repairs, more chaos, another reckoning, more disorder and chaos? It seems to be so.
This week, I’ve wrestled with where to look and how to preach into a moment in our nation’s history that will certainly define our generation. As someone with an undergraduate degree in history, I find the study of this moment to be fascinating. The constitutional precedents at play, the process and back and forth — it’s all so intriguing to see play out. And then throw in a terrorist attack on the institutions trying to do that work…well, it’s chaos for the history books.
How do the people of God live amidst such chaos? What is our North Star, our Guiding Light.
Thankfully, we are in this season of Epiphany and we hear the story that the guiding light is the star of Bethlehem and then, it is Christ himself. Last week we heard from the Gospel of John that it was from Christ that creation proceeded. We know that Christ was there in the moment of chaos, hovering over the waters. And we trust that the story of God is one about God with us amidst all forms of chaos, through all history, not dismantling the disorder, necessarily, but bringing order out of it, creating from it, building and blessing all things through the remaking of it all.
Let us pray.
This is Baptism of Our Lord Sunday, the day each year we hear the story of Jesus going into the River Jordan with his cousin John the Baptist to be transformed and emerging from the dark waters with calling and identity. So why look at the Creation story here? Why not focus on baptism? Let’s look at that.
We hear the opening words of the familiar chapter of Genesis 1: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and void. The Hebrew phrase, tohu wabohu, is artfully translated by scholar Robert Alter as the “welter and waste.” Tohu wabohu can mean empty, wasteland. It is the space of nothingness.
Because this week’s national events may continue to tinge with pain, let me use another example to illustrate the welter and waste we’re talking about here. John Steinbeck’s award-winning 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath, may paint some of the picture of chaos and disorder we’re getting at here. The barren wastelands of the Dust Bowl. The poverty and concern of the Joad family, their desire to find work and a fresh start after all has been stripped away in the Great Depression. This is one instance of the welter and waste of American history that I imagine many of us are familiar with.
It is here. In this chaos, this welter and waste, that the author of Genesis opens the whole Scripture narrative. With God’s ruah (spirit/breath) hovering over the deep, roiling, dangerous waters.
With this image in mind, I pause and ask you to hear me: God is hovering over the waters of chaos, from the very beginning, and God continues to hover over the chaos of our world, with us, even now.
Because, why start off your stories of the faithfulness of God, as told through the Hebrew Scriptures, with words of chaos? Why not something like “Once upon a time...”?
We get derailed trying to make this story fit into some sort of accurate scientific picture of how the world came into being. Pause for a moment and abandon that narrative — it is not helpful here.
Instead, ask again — why would God’s story begin with hovering over the waters of the wastelands of the unformed earth? Well…to show us that it is this very place where God’s creative work begins. And not only begins, but this is a foreshadowing of every story throughout the Scriptures and into our lives — where God, the one who is with us, Emmanuel, present, where God is with us in the chaos, hovering over, breathing out the new life of Creation through it.
This is the Word that gets me excited about the Scriptures. God is with us at the inception point, where the void still roils.
And God is with us in the chaos of today, not simply as a distant observer, but as the voice of a well-pleased, loving parent who is calling us out of those waters into new life.
This is the first word on how God continues to bring order out of chaos. It is the first story of creation rising up from the void, but certainly not the last. That is what God is doing in the whole of Scriptures and in our lives even now — bringing order to the chaos and restoration from exile. God’s creative word is still being spoken.

Baptism

Here is where the opening passage of Genesis and the story of Jesus’ baptism link.
Jesus, not yet anointed and “out” as the Messiah, enters the waters of baptism with John at the river. If we hold the image that the water is a site of chaos (not always a bad thing, actually), we then see Jesus enter into the chaos to find a new identity and emerge with his calling to proclaim the Good News.
And, just like with the ruah of God’s spirit hovering over the waters before creation, so we also see that God is hovering over the waters of baptism in order to speak words of blessing and identity to Jesus when he emerges. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” Jesus hears. In this context, we must hear that Jesus’ baptism is less about him being purified from a life of sin and being “born again” (which, how does a man who knew no sin actually get purified?). Instead, we hear it as an example that God is creating out of the waters of chaos once more, bringing something beautiful to bear and proclaiming it before all the people.
Out of the waters, God creates. Out of the waters, God calls. Out of the waters, God blesses and reminds us we are not alone.

Chaos, here and now

All of this is theologically well and good, but let’s also remember we still live amidst chaos even now. We’ve seen it in painful truth this week. There is great disorder among us and to deny it is to be blind.
Where do God’s people look in order to trust that God is still at work, ordering all things, amidst a world of clear chaos and strife? Where do we find refuge and restoration when all institutions, leaders, and agents of power crumble under the weight of hubris and pride? Where do God’s people return to find life, sanctification, and new beginnings?
They turn to the Waters. The waters of Creation and the waters of Baptism. The springs of God’s life-giving presence that persist in ordering the chaos and making all things new.
The creation story, in this light, becomes the story we return to to find hope when all signs of order in our lives have been destroyed. It is here that we find signs of God’s creative work that is beyond our control (and beyond the chaos).
I began with a bit of a wet blanket and I’ll return to it: We are living in an extremely chaotic, disordered time. Perhaps not more than other times, but for us, now, this is one of those chaotic moments. It is so easy to fall into despair and nihilism, cynicism and resignation right now. Who cares? Nothing matters.
Actually, I find it somewhat helpful to engage the despair and cynicism sometimes. It helps me truly feel the chaos — yeah, things are not alright. I can’t deny it. Can you?
It is from that place, if I can also maintain an openness to God’s work in me, that I can also begin to say… “ok, and now what?” Or as the great fictional American President Jed Bartlett used to say, “what’s next?”
Because that’s what I’ve learned to do as a follower of Jesus. I’ve learned that the waters of chaos that we’re swimming in, they are spaces which yield the work of Creation. The chaos is where life comes through. The chaos is where we witness God at work, not IN the chaos, but emerging, creating, moving, descending, supporting us up and out and from the chaos.
The new earth — it comes from the waters of welter and waste.
The new heaven and the new earth — it comes from the great desolation of apocalypse.
The message of Jesus — it is creating out of a place of despair, a weary world rejoicing that dawn has broken.

God with Us

From now until the season of Lent, we’re going to continue looking at texts that help us recognize God IS with Us. Emmanuel is here, now, moving in the chaos. The joy and the hope of this season of Epiphany is that we find illumination and we begin to SEE more clearly this reality. God is with us.
And not like “God is on my side” or “God’s got my back.” No. Instead, God is here, hovering, brooding as another translator says. God is present in this chaos. And what we know about God, the God who is with us, is that God is at work creating from that place of void.
Our nation’s government is imperfect. It is not divinely decreed and unquestionable. Let’s be clear. But what we’re witnessing today in our nation and world IS a site of chaos and before we simply turn to despair about it, we can realize that God broods over such chaos with God’s creative way. Here, with this posture, we begin to expect something to emerge, to be growing, to be created from such disorder.
I wonder…what is God creating even now? What is God moving and at work doing?
The way of Jesus tells us that there are these moments of baptism, moments when we are under the water. So we must also ask — what is God’s word for us as we emerge from the dark? What is God’s creative word for us as we hopefully begin to see light beyond all that is so outrageous and difficult?
God is with us, my friends. Do you not see, do you not know? Or do you sense the crackle and glimmer of Creation’s spark?
Let’s pray.
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