Sunday, January 10, 2021

More Than Words: The Baptism of Christ

 sermon preached via Zoom January 10, 2021 in The Church of England in Slovenia. 

Lectionary Texts: Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Mark 1:4-11 


Baptism of Christ by David Zelenka
Happy 2021!  We made it. We survived 2020, and while we aren’t out of this surreal period of world history yet, the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel is finally visible. 

The new reality we enter into won’t be the same as the one we left eleven months ago. Some changes are permanent, and some wounds won’t heal in our lifetime. We have much difficult work ahead of us as we strive to create a more just society. But soon we will be able to hug and shake hands again. Attend concerts and parties. Play sports and dance together. Partake of the bread and wine of Holy Communion as a community of faith gathered in one physical place.

After a year spent talking into screens, we yearn for more than words. Yes, words can be powerful, but they simply aren’t enough. To live long and prosper we need that which is tangible, tactile. 

This, I believe, is why in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis we have two separate creation narratives, deliberately placed side by side. First the story of a deity so powerful that all of creation came into being simply through God’s verbal command. And then, a story of a deity who personally formed all living creatures with the dust of the earth and blew life into the nostrils of humanity. God’s hands sculpting every curve of our body. God’s mouth against our face filling our lungs with the exhaled spark of life. The very first acts of physical intimacy, of love made tactile.  

The Gospel According to John tells it another way. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:1, 14)

Word and Flesh. Faith and Works. The voice of the Lord and the presence of the Lord. Good News and release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed. (Luke 4:18) The intangible and tangible in perfect harmony.  

In today’s Gospel reading we find Jesus walking from his home in Nazareth to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.  John’s hands hold him as he plunges into the waters. And just as he is coming back up—with the feel of the air against his wet skin, he sees the “heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 

My friends, in the birth and baptism of Christ we are reminded of the Good News that the God we worship isn’t a distant abstract being we hope to spiritually encounter after our bodies have returned to dust. Our Lord physically meets us here—through the miracle of childbirth. God seen in the eyes of a swaddled newborn baby. Felt in a mountaintop breeze or when immersed in rejuvenating waters. Christ, the Word made Flesh, has the power to heal with a verbal command and yet he understands the visceral power of mixing dirt with his own saliva to make a cool compress that restores our sight. (John 9:1-10) Christ suffers with the suffering, and breaks bread with the marginalized. Christ invites us not into an ascetic life, but a life that revels in the sacredness of experiencing the physical world.      

And so, while we still have many more weeks or months of physical distancing ahead of us, I invite us to use this time to seek out and prioritize practices we can do even now to refill our hearts and strengthen our connection to humanity and all of creation. Make time each day to step away from our electronic devices; take a walk in the woods or a park; pick up that musical instrument in the back of the closet; paint a sunset; kick a soccer ball; roll down a hill; soak in those bursts of sunshine. Get out of our heads and back into our bodies. And then, once we viscerally remember who we are and whose we are, let us continue to use the power of our words and actions to be catalysts in this world for healing, reconciliation, justice, and liberation.