Tag Archives: Baptism of Our Lord

Genesis 1:1-5 and Mark 1:4-11 – God All Up In Our Voids

Genesis 1:1-5 and Mark 1:4-11 – God All Up In Our Voids

Caitlin Trussell on January 11, 2015 with Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

[sermon begins after these two Bible readings]

Genesis 1:1-5  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.

Mark 1:4-11  John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And 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. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He 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. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 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. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

 

[sermon begins]

There are wild, unimaginable things happening in this Genesis creation story.  Formlessness and void of the earth.  Imagine that for a moment – formless…void…utter darkness.  Nothing to distinguish one part from another.  Nothing through which to capture any imagining of its future.  A wind in the form of breath, as the Spirit of God blows over the mystery and threat of the deep.  Sound in seismic proportions.  No quiet or tame God picking up a bit of clay and pottering away.  From our human-sized perspective, this is massive.  This is earth and heavens – loud, windy and wild.  This story doesn’t allow us to cozy up into a calm, domesticated God.   This is the sheer power of God beyond our imagining, beyond our understanding.

The God of creation is not to be tamed.  And yet, for many of us, our first inclination is to tone God down.  As if we can make God easier on the heart and mind if we craft just the right language about God.  Or at the very least we can distract ourselves from the problem of the power of God if we spend our time arguing about the accuracy of the story.

Several years ago, when my daughter Taryn was in preschool, I had only been back in church as an adult for a few years.  Taryn’s preschool was attached to our church and some of the school’s parents seemed to know that I was involved in the church too.  It was common to have conversations with other parents during the dropping off and picking up times.  One day after dropping Taryn off, I was sneaking a peek into the classroom to watch her.  One of the dads hung back too.  A few minutes went by and he sidled over to chat.  He confirmed that I went to the church and then, without any preamble or build-up, he asked, “If God is all about love then why do some people say they fear God?”  I fumbled and stumbled around the idea of God’s power for a minute or two but clearly was not passing muster on any kind of answer that settled this man’s mind.  And there’s the problem, right there, when it comes to God’s awesome, creating power, there is nothing that settles our mind.  No matter how many days or millennia you think it took, the creative force of it is mind-blowing – and it blows our soft and squishy imaginings right out the window with it.

Here’s the thing.  When we’re tempted to talk about God as exclusively merciful and loving and forgiving, we forget the fearsome breath of God that moves over a formless, dark void; the Spirit of God that moves over what Jurgen Moltmann calls “creation-in-the-beginning.”[1]  When we soften or negate the power of God in any way, we don’t have to ask the question, “What would happen if God does this again?”

So let’s hang onto the fearsome power of God and ask that question.  “What would happen if God uses that kind of power again?” Oh…wait…God does do it again.  Anyone hear that part of the baptism of Jesus where the heavens are torn open?  The Spirit of God that moves over formless, dark voids, is the same Spirit who tears apart the heavens and descends, untamable, into the wild, over a river, onto a person, and names him “Beloved.”[2]  This baptism of Jesus is a revelation of the redemption to come and the unmitigated power infusing that redemption.

Moltmann talks about the “creation-in-the-beginning” being in continuity with the redemption of all things.  In the whole Bible, “the words used for the divine act of creating are also used for God’s liberating and redeeming acts (e.g. Isaiah 43:19); redemption is the final new creation of all things…”[3]

Oh, how we long for the redemption of all things – all our formless, dark voids in need of the fearsome breath of God.  Voids in which we struggle and wonder about.  Voids in which we lose ourselves, not knowing which way to turn or to take the next right step.  Voids in which we lose the people we love or lose strangers in Paris who other people love.  Voids in which freedom suffers under political tyranny or disintegrating terror.

Into these voids comes the Spirit of God.  The same Spirit of God who breathes light into the darkness.[4]  Light into the darkness, now think about that one.  God spoke these words, “Let there be light” as God’s breath rushed over the mystery and threat of the deep.   What does creation of light sound like?  Is there a crack of thunder as light creates heat?  Is there a deep and resounding vibration that would quake us to the core and make us aware of every cell in our bodies?  What does even a single blaze of light through unfathomable darkness look like as it bounds through creation with power strong enough to sustain life through all the mornings and evenings of the millennia?

We know a lot about light, or at least the scientists do, but did you know that we still don’t know what it is?  Einstein spent a lot of his time researching the interplay between light and time, challenged the orthodoxy of the previous 100 years of physics and won a Nobel Prize.[5] Einstein did all this and yet we still really don’t know what it is.  We mimic it but we cannot create it. [6]  Light is more than a convenient nuance in our days.  Light is sustaining, life giving energy.  It shows us how limited we are as creatures that we still don’t understand it.

God’s breath, God’s Spirit, creates light and life out of formless, dark voids.  And God gives this same sustaining breath to you as you move through your days.  God’s power and imagination creates an earth out of no earth.  God’s power and imagination makes a way out of no way.

This same, fearsome God breathes that power into redemption for you.  This same, fearsome God breathes that power into love for you.  The magnitude of God’s power is not simply a show of sound and light to wow us all and leave us shaking in shoes.  The magnitude of God’s power is the same sheer power of God that breathes grace, forgiveness and love into you.  And your God-infused life and breath bear witness to God, as the power of God’s Spirit moves through Christ in you for the sake of the world.  There is hope in the power of God’s redemption.  What might be possible if we go out and live it?



[1] Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 9.

[2] Karoline Lewis, Commentary on Mark 1:4-11 for WorkingPreacher.org https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3459

[3] Moltmann, 9.

[4] Kathryn Shifferdecker, Commentary on Genesis 1:1-5 for WorkingPreacher.org https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2328

[5] Richard Harris.  “Albert Einstein’s Year of Miracles: Light Theory” for NPR on March 17, 2005.  http://www.npr.org/2005/03/17/4538324/albert-einsteins-year-of-miracles-light-theory

[6] Troy Wanek, Renewable Energy Faculty, Red Rocks Community College, personal conversation, November 8, 2010.

Matthew 3:13-37 “On Plunging…and Gasping into New Life”

Matthew 3:13-37 “On Plunging…and Gasping into New Life”

January 9, 2011 – Caitlin Trussell

Lutheran Church of the Master

13  Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.  14  John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  15  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.  16  And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  17  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved,  with whom I am well pleased.”

 

 

Today we gather on the festival of the Baptism of Our Lord – the day when Jesus plunges into the waters of baptism.  In this plunge, all righteousness, all that is pure, sacred and holy, flows from God.  Jesus’ plunge into the waters of baptism is a saturating and surprising immersion into the flow of God’s righteousness.  And, as Jesus gasps up from the waters, the Spirit claims him and God names him as God cries, ““Jesus, my Son, the Beloved.”  Just as we are claimed in our gasp out of the waters of baptism, “You belong to Christ, in whom you have been baptized.  Alleluia!”[1]

Lately I have been caught up in the imagination and powerful writing of the novel The Count of Monte Cristo.[2]  I dove into the book after being pulled into the story by the movie that was released a few years ago.  The tale begins by introducing us to Edmond Dantes at the age of 19.  Through a series of events that include a conspiracy of vicious betrayals, he is wrongly imprisoned in the dungeon of the Chateau D’If – an island prison that housed the worst of the worst.  The reader, along with Edmond, descends into the dark, wet, cold isolation of the dungeon cell where the terror and sheer loneliness of being a prisoner almost overtake sanity.  And then one night, through the wall of his cell, another prisoner, a priest named Abbe Faria, emerged during an escape attempt that had led him by mistake into Edmond’s cell.  Their powerful friendship of 14 years transitioned at the death of the Abbe.  Because of the Abbe’s death, an opportunity was created for Edmond’s escape.  Edmond sewed himself up in the Abbe’s shroud, and with heart pounding in fear, was carried by the guards to the edge of the cliffs of the island, thrown off and plunged into the February cold water of the sea for burial.  Edmond rises up, gasping for air, now 33 years old and pulled in the direction of a new identity and a new life with his new found freedom.

Edmond’s plunge under water echoes for me the Lutheran confession of baptism in the Small Catechism.  “It signifies that the old creature…is to be drowned and die through daily contrition and repentance, and… that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”[3]  I do have to confess that once Edmond begins his life as the Count of Monte Cristo, this metaphor of baptism easily breaks down.  However, the themes of baptism that include wild ideas around judgment, dying to self, setting the prisoner free and God’s righteousness are compelling both in the story of Edmond and in the scripture read for us today as we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus.

In Isaiah we encounter the poignant imagery of the Suffering Servant as the Lord says, “Here is my servant…I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations…I am the Lord, I have called you to righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; …to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”  The Hebrew word for justice in Isaiah can also be translated as both judgment and mercy.  Additionally, in Acts, we hear that Jesus is ordained as “judge of the living and the dead.”  The word judgment used to terrify me.  Raised in a tradition that wielded messages of judgment in terrifying ways, I have little good to say about the experience.

What is this judgment and why is it sloshing around with the waters of baptism in our readings?  The Apostles Creed, pouring our voices together with our ancestors of the faith, also says that Jesus comes “to judge the living and the dead.”  That sentence stymied me for a long time.  What’s good news about that?!  Let’s think about the Hebrew of Isaiah again – justice can also be translated as judgment and mercy.  So, in a sense, during the Creed we can also hear that Jesus comes to “mercy” the living and the dead!  The reading from Acts raises the issue of judgment in verse 42 but gives the final word on the issue in verse 43 naming and claiming Jesus Christ as the forgiver of sins.  In the waters of baptism, through the plunge into death and the gasp into new life, the Spirit unleashes the full magnitude of Christ’s saving grace and forgiveness in and through the baptized.

Which raises another question…what is this sin that needs forgiving through the power of unleashed grace?  Sin as a discussion topic isn’t very popular.  These conversations make us nervous and slightly twitchy about what’s coming next.  Who’s going to start judging who with a finger pointed and who is being pointed at with that finger?  If we get into a discussion about sin at all, it is usually to talk about sin as if there is a moral problem to untangle.  We use questions like, “Should he?” or “Shouldn’t he?”  Or, “What does it mean if she does?”  The Ten Commandments reinforce this focus on behavior as they mandate the ways in which we are to love God, each other and ourselves.  In the midst of these moralizing conversations it becomes easy to miss the deeper, conditional nature of sin – that it courses through our very being.  Sometimes this looks like an attempt to feel better about ourselves through the acquisition of self-power, self-righteousness, or self-knowledge.  At other times, it takes the form of extreme self-deprecation – the extreme belittling of your self that fails to acknowledge that God has given you gifts for God’s purposes.  The self-deprecation can be just as self-involved as the self-righteous path.  Regardless of how the self-involvement of sin looks on the outside, the nature of the sin inside of us is the same.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who conspired against Hitler, argues that the original plan for creation places God at the center of all things and people are then created in the image of God. [4]  He claims that people replace God with themselves in the center of being and set themselves up to be “like god.”  This is what sin means.  Sin is humankind located right in the middle where God should be.

What is the obvious conclusion of humankind’s replacement of God with the self?  The death of God as Christ crucified.  It’s as if God said, “Okay humans, so you think you want to be “like God”?   Well, have at it.”  And the cross happened.  But the resurrection is the final word.  The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ bring the sin of humankind back into the image of God.[5]  This is a radical, destabilizing claim.  God is the source of our proclamation that “Christ is Risen”, and in it we claim Jesus Christ the conqueror over our very own selves, our frailty, our self-involvement, our sin.  We proclaim our desperate need for His Grace.  That Holy proclamation poises us on the brink of the font, plunges us into the waters and brings us up gasping in the breath of the Holy Spirit.

And we rise gasping out of the waters of baptism with the freedom of a Christian – perfectly free, subject to none; perfectly servant, subject to all.[6]  Freedom that unleashes the servant described by Isaiah…“Here is my servant…I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations…I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; …to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”  Freedom that unleashes you to seek justice and mercy for each other and for the world.  And so it is that…

Through the waters of baptism,

Christ forgives you.

Through the waters of baptism,

Christ claims you.

Through the waters of baptism,

Christ frees you.

Through waters of baptism,

Christ loves the world through you.



[1] “Holy Baptism” in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 230.

[2] Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo (1845), (New York: Modern Library, 1996).

[3] Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 360.

[4] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall, (Mineapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 113.

[5] Bonhoeffer, 113.

[6] Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian (1520) in Three Treatises (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1970), 277.