The Day the Heavens Were Torn Apart

Meditation on Genesis 1:1-5 and Mark 1: 4-11

Baptism of the Lord

Jan. 10, 2021

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812

Pastor Karen Crawford

The sun came out yesterday. I was walking to my mailbox to return the Arbor Day questionnaire, excited about the promise of Norway Spruce seedlings and baby Lilacs coming in the spring.

The sun came out yesterday, when I needed to see the light. We hadn’t seen the sun for many days, here in our Ohio winter, but especially this week, when the world has seemed engulfed in grey.

Dark.

The sun came out yesterday, a reminder of the day when the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep. But a wind from God swept over the face of the waters, as if God were “inhaling in preparation to speak,” as one scholar said, poetically. For after the ruach came–the same Spirit that breathed life into the first human being, made from the dust of the earth, in the image of God—the Lord spoke into being all Creation, his voice thundering over the waters.

 “Let there be light,” God said. And there was light.  The light was good. The light brought the dawning of the very first Day, as the Lord called it. Notice God didn’t take away all darkness. No, there is a godly purpose for what the Lord called, “Night.” All human beings need rest. We mortal creatures are not created to be in constant motion, like the Eveready Bunny—still going, 24-hours a day. That’s only for the Lord, an eternal being who never sleeps.

God brought order into chaos when he spoke light into being in the formless void. God had a plan for humankind before the foundation of the world, before God created human beings. With light, day, and night, came the creation of what we call time, observed and recorded by the ancients. Time has ordered our lives. As the writer of Ecclesiastes 3 tells us, “For everything there is a season, a time for every purpose or activity under heaven.” Each day doesn’t belong to us alone. We have known for thousands of years that each day is a gift from God, precious. “So, teach us to count our days,” sings the psalmist in 90:12, “that we may gain a wise heart.”  “This is the day that the Lord has made!” sings the Psalmist in 118:24. “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

   With the revelation of Light in the darkness—and with each day of Creation—God speaks a new reality into being, revealing something of God’s own character and will.

The Lord’s baptism by John in the Jordan is also the dawning of a new day—a new way of living, a new reality come into being. God reveals something of God’s character and will the day his voice again thunders over the water, this time in the presence of people from all over Jerusalem and Judea, come for John’s baptism of repentance.

The new revelation at the Jordan River: God has come to dwell in the realm of human beings—to show his great love and mercy. Just like the first day of Creation—the Spirit broke into the chaos of the world—and I know we like to think of God as this gentle dove fluttering down to rest upon Jesus—but don’t miss what came right before that—when the heavens were torn apart as Jesus came up out of the water. “You are my Son,” the voice from heaven thundered over the water, revealing the glory of God as it does in Psalm 29. The voice of the Lord, as the psalmist sings, is “powerful” and “full of majesty;” it “breaks the cedars of Lebanon,” causes “the oaks to whirl,” and “shakes the wilderness.” The power of God isn’t in the form of a dove; it moves like a dove when it descends on Christ, the Messiah for all people.

All this power and majesty can be summed up in one word. Love. The Love of God came near. It broke into a world that was desperate for it. All of Judea and Jerusalem, the Holy City, was looking for God outside the cult of the temple and its priests. They were going out to the wilderness to find God—and be transformed.

God’s purpose in coming to dwell among us? So that justice would roll down like a mighty stream, order would be brought to chaos, and the peaceable kingdom would break into this world–when the lion would lie down with the lamb. There would be reconciliation between God and human beings and human beings with each other—through the Beloved Son. Christ is our peace, says Ephesians 2:14. “In his flesh he has made both groups (Jew and Gentile) into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”

Jesus wasn’t baptized to be forgiven for His sins, for Christ didn’t sin! He was baptized to show his solidarity with us, that we are one in the Family of God. He was baptized to show his willingness to be obedient to God’s call. Christ’s baptism would mark the beginning of His ministry and would take him on the road to the cross, where he would give himself for our sakes.

“You are my Son; the Beloved,” the voice from heaven speaks, changing the reality forevermore and revealing the divine character and will. “With you,” the voice says, “I am well pleased.”

***

My friends, with today’s readings, we are stirred to recall our own baptisms—and give God thanks. If we were worshiping together in the sanctuary today and didn’t have any restrictions of social distancing, I would be inviting each of you to come to the baptismal font. An elder or deacon would pour water over your hands and invite you to take a clear stone. I would say, “Remember your baptism and be thankful” inviting you to recommit yourselves to Jesus Christ, who has claimed us as his own.

Today is the dawning of new day, with mercies from God that are new every morning. Whether or not the sun will shine, the ETERNAL Light has come.

We are connected with Christ and all His Church—in every place and time, a connection that is strengthened whenever we hear the Word, whenever two or more are gathered in prayer, whenever we celebrate the Sacraments (Baptism and Communion). We are forever yoked by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit come to dwell within us, much like it did on the day the heavens were torn apart, and the Spirit descended like a dove. We are, together, “justified by faith” and have “peace with God in our Lord Jesus Christ,” as Paul says in Romans 5:1-2, “through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.”

Friends, this week was one so marked by chaos and darkness, I don’t know where to begin to speak of the disorder in our country. On Wednesday, on the day when the Church around the world officially begins to celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord and the season of Light coming into the darkness, angry protestors stormed the Capitol by the hundreds. They climbed “the grand marble staircase and breached police gates and smashed windows and shoved police officers and broke through doorways and forced their way in,” says a Washington Post story. “They burst into the offices and chambers of the Capitol, taking over the place as though it were their own, lounging in members’ offices, strolling through the statuaries, halting the constitutional process…”

As I listened and watched the news as this was going on, I had such a heaviness in my heart. I felt like I was in a fog. Was what I was seeing and hearing a bad dream? And then—there was a light in the darkness. Order in our chaos: a reminder that we are never alone in our faith. And we are not merely fragile, human beings; we are the Body of Christ, with the power of God living in us.

I opened an email from the Rev. Matt Skolnik, our general presbyter, inviting church leaders, elders and pastors, and any other church members to join together on Zoom for a prayer vigil at 8 o’clock. He wrote in his invitation to the vigil, “It is my responsibility to remind us that our allegiance ultimately does not belong to governments or political parties–it does not belong to presidents or presidents to come. Instead, as children of the baptismal waters, we belong to God in life, death, and resurrection; in worship, service, and mission.”

Because I didn’t open or forward the email until late in the day, many of my flock did not receive the invitation in time to join us on Zoom. But I want you all to know that church leaders from all over our presbytery came—maybe 45 or more—to share Scripture, hymns, songs, and prayers, as the Spirit led us.

We asked for forgiveness for any part that we have played personally in the angry conflicts and divisions in our world, in our country. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And we praised the Lord who came to dwell with us and was baptized for our sakes—to show us another way. We gathered to pray for ourselves and our nation because, as Matt says, “God reconciles us to one another, and the world around us.” We gathered not as “Democrats, Republicans, or Independents.” We gathered “as those whom Jesus calls by name, and whom Jesus calls to love one another, and all of Creation.” We prayed that we would be faithful, as Paul urges the church broken by conflicts and pride in 2 Cor. 5:20, to be “ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making his appeal through us.”

On Wednesday night, the day that marked the beginning of the Church’s Season of Light, the Revelation of Jesus Christ, we gathered to hear the voice of the God who thundered over the waters to claim the Beloved Son, who came down to us in the name of love, justice, and peace.

The day the heavens were torn apart.

Let us pray.

Holy One, we are tempted to overlook the power of your Spirit in Christ’s baptism; we want to make it small and weak, descending on Jesus like a dove. But you are mighty and majestic, enthroned in the heavens, your Word thundering over the formless void and the darkness covering the face of the deep, “Let there be light.” And there was light. But you are also loving, gracious, kind, and merciful, drawing near to us in human form when we couldn’t draw near to you on our own and couldn’t even recognize our need for you. Thank you for the revelation and example of Your Son’s baptism and the gift of the Spirit that empowers us now to live out the vows spoken out our baptisms. Teach us to love and serve you, to number our days and make them count for your Kingdom. Help us to be your ambassadors, dear Lord. Speak through us to make your appeal to those who don’t know you, who haven’t yet experienced your love and been humbled and transformed by the one True Light, Your Beloved Son. In the name of the Triune God we pray. Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of The Presbyterian Church in Coshocton, Ohio since January 2019. Come and visit! God's love is here for you!

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