Sermons That Work

There Is a Temptation to Say, Epiphany 1 (B) – 2006

January 08, 2006

The voice of the Lord is upon the waters…the Lord is upon the mighty waters.”
– Psalm 29

There is a temptation to say too much about this Feast of our Lord’s Baptism and the lessons before us. The texts speak mightily for themselves: The spirit-wind of God and God’s voice is upon the mighty waters. The spirit-wind of God and God’s voice is upon the mighty waters of our baptism, just as this spirit-wind and voice was upon the waters of the River Jordan at our Lord’s baptism.

How many of us find ourselves like the disciples depicted in Acts, Chapter 19? When asked if we have received the Holy Spirit, might we too respond, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit”?

Yet, it was there, sweeping across the face of the waters in the very beginning. There is a problem of translation here. Translating the Hebrew “ruah” (rue-ah) as “a wind” just does not do justice to the Biblical text, let alone the Judeo-Christian tradition.

The word can mean breath, wind, and spirit. We can almost feel it in the fourth gospel’s depiction of Jesus breathing upon the disciples, a particularly intimate experience of God.

As it hovers or sweeps across the untamed and chaotic waters of creation, it is a mighty wind releasing into the world a specific force that is linked to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus, but which is invisible, inexplicable, and irresistible.

This word of Spirit is an attempt to speak about Israel’s conviction that the world is God’s arena of governance beyond human explanation or control.

And this word Spirit is often seen to be a gift of imaginative freedom through which all members of the community of faith are capable of futuring beyond the present circumstances life presents. Spirit is God’s active involvement to move us through hope to a new future.

As Walter Brueggemann has slyly observed in his book Reverberations of Faith, “The Spirit resists being put into a flow chart or any schematic design on our part.”

It is this Spirit, this ruah, that Jesus later says comes from we know not where and means to carry us we know not where.

Perhaps this is the beginning of our ignorance of God’s Spirit: having to give up human control as Jesus asserts is not one of our primary attributes or desires. Anything that demands our giving up control is something we generally feel we can do without.

Yet, there it is on page 298 in our Book of Common Prayer in the definition of our Baptism. “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church. The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluable.”

Reflect upon Jesus’ baptism for just a moment. In Mark’s gospel we see John hard at work managing a growing revival meeting down on the banks of the River Jordan. People everywhere as far as one can see confessing their sins and accepting God’s forgiveness.

Over the horizon, beyond anyone’s sight or vision, strides in the adult Jesus having walked all the way from Nazareth. Into the water he goes. As he comes up out of the water, the heavens do not just open, they are torn apart – a word we will not hear again until Jesus is on the cross, breathes his last ruah, and the curtain of the temple is torn in two, from top to bottom. Out of these torn apart heavens the Spirit-Wind, the Ruah of God, descends like a dove upon him. And a voice from heaven declares, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Try to see this all in your mind. Hear what it sounds like for the heavens to be torn apart. Hear what it sounds like, see what it looks like to see God’s Spirit-Wind descending on someone. Listen carefully to the voice: You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Now try to let the imaginative gift of the Spirit, which is yours in Holy Baptism, hear those words spoken to you, to us.

For you see, we are Christ’s Body. As we come up from the waters of our baptism, these words are meant for us: You are my Beloved; I am well pleased with you.

What would it be like to accept our belovedness? How does that feel? How does it feel to know, to really know deep inside in the most secret places of your being that God is well pleased with you? Can anyone among us remember having heard these words at his or her baptism?

It is altogether likely that in growing up and as we say “maturing” that we forget. We forget ever hearing these words. We forget who we are and whose we are. Sadder still, we come to believe that this could not possibly be God’s word to me, here, now, today.

Yet, to believe this is to separate our selves, our very self, from the love of God. And to separate our self from the love of God is what our Baptismal service calls sin. This is perhaps our most fundamental sin: to forget that we are God’s Beloved; that God is well pleased with us. Such forgetting is the beginning of so much that troubles us. Such forgetting makes it nearly impossible to follow and obey Christ as our Lord and Savior.

It takes a conscious effort to remember who we are and whose we are. It takes daily reminders to accept our Belovedness. It takes daily remembering, re-membering, to internalize this Good News of our Baptism into a living force of God’s Spirit alive within us and beyond us.

Two places to begin this remembering are the following. First, read Psalm 139 once a day for at least 30 days. Your acceptance of this News will deepen with each reading.

The second place is found in this short passage from Henri Nouwen’s little book, Life of the Beloved. Listen to these words with great inner attentiveness. At your center is a voice that says:

I have called you by name, from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will satisfy all your thirst. I will not hide my face from you. You know me as your own as I know you as my own. You belong to me. I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover, your spouse. Yes, even your child. Wherever you are I will be. Nothing will ever separate us. We are one.

God’s Spirit-Wind hovers above us night and day, calling us, forming us, making us God’s own. Listen for the voice of the Lord. Our Lord’s baptism is our Baptism.

“The voice of the Lord is upon the waters…the Lord is upon the mighty waters.”

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Christopher Sikkema


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