Sermon text: Genesis 1: 1-5 and Mark 1: 4-11
In late May of 2019 we hosted an event at church called Paint and Sweets. One of our members, Tabitha Shimer, donated her time and supplies as she taught 22 people how to paint—specifically how to paint a vase of lilacs. It was a wonderful night, people enjoyed themselves and ate some decadent desserts, and we raised some money for our youth going to the National Youth Gathering.
I was at the event, but I sat out on the painting. I donated my ticket to someone else. Painting is simply too far outside of my wheelhouse. I’m not very confident when it comes to drawing and painting or doing anything artistic with my hands. Instead, I spent the evening walking around the room, chatting with everyone, and offering moral support as they painted their creations.
I was fascinated throughout the evening, especially because most everyone shared in the same anxiety—there was a fear of messing up the canvas with all of this paint. But despite the group’s nerves, Tabitha was able to coax out everyone’s artistic talent. That night she gave instruction, encouragement, and detailed tips and tricks on how to achieve the right look to a room full of novice painters. Using a canvas, brush, some paint, and a little creativity everyone present was able to complete their masterpiece. There’s a wonderful picture with 22 finished paintings and 22 smiling faces at the end of the evening.
It’s impressive what a good teacher can do. In this case Tabitha took the group step by step through the painting, building creative confidence, providing direction in the same way that a college professor teaches students the process of thinking or a sports coach builds a specialized skill in an athlete, or how a parent passes down an important life lesson in the kitchen or at the workbench. In each case the one in charge works to bring the best out of the recipient, perhaps even creating something that never seemed possible—like a freshly painted vase of lilacs.
Is that how God worked at the beginning of time? “Alright chaos, if you place your foot here, shift your weight forward, and follow through on your swing I can bring order out of you yet. I know you have it in you.” And order came out of chaos.
Or, “Ok, formless void. Use a folding motion with the spoon and stir for three minutes and then set the batter into a cake pan. Put it into the oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes and you’ll have a fresh batch of light.” And light came out of a formless void.
In the first chapter of Genesis God speaks and it is created. Part of me wonders if God was also making the most, and bringing the best out of what was present. And then came order, and then came light, and the rest is history.
In our Gospel lesson God continues to bring forth new creations out of what exists. In Jesus’ baptism, as he comes up out of the water, God brings forth the Holy Spirit. From the clouds God brings the Spirit, it tears a part the heavens like a sonic boom and then softly descends on Jesus like a dove. Jesus, together with the Holy Spirit, will begin his earthly ministry. Together they will demonstrate the depth of heavenly grace as Jesus heals, advocates, feeds, exorcises, forgives, and builds connection with the people God brought forth from the earth.
As Jesus is baptized we also see the new life that God brings forth from water and word. Just as Jesus will step forward into his public ministry, the waters of baptism are our coming out party as God’s children. We are made new, refreshed by the water and the promise of God.
Teachers, mentors, coaches—they can all bring forth new skills and abilities that we never thought possible. What can God bring forth from us? What can the Holy Spirit stir up in us?
Even the coronavirus has brought forth important lessons and realizations as we live through the pandemic. Is that God at work in us? We have renewed appreciation for health and wellbeing. Renewed appreciation for fresh air, especially when we remove our masks. Renewed appreciation for the ability to physically go to school and to work. Renewed appreciation for our communal life together. Renewed appreciation for time spent with the people we love, even more so if you haven’t been together for months on end.
On Wednesday many of us watched in disbelief as a mob overran the US Capitol building as Congress went through the process of certifying November’s election. I have heard from many of you about your disgust and dismay at this event that further underscores the brokenness of our political situation. And while we cannot quickly slap a label of peace and unity and cooperation on our national politics and say the we are healed, the question remains of what God will bring forth from this turbulent situation. I realize that we come from a multitude of viewpoints and politics, and reconciliation is not an easy process…but something better than this reality must be an option. How is God calling us to be better citizens, to be better servants in society, and to contribute positively to our civic arenas—whether they be in our neighborhoods, in our state, or in our nation?
Archbishop Desmund Tutu once shared a story about a Bible test he gave to some teenage boys. One question was, “What did the voice from heaven say to Jesus after his baptism?” Once boy answered, “You are the Son of God. Now, act like it!” Our baptisms call us to act like the children of God that we are. God claims us, just as God claimed Jesus, and God demands our action.
Like a good coach, teacher, or parent, may God bring out the best in us. May we have the wisdom to discern where God is pushing and pulling us—the ways in which God is trying to create something new out of us. As the hands and feet of Christ it is our time to continue the work he began: to feed those who hunger, to heal those who are broken, to advocate for works of justice and righteousness, to strive for reconciliation, to exorcise the demons that infiltrate our lives, and to build connection with people who are increasingly isolated and segmented in our world. We are God’s children, and in the name of Jesus we will continue the work that God has called us to.
The Holy Spirit is stirring. How will you respond?