BELOVED by Nerrida Miller

4 Jan 2021 by William Tibben in: Sermons

Bible reading

Mark 1: 9-11

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

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Welcome on this 2nd Sunday of 2021 to another Food for the Soul worship service. Firstly, may I wish you a happy new year. As we stand at the beginning of another year with a blank page ahead of us, we know that somethings will be predictable but the majority of the unfolding will be unpredictable. This creates uncertainty because we like to be in control.

With that in mind let’s reconsider Genesis chapter 1, one of the lectionary reading for this week; In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.

God clearly demonstrates his power in creating order out of chaos. God’s Spirit hovers over the darkness creating light. Even where there is disorder God’s Spirit is at work.

There are times in our life when it is impossible to distinguish depth and boundaries – like snow skiing in a white out. The fact that we want to take control may prevent us from experiencing what God is creating in that space, especially for us, after all the Creator of the world creates light from the darkness.

This is the first Sunday of Epiphany. Where we are encouraged to discover new insights, or rediscovery hidden factors. Epiphany can provide us with ah ha moments so let’s open our spiritual eyes to see what God is creating for us this year. Today, we consider again Jesus’ Baptism, at the beginning of his ministry. In doing so we may walk in thin places. Places where heaven and earth come together, where the heavens are rent open and God’s Spirit descends to each of us so that even we hear God’s voice, You are My beloved child.

Isaiah 60:1-2

60 “Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.

As we contemplate 2021 it’s easy to be discouraged, not another COVID year,restrictions, uncertainty and isolation. The words from Isaiah 60 were first spoken by Isaiah to a people who had just returned from captivity in Babylon. Their homes, city and crops had been devastated. They had to rebuild from scratch. What a huge task. Isaiah speaks to them with words of encouragement and assurance, assuring them of God’s light to guide them and that God’s presence would be with them at all times.

Of course, in our time perspective the Light of the world has come. We who walked previously in darkness have seen God’s great Light. In hind sight we have the value of personally experiencing the difference the Light of the world has made to our lives. Our perspective of light and darkness has sharp focus.

In the little town of Barrow located on the farthest northern tip of the state Alaska, above the Arctic Circle they experience darkness for 65 consecutive days in winter. The earth is tilted in such a way that the sun never rises for over two consecutive months of the year. It’s no surprise that when the sun eventually rises the whole town comes out to celebrate, because finally there is light again.

Amid the darkness of our own uncertainty for 2021 hear God’s words; Arise, shine your light has come, come in the form of Advent hope and Epiphany light. We can miss the Epiphany wisdom and assurance by being too preoccupied with the temporary. Naturally we must live within the confines and responsibilities of our COVID 19 world but if that is all we see……then we miss the joy of the Light and like the people of Barrow we too can live in celebration of the Light of Epiphany.

Arise, shine for the light has come. The Light is here with us now. Emmanuel, God’s Messiah dispels our darkness. The Light has come into the world and the darkness will never put it out.

Light holds the key to life. Body and soul crave it. Light sets our biological clocks; it triggers in our brains the sensations of colour. Light feeds us, supplying the energy for plants to grow. It inspires us with special effects like rainbows and sunsets. Light gives us tools for living such as incandescent bulbs, lasers and fiber optics. While light is not fully understood we know that it illuminates our future needs and direction.

Arise, shine keep your eyes upon the Light of the world, lift your cares above the darkness around you as you live in God’s Epiphany Light.

Bible reading: Mark 1: 9-11

Baptism of Jesus

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

 

At the beginning of a new year the lectionary readings take us to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry; his baptism. This year we are in Mark’s Gospel. These three verses have so much enlightenment; food for our soul as we enter a new year.

In its simplest form baptism may be seen as rebirth, that is turning away from the old turning into something new. Just as we leave behind 2020 and venture into 2021 the new awaits us.

One question to ask about Jesus ‘baptism is why would Jesus go to the Jordan to be baptized by John? After all John was preparing the way for Jesus and baptizing with water for the forgiveness of sin. Surely Jesus didn’t need forgiveness. No, but what Jesus was doing as he entered the Jordan was identifying with us and our need for forgiveness. Emmanuel, God with us right to the cross so that the price is paid and reconciliation is complete.

Identifying with other people’s needs can be costly. I remember quite some years ago when I was in hospital, I went to the psychiatry ward to visit the wife of a work colleague in my pajamas and dressing gown with a hospital tag on my arm. I got into the ward easily enough but do you think I could get out. It took a lot of talk and several phone calls and some anxiety until I was finally released to go back to maternity ward to feed a very hunger baby who was way over due for a feed.

During her primary schooling one of our granddaughters had a friend with cancer. The subsequent treatment of the cancer caused this young girl to lose her hair, because she was feeling so upset about this Aurora and another friend had their beautiful long thick hair shaved off so as to identify with their friend. Some of the other girls gave them a really hard time even though they knew the story. It turned out to be a costly experience.

As Jesus identifies with us in the Jordan in baptism he is identifying with our need. Placing his feet on the path of obedience all the way to the cross – love and obedience is costly!

Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove

So, there is a tear in the firmament that has previously separated the realm of God and the realm of humanity. This is a thin place between God and man that will never again be closed. God will always be amongst his people in a way that has never been possible before. This begins with the birth of Emmanuel. In Isaiah 61:1, Isaiah prophesies, O that you would rend the heavens and come down. In Jesus the God sphere and the human sphere meet.

As the heavens are torn apart at Jesus’ baptism so too the curtain in the temple is torn apart at Jesus’ crucifixion. In both instances God’s presence in our world and in our lives is clearly evidenced, making way for us to live in close relationship with God our Heavenly Father.

As we stand at the commencement of a new year, we can be assured that we are not alone. God is present in every facet of our lives.

We can’t orchestrate the experiences of thin places in our lives but as we are given such experiences they strengthen and assure us through the many days ahead.

I clearly remember one such experience when I was in Aspin skiing. It was the beginning of a new year and I was reading this very reading of Jesus’ baptism. I was planning to return and hand in my resignation to the Dept of School Education. I had been heading up Human Resourcing for the Dept. and I was working very long hours, with a large staff and I was away from home for much of the time. I had already secured, without seeking, verbal contracts with quite a number of large agencies by virtue of the fact that I was often on loan to them via a new cooperative scheme with government agencies and businesses.

I recall reading this passage and suddenly my future became very clear. Was it an audible voice or a thunder clap? No! Maybe a snow storm – no! I don’t think so. It was just an overwhelming feeling that I was to stay where I was. There was no argument because the thin place experience and the answer was just too strong. The power of the answer was so evident, not that I was asking because I had really decided on the change, until that experience.  May be in hind sight it was because I was not to become rich because I already had more than I needed. Maybe it was better that my ego didn’t get in the way of service to God. One thing I do know staying gave me many opportunities to witness to God’s love even if the long work hours remained.

One of the many lessons I learnt from this experience is that faith is a matter of learning to live in a different reality; God’s reality. So that we are open to decisive moments when the curtain is drawn back and we experience the thin place where God is clearly providing and guiding.

There was another issue I was dealing with – yes at the beginning of a year – skiing in Lake Louise, British Columbia, Canada. It was minus 28 degrees and we struggled to an Episcopalian church on a Sunday morning when it was really too cold to be out. There were 5 people and the preacher in a large gothic style church and an organ that squeaked rather than made music. It was so cold. The minister preached on the text, unless a grain of wheat fall to the ground and die there is no new life. Another suitable text for a new year worship service. There was nothing conducive to God providing a thin place where his presence was overwhelming BUT it was! With no explanation I had to go to the communion rail at communion time and lay down that which I was wrestling with not to pick it up again. Another experience of God’s clear directive at the commencement of a new year. Another thin place experience with clear direction and assurance.

…..the Spirit descending on him like a dove.

As Jesus surrenders to God’s Will in the Jordan the Spirit descends. God’s enabling and empowering presence supporting Jesus’ calling. Like- wise the Spirit gives us the guidance and gifts to serve as God’s people in the world, a reality beyond our human experience.

And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

 Jesus identity is clear for all to know, clearly Jesus is God’s Son whom God loves. What has Jesus done to this point to earn God’s love, to be God’s Beloved as some translations use. I love that word; beloved, old fashion as it maybe it encompasses the experience of the thin place where God’s words of love encourage enable life in all its abundance.

Well, Jesus had done very little to earn God’s approval to date because God’s love isn’t earnt it is freely given, however God is pleased with his Son because Jesus has placed is feet on the path of obedience that will take him all the way to the cross; costly identification and love.

Have you noticed how many people have trouble finding their true identity? People read self-help books, take time out to discover who they are, attend courses, or counselling or travel to the other side of the world in search of identity. These are all good things to do in their own right, but true identity can only be found in the love of God our creator.

To be loved, to be God’s beloved, to place our feet on the path of obedience in response to the love that we have experienced in God is to free us to be the people we were created to be. With that experience comes real freedom. We have an identity as a child of God, beloved! We need no longer be a child of this turbulent age with its perpetual conflicts, me-first pressures and ever - increasing obsessions with material rewards. We can claim joyful liberation, our identity in God the Father as his beloved children frees us to embrace life in all its fullness. Surely this is an Epiphany.

As Jesus’ baptism provided him with assurance, identity, and the power of the Holy Spirit, it also provided him with clear direction. He would rise from the Jordan and be led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil, then into three years of ministry all the way to the cross.

As we sit at the beginning of a new year that may not have any more certainty than the last year, we hear God’s voice, you are my beloved son or daughter. This provides us with a clear identity.  The heavens have been rented; Emmanuel is with us we will never be alone. The Spirit descends upon us as our guide, comforter and strength. In this season of Epiphany, God’s Light shines on our path. Hear again Isaiah’s words, Arise, shine for your light has come.

Blessed with our identity as Beloved children of God and given the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are sent on our life’s journey to love and serve.

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Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash