Mighty God, God of Peace, God With Us
The Rev. Robert P. Travis
1st Sunday of Epiphany Sermon – 8:00 and 10:30am
Church of the Ascension, Knoxville TN
RCL Epiphany 1 Year B 1/8/2012
Scripture Text: Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-22
Today is the first Sunday of Epiphany,
Christmas is over,
and we get to consider
what kind of God is Immanuel
what kind of God is “God with us.”
Our readings help us learn about the nature of God,
and Jesus becoming who He always was going to be,
and hopefully in that we will learn
something about ourselves,
so that we too can live into who
we were always meant to become.
In the beginning we heard about the very beginning,
God creating the heavens and earth,
where all three persons of the Trinity were involved,
The father creating,
the Son being the Word bringing things into being,
and the Spirit sweeping over all of it in blessing like wind.
God creates the great dichotomy of light and dark,
of day and night,
and in that we see something of Gods self,
for God, as any creator, creates out of Gods self,
God's nature is a paradox, totally true,
but grounded in opposites like day and night.
We saw that as we read the psalm together,
this psalm, which is consistent on this Sunday,
across all three years of the lectionary,
though all the other readings change.
The psalm expresses a great paradox of God's nature.
God is glory and strength.
His voice is thunder,
His voice is powerful and of splendor.
His voice breaks cedar trees,
like a tornado or a microburst,
His voice makes a mountain shake like a young ox.
His voice splits flames of fire,
and make the wilderness shake.
These images are mighty and terrible,
and they are images from God's creation,
which show how even the mightiest parts of our planet,
tremble at the voice of the Lord.
So where does that place us?
We feel meek and vulnerable,
and so we are.
If He can make an earthquake, and a tornado,
and make mighty oaks writhe with mere speech,
who are we to stand before Him.
But the paradox shows up at the end of the psalm,
this same “Lord gives strength to his people;
the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.”
The same one who is terrifying in might,
brings us the blessing of peace.
So often in our culture we want our God
to be one way or the other.
So we have some churches that focus
on the wrath of God,
God's judgement and our need for repentance in fear,
while others speak almost exclusively
of his peace and love,
and sometimes it seems to me that in each place
one would like to deny that the other exists.
They want to hold onto whatever aspect of God
is most appealing to them.
But we get to consider them both together,
because the testimony of scriptures presents us with both,
and refuses to allow us to hold onto one image of God
without the other.
God is with us in all of God's glory,
and that understanding is at the heart of what it means
to “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.”
John the baptizer is an image of the wildness of God,
he appeared in the wilderness,
that same wilderness that the voice of the Lord shakes,
proclaiming a baptism of repentance
for the forgiveness of sins.
Baptism means to be overwhelmed,
the word comes from the greek word Baptizo
in ancient Greece that word would be used
when a ship sunk; it was baptized in water,
If an island were to tremble and fall into the sea,
it would be baptized.
John is talking about an overwhelming of water,
to mark a radical change of life
that the person would decide.
And sometimes that's all we think about baptism,
a chance for a new start,
our own taking responsibility for a total reversal of life,
and accepting forgiveness for what we have done before.
But Jesus' baptism was something more,
and it was less about what we can do,
in relation to God,
and more about what God does in us.
Jesus comes to be baptized by John,
not to reverse from where he was headed,
but to head fully in the right direction,
and to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Some have asked, was Jesus God before his baptism?
And did he only become the messiah
when the Holy Spirit descended upon him.
The ancients argued about that for centuries,
and left us with a yes and a yes.
Yes he was already God and man,
that is what we celebrate in the incarnation,
yes he was becoming the messiah,
the Holy Spirit did something to Him that day,
and he became more fully what he already was.
Here again we witness with Jesus,
the heavens torn apart with great force,
and the paradox of the Spirit descending
ever so gently on him,
like a dove.
And again the contrast goes from God the mighty,
being preached in the wilderness,
to the gentleness of a dove,
and a blessing from a loving Father,
this same voice which creates the world,
and rocks it's foundations,
speaks ever so gently,
“You are my Son, the Beloved;
with you I am well pleased.”
Here's the crux of the paradox,
Jesus is participating in a baptism which has to do
with turning away from what happened before,
preparing himself for the mission ahead of him.
His baptism preceded his earthly ministry.
But the blessing he receives from his father,
acknowledges that God the father is
already pleased with him.
Anyone whose father says to them,
son, I'm proud of you,
daughter, I'm pleased with what you've done,
would feel a sense of peace.
But how often do we get those atta boy, or atta girl
before we've even done anything noticeable?
This is a different peace,
a peace that passes all understanding,
and it's based in the love that God has for all of us,
here we were believing that we had to do something great
or at least do nothing wrong, to be pleasing to God
but at his Baptism God's own Son had to show us,
that the pleasure of God comes before we've even begun.
Jesus the man, is blessed,
with the same blessing that
“the Lord shall give his people,
the blessing of peace.”
And Jesus is strengthened with the same strengthening,
as we heard, “the Lord shall give strength to his people.”
Following his baptism,
Jesus embarks on the mission of his life,
which leads to the greatest accomplishment
of his accepting death on our behalf,
and destroying death with the power only God has.
And there he began something
which continues to this day,
that disciples who follow him,
have the opportunity to receive the Holy Spirit,
and be strengthened for the purpose for which
they were created.
We see that in the passage from Acts,
where Paul, an apostle,
meets early disciples
who had been baptized with John's baptism,
but had not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.
So Paul, like our bishops of today, who descend in succession from him and the other apostles,
laid his hands on them,
and they received the Holy Spirit.
This same Holy Spirit is available to each of us,
and will create in us that which we already are,
but need to be more fully.
Yet we remain afraid of it.
A friend gave me a book in which I found this passage from Marsha Sinetar
“To find in ourselves
what makes life worth living is risky business,
for it means that once we know we must seek it.
It also means that without it life will be valueless.
More than just a few find their most valued selves
despite the risk,
although the majority seem to be . . .people
who don't wish to make any trouble – not even the kind that's expected.
The majority shrewdly stay dull to what in them is life and has meaning.
A few brave souls, however,
do look within and are so moved by what they find
that they sacrifice,
from then on,
whatever is necessary to bring that self into being.”1
Many of us here today have looked within and been moved by what we found, moved to seek,
and become what God is calling us to be,
in spite of the sacrifice required.
Everyone who has done that,
who has been filled with the Holy Spirit,
will testify that it was worth it,
that life with meaning is indescribably
better than life hiding from it.
That there really was nothing to fear,
for while our God is an awesome,
and sometimes terrifying God,
He gives us the blessing of peace,
and strengthens us for his purpose.
He is pleased with us, like his Son,
even before we get started.
Above all, our God is always Immanuel,
He is always with us, every step of the way,
from the terrifying creation,
to the guidance along the way,
to the blessing of the Holy Spirit,
and empowering us to become what we were meant to be.
Today the Holy Spirit invites you,
to let him in, to look within and see
that God is well pleased with you as well,
and in his pleasure,
God is calling each of you to be something more.
He will be with you throughout,
for in the midst of his greatness, and might,
he comes with gentleness and peace.
1From Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics by Marsha Sinetar. Found in A Guide to Prayer for all who Seek God, Upper Room Books, Nashville TN, 2006, p.71.