It was hard to preach this morning.
I know there are people that think I said too much. I know there are people that wish I would have said more. It is something of an exhausting period in history to preach through, but I tried to say what was on my heart and what would be most helpful for my congregation. The text from my sermon is below, as well as the video from this morning’s worship.
Peace be with you, friends. <3
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Sunday, January 10, 2021
Creating Order Out Of Chaos
I stared at a blinking cursor on an empty word document for a long time on Friday trying to figure out what to say this morning.
You see, this pulpit is a privilege. It is a privilege that has been given to me because of my call, but it is also one that comes with great responsibility. I feel a responsibility not only to you all, members and friends of the Rehoboth Congregational Church, but also to those who stood behind this pulpit before me who, just like I did this week, struggled for 300 years to find adequate and appropriate words to speak in the midst of wars, tragedies, natural disasters, pandemics and terrorist attacks.
What happened on Wednesday was not okay. Like most of you, I am sure, I spent a lot of time this week trying to process it and understand it and also trying to reconcile the issues of injustice that were powerfully put on display.
I read and heard a lot of comments on Wednesday into Thursday that said this is not who we are, but it is; as a nation, we are so very broken right now. The chaos that ensued this week was shocking but, sadly, not surprising. This is, unfortunately, exactly who we are.
To be clear, I do not think it is my job to stand behind this pulpit today and offer political commentary on what happened this week. You all know that, knowing we are such a diverse community, for better or for worse I try to stay as politically “neutral” as possible and focus on the Gospel, though many argue that the Gospel is inherently political, which is a sentiment I would certainly agree with. And so it is tricky; it is especially tricky, because one of my goals is to be a relevant preacher. To stand up here today and not acknowledge what happened this week would not be true to who I am – and who I believe God is calling us to be, as a congregation.
I guess this is my way of saying that this might not actually be a good sermon. Like everyone else, I am having a really hard time finding words that are both adequate and appropriate and also speak to you all, my church family, no matter where you are today.
Despite the events that happened this week and despite the fact that this is, unfortunately, who we are right now, I do not believe that this is who we are called to be. This is not who we are called to be, as a country and certainly not who we are called to be, as a church community. We are called to proclaim to Gospel; to live into the vows we made at our baptisms, resisting evil, seeking justice and loving others the way Christ loved us.
Speaking of baptisms, today is the Baptism of Christ Sunday. It is, sort of, the kickoff to Jesus’ public ministry in the liturgical year. The liturgical year begins with the first Sunday of Advent, which is, of course, near the end of the calendar year; then we journey to Christmas, where Jesus is born and then to Epiphany, where the Wise Men follow the star to visit Jesus and offer him gifts. Then there is a time lapse of about 30 years in less than a week and Jesus’ travels from Nazareth to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.
You know I have something of a love-hate relationship with the Revised Common Lectionary, which is a calendar of scripture that follows the liturgical year. It is a three-year cycle and every week there is a passage from the Old Testament, the Book of Psalms, one of the Gospels and one of the Epistles. More often than not these passages relate to one another and so when I am planning worship I will not just choose one passage, but two (some churches will even read all four passages every week) as a way of looking at recurring themes throughout multiple scriptures.
It is not necessarily a perfect method for planning worship, though and so I have, over the past few years, gone off-lectionary – we did the Year of Mark and then a couple of different sermon series. I found myself back on the lectionary at the beginning of 2020, mostly in preparation for what I thought was going to be a completely offline maternity leave; but what I have found is that being on the lectionary has created stability for me, as a preacher, in an otherwise unstable time.
Which brings me to this morning.
On Monday morning when I was putting together the order of worship for this morning’s service, it was not a question as to whether or not we would look at the Gospel this morning and remember Jesus’ baptism. Out of curiosity, however, I decided to look at what the lectionary paired with the Gospel this year. And I found it fascinating that in the other two years of the lectionary (remember, this is a three-year cycle), Jesus’ baptism is paired a passage from the Book of Isaiah. This year, however, the Old Testament passage is Genesis 1:1-5, the very first verses of the entire bible.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.
Without even knowing about the chaos that was about to unfold at the Capitol this week, I thought it was fascinating to look at these two passages side by side, one where Jesus is baptized and claimed by God as God’s son and the other where God creates order out of chaos.
Now it seems almost necessary to look at these two passages side by side.
I think we need to be reminded of both of these messages this week. First of all, I think we do need to remember Jesus’ baptism. We need to remember that Jesus came into this world, not because it was perfect, but because it was very much broken; that Jesus was baptized, not as an empty symbol, but as a powerful declaration that all must repent and confess their sins in order to be redeemed by the living waters of baptism.
If you, like me, are feeling disheartened or even helpless about who we are right now, remember this: God saw a world in need of redemption and sent a redeemer. There was hope then and I do believe that there is hope now.
That being said, second of all, I think we also need to take a moment and remember our own baptisms, as well. We need to remember the promises that we made or that were made on our behalf and that we later affirmed, either through our confirmation or by joining the church. We need to remember that Christianity is about action; it is about the absolute refusal to be complacent to the evil and injustice that exists in the world. Yes, it is about declaring Jesus as our Lord and Savior and getting to know Jesus on a personal level, but it is also about following Jesus and the Gospel he proclaimed, the Gospel he taught, the Gospel he demonstrated. It is about living out the work that Jesus began here on earth. As Christians, we have work to do.
At times – especially now – this work seems overwhelming.
But here is where I find this pairing of Jesus’ baptism with the beginning of the creation story so fascinating. Because it is in this account of creation that God made order out of chaos. It is in this account that God took a dark and formless void and created this earth that we are living on today. It is in this account that God saw great and hopeful potential in something that was, essentially, nothing.
In fact, for thousands and thousands of years, God has seen nothing but great and hopeful potential in our world.
We have to believe that the same is true today.
The creation story reminds us that God can make order out of chaos; God can make order out of the chaos of the formless void that became the earth and God can make order out of the chaos of the world that we are living in today. I do not know how, but I believe that God can make order out of the political chaos that our country is experiencing right now and that God still sees potential in our world.
The potential for good.
The potential for love.
The potential for hope, healing and wholeness.
But that does not mean that we are to stand by and wait for God to come in and fix it for us. Friends, we have a lot of work to do. We have to live into our baptismal promises. We have to see a world that is broken and vow to do everything that we can to do draw forth that hope, healing and wholeness we are promised in baptism.
For some of us, that may mean political activism on local, state or national levels. For some of us, that may mean some sort of volunteerism. For some of us, that may mean putting our money where our mouth is. For some of us, that may mean reaching out to a family member or a friend in need and helping them on an individual level.
We all have different, but equally important roles to play. In many ways, I am viewing the events of last week as a call to action; a call to action to create the kind of world that I want my children to grow up in.
The kind of world that I believe God is calling us to create.
The kind of world that Jesus saw the potential for.
The kind of world that can be transformed by the Gospel.
The kind of world that where we are united by the living waters of baptism that have redeemed us and are continuing to redeem us.
Friends, I know we are all exhausted. Dealing with political upheaval on top of a pandemic is no small feat. But we can do hard things, I really do believe that. And God has not abandoned us, God is still with us. Together, we can be better than we are right now.
Thanks be to God!