"Chaos and a New Creation"

1 Epiphany “The Baptism of Jesus”.B.21
Genesis 1:1-5; Mark 1:4-11
The Rev. Melanie McCarley

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.”, so begins the first verse of the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, Genesis. Peer with me, if you will, into the picture painted by these words. What we see is a frightening, display of anarchy and confusion. This “formless void and darkness covering the face of the deep” is called, in Hebrew, Tohu wa-bohu. the sound of the words reverberates with mystery and dread. Tohu wa-bohu is darkness and desolation, an unformed waste. The absence of shape or form, a futile and empty void. In a word, Chaos.

It’s a frightening picture—a place none of would want to be; though surely we saw shades of it this past Wednesday at our Nation’s Capitol. Yet, the Book of Genesis continues. Even here, God was present. And we are told “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” That wind, in Hebrew, is ruach Elohim, the Spirit (or Breath) of God. God breaths upon the waters and speaks: “Let there be light”, bringing light to the deep and God calls it good. Think of it this way, God’s word doesn’t simply impart new information—God’s word (God’s Spirit) brings about an entirely new situation. Where before there was darkness and chaos, now there is light and form.

Fast forward many hundreds of millions of years and human beings enter the picture. Made in the image of God; we had so much promise. Like the Almighty, we wanted to create things—yet our effort is flawed. Sin is a part of our nature. St. Paul phrases it best when he writes in the seventh chapter of his Letter to the Romans: “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” Somehow, in each of us, there resides a sliver of chaos (tohu wa bohu) threatening to undo the whole.

Into this unfortunate circumstance, where anarchy threatens, God sends us his Son. God, it seems, is not present simply in the chaos of creation, God is present in the chaos of human sin as well. And this is what brings us to the Baptism on Christ which we celebrate today. As Our Savior steps into the water of the River Jordan, the forces of tohu va-vohu are once again being tamed; and the darkness that is over the tehom, the deep, is pushed back. Life, hope and promise are restored.

I don’t know about you, but the events of this past week make it seem as though tohu va-vohu has returned, and once again we are sinking into tehom (the deep).

What can the Gospel, the Good News of God, say to us today? The words of truth that resonate with me this morning come from the Gospel. Here we encounter straight-talking John the Baptist, preaching a gospel of repentance to the people of God. “Repent, you brood of vipers!” “Turn around!” People came by the hundreds to hear John rail against them. Why? Because they know that within their spirit, something was deeply wrong; and as harsh as John’s words undoubtedly were—they spoke the truth. If you’ve ever been sick and after much effort finally received the correct diagnosis—you know how this feels. It may not be news you want to hear, but it is a relief, nonetheless. And now, we are told, Jesus arrives to be baptized by John. You may wonder why Jesus was baptized. If the Son of God was perfect—and had no sin—what business had he of repentance? Think of this act as a moment of supreme solidarity between God and humanity. Jesus, here, is showing us the way toward God—and that path is one by which we are made into a new creation in Christ. The waters of baptism, rather than the waters of chaos—this is our path towards life. It takes repentance, a turning around, humility and the willingness to accept the grace of God, but it is our path forward, out of darkness and death into a place of light and life. The Baptism of Jesus is our Savior leading us by the hand—showing us the path that leads to wholeness and peace.

This past Wednesday we endured one of the most fraught days in modern American politics where a mob of pro-Trump extremists launched an insurrection upon our Nation’s Capitol during the certification of the electoral votes. It was an attempt to disrupt the work of duly elected senators and house representatives, both Democrat and Republican. An invasion of the Nation’s Capitol is almost unprecedented. The last time this happened was 1814 during the War of 1812 (and it was perpetrated by British forces, not disgruntled citizens). As senators and house representatives cowered beneath desks and ran for cover, rioters ripped an American flag off of a flagpole outside the Capitol building replacing it with a Trump flag. That is not democracy! That is mob rule based on a cult of personality, and it is abhorrent to ALL good citizens of our country. Insurgents ransacked offices, smashed windows, vandalized property and planted pipe bombs. By the time it was over, five people would be dead (including a Capitol police officer) and several more wounded. That is a picture of democracy in tatters—the unraveling of the American experiment—all of it, inspired and encouraged by a President still in office! Tohu wa-bohu, Chaos.

I have no doubt that the vast majority of Republicans, along with Democrats and Independents are horrified at what transpired. I believe that at this moment in our collective history, the time is ripe for a good deal of repentance. We are a divided nation. Too many people have been fed a diet of manipulation and lies; and too many politicians as well as others have been willing to stoke division in an effort to get what they want. What can we, as ordinary citizens do? Where is our hope?

I believe the right place to begin is for each of us to ask ourselves how we (as individuals) have participated in the chaos that has been unleashed upon our country? Whether you are Republican, Democrat or Independent ask yourself how you have failed to participate in the healing of divisions within our country. In what ways has our personal behavior been unhelpful?

In addition to this, we should begin to ask ourselves larger questions such as: Who does all of this chaos that has been unleashed upon our nation really benefit? Because, certainly it’s not the American People. Ask yourself, what players might be involved who are largely invisible to most eyes.

Are you one of the legions of folks who can’t be sure who is telling the truth—so you’ve thrown up your hands and assume everyone must be lying? Ask yourself, whose opinion in past administrations you trust? Look up what they have to say. Seek out the opinion of people you trust—not simply people with whom you agree.

Why not work to advocate for critical thinking skills and civics courses be made mandatory in public classrooms? Surely, this can only serve to benefit all of us.

If you think you don’t know enough about the workings of our government, make it a point to learn more.

Invest in yourself, invest your fellow citizens and invest your country; because as we learned this week, democracy is fragile.

Consider turning off social media and the television and resolve to get your news by reading reputable newspapers with different perspectives (both conservative and liberal).

And, above and beyond all of this, pray.

What’s more, recommit yourself to your moral center. And for heaven’s sake, demand the same from our elected officials. Never excuse immoral behavior in another simply for political gain.

And this begins with ourselves. A right way to start is by reaffirming our baptismal vows, which we will do later in today’s service. The Bible tells us that God was present in the chaos of tohu wa-bohu. And God is present in the waters of baptism. In the first chapter of Genesis we hear the story of the beginning of everything. The first chapter of the Gospel of Mark is the beginning of a new everything—that includes you and me as well. Commit to becoming a new creation—and in so doing, we (working with God) , will bring light and grace into a country and a world afflicted by the chaos of sin. In Jesus’ name. Amen.