Sometimes I wish that I could just take the dove that appears in today’s gospel and wring its neck. Because we get fooled by that dove. The image of the dove can lead us off in the wrong direction. We tend to think of the dove as gentle, we imagine a soft white colour, we associate it with peace. And we get misled about the gospel we just heard. Because this gospel is explosive. The imagery, apart from the dove, is forceful, violent even. There is a raw power that rips things apart in today’s gospel and that power is invading our world, and will be opposed, violently opposed. When the heavens are torn apart and God enters our world, God’s Spirit is not passive – she is a force, the force that drives Jesus out into the wilderness.
When God speaks, everything changes. The voice of God shakes the wilderness. The voice of God breaks the cedars and flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of God enters chaos and darkness and says “Let there be light” and there is light – and that changes everything. New creation, new possibilities, new relationships. You get to see things you’d never seen before. It is good. But it’s a game changer.
This is the beginning of Mark’s gospel. This is the beginning of the Good News. There is no birth story, there are no genealogies, there is no preamble. Jesus appears, the heavens are torn apart and the voice of God says, “You are my Son.” Everything else that is going to happen in the gospel of Mark will be an unpacking of this moment. This is an explosive moment. This is a moment of revelation. This is the incursion of God into our world, God’s attempt to enter into and reclaim our very existence.
God entered the world in Jesus to open our eyes, no more than that, to rip the blindfold off our eyes. To tear the heavens apart so that we could see God in a way we’d never seen God before. And seeing God, seeing God’s ways, seeing this new reality will rock our world. Jesus will proclaim God’s kingdom – and the result will be conflict and deadly opposition from the kingdoms of this world. That’s how the gospel of Mark will play out for us this year. Jesus, the Son of God, the person through whom God has chosen to enter our world will show us what God is like. He will proclaim God’s reign. He will do it by crossing and redefining boundaries, in defiance of authority structures and social conventions.
Week after week, we will hear these stories. Jesus, Son of God, will rebuke unclean spirits and heal on the Sabbath in defiance of religious laws. He will challenge perceptions about purity by not only healing a man with leprosy but by reaching out and touching him. He will eat and drink with the wrong people, sinners and tax collectors. He will redefine family. He will go to the outcast who lives amongst the tombs in the country of the Gerasenes. He will fraternize with foreigners and have long, forbidden conversations with women. He will defy the authorities, oppose Rome, overturn the tables and forgive his executioners. His character and compassion, his grace, will take him to people and places we could never imagine. His words and actions will reveal God to us, in ways that we have never seen before, in ways that will challenge us, challenge our values, challenge the way we order our lives and our world. He will set us free, and it will be both exhilarating and frightening. And there will be conflict, and he will be opposed, and put to death.
God’s reality will open our eyes and expose the myths and lies of our world.
Because God’s reality says that every human being is made in the image of God and is deserving of love and compassion. But our reality says that some people come from shithole countries, that if you have a Canadian passport or a decent income you’re entitled to better treatment.
God’s reality says that we are to bless the poor. But our reality says that it is the privileged and wealthy who are blessed.
God’s reality says that our compassion for each other, for friend and for stranger, must transcend the boundaries and divisions that we have created. But our reality says that we need boundaries and divisions to make sense of the world and keep from descending into chaos.
God’s reality says that we are to put God first in our lives. But our reality says that we come first.
God’s reality says that even death is not the final word.
God’s reality, made manifest in Jesus, will open our eyes.
The heavens were torn apart, and the voice from heaven said, “You are my Son.” This is an explosive moment, the invasion of God into our world. Jesus becomes the focal point, the very revelation of God to us and God with us. Watch him. Listen to him. He will make what is invisible visible, and reveal the true nature of visible things.(1)
As he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw the heavens torn apart and heard the voice of God. As we work our way through the Gospel of Mark this year, will we see the heavens torn apart? Will we hear the voice of God? Because if we do, it will rock our world.
Homily. Yr B Proper 1, Baptism of The Lord. Jan 14 2018, St. Albans
Readings: Gen 1.1-5; Ps 29; Acts 19.1-7; Mk 1.1-12
Image by Pat Gaines
(1) Anathea Portier-Young, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1835
 Anathea Portier-Young, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1835