Moments that Change Everything
Sometimes I wish that I could take the dove that appears in today’s gospel and wring its pretty little neck. Because we get fooled by the dove. We imagine a gentle bird, a soft white colour, peacefully fluttering down from the sky. And if that’s our image, then we’ve been misled about the gospel that we just heard. Because this gospel is explosive. This gospel is about a raw power that rips open the skies, a power that is invading our world, and will be opposed, violently opposed. When the heavens are torn apart and the Spirit swoops down upon Jesus, she is a force, a force that immediately drives him out into the wilderness. There’s power in the Spirit, a power that will rock our world.
There are moments that change everything, though not immediately. We live in hope that the start of vaccinations in this country and around the world is a moment that will, eventually, change the course of the pandemic that we’re in. Many of us live in hope that the awful revealing of the evil effects of conspiracy theories and white supremacy on display in Washington, and the election of two new senators in Georgia this past Wednesday, was a moment that will, eventually, change everything for our neighbours to the south.
But even more than these, today’s gospel is a moment that changes everything. When God speaks, stuff happens. Power goes forth. The voice of God shakes the wilderness, breaks the cedars and flashes forth flames of fire. In the beginning the Spirit swept over the face of the waters and the voice of God enters the chaos and darkness and says “Let there be light” and there is light and it is good. New creation, new possibilities, new relationships.
Today we hear the beginning of Mark’s gospel. The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. There is no birth story, there are no genealogies, there’s no preamble. Jesus appears and is baptized, the heavens are torn apart, the Spirit swoops down upon him and the voice of God says, “You are my Son.” Everything else that is going to happen in the gospel of Mark, everything we will hear in the coming months will be an unpacking, a consequence 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. It’s a game changer.
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. When the Spirit swoops down upon Jesus, she drives him into the wilderness. When Jesus returns from the wilderness, filled with the power of the Spirit, he knows what he has to do. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. To proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
And that’s what he does. Jesus will proclaim in words and deeds this new reality, the way of God, God’s kingdom, and the result will be grace and healing and justice - and 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, empowered and driven by the Spirit, 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, empowered by the Spirit, 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 suffers from mental illness and lives homeless among the tombs. 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, and challenge the way we order our lives and our societies. He will set us free, and it will be both exhilarating and frightening. And there will be conflict, and he will be opposed, and he will be 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 are better than others, some countries are better than others, 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, the Spirit descended upon him and a voice from heaven said, “You are my Son.” This is the moment that changes everything, 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.[i]
And so if you were fooled by the dove into thinking that the Spirit of God is a calming, gentle, presence that flutters down peacefully upon us, think again. The Spirit is a mighty force, a life-giving and creative power, a game-changer that will rock our world.
At his baptism, Jesus received the Holy Spirit.
At his resurrection, he offered the Spirit to us.
Have you received the Holy Spirit?
Homily. Yr B Proper 1, Baptism of the Lord. Jan 10 2021, St. Albans
Readings: Gen 1.1-5; Ps 29; Acts 19.1-7; Mk 1.1-12
Image by Tobias Van Der Elst, Creative Commons
[i] Anathea Portier-Young, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1835