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Posted on Jan 7, 2018

In the beginning…(again). Sermon for 7 January 2018

In the beginning…(again)

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Chagall, Marc, 1887-1985. Creation, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

January 7, First Sunday after Epiphany:

Psalm 29 
Genesis 1:1-5Acts 19:1-7Mark 1:4-11

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

Epiphany is bounded by two experiences. Baptism and Transfiguration. One in the river. One on the mountain.

After these astronomers from the East have left their gifts and departed as mysteriously as they came, we suddenly find ourselves back in the desert, staring once again at the haunting figure of John the baptist, with his curious dress and bizarre eating habits…And before you know it, we are plunged into the river Jordan along with a suddenly fully grown Jesus, and then week after week in this season of Epiphany we hear this same Jesus continually calling us…inviting us…luring us…into joining his ministry of fulfilling God’s mission…proclaiming the nearness—the very present reality—of God’s reign…binding up whatever is broken…setting free what has been imprisoned…reconciling all of creation to our creator.

And if we answer that call, and follow…then before we know it, we’re on top of a mountain…with Jesus transfigured before us—clothes dazzling white—is that Moses and Elijah with him?— and we hear a voice…an echo of something we’ve heard somewhere before…”this is my son, the beloved…” Of course, then we are thrown back out into the desert again…the desert of Lent.

Two experiences…two epiphanies…if you will…or really two theophanies…two direct encounters with God…with the divine…one in the river…one on the mountain.

Epiphany is bounded by these two experiences…our entire faith journey is bounded by these two experiences…and what Epiphany asks of us…what our whole faith journey asks…is that we somehow hold them together. These two paradoxically identical, and very different experiences…

The mountain top…the blaze of glory…the sudden clarity of a vista that extends for miles…the lucidity of a vision that propels you forward…it’s that shining star we follow in the dark…

And the river bed in the desert…the dark, chaotic, swirling current in the midst of the dryness…that place where life and death are only a breath apart…that place we go when our hopes have been dashed…when we have lost sight of that star…when our vision is clouded…when the light appears to have gone out…

The river is where we go when our options have run out…when we don’t have many other choices…when we need refreshment…when our only option is recuperation…renewal…repentance…when we need to start over (and we are always starting over, aren’t we?)

The mountain is where we long to be…it’s where we can see the farthest…where our heroes tend to live…it’s where we want to stay…up there with them…up in the clouds of our imagination…but it’s not where most of us live most of the time…and it’s not where we’re called to be…

We always return to the river…to the water…to start again…

The prayer we use to consecrate water for baptism emphasizes that the river water takes us all the way back to the very beginning…when God began creating…and the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…the deep in Hebrew is tehom it’s the chaotic watery abyss over which the Holy Spirit moves and breathes life into creation…

It is through water that God rescues the Israelites…liberating them from the bondage of captivity…and ushering them into a land of promise…

It’s through water that Jesus is baptized…and it is in baptism that we are “buried with Christ in his death, [by water] we share in his resurrection, and through [water] we are reborn by the Holy Spirit” (BCP 306).

However much we might long for the crystalline clarity of that mountain top experience, our journey always takes us back down into those dark, watery depths…the place of mystery…the place of uncertainty…the place of surrender and beginning again…

Or maybe that’s just me and how I experience my life…maybe you’re able to just stay up on that mountain…no need to start over…and over…and over…but I doubt it.

One thing that Epiphany teaches…one key lesson that the bookending of these events in Epiphany imparts is how important it is to listen for that echo…

to remember that both the mountain and the river are encounters with the divine…both epiphanies…and God’s voice…God’s presence…is real in both of them.

What the Epiphany journey—from river to mountain—reveals is that even in the depths of the dark swirling chaos of our lives…God is with us. Always and everywhere.

If we remember that voice… and remember what it says…”you are beloved.” If we remember that…whenever we begin again…then we start to see that everywhere we look, we can catch a glimpse of God at work…and anywhere we go, we hear echos of that voice…reminding us that God is here, and we are beloved.

And as we begin again and gain and again, as we learn how to hold these two experiences together we will start see that the whole of creation filled with that divine light…and that we really do have nothing to fear.

Amen.

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