His Baptism; Our Repentance

A Reflection on Mark 4: 1-11

The Gospel for January 11, 2015

The First Sunday after the Epiphany

by David Somerville+

               American historian, Henry B. Adams, once said, “Chaos is the law of nature; Order is the dream of man”. Sounds good. But is that really true? If true, then how?

              We will be returning next Sunday to a variation of the Advent keynote, the preaching of John the Baptist. His preaching was intense. That much we already know. He behaved with an urgency that could easily be mistaken for desperation, but John was not desperate. He just believed in what he was doing. (Well, for the most part: John was as complex as his mission was simple. Like his predecessor, Elijah, he had both good days and bad, and Matthew 11: 2-6 indicates that there are early church memories of John was plagued by doubt).

              John was anxiously awaiting the “one more powerful than I” to appear while preparing his listeners for the fulfillment of his prophecy. Would he have enough time to get the necessary number of people, a sort of critical mass, to repent so that they could respond adequately, en masse, to the presence of this “greater one”? I don’t think John knew, and that may have really bothered him.

              Well, that was then. What do we know now? Are we well prepared to continue the epiphany of Christ’s presence to our world by recognizing the divine compassion manifested by the son’s plunge into the waters of the human situation? After all, that was the very thing that pleased the Father so much. We as a church are called to confront our need to be in touch with the Christ, who pleases the Father. We are called to affirm that he is alive within ourselves, awaiting his conquering rise from the waters of our disordered lives today just as the symbol-rich Gospel of Mark tells of Jesus’ rising from the Jordan sometime around 26 A. D.

              What is true of your soul, Dear Reader, and mine is also shared in the souls of our neighbors as well. It is the simple imperative to know that Christ is alive within each of us, but, in our faithlessness, has not been awakened by our living the Golden Rule that guides us to treat all of our fellow Christians with love in this world’s troubling milieu of diversity. We often fail to believe that Christ is just as much in the souls of those personalities that seem to be so uncomfortably different from us. But they too were baptized and sealed with the Spirit just as we were. If, therefore, we do not live up to the imperative to honor the very different others in our midst, then the segregating barriers of sin will remain within us to the detriment of our spiritual progress. So to enable the process by which the barriers are removed is essential for the church to have a future of effective witness. Otherwise, the un-churched, today’s literate, well educated “pagans”, the spiritual gentiles that they are, will not give pause, and say of us what was said of our ecclesial ancestors, “See how they love one another!” To enable the rising of the Christ within us can only begin when we “take the plunge” of loving others, as the same Lord first loved us – especially those who are so different, that we are tempted to feel uncomfortable with them. When that discomfort is overcome, the Jesus within us begins to awaken from his sleep. (Think of Jesus in Mark 4:38. He is asleep on the cushion in the stern of a boat. The boat suggests the soul, and also the community of souls that is the church. Both the individual and the body of Christ are composed of at least two components – the conscious and the unconscious. The sleeping Christ is below the top deck, which is our consciousness. He is in the lower, darker levels where so much goes on of which we are really quite unconscious). So long as the Christ within us is kept asleep there, the Holy Spirit that proceeds from the active life of the Son does not calm the external waters of societal chaos and injustice. That is a situation, which, if left to continue, will make us abandon our obligations of respectful kindness toward one another due to free floating “faithless fear and worldly anxiety”.

              Every person has a right to experience the uniqueness of how the Christ within the self is expressed, to voice opinions that reflect such uniqueness. When such voicing’s deviate into abusiveness, then the proponent needs to be willing to allow the error’s correction, and be forgiven by the community’s consensus. When the spiritual climate of such mutual responsibility to one another becomes the norm, then the golden rule imperative is accepted as the necessary way, or direction, toward an ordered life. The desirable consequence surely follows: the awakening of the Christ Spirit.

              In the church, we live in the close quarters of austere budgeting – something like living with fuel rationing. We, with our mission to be a credible expression of Christ’s continuing presence, cannot afford to waste our reserves by the distracting crosscurrents of self-centeredness, personal ambition, and self-promotion.

              The 78th General Convention will convene in just five months in Salt Lake City, a new Rome, a city that hosts a pantheon of gods strange to us, and which may be just as hostile to the Gospel (as we understand it) as the Mediterranean Rome was at the time Peter was crucified upside down. (Well, maybe that is a little unfair… So I’ll call what I just suggested a matter of hyperbole. I don’t think the Mormons have a coliseum with caged beasts under its floorboards waiting to devour us in some Polycarp-ish kind of way for our faith). And yet, nevertheless, in the time and place of such cultural turbulence as ours, we need to remember that the real threatening beast is own intra-Episcopal spiritual hostility with each other. A rancorous convention could make us all look not like a vessel with a disciplined crew, but, instead like the wreck of the Costa Concordia which until recently lay on her side off Italy’s southern coast. …And if that happens, it would be an obvious mistake to blame the debacle on the Mormons, or any other group for that matter! If, on the other hand, we become disciplined in our respect for each other’s differences, we will soon see how invaluable each member of our crew really is. This is critical because the task of keeping the larger corporate vessel from running aground is greater than the skillset of any one individual. So one way then, I believe, to have a meaningful Epiphany season is to visualize ourselves as analogs to those who first heard the Baptist’s call, and then take John’s spiritual plunge of repentance — not because we are essentially evil. We are not. Instead the better way to understand repentance is to see it as God’s trust of us. What does God trust us to be? To be available, so that God can “depend” on us to make the free-will decision to embrace fully our potential for good.

              In taking a final look at Henry Adams’ statement that “Chaos is the law of nature; order the dream of man”, I think he was at least half right. Our good order may begin with the yearning of a wish-fulfillment dream. The next step is to take the plunge of actualizing the dream by living, as we, and our sponsors at our baptisms said we would live! One question remains: Are we off to the start of another exiting year ahead? I really think we are.

              Now if you will excuse me, there isn’t much time. I have to take down the Christmas tree, put away the ornaments, pay some bills, and then start doing my part.


1)  Note to the reader: I use two excellent sources without which, I could not do this series with some accurate sources of information:
SermonWriter – Resources for Lectionary Preaching http://www.sermonwriter.com/
2 Oxford Biblical Studies http://www.oxfordbiblicalstudies.com/

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