Service Recording: January 13, 2019
January 13, 2019 ~ 10:30am
The People of Peace Church
Judy Hlina, ASL Interpreter
Penny Cragun, Lay Leader
Jim Pospisil, Music Director
Nathan Holst, Faith Formation Minister
Prelude: Sara Pajunen, violinist
Greeting One Another
Ringing of the Peace Bells and Lighting of Candles
God is Revealed as We Gather
*Responsive Call to Worship by Thom Shuman
Like the soft whisper of a little child singing
to herself before anyone else in the house is awake,
ever so gently, God’s voice cradles us
with songs of wonder and awe.
With the persistence of teenagers and young adults,
heady with the newfound freedom of questioning everything,
God’s voice rumbles like a river through our lives,
sweeping away all the boundaries between us.
Like the grandpa who passes on the secret to his bread,
like the nana who teaches her grandkids how to drive,
God’s voice is always reminding us
that we are precious, esteemed, beloved.
*Opening Hymn “O Radiant Christ” (#168)
Unison Prayer of Confession
Transforming God, you have shown us the way of justice and invited us to follow you through the waters of new life, but we so often forget how to follow or where we are going. We let our self-absorbed culture tell us how to live, and we lose our way. Bring us back to the water’s edge, where you call us to loving acceptance of what is, and radical change in our lives and the systems that harm all your people. Give us people and places to remind us to come back to love again and again, and help us bring about your dream,
a world where all are welcome and loved.
Assurance of Pardon
Story for All Ages
God is Revealed in the Word
God’s Word in the Prophets: Isaiah 43:1–2
Anthem “Come to the Water” music by Wendy Durrwachter, poem by Deb Cooper (see insert)
God’s Word in the Gospel: Mark 1:4–11
Sermon “Passing through the Waters” Nathan Holst
Sermon Transcript - Nathan Holst
This story of Jesus’ baptism is no doubt familiar to many of us, since it comes up in our readings every year around this time. The gospel of Mark sets the scene with John the Baptist appearing in the wilderness, calling for repentance through a water ritual, large groups of people coming to see what he’s about in his wild camel skins, and then of course the famous scene where Jesus is baptized, the Spirit of God descending like a dove and the proclamation of Jesus as God’s son.
Though it might not be the first thing to come to mind when we hear this text, I want to invite us this morning to see this text as an exploration of mentorship in the tradition of the prophets—to see baptism as an invitation to a vocation of justice. To do this, we’ll start with a closer look at what John the Baptist was up to out in the wilderness at the Jordon River because it might hold some new meaning for us, and as Gary Boelhower suggested we do last Sunday in his sermon, Epiphany upside down, perhaps we can take a new look at our text and reimagine what it might mean for us in our time.
One of my mentors, theologian Ched Myers, writes about how Jesus likely apprenticed with John the Baptist, coming seeking mentorship in the tradition of the prophets. You see, John knew the stories of what we now call the Old Testament or the Hebrew Testament, and by wearing camel hair skins and locating himself by the Jordon River, he knew he was invoking the prophet Elijah. His people knew the story of the great Elijah prophet, that trouble maker poet, criticizer of Kings and systems of injustice, how the story said he was raptured into heaven at the Jordon River, and that lack of closure led to the promise that God would send Elijah back to Israel at the appointed time in order to turn the people around. So the gospel of Mark “opens his story by presenting John-as-Elijah at the Jordon”. John shows up saying, remember the stories of our tradition—look, God is moving in new ways, and the time has come for real change—to again live as a just people and bring about the dream of God. And Jesus comes to John in this moment to be baptized, to say to him, I want to join you in this movement for love and justice.
Now, I want to pause for just a moment because I know this way of looking at Jesus and John the Baptist is not what we might be used to hearing in our churches. Typically we see Jesus in a more spiritual context, elevated high above John—he’s named as the Son of God, after all, and John seems at best a figure who simply introduces Jesus and then fall away from the story line. And while I believe we can still hold Jesus in that place—as a full embodiment of love, as Emmanuel—God with us, I want to see if we can take him off his high throne for just a bit and look at him in perhaps a new way, reflect on him as a very human one who was wresting with his scriptures—the prophets, and trying to see his place in the larger world, much like all of us. I want to try to see Jesus as someone seeking mentorship from this leader John, to learn how to be a prophet crying out in a particular wilderness, to be baptized into a new way of life, of following the way of speaking truth to power in his own context.
To help digest this a bit more fully and take in what this might have meant in the life and context of Jesus, let me share with you a quote from Ched Myers’ writing that makes a parallel between the gospel story and our modern context. He says, “Mark wrote 40-50 years after the executions of both John and Jesus. While the first century world of Roman occupied Palestine seems remote to North American Christians, the world of Memphis, TN in April of 1968 is not. We too live less than 50 years after Martin Luther King was assassinated, in what we now know was a government conspiracy to silence his prophetic voice—exactly one year after King’s public excoriation of U.S. foreign policy in his ‘Beyond Vietnam’ speech at Riverside church in New York. What might it mean for us to be disciples of that Dr. King—not the domesticated saint of the national holiday? Few today dare speak as unequivocally as did King about racism, poverty and militarism, despite the fact that our government is, as in 1968, again mired in foreign military interventions while unwilling to restructure an economic system that guarantees widening social disparity. I believe that for us, apprenticing to a Kingian version of prophetic faith helps recover the political meaning of Jesus’ alignment with John the Baptist.” Powerful words from Myers.
So in order to see the baptism of Jesus as the beginning of a vocation to justice and love, perhaps we might ask ourselves what it would mean to follow Jesus—to apprentice ourselves to our own contemporary context and live into a Kingian version of prophetic faith? What would it mean to learn deeply from how Dr. King lived, to allow his example to form us? How might it shape our lives, in large or small ways? As each of us contemplate this, and as we reflect on it in the context of our church, our beloved community, I want to add some layers to what it means to be a prophet, and even what it means to follow a way of justice.
As I often do when I’m writing a sermon, I’ve been listening to Krista Tippett’s podcast On Being. She has a lovely interview with Walter Brueggemann, who is one of the leading teachers on the prophets, and he poses some interesting and important ways of understanding the prophets of the Bible, as well as contemporary prophets like Dr. King. When Tippett asks about who the prophets were and what they brought, he replies that “they imagined their contemporary world differently according to [their] old tradition. So it’s tradition and imagination.” I want to note that this is exactly what I heard Gary calling us to last week, and what I think Jesus did all the time—he took the stories of his tradition and reinterpreted them in his own context using the language of metaphor—just think of all the parables of Jesus, all the rich stories he told.
Walter Brueggemann also says “that in [the prophet’s] own time and every time since, the people that control the power structure do not know what to make of [the prophets], so they characteristically try to silence them. What power people always discover is that you cannot finally silence poets. They just keep coming at you in threatening and transformative ways.”
Now this where I think it gets really interesting around the question of what justice is all about. What Brueggemann is getting at here with naming prophets as poets is pointing to the fascinating and perhaps paradoxical quality about prophetic poetry. It can be on the one hand boldly political and transforming, and on the other hand beyond anything having to do with politics. In the interview, Tippett and Brueggemann talk about how polarized our country has become, where each side gets entrenched in it’s own thinking, and how there is even a tendency for “liberal passion for justice [becoming] another ideology, and it does not have transformative power.” Brueggemann goes on to say that “…[poetry] is the only way in which you can think outside of the box…That’s what’s extraordinary about the poetry, that it’s so elusive that it refuses to be reduced to a formula.” He says, “I think what the [prophets are] doing is they’re going underneath the issues that preoccupy people to the more foundational assumptions that can only be got at in elusive language….Martin Luther King did sometimes…at his best he was a biblical poet. If you just think of ‘I have a dream’, it just kind of soared away. He wasn’t really talking about enacting a civil rights bill, except that he was, but it was language that was out beyond the chorals that we do.”
In his words, Brueggemann gets at the heart of what I often struggle with when it comes to justice. If I choose to follow in the Jesus way, to be baptized into the way of justice, how do I take bold action that clearly supports all people’s humanity and dignity, but maintains some humility and speaks a word of liberation for all people, even those who might be on the other side of the political spectrum?
I recently came across something called the People’s Supper— a gathering of people across difference—political or religious perspectives. The group that started the People’s Supper has a whole manual that describes how to create spaces around meals for story sharing and relationship, and they provide questions that help move beyond divides around issues, and move out beyond our usual talking points. Could this be one example of what a prophetic follower of Jesus does? Of what justice looks like?
Let’s look at another example of what being baptized into a tradition of prophetic poetry can do concretely in our lives, cracking open our ability for compassion and breaking all our barriers that exist between political boxes. Again thanks to Brueggeman, I learned about what theologian Phyllis Tribble has to say about the word mercy. In the interview Brueggeman shared that Tribble “teaches us that the Hebrew word for mercy is the word for womb with different vowel points. She’s suggested that mercy is womb-like mother love. And it is the capacity of a mother to totally give one’s self over to the need and reality and identity of the child…mercy is the capacity to give one’s self away for the sake of the neighborhood.” This concept of mercy does not belong to one political party or another—it is universal in it’s ability to touch our lives. And I find it to be a beautiful metaphor for how we could imagine God—womb-like mother love. Isn’t that incredible? Just think about how our communities across this land would look if we all held this image in the forefront of our minds and lived it out. What if it was at the center of our policies? As Brueggemann says, “the problem for us is what will initiate that? What will break the pattern of self-preoccupation enough to notice that the others are out there and that we are attached to them?”
This is the work of prophetic imagination, and I know we all have something to bring to this beautiful vision. So as we leave here later today, and we ponder during our week our place in God’s dream, I offer some final questions. What is the poetry in your life that soars, that both challenges the power structures like the civil right movement did, and can also move beyond your own perspective? This week, I invite you to consider the waters of baptism, how this ritual connects us to John, Jesus, and the prophets of justice. What opportunities for justice will come to you this week, and will you have eyes to see when you pass through the waters?
Hymn “Wade in the Water” (#27 P&W Songbook)
We Respond to God’s Presence
Sharing Our Prayer Concerns, singing prayer by Kids’ Choir “Ubi Caritas,” Silent Prayer, Pastoral Prayer by Nathan Holst, the Lord’s Prayer (with debts), Choral Amen
Sharing our Offerings
*The Thanksgiving “Doxology” (#778)
*Prayer of Dedication
*Closing Hymn “You are Mine” (see insert)