Below is my sermon from January 14, 2018, when St. Paul’s celebrated The Baptism of Our Lord. It is also Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend in the U.S. Although the sermon touches on the baptism of Jesus as recorded in Mark 1, it mainly focuses on the first story of creation in Genesis 1. Even if you’re familiar with that story, take a minute or two and read it again–I find we always notice something new in even the most well known scriptures.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
In one of my English classes in high school, we were required to read Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town. Are folks familiar with it? The play tells the story of the small town of Grover’s Corners, between the years of 1901 and 1913 through the everyday lives of its inhabitants.
What makes it unique, though, is that it is performed without a set, on an almost bare stage. There are no backdrops, no scenes, no props. The actors pantomime actions, without the physical items in their hands. The stage manager—a narrator of sorts—opens the play by setting the scene with his words.
Beginning from nothingness, Grover’s Corners is brought to life as the play begins to take shape on the blank stage. Similarly, in our first reading, from the very beginning of Genesis, the opening words of the Bible, God begins, not quite from nothing, but almost.
In the beginning when God begins to create the heavens and the earth, the earth is a formless void, and darkness covers the face of the deep. It is sometimes translated as “chaos” covering the face of the deep. Not nothing, but not truly anything either. And into this shapeless, chaotic darkness, a wind from God sweeps onto the stage. The breath, the spirit of God, makes its way to begin setting the scene.
And into the silence, God speaks: let there be light. And God separates the light from the darkness, bringing the beginnings of order to the chaotic world. Our reading only covered that first act of creation, but the poet of Genesis continues, weaving the tale of God bringing order and life and beauty out of those chaotic waters.
In addition to night and day, the waters would be separated so that there would be a sky. And the waters were to be gathered together so that dry land might appear beneath the sky, and God declared it good. And still creation continued: vegetation, plants of every kind, fruit trees of every kind came to life. And it was good.
The waters themselves yielded living creatures—the great sea monsters and everything that swarms within the waters. And birds flew through the air, and God said that it was good. And then on the dry land the living creatures appeared, the creeping things and wild animals, and the cattle. That, too, was good.
But it was not finished. God says, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” And God creates humanity, in the image of God. And God blesses them, and declares that with them, all creation is “very good.”
Out of a dark stage filled with chaos, creation has come forth. Starting with big, huge acts—creating dry land and continents and sky—God is not finished, but continues to focus more and more minutely—first with plants, then with the fish and sea creatures, with animals, until finally stooping down into the earth itself to create human beings.
There’s a moment in Our Town where a character receives a letter from her pastor. He addresses the envelope with great care, and with great detail: Jane Crofut; the Crofut Farm; Grover’s Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God.
Her pastor is making a very valid point about humanity’s place in the universe. At the end of the day, we are very small. Our lives are but a blink in the face of creation, and being aware of our relative unimportance can keep us from being focused too inwardly, only caring about ourselves.
While I certainly understand his point, the creation story in Genesis offers a radically different perspective. The Mind of God; the Universe; the Solar System; Earth; the Western Hemisphere; the Continent of North America; the United States of America; New Hampshire; Sutton County; Grover’s Corners; the Crofut Farm; Jane Crofut. From the waters of creation down to each individual—we are not too small to notice. On the contrary, we matter immensely to God.
You could fill in the blanks with your name, and location. Every single one of us—we are none of us accidents of circumstance, but our very existence goes back to that loving, life-giving, creating mind of God. Every person could fill in the blanks—no matter their name, their religion, the country they call home: in America, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Europe.
There is no person, no place, that is outside the mind of God, the care of God, or the love of God. We are made in the image of God and reflect the image of God through all of our differences and individuality. It is a fitting thing to reflect upon on Martin Luther King weekend, in honor of a man whose life’s work was to proclaim the dignity of all people, no matter their race or place of origin. It was a threatening enough idea that it got him killed. It remains threatening enough today that we still fear those who are different from us.
But we are not just made in the image of God, as if that were not enough. We are loved and claimed by God. At Jesus’ baptism, God offers affirmation and celebration of who Jesus is. “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” The voice from heaven, the same Spirit and voice that moved over the water blesses and claims Jesus.
This announcement comes before Jesus has done anything. Before his ministry—before he has taught, or has healed. Before he has fed thousands or found followers. God’s blessing and God’s love don’t follow our achievements. God’s love creates our potential for love.
We are called God’s beloved children not because of something we do but because of who God is—a loving parent who wants nothing more than to see us flourish. In Holy Baptism, God just chooses us. God says that we are enough, already. That we are pleasing to God and deserve to be loved. Just as we are.
Created in the image of God, claimed by God, loved by God, we have the opportunity not only to reflect, however flawed and imperfectly we may do so, but to reflect God’s image to the world through our love and creativity and advocacy, but we also the opportunity to find the image of God in others. To recognize others as also being reflections of that divine love.
May we appreciate and celebrate the diversity of God’s image, and may we give thanks for our inclusion in that great diversity and love of creation. Amen.