Sermon for 07 January by Rev. Rilla Barrett


1/7/18 SSE

Epiphany 1B

Genesis 1:1-5

Psalm 29

Acts 19:1-7

Mark 1:4-11



In the beginning. . . God. 

William Jennings Bryan once said this,

“I have observed the power of the watermelon seed. It has the power of drawing from the ground and through itself 200,000 times its weight. When you can tell me how it takes this material and out of it colors an outside surface beyond the imitation of art, and then forms inside of it a white rind and within that again a red heart, thickly inlaid with black seeds, each one of which in turn is capable of drawing through itself 200,000 times its weight--when you can explain to me the mystery of a watermelon, you can ask me to explain the mystery of God.”  


          In the beginning. . . God.

The season of Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of God in Christ, and in this initial part of the initial part of the creation story, and through the rest of the story, we learn something of the nature of God.  The creation story shows the dependence of all that exists upon God, the creator of all that is.

Our belief proclaims God’s handiwork in the created order.  First, God’s spirit moved over the face of the deep, and God created all that is out of nothing.  God did not have rocks, minerals, water, earth, atoms, nor plants. No, when God created all that is, there was a formless void. Creatio ex nihilo in Latin.  God created ALL THAT IS out of nothing.  That is something to think about.  Creating out of nothing is one thing, but creating all that is out of nothing is certainly something that only God can do.

This idea of creatio ex nihilo was first inscribed in Hebrew texts during the second century BCE when the writer of 2 Maccabees implored the faithful “to look at the heaven and earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed.” This notion was counter to developing ideas at the time that God worked with already existing matter.  Theologians did not introduce their idea to somehow explain how creation occurred, but to affirm that all that exists depends upon the creative and sustaining power of God. 

And out of the formless void, God introduced light and shape and order.  Imagine that deep darkness, where literally nothing exists and in which God worked, creating and sustaining.  Then, what a dramatic contrast for God’s initial creation:  illumination.  Light bursts out in the darkness, called by God’s command. Light was the first step for order to be established and discerned.  And then followed a chain of creative activity that culminated in the creation of humans, who are formed in the image of God and who serve as God’s companions. 

And then there was light, which God said, is good.  Light allows for sight, and warmth, light makes future life possible.  Light is good.

God speaks and actions occur.  God creates, not out of coercion or obligation, but out of freedom.  So, creation is neither accidental nor random.  It is intentional.  Creation assumes significance not merely for being, but for order, for balance, for harmony between darkness and light, for harmony between the heavens and the earth, for harmony between all members of God’s creation.

            Jesus, God incarnate, sent to challenge and to steady the wobbly creation, to bring newness to the faltering and dissonant parts of the creation.  Jesus, baptized by John on the river Jordan. . .an action of human design, but wholly in companionship with God.  And Creator God showed up, an incursive God, who bursts into creation.

            Think about baptisms here at St. Stephen’s.  About Christian baptisms in general.  The to-be-baptized surrounded by family, and friends, and community and light.  “Carolyn, receive the light of Christ…” I said to Carolyn at her baptism in August.  Light, God’s first gift in creation, Light in Christ.  A baptism is a mark of our tradition and, as a sacrament, states the undeniable truth…that God loves and has loved God’s beloved child, Carolyn, and Virginia and Susan and Dennis and. . . since God created them. At a baptism, we mark that truth. Baptism always gets me in the tear ducts for its gathering of community, and tradition, and the undeniable presence of the Spirit. 

            But, when I read Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus, I have an altogether different experience.  Something different happened with Jesus and John in the Jordan. There is an intrusiveness of God in that baptism.  It says that the” heavens were torn apart…torn apart, and the spirit descending like a dove on him.”  Torn apart is, to my ears anyway, a pretty intentional and violent act.  The Greek is from schizo, a word that can mean everything from split to cleave, to divide with violence.  It is the same verb that is used later in Mark at the crucifixion, when Jesus breaths his last, and the curtain at the temple was rent or torn in two.  Both on the River Jordan and at the temple during the crucifixion, God bursts in to humanity in an extraordinary and even violent manner.  God’s intrusiveness into God’s creation, and the incarnation and later the crucifixion of Jesus, will not be denied. 

            Mark’s gospel carries this theme in much of its content.  An explosion of the Christ event, of God’s presence into the world.   Mark, perhaps, is saying that in the birth, the life, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the veil between heaven and earth is so dramatically and permanently torn that it fundamentally changes the relationship between God and creation.  In the life of Jesus of Nazareth, God has invaded the cosmos.  God has done something completely unknown.  So, I think that at the baptism of Jesus, and at his crucifixion, we learn more about the nature of God and the truth of God’s love for us in creation than we do about Jesus’s baptism and his later ministry.

            Mark repeatedly proclaims that we have a boundary-crossing God, and that there is nothing God will not do to stay in relationship with the creation. The promise, then, of baptism is that there can no longer be anything that keeps God from making you and you and you God’s child.  God breaks those barriers by God’s bold and passionate invasiveness.

            And so, what about those times that you and I find ourselves unsure of God’s presence…those arid times, when God seems….quiet?  What about those times? Are they, possibly the boundaries and the barriers that you and I might throw into the way?  The times when we cannot find God…and most often when we really need God?  

            In his book, Directions: Insights for Christian Living, James Hamilton shared this story of loss, and the need to listen.

"Before refrigerators, people used icehouses to preserve their food. Icehouses had thick walls no windows and a tightly fitted door. In winter, when streams and lakes were frozen, large blocks of ice were cut, hauled to the icehouses and covered with sawdust. Often the ice would last well into the summer.  One man lost a valuable watch while working in an icehouse. He searched diligently for it, carefully raking through the sawdust, but didn't find it. His fellow workers also looked, but their efforts, too, proved futile. A small boy who heard about the fruitless search slipped into the icehouse during the noon hour and soon emerged with the watch.   Amazed, the men asked him how he found it.
‘I closed the door,' the boy replied, ‘lay down in the sawdust, and kept very still. Soon I heard the watch ticking.’"[1]

            The baptism of Jesus proclaims – loudly – that God bursts into creation, into life, creating, sustaining, and that there is nothing to deter God’s love and care for us, for all that is, for all that God created.  When we lose track of God and of the light, like the man who lost his watch in the dark, dim, cold ice house, perhaps we can quiet ourselves and listen.  God is there.   All that is surrounds us and is loved by God, unconditionally.  The steadiness of God’s consistent love, like the steady tick of the watch, is undeniable.  God intrudes in our lives sometimes like a gentle breeze on a warm afternoon, sometimes like a thunder crack before a heavy rainstorm and sometimes like a whisper.

            In the beginning….God, creator of light and goodness, God who burst into the baptism of Jesus and who surrounds us always beckoning us to return, to repent. In the beginning, God, whose light shines in us and through us so that we might bear that light in a world in need.

May it be so.







There is nothing that keeps God from making you God’s child….