St. Matthew’s Sermon 01-07-2018

St. Matthew’s Sermon 01-07-2018

Obsessive Cleaning

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

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

In the years I spent servicing clocks I got to see the inside of the homes of many strangers. While doing this, I once serviced a clock in a home where I was required to remove my shoes at the door, worked on a sheet spread over the plush white carpet in a dining room I could assume was never used, with the lady of the house standing by with the vacuum cleaner as I worked, waiting to fluff-up the impressions of my foot prints the minute I finished.

Not as extreme as that one but another story I found interesting; a friend once told me of the days when he and his wife were servants in a wealthy household. One of the wife’s weekly duties was to polish the family heirloom silver-cup yachting trophies won by an ancestor of the family. The trouble was, the process of keeping them bright and shiny, at all times, as the owner insisted, had worn into the metal so much that the engravings commemorating the events and the dates were no longer legible.

These and other stories of obsessive cleaning came to my mind as I read Mark’s version of the Baptism of Jesus in our Gospel reading for this morning. You see, owing to our modern perspective and our modern norms, we tend to ‘clean up’ the stories of the Bible, to make them shinier, gentler, and more compatible to life as we know it and, in so doing, we tend to wear away at the message being given to us.

For one thing; and I looked at countless examples of art to confirm my suspicions; when imagining the scene in the Jordan River we alter the reality by putting clothes on John, Jesus, and any witnesses that might be there. But, both John and Jesus being Jews, and the act of Baptism being an extension of the Jewish ritual cleansing as done in a Mikveh, Jesus would not have had any clothes on. As for John, he may or may not have been naked while doing his work of baptizing but, like the artists throughout the ages have “cleaned up” Jesus with clothes, they often picture John wearing bright colored robes in contradiction to the camel’s hair and leather belt distinctly mentioned in the reading.

But then, does it really matter all that much how we imagine the scene?

Another thing I noticed when reviewing all the paintings of the Baptism of Jesus was that the dove is almost always white, even though the reading doesn’t specify a color, with the few exceptions of artists who combine the Holy Spirit descending like a dove upon Jesus in this passage with the tongues of fire descending on the Disciples in the Pentecost passage, resulting in a flame-like dove of red, orange, and yellow.

But, again, does it really matter all that much how we imagine the scene?

And another common portrayal of the scene is the inclusion of a light shining through parted clouds, often adding the radiant face of God looking down as the source of that light. But the reading only mentions “a voice came from heaven…”

Still, does it really matter all that much how we imagine the scene?

When we imagine John Baptizing Jesus, we make it a ‘nice’ scene, a scene that fits well with our thoughts of Baptizing babies here in the Church, a scene full of love and gentleness. John proudly steps into Baptizing the one he has already said was coming; gently immersing Jesus in the water and lifting him up again; a pure, sweet dove flutters down from above, the light of heaven warmly shines through the clouds and the tender voice of God announces “”You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

But is this what we should see in our mind’s eye, when we create this vision; or have we polished it up so much that we can no longer read the message engraved in it?

The fact is, it really does matter, a lot, how we imagine the scene.

With all that cleaning up and polishing we miss the most important part of the message; the part that tells us that in this moment; in the act of Jesus’ Baptism; is where heaven connects to earth, where the Holy meets humanity, when the perfect mingles with the imperfect! It’s a dramatic event, an event that will change the world forever; full of power, wonder, and disruption!

First, John announces his Baptism as that of repentance; turning oneself around from sinful ways toward the ways of God with renewed commitment. It is argued that Jesus, already being pure, didn’t need to be cleansed. That being so, or not, he does go to John, showing himself as a human and committing himself fully to the will of God, thus setting an example for everyone else to see! The Holy meets humanity!

Then “the heavens are torn apart”! Notice those words, “torn apart”, this isn’t the gentle parting of clouds to let the sun shine through, this is the tearing open of the barrier between heaven and earth! Heaven is connected to earth!

Then the Holy Spirit descends on him! The perfect mingles with the imperfect! The Savior with those he will save!

And then, notice what happens; or more precisely, what doesn’t happen. When the Holy meets humanity, Heaven connects to earth, the perfect mingles with the imperfect; does one annihilate the other? No! They become a part of each other! Like yeast mixed with water and flour, the Holy, Heavenly and perfect combine with humanity, the earthly, and the imperfect to create something wonderfully new!

This is what we received when Jesus was Baptized; this is what we receive when we are Baptized in the name of Jesus; we become something wonderfully new!

So, be careful about obsessing with cleaning yourself up, removing the marks of use, and polishing yourself to a shine; you, too, are a child of God just as you are. You were, you are, and you always will be wonderfully new.



Genesis 1:1-5
1:1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,
1:2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
1:3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
1:4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.
1:5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Psalm 29
29:1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
29:2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.
29:3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.
29:4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
29:5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
29:6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.
29:7 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
29:8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
29:9 The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
29:10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.
29:11 May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!

Acts 19:1-7
19:1 While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples.
19:2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
19:3 Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.”
19:4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.”
19:5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
19:6 When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied–
19:7 altogether there were about twelve of them.

Mark 1:4-11
1:4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
1:5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
1:6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
1:7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.
1:8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
1:10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.
1:11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”