+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Mark 1:1
Theme: Jesus- The Beginning
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Jesus was born not to visit humanity but to recover it. Where Christ is at work God is at work. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”1All that He does is always for our well-being. The struggle of faith is to believe that this is true. Trust is the gift of a conscience that rests peacefully in the promises of Christ.
The season of Epiphany concentrates on those events that reveal Jesus to be the Son of God. Epiphany means ‘revelation’ or ‘showing forth’. Today’s gospel narrates Mark’s account of His baptism. It was a Trinitarian event in which the Holy Spirit appeared as a dove and the Father’s voice spoke from heaven. Jesus was affirmed as the one who came to restore humanity. He would engage the struggle with Satan, sin, and death.
It is significant to note that John the Baptist prepared people for Jesus’ coming by calling them to repentance. He did not merely announce the advent of a hero but the coming of a Saviour. To be a Saviour presupposes the existence of sinners. No assumptions can be made here. The critical fact each of us must face is that we are included in that category. The First task of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of that truth. It can never be passed over.
Let’s explore for a moment the depth of human sinfulness and the progression of thought that rules the unbelieving heart. Humans like to be free from restrictions. But deeper than the irritation of an objective morality (a universal standard such as the Ten Commandments) is the demand for free expression of the will (including all feelings and desires) without any burden to conscience. Deeper still is the resentment of being accused of transgression. Deeper yet is the claim that forgiveness is necessary, that somehow amends have to be made with the heavenly Father. And deepest of all is the central teaching of the faith- that Christ alone can supply this atonement.
Here the self-defined individual is robbed even of the opportunity to make amends, to show self-worthiness. Ah, but this is precisely the point. This is where self-righteousness opposes grace with all its vigour. This is the core of idolatry- wanting to be, insisting on being self-justifiers and demanding that such efforts are meritorious before God. This is the essence of sin not because it denies the concept of God is possible, but it denies to Him the reason for the atonement. It denies the possibility the sinner can be damned; that the individual can be a culpable being, lost, consigned to perdition. In such rejection Christ is robbed of His glory. Such unbelief is utter blasphemy. Recognition of this truth is what drives honest repentance.
It is also what makes your presence in God’s house critical. Here is not only your place of refuge- a place of truth in a world of falsehood, a place of order in a world of chaos, a place of peace in a world of conflict- it is the place where you are restored to God’s intentions. Here you are absolved, forgiven and freed. And here we are equipped to critique the many secular and misguided views of our existence.
Today we are reminded that God is the author and architect of all that exists. But we know that most- even Christians- have been drawn away to the secular world-view. The deception lies in convincing the public that explanations of origins are the jurisdiction of science. Think just a moment about the impossibility of explaining such a claim scientifically. A highly condensed ball of intergalactic elements- which must be self-existing for this theory to work- suddenly explodes forming the immense universe that we observe. Then over huge spans of time life organizes itself from inert materials under the right conditions. This is not a scientific explanation (science is based on the repeatability of observable events) but a philosophical one- a ‘religious’ one, if you will. It is no bigger leap of faith to believe that an all-powerful God created the universe than it is to believe the universe popped itself into existence randomly and without purpose.
The question of origins, how the universe came into existence, will always be a metaphysical question. It will always be a question of faith. It is an unrepeatable, unobservable event. The biblical, creedal truth that God established a well-ordered, purposeful creation underpins Christian teaching. Christ did not come to a world of accidental and arbitrary existence. He did not come to a world generated without meaning and purpose. He came to a world turned against the purposes of its Creator. He came to world that still bore the evidence of an architect who had carefully crafted his handiwork; yet a world hopelessly lost and separated from His will.
The claim is made that the biblical witness is too parochial, narrow, and outdated to be relevant. Scientific discoveries about the universe have reportedly made the Bible obsolete. But the fact is only the Holy Scriptures make sense of the universe. If you follow atheistic evolution through to its completion humans become soulless creatures with little or no purpose at the mercy of the events of nature. With no created purpose life becomes a meaningless struggle. No wonder secular life becomes a selfish, lawless, narcissistic struggle of the survival of the fittest. Christians are called out of such despair. Life has redeeming value. Christ has not abandoned His creation.
What can be more exciting than knowing you have an eternal future with the Lord of the cosmos and Shepherd of souls? This future does not involve a monotonous boredom of forced devotion. It will rather be a spellbinding and transfixing continuous revelation of the fullness of God’s majesty and mercy. Of course keeping our hope fixed on this promise is not easy. You know the niggling questions and the obvious traumas that test your resolve and challenge your faith. What if modern science proves Christianity wrong? What if God’s too busy to deal with my problems? Will He really call me to account for my sinful actions? Is my church attendance really important to my goals and objectives in life? How can I face serious illness or death; does God matter? And the list could go on endlessly.
Then there are the questions of our witness in the world. Is my faith mostly lip-service?
Will I love someone enough to challenge the falsehoods to which they cling? Is my commitment to the truth stronger than the power of political correctness? Does my passion for another’s soul help govern my words and actions? Do my prayers focus on the spiritual well-being of others and not only on their physical prosperity? As we struggle through these issues the faithfulness of God remains unchanged. He who created the universe with a word loves you so deeply He reconciled you to Himself with the very flesh and blood of His Son.
Dear friends, it is not a coincidence our season of Epiphany begins with Christ’s baptism. Your baptism has meaning because it incorporates you into Christ and it gives you the name of the Holy Trinity. Jesus was not baptized because He needed the forgiveness of sins. He was baptized because we need the forgiveness of sins. In the Jordan Christ stood in solidarity with sinful humanity. He signaled His willingness to bear our sins to the cross. For this task He was anointed by the Holy Spirit without measure. He was crucified. He rose on the third day. Where Christ’s word is and the sacraments are administered the Holy Spirit is present- affirming, teaching, and pointing out Christ. He is the Living One. He said, “Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom He is pleased to give it.”2 May He make it so for each of us in this season of Epiphany and into eternity. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
First Sunday After Epiphany
8 January 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 5:19
2 John 5:21