Rev. Paula Norbert
I want you to know that I began working on our Worship earlier this week, prior to the tragic events which took place on Wednesday, January 6th in our nation’s capital. I had already selected the readings and written some of my Sermon before that day unfolded. Like many pastors, I am called to serve as a teacher and preacher, pastoral guide, and comforter. I am called to provide leadership when times are challenging. Over these past few years, I, like so many clergy of all traditions, have been challenged to find the words to respond to unprecedented events. We have all watched things happen in our country and our world over these decades that have shocked and disturbed us, caused us tremendous pain and left us feeling discouraged or perhaps close to despair. Our collective psyches yearn to make sense of such things and we cast about for normalcy and reason in response to unbelievable situations. I don’t always have the right words, as you may know well. Sometimes, there are no right words, except to invite us to be together, to be shocked and saddened together, to pray together, and to hold out a vision of a world that most closely resembles what we have come to understand as the “Kin’dom” about which Jesus preached, the Promised Land in the words of Moses, the Beloved Community, a place in the words of Scripture where “the lion shall die down with the lamb, and a Child shall rule.” What I can offer is a personal statement of faith this morning. I do believe that our God is holding us. I do believe that our God wants us to live in peace, that our Creator holds out the ever-present hope that we may build the city of God and that our tears may one day be turned into joy. Let us pray, O Holy One of hope and promise, we are shocked beyond words once again at what has unfolded in our country over recent days. We are saddened beyond words at the senseless violence, vandalism, destruction, and tragic loss of life. We ask you to reassure us and grant us the strength and courage to be workers for peace and reconciliation. Amen.
We hear this passage from Mark this morning, the opening lines of his Gospel. When we first meet new people, they often ask, “tell me a little about yourself,” and it raises the question: Where do we begin our stories? Mark begins here with words from the prophet Isaiah and then begins his Gospel with the story of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. This is when Jesus sets out to create a new story for our world, a world in which we can live in peace, in hope, in love. Matthew and Luke told us the stories of Jesus’ humble birth and of the early days of this infant child…and Mark brings us in to the middle of the story, if you will. I think we all know that we become who we are over the course of our lives and that we are still becoming who we are. For Mark, Jesus’ baptism was the important moment that set into motion Jesus’ public ministry, so this is where he begins the great story.
Jesus’ baptism is Mark’s Christmas story; it is the moment when Jesus is reborn through the waters of baptism as God’s child, God’s beloved. One commentator writes, “Mark and his community likely thought of Jesus as miraculously adopted, as opposed to miraculously conceived (as in Matthew and Luke) or miraculously present as God’s only begotten since “the beginning” of creation (as in John). This diversity of perspective underlines the wondrous mystery of the Incarnation, like a diamond considered from different angles, or four different witnesses trying to describe an inexplicable marvel, each in their own way. “ (SALT)
In the story of Jesus’ baptism, it should never cease to surprise us that Jesus is baptized at all. Mark explicitly speaks of it as “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4) — and yet Jesus, the one whom God is about to call “Beloved,” gets in line with the rest of us. It’s an expression of the astonishing humility and solidarity of the Incarnation: in Jesus, God comes alongside us, even to the point of joining us in a rite of repentance and renewal. Following a teacher like this would mean setting out with him on a path of humility and solidarity, confession and grace, a way of love with which God is “well pleased.” (SALT)
Today’s Psalm 72 is likely a Psalm that was written to be sung at the coronations of kings. In the opening, we hear this prayer for the ruler,
O God, give your anointed one your judgment—
and your justice.
Teach your chosen one to govern your people rightly
and bring justice to the oppressed.
The description of a just and righteous king which follow outlines how the ruler will be judged and by what conditions justice shall be offered back to the king. We hear a call to rule with justice, to ‘bring the people peace, defend the oppressed, save the children of the poor.’ When one rules with justice and a heart for all, so much is possible for the governed. Goodness begets more goodness. This is a refrain found throughout the Scriptures, a call to those who lead, a call to all of us to respect one another, honor justice and create a community of love. When we can fully embrace the vision that all of creation is beloved, that we are indeed beloved children of God, we understand how important our role is in loving our neighbors and seeing their essential belovedness as well.
On January 6th, we celebrated the beautiful feast of the Epiphany of which I spoke last Sunday. We know that epiphany also signifies a new awakening, a new understanding, an “aha” moment in our lives when we see with new eyes or arrive at some new understanding. When we find ourselves able to absorb the essential truth that our Creator views us as beloved and that we are to view others in that same way, we move closer to that beautiful vision of God’s Kin’dom here on earth. In the opening song video, we saw images of tender plants that need water and sun to grow. Can we imagine that all people, with their tender hearts, are yearning for such sustenance? That we do? Do we believe that all lives are precious and a bit precarious and in need of tender care? I think we have become abundantly aware of how precarious life can be with this pandemic and the losses which continue to multiply. What might we do to care for ourselves and to provide sustenance for one another in the days ahead in these very fragile times? How will we live that out this year? Let us pray for the kind of “rule” of our land that honors each precious life. And may we know we are loved and called to love in extraordinary ways.
We do not live in a land ruled by Kings, as the hearers of our first Psalm of this series did. Nevertheless, the petitions of the psalmist for justice, deliverance, defense of the poor and oppressed, and peace for all peoples is an undergirding theme of our faith. We are reminded that a just society is one that proclaims “these lives are precious” and worthy of protection. It has been a very hard week, indeed, following a very hard year, and yet, we continue to gather and to pray, to seek consolation and inspiration. God, indeed, is holding our lives. Let this be our “epiphany” in this new year.
I’d like to share a video that John and Marti Odle shared with me a few weeks ago. This was produced by a group of students in the Portland Schools and it is called, Make the World Better. As we seek solace and comfort this morning, as we seek hope, may these young people open our hearts to their vision….
Video: Make the World Better
God is holding your life
God is holding your life
God is holding your life, we believe
Welcome and Intro:
We begin a new worship series today that we pray will bring a “breather” and a sense of assurance to us all. We can swing between disappointment, helplessness, and gratitude on a daily basis. The Book of Psalms knows all about this. Written over a span of time from exile and isolation to the rebuilding of the community, the poetry of the Psalms reminds us that through it all, we can trust that God is, indeed, holding our lives.
“God is Holding Your Life”
(video in the downloads, ready for your own VoiceOver)