Rev. Alex Wilson
January 10, 2021
Rev. Alex Wilson
Vicar

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Reference

Mark 1: 4-11

Chaos is everywhere. Chaos is pulling our attention, challenging our direction, causing upheaval everywhere, and we are 10 days into 2021, with all the hopes for a refreshment and new start still flicking in the darkness. But all is not lost, light is here and in the midst of all of our worlds deep pain comes Christ. The Christ of Christmas, now grown up, ready to begin his ministry. What a time to begin again, in the midst of this chaos, this upheaval, this challenge, and yet here we are again, in a place we have been so many times before- but can no longer ignore. Here we are on the banks of this mighty and powerful river called the Jordan, looking out to see fast moving waters capable of causing our death, pulling away sediment from the banks, muddying its water. Its no surprise we maybe feeling anxiety, pain, shame, guilt, anger. But into this chaos and danger walks love, walks Christ and it is all calmed. Indeed we hear that in this action the very heavens are rend open and Christ is named as the beloved- a powerful moment of presence. But what does this have to do with us or our world? It's about humanities naming in love, a love that unites us all as part of Christ’s one body in baptism today, a naming that requires something of us tomorrow.

The theme of Chaos echoes both our reading from Genesis and mark. In the beginning of creation, as recorded in Genesis we hear of the chaos of creation, a chaos that preexisted the creation or ordering of our world. There was no terra nullius, of forgetting what was before. God came into the chaos and ordered it. An order that creates all time and all things as sacred, from the very moments we wake in the morning, to the air we breath, the flowers in our vases, the food our fridges, to the person who doesn't act, speak, or look like us, all of this is created in the image of God. Yet this world is still not free today church. With the events of this week showing us just how much our world remains in the chaos of this rushing river full of death and power, a chaos God comes to re-order for us today. It is in this re-ordering, through baptism, that you and I are knit together in the most indivisible way possible.

Baptism is a joyful moment in the church and the gathered community, because it names a beginning of something new. That newness is often represented in the age of the person being baptized, being a child, but normally in the early church you had to be a consulting adult to be baptized. Baptism then was more than just a symbolic purification, like washing our hands before dinner, it was a life altering intervention in our world by God to re-order our lives to Christ through membership in Christ’s family. This then suggests that every baptism, and every baptismal anniversary after that, is a mini genesis moment, of God coming into the chaos of our lives and setting order in us to restore everything we touch in our lives to the body of Christ which unites us all. The genesis of our creation in Christ at baptism re-members us into the family of the body of Christ, which is why we remember these important dates throughout our year- because it reminds us that we are connected to a wider and larger family. A family that often does not look or act like us. But the moment of baptism is not just the beginning, it's not the fulfillment of our life with Christ- its a way of life. Baptism is about going deeper in the work of self growth and mutual understanding, of challenge and failure, of listening and learning from voices which challenge and make us uncomfortable. Of confronting our inner voices of shame and choosing to listen to the light rather than the darkness within us. It is this way of life, this baptismal road and family we all belong too, which requires something of you and I tomorrow.

In our baptisms we make promises that with God's help, we will see and live life with a certain purpose. The one which sticks most pointedly in my mind's eye today is the fifth of seven covenantal promises we make. We call them covenantal because we do not make these promises alone. We belong to a family to support us and follow a God who is actively empowering us to succeed in living them. The fifth covenantal statement we make at baptism is “ Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” Oof, that feels like a general, vague, and heavy statement. Surely we must be doing it!? Yes, we are, but that doesn't mean we are finished. And this week has shown us that there remains allot of work yet to do in our baptisms church. Baptismal lives are a progressive experience of learning, trying, failure, and having the guts to get back up and do it all over again to learn from our experiences. Baptism is a process of for us today, in like of what happened this week of learning, screwing up and growth that will question what our ideas justice and peace actually mean, when we’ve been shown that neither peace of justice exist for many people in our world today. Baptism today will question what we mean when we say all people or even what is dignity for every human being? History has shown us that these terms have different meanings depending on what side of the conversation we are. If we are in power and control we see the world in a way that wonders what the problem is. If we find ourselves without power, suddenly justice and peace are mediated at the mercy of another. Voices this week have raised our awareness that skin colour directly impacted the response of authorities managing the protests. If those terrorists were black, they’d be shot. We saw pictures this week of white protesters allowed to roam the halls without much restriction. Where is the justice and peace in this? What does our baptism say in the midst of this? I believe it's saying enough is enough.

 At the baptism of Christ we are shown the manifestation of love made flesh, receiving the indwelling spirit of love within them as the heavens rend open and God declares their belovedness on them- stilling the chaos and inaugurating his ministry of peace and justice. Baptism changes the way we see the world because of how it reorientated our lives towards justice and peace. Something we need to pray, to listen very deeply for today. Its telling that as a universal church, the first thing we do in the face of chaos is pray. We pray at the font for the presence of the spirit and we pray in the streets for that same spirit to come and change what we see. This prayer is a listening, a holy listening, for the knowledge and wisdom of God to come wash over us and set us anew into the story of creation to serve his purpose for the freedom of all God's children. It means we listen deeply, fail greatly, and dare to get back up and try it all over again. Living a baptismal life, seeking justice and peace in the respect of the dignity of every human being is not about speaking, but about doing. Words are not change agents, what we do with them is. So how are we going to act on our words today?

There are voices in Canada who saw what happened in washington, who watched the Black lives matter protests, who saw the confederacy monument discussions and have quickly said “well that’s an american problem, Canada doesn't have that problem.” This would be a misreading of our reality. We in Canada are born from a colonial past that still influences our society, its structures, and how people are able to access them. Our systems that saw the raising and education of the founder of the Alt Right white supremacy group “proud boys” in Ottawa. Our systems that saw White supremacists march in our cities across this country, largely unchecked. Our systems that saw Canadians target and falsely blame asian-canadians for the coronavirus. Our systems that interned the japanese during the war and confiscated all their assets in the name of national security. Our systems that saw supporters of Trump's message of white nationalism rally support in Alberta this week. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. What we saw in the US is not their problem, it is our problem. It's a human problem. But let me be clear, church, this is not about guilt. Justice and peace are not about guilt, of grinding us into places of humiliation, they are about growth- of our combined growth into one common family again. To be a common family again we need to actually hear, name, and understand- we need to listen to   where we have come from, to hear these stories and to learn from them as we continue to reflect on if we are indeed continuing to go in the right direction as a country.

Today our citizenship in the kingdom via our baptism asks us to think about why we don’t see the kingdom values we espouse freely available to everyone. Why do black kids still fear the cops? Why are jewish people still targeted with antisemitism? Why was Jasmite Singh targeted for wearing his turban during the federal election? Why are we afraid of the hijab? Why do indigenous people remain over represented in our prisons? Why do we set indigenous fisheries on fire during a dispute? Why is difference so terrifying to us as a human family? You see, there is still work for us to do, but there is no room here for shame or guilt. It would be easier to ignore it, blame the government, enact social diversity requirements, but that doesn't hear the story of the other and just plays lip service to the life of another. What we are being called to do today, church is to stop and listen to what we are hearing and seeing. To listen with the ear of our heart for the truth of another's life, to educate ourselves on why these questions and the realities they represent persist, and work with everything God has given us to change, in love, the injustices we see. At the root of this work is love. Our love for God and for our neighbour. To love either we must listen, so let's listen together this year.

Let's listen this year to voices not like ours, not of our race, of our gender, of our sexuality, of our language, of our world view. This is how we start again in this new creation opened for us on the shores of the Jordan today. A new creation which was not terra nullius- of nothing, but a chaotic expression of life that desperately seeks the ordering of God’s purpose through justice and peace even more today. And as members of this baptismal family, of this human family, this is the work which our faith requires of us today. To stop, listen, and say something about what we see to move our world forward towards the nature of what God created it for: that is the thriving equality of every single human being in all its beautiful diversity. There is no going back to what was. We can’t undo what has happened, but we can and must learn from it. So church, what voices are we not hearing and learning from in our world today, and how can we listen and amplify them together this week?