2021 – Baptism of Jesus
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 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. Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
When you think of the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God, Ruach, what do you envision? Where does your imagination take you?
How do you make sense of this third member of the Trinity? This energy, breath, force? She who hovers over the waters of creation, and over the waters of our baptism?
She, who we invoke at the beginning of our baptismal liturgies as we bless the water and prepare to welcome new members or be remind ourselves (as we will a little later this morning) whose we are and what we mean by that. She, who we name in our baptismal vows, and we connect her to communion, community, forgiveness, resurrection and life.
Listen to how Dr. Wilda Gafney writes this in her book: Womanist Midrash[i]:
Genesis 1:1 In beginning, He, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and shapeless and darkness covered the face of the deep, while She, the Spirit of God pulsed over the face of the waters. Womanist Midrash, 19]
She goes on to write: She, the Spirit of God, She-who-is-also-God, at the dawn of creation fluttered over the nest of her creation at the same time as He, the more familiar expression of divinity, created all. They, Two-in-One, are the first articulations, self-articulations, of God in (and the God of) the Scriptures.
Don’t those words help your imagination to conjure some fabulous imagery?
Sometimes I worry that we have limited ourselves in our imagery for God. And the Spirit, I think, encourages us to push boundaries, imagine more both with our language and our expression of and for the Divine.
She has been described as both an independent agent who can possess people and help them to do impossible things and also a fluid entity who more fills the space like water. She is sometimes experienced as a temporary visitor who comes and goes at will or as a more permanent manifestation.
The Power of the Spirit is called upon in the book of Acts and certainly we have also heard this expression or invoking in more charismatic settings.
She has been depicted as a dove, as in this mornings Gospel, reminding Jesus of his belovedness in the waters of his baptism, and also fire – landing on the disciples at Pentecost and bestowing the gift of tongues and also other abilities.
She is hard to define. She will not be contained. She is powerful and a co-creator with God. She reminds us of our own belovedness and participates with us in the creativity of discipleship.
So, where am I going with this? Well, I just wanted to pay particular attention to this part of the Trinity, as we remind ourselves of our baptismal covenants, as we re-tell the story of Jesus’ baptism by John, who was himself, I think a man of creativity. I want to encourage us to give some thought to this particular articulation of God. I think that we have sought to keep ourselves safe by limiting our expression of God to a very contained male, authoritarian image and I think she is more and bigger and beyond what we can describe. And maybe if there was ever a time for us to consider how else God comes to us, this is it.
And I think that our baptism frees us to explore what God is like, invited to live into the risen life of Jesus Christ, to not feel bound by the ways that this world would express and judge itself with power, patriarchy and consumerism at its heart – but to explore enough for all, alternative power and organizational structures and economic models.
And that is where I think the Spirit pushes us, modeling for us a refusal to be bound or contained.
It’s interesting don’t you think that when we name her in our vows I will ask you: Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
And you will respond: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting
The Church writ-large – as we gather in community. The communion that ties us together: those who have come before, those here now and those who will come after. Forgiveness – that we can come back, there is always grace and redemption, which doesn’t always look the way we imagine it but is always possible. Resurrection of the body – rooted in hope for a new way, unbinding ourselves from systems of oppression and that which would seek to keep us from the love of God and life, reminding us that what we do here, doesn’t end with us. That the teachings of Jesus, the goodness that we offer to one another individually and as community goes on and reaches beyond us.
It is our belief in these things that can make us feel dangerous to the powerful, because these are powers of disruption and creativity and imagination. But it is, I believe who and how we are called to be.
It is important for us to remind ourselves. Sunday, liturgies like this one are important for us because we too easily get caught up in our lives and put to the back of our minds the invitation that Christ offers to us, to follow the example of the wise men that we spoke of last week, and of Jesus themselves, to go by another way.
So I have a suggestion for you. When we participate in the renewal of vows in just a few minutes, let your imagination run away with you. Imagine the Spirit, the Breath of God hovering over you as you say those words. Notice her love surrounding you and holding you, nudging and encouraging you. Because she is there, holding you close, encouraging your wonder, planting possibility all around you.
‘She-who-is-also-God’, wants to remind you too of your belovedness. And even when the world feels uncertain, scary and unfair, maybe especially then, she is encouraging you to find another way, not to be constricted by easy definitions of what love looks like, or who God is but to be bold in your discipleship and care for yourself and one another.
She is embedded in the Trinity and is not restricted by our attempts to define it. She pushes for justice. She sings to that still, small voice within you that helps you to discern where God is calling you to be and how God is calling you to act; to be creative, to listen, to take your baptismal call seriously and to act accordingly in the world, as Beloved.
Sometimes the world is scary and uncertain, it has felt that way a lot lately. We know something about that both by our daily reality and by what we see and hear in the world around us. In the chaos and the quiet and in the mundane parts of our lives, she is hovering, ‘fluttering over the nest of her creation’, which is you, and she is reminding you that you are not alone, that none of us are and that she is at work creating possibility.
Let us pray:
Come, Holy Spirit, breathe your Gifts into us as we struggle for justice.
Come, Spirit of Truth, enlighten our resistance, our insistence, our persistence.
Come, Spirit of Peace, unite races and nations to stop wars and violence.
When we are fearful, challenge us to act bravely.
When we are lonely, bless us with communities of love and compassion.
When we are weary, replenish us with bold dreams.
Open our hearts to listen to the cries of those who are pushed to the margins.
Free our tongues to speak truth with courage.
Unclog our ears to hear the needs of the children of the world.
Come, Spirit of Wisdom, spark in us a new fire.
Come, Holy Spirit, be present with us as we remind ourselves of our baptisms and the vows we have taken – hover over us, help us in our isolation, in our fear and remind us whose we are.[ii]
Amen. Blessed Be. Let It Be So.[iii]
[i] Wilda Gafney, Womanish Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne, 20 (Westminster John Knox Press Louisville, Kentucky 2017)
[ii] Edit mine