Sunday, January 11, 2015 | Epiphany
Baptism of the Lord
First Sunday After the Epiphany
This morning's passages are Genesis 1:1-5 and Acts 19-7. I encourage you to also read Mark 1:4-11 and Psalm 29.
You can find the sermon here:
And the hymn list here:
The book of Bereshith – or Genesis, in English – was originally written in Hebrew. Hebrew was terrifying for me at first in seminary because of the crazy alphabet and the fact that you have to read it backwards, but I discovered pretty early in my first Hebrew class that it’s a ridiculously fun language. You get to say things like “TOHOOWABOHOOOOOOOO!” which means “formless and void.” Our sweet, gentle mannered professor never said it that way, but my classmates and I did because in every language, there are some words and phrases that just feel extremely satisfying when you make them overly dramatic. Tohoowabohoo is one of those phrases. And in the context of our Old Testament passage this morning, the phrase is pretty dramatic, considering what happens next. Even without someone saying it as though they’re a movie announcer.
In the beginning. . . the world was empty and shapeless. It was a formless nothing. Not just a blob, but simply nothing. Formless – there weren’t atoms to form into molecules or molecules to form into stuff. There wasn’t even light and dark. Just. . . emptiness. Tohoowabohoo.
In the emptiness. . . there was nothing as we know it in creation. There was just God. The spirit, the essence, the breath of God. The breath of God was hovering over the waters. This passage can be confusing because if everything was formless, how was there water? But in Hebrew, water is often more than just water. In the Hebrew scriptures, and carrying throughout the New Testament, water is rarely just water. It’s highly symbolic. I can stand for heaven, life, baptism. This passage is here to show us the wonder and the majesty of what God did in creation.
The picture that is being painted here is that in the formlessness, there is One who can breath life into nothing. There is One there who can give shape to the shapeless and fill what is empty. Without the Spirit of God to breathe being into that which was tohowabohoo, it would remain without form.
When we move forward into Acts, we are shown that in a way, the people of Ephsasus had been left formless and empty after their baptism by Apollos. After asking them some questions about it, Paul realized that it was because the Spirit of God had not been invited into the moment. Their baptism had been merely symbolic. The people in Ephasus hadn’t been baptized in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit and their lives, their ministries, were missing something.
When Paul baptized the people in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, things got pretty interesting. Some of us might even say things got a little weird. The people began speaking in languages they didn’t know – that would have been helpful in my Hebrew class! The people began to prophesy! Can you imagine? What a strange, surprising thing the Holy Spirit came down to do when they were baptized!
I wonder what they expected to happen. Did Paul know that it would shake down like that? Did the people who were baptized have any idea that something so wonderfully strange and amazing would happen?
Should they have been so surprised? Look what happened when the ruach – the Spirit of God hovered over the water in Genesis. God breathed breath into what was tohowabohoo – the Holy Spirit there, swirling around over it and God spoke. . . and there was LIGHT! This isn’t just like turning on a light switch. There was not just no light on – there was no such thing as light and then God worked – God created in the Spirit something wonderful – something new that had never existed before! The very beginning of everything we know as creation.
We cannot leave out the Holy Spirit in the baptism and in the life of the church like the Ephesians did at first. We are lost if we try to handle it all on our own. Without the Holy Spirit – we are tohowabohoo. We don’t have any form or shape.
When we baptize, we don’t baptize just in the name of God the Father, we baptize in the name of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit as well. We believe that it is a moment in which the Holy Spirit is active and is, like at creation, hovering over the water. So why do we move forward from our Baptism as though the Holy Spirit is hardly there?
We are tohowabohu – formless and void - without the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit isn’t just a nice afterthought that shows up when it’s helpful or convenient. The Holy Spirit is the breath – the presence – the essence – the very Spirit of God.
The Holy Spirit is not Batgirl.
Remember Batgirl? It’s OK if you don’t. She wasn’t very memorable. We probably all know who Robin is, and I’d be shocked if anyone in the room hasn’t heard of Batman. But Batgirl? Meh. Batman is the real superhero. Robin is the trusty sidekick who provides the comic relief or the “human” element and Batgirl just shows up when it’s helpful for the ratings. Episodes of the TV show go by with nary a mention of Batgirl and she only made into what. . . one or two of the million Batman movies?
We sometimes see God as God the superhero, God the sidekick, and God the ratings booster. But we can’t relegate the Holy Spirit to a tiny supporting role that only shows up when its good for the ratings. We serve a God who is both completely one and totally three. Not one or the other. Not sort of unified. Three in one. God the Father created, and in the beginning was the Word – Jesus – and the Word was with God and in the beginning, the ruach – the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. We need the Holy Spirit: the one who hovers over the waters when we are still tohoowabohoo – we need the Spirit of God that shapes us.
I’m not saying that we are all without the Holy spirit because we aren’t speaking in strange languages and prophesying. The Holy Spirit works in many strange, wonderful, surprising ways in our midst. This is about embracing what a book I’m reading right now calls “those sometimes joyful, often terrifying moments when we lose control of our story, when we find ourselves commandeered by the Holy Spirit, and when we are being put to use for greater ends than we intended.” It is difficult to invite the work of the Holy Spirit because the work of the Holy Spirit isn’t something we can plan, prepare for, control, or program.
The Holy Spirit gives us shape – more wonderful shape than we ever expect. It is through the guidance, the inspiration, the forming of the Holy Spirit that we are able to spread the good news of forgiveness in Jesus Christ. For the Ephesians, that looked like speaking in different languages to reach those who didn’t speak theirs and delivering prophetic words from God. The movement of the Holy Spirit shaping this congregation is evident in the form of meals delivered to the sick, a thriving youth ministry, the four new members we’ve received recently, even in the fellowship and love for one another that is experienced during the passing of the peace. What other exciting, surprising, strange, and wonderful things are in store for us if we continually remember to pray for the ministries here to be shaped by the Holy Spirit. What if we make our first and foremost prayer for this church that all which is tohoowabohoo in our midst would be formed into something incredible?!
The Holy Spirit never stops hovering over the waters, waiting to be asked to enter in. The Holy Spirit is always moving, always up to something. It’s up to us to let go and allow that movement to sweep us away and to create something wonderful in us.
The Holy Spirit has been given access to move in us by our baptism in Jesus. That’s why baptism has been so highly regarded and held onto so dearly by the church throughout the centuries. There is something very special about baptism not just as repentance or as dedication, but as a movement of the Holy Spirit. The waters of baptism and the movement of the Holy Spirit should never be allowed to slip out of our sight. By the Holy Spirit, we are taken in all our formlessness and are made into something beautiful. We must not forget that the Holy Spirit dwells among us, for in baptism, God gives the baptized form and beauty through the work of the Holy Spirit.
1 1 בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃
2 וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֨הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃
3 וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֖ים יְהִ֣י א֑וֹר וַֽיְהִי־אֽוֹר׃
4 וַיַּ֧רְא אֱלֹהִ֛ים אֶת־הָא֖וֹר כִּי־ט֑וֹב וַיַּבְדֵּ֣ל אֱלֹהִ֔ים בֵּ֥ין הָא֖וֹר וּבֵ֥ין הַחֹֽשֶׁךְ׃
5 וַיִּקְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים׀ לָאוֹר֙ י֔וֹם וְלַחֹ֖שֶׁךְ קָ֣רָא לָ֑יְלָה וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם אֶחָֽד׃ פ
Bearashith bearah Elohim, eth ha-shamiyim wa-eth ha-erets.
Wa-ha-erets hayatah, tohu wa-bohu, wa-hosheck al-pene tehome, wa-ruach Elohim, marahephet al-pene ha-mayim.
Wa-yomer Elohim yehi ohr; wa-hi ohr.
Wa-yar Elohim eth ha-ohr ki-towb; wa-yabdel Elohim, ben ha-ohr u-ben ha-hosheck
Wa-yickra Elohim la-ohr yom, wa-le-hosheck korah la-ye-lah; wa-hi bocker yom ehad.
בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית (Bearashith): Beginning/Genesis
אֱלֹהִ֑ים (Elohim): God
תֹ֨הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ (tohu wa-bohu): empty and without shape or form
וְר֣וּחַ (ruach): Spirit/breath/lifesource/essence
הַמָּֽיִם (ha-mayim): The waters
 Hauerwas, Stanley, and William H. Willimon. Resident Aliens. Kindle Edition. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2014.
 Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: with Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit Morphology; Bible. O.T. Hebrew. Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit. (2006). (Ge 1). Logos Bible Software.