Thursday, 15 January 2015

Sermon Baptism of Christ January 11, 2015

Gen 1: 1-5 (OT page 1)

Psalm 29 (B.A.S. page 738)

Acts 19: 1-7 (NT page 139)

Mark 1: 2-11 (NT page 34)

The 1994 movie Pulp Fiction, directed by Quentin Tarantino, begins with scene of two unusual characters committing armed robbery in a restaurant.   The robbery is committed by a very loving and very violent couple with the unusual names Honey Bunny and Pumpkin.    As is the case with most of Tarantino’s movies it is very violent and at times hard to watch but also very funny in a dark way.  However, Pulp Fiction is unusual as it presents the plot in a less than a straightforward manner.  The viewer is not really sure what is going on in the story for the first half of the movie.  There are many seemingly disconnected scenes and events – plots and sub-plots with twists and turns which the audience has trouble putting together.  However, as the movie develops the story all these disparate parts slowly come together and the plot is revealed.  It is a ground-breaking way of telling a story in a movie which has been copied in other movies since.

Today is liturgically very much like that.  We are not sure how all these parts fit together.  We are not sure what is going on with the story line.  We have a few plot lines going on at the same time and if we don’t pay attention we will lose track of the story.  Just last week we had we had Epiphany – with the arrival of the Wise Men – the Magi finally get to the stable bearing gifts for the Christ Child – better late than never certainly applies here. 

Epiphany took place last week on the 6th as it always does.  So we should be in the season of Epiphany with the change in liturgical colour being green.  However, the calendar call for white as you can see on the Altar.  That is because we are also celebrating the Baptism of Christ by John in the Jordan River.  We have the Gospel reading Mark 1: 2-1.  We were celebrating Christmas and the nativity of our Lord just a few days ago.  But John doesn’t have anything to do directly with the Nativity. We go right from the Nativity story to the Baptism – quite a leap.  We have to wonder what is going on in this story - this plot of the Life of Jesus. We can only hope that it all comes together if we pay attention and stay with the story.  Of course we are told very little about Jesus’s life between the birth and his baptism.  At least we seem to have the consolation that it’s not violent like Pulp Fiction.  Or perhaps it is—we will have to wait and see how this story unfolds.

Well the plot line actually follows the life the Jesus quite closely.  Jesus baptism by John in the Jordan River is the start of Jesus public ministry.  Mark’s Gospel actually starts at this point – it has no account of the nativity of Jesus.  Some people—even some Christians—are surprised to be told of this.  We depend on Matthew and Luke to give us that part of the plot.  The story of Jesus life basically with one minor exemption jumps from his birth to his baptism.   We know almost nothing about his life growing up from the Gospel – with the exception of his journey to the temple when he was twelve. So in this sense we have an ending and a beginning. 

The beginning is reflected in the OT reading the beginning of the creation story in Genesis.  The OT reading gives us another beginning—the beginning of all creation.  As few weeks ago we heard about John as the voice in the wilderness crying, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”   He prepares for the coming of the Christ Child – the Messiah.  And so it begins and ends for each beginning marks and ending.  But we do not know the ultimate end of the story yet. That still must unfold.

So is this story one without violence unlike Pulp Fiction?  Actually, no.  We do have the slaughter of the innocents – King Herod orders all children two year old and younger in and around Bethlehem killed in his futile attempt to prevent the usurping of his throne by the new King of the Jews.  But the baptism—surely there is no violence in the part of the plot we have today.  Well, the assigned Gospel reading cut off the story prematurely.  If we read on to the next verse we have a new subplot, 12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

 This is no nice, pleasant church baptism here.  The wonderful epiphany of the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, the declaration from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  No—immediately we have a twist and turn—the unexpected happens.  That same Spirit—now not in the form of a peaceful dove—but something much more dramatic with an implication of violence—drives him into the wilderness—apparently against his will if not violently.

Why baptism at the beginning of the public ministry?  Jesus submits to the Baptism of John for the repentance of sin—he who is without sin.  This baptism is to me as much an ordination as a baptism.  Jesus is ordained to begin his journey that will take him to the cross.  It is a journey which is worthy of a plot by Quinten Tarantino—will have twists and turns, betrayals and traps sprung but escaped through wit and God’s will.

Jesus did not need to repent but he did need a way to mark the beginning of his ministry.  In a sense that happens at every baptism.  It marks the beginning of a new journey—for us—imperfect humans that we are—it is one that marks leaving the old life behind.  The slate has been wiped clean. 

There is a dramatic representation of this in Pulp Fiction.  One of the principal characters Jules is a hit man—he kills people for a living.  Jules has an interesting twist on his occupation.  Just before he is going to kill someone he quotes the bible – a passage from Ezekiel.  As Jules put it so succinctly:

There's a passage I got memorized. Ezekiel 25:17. "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you."

As Jules explains he has been saying this for years and if someone heard this he knew he was a dead man.  However, after Jules experiences what he considers a miracle and escapes what seems certain death he has an epiphany – seemingly a revelation from God. 

I never gave much thought to what it meant. I just thought it was a cold-blooded thing to say to someone before I popped him. But I saw something this mornin' made me think twice. See, now I'm thinking: maybe it means you're the evil man. And I'm the righteous man. And Mr. 9mm here... he's the shepherd protecting me in the valley of darkness. Or it could mean you're the righteous man and I'm the shepherd and it's the world that's evil and selfish. And I'd like that. But that ain't the truth. The truth is you're the weak. And I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin', Ringo. I'm tryin' real hard to be the shepherd.

I have cleaned up some of the language given where we are – if you want the unexpurgated version you can find it online.  As a result he decides to give up his life as a hit man and goes straight.  That, is a true epiphany and a true beginning.  What God asks of us is not perfection.  God asks that we try “real hard” and have the intention of turning our life around and making a new beginning.  May we all have a new beginning in Christ in this New Year.  Amen

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