Sermon: Be It Resolved
Be It Resolved
Texts: Genesis 1:1-5; Mark 1:4-11
(Gary W. Charles, Cove Presbyterian Church, Covesville, VA, 1-7-2018)
One of the silliest annual traditions I still observe is making New Year’s resolutions. As the clock approaches midnight on December 31, I take one last look at my resolutions for the coming year, lest I forget any. Be it resolved that I will: eat healthier, lose weight, get exercise, read more, watch TV less, be nicer to my family, give more generously, complain about political leaders only on odd number days, invest more wisely.
We are now in the seventh day of the New Year and I regret to report that my resolutions are not faring well. In addition to the list I just mentioned, I also resolved to write a new poem each week, reduce my carbon footprint, give away a closet full of clothes that have not fit since the 1960s, make some long overdue apologies to certain friends, and deliver wood to someone who needs a load. Each of these resolutions seemed perfectly reasonable at midnight on December 31 and some of them may come to pass, but on this seventh day of 2018, it is not looking good.
I say it is a silly annual tradition, not so much that the resolutions are silly. Many, in fact, most of them are not silly at all. They are worthy goals. I say it is a silly annual tradition because it carries with it a real risk that is not the obvious one. The real risk is not that you and I will fail to do what we resolve to do. The real risk is something different, something deeper.
That is where Mark’s Gospel makes a helpful entrance into this New Year’s tradition. No sooner does Mark start his Gospel than he is talking about resolutions, but not about the ones you and I make. Mark tells a story about God’s resolution, a resolution that is far more interesting and enduring than any New Year’s resolution I have ever made.
On the church’s calendar, today is not the seventh day of the New Year; it is the Baptism of Jesus Sunday, the day the church recalls that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan by John. When he did, the thin veil between heaven and earth was ripped open and God’s voice declared: “You are my Son, the Beloved.” When Jesus was baptized, God resolution was announced: “Be it resolved that Jesus is my beloved child, who thrills my heart.”
This then is a day not to regret the failed state of our resolutions or to boast about their success. It is a day to remember our own baptism or to anticipate the day when we will be baptized, but mostly, it is a day to remember Jesus’ baptism. For from that day, God resolved that all who are washed in the waters of baptism and walk in the way of God’s Beloved Child will know what it is be loved and claimed for life.
To capture the full import of this holy day, the church winds the clock back long before Jesus. It looks back long before all clocks, when the world was a dark, nightmarish, chaotic mess. In the first chapter of Genesis, God resolves to conquer chaos, “Be it resolved that chaos will no longer rule the world.” That was God’s grand opening resolution at the dawn of the first day. From that day on and throughout Scripture, God resolves to enter into the world’s chaos again and again until the world knows God’s order and light, peace and goodness.
Lest this all sound a bit too sweet or churchy, academic or arcane, take another look at what happens when Jesus emerges from the Jordan. The Spirit of God does not descend from heaven and sit gently on Jesus’ shoulder, like Tinker Bell alighting on Peter Pan. In the Greek, the Spirit of God takes a nose dive into Jesus. No sooner is Jesus out of the water than the Spirit of God thrusts him into the chaos, into the darkness, where the wilderness is not tamed and for all appearances the heavens have been stitched shut forever.
So, before he is dripped dry from his baptism in the Jordan, God’s Spirit sends Jesus not to a baptismal party with his family and friends. God’s Spirit sends Jesus out into chaos, into the wilderness. God does coat Jesus with magic fairy dust or an invisibility cloak to protect him from obstinate enemies, religious intrigue, from the deeper wounds of betrayal and denial by friends.
No, God’s Spirit sends Jesus into the world’s chaos, into the wilderness, resolved that despite all appearances to the contrary, Jesus never will wander this dark, chaotic world alone. And, on this 7th day of the New Year according to our common calendar and on this Baptism of the Lord Sunday according to the church’s calendar, God’s resolution is not wavering, not even a little.
Such is the confidence you and I need to walk out of this sanctuary not obsessed with the status of our own resolutions but holding tight to God’s resolution. Such is the confidence that will bring us here next Saturday afternoon to honor a beloved, slain child of God, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Such is the confidence that will hold us as we walk out into this dark, chaotic world, a world not unlike Charlottesville last July and August when hatred and violence danced a jig in the street, a world not unlike offices and classrooms and boardrooms where women are too often harassed and abused and paid far less for the same work done by their male counterparts, a world not unlike most every city and town in America today where immigrants fear daily for their lives and the lives of their families.
Even now, God resolves that as the baptized and beloved, you and I are called to head into this dark, chaotic world engulfed by disease, be it heart or cancer, dementia or mental illness, knowing that the disease by whatever its name does not name us. For you and I, and all who are washed or will be washed in the waters of baptism, wear the name: “Beloved” and it is an identity that is never in question.
Our own Jill Duffield says it this way: “I keep praying for wisdom, discernment and a means to make an impact for good. Too often I feel utterly useless, a noisy gong and a clanging symbol in a world already awash in a distracting din of rhetoric. And yet, I can't turn and leave or throw up my hands in despair because I am baptized. By virtue of my baptism I am united to Christ and through Christ to you and, because of Christ, to the whole of creation. . . .
“So, on this first Sunday of 2017, I am going to remember that Jesus was baptized and that heaven was . . . torn apart and the Holy Spirit escaped and the Son of God - the one who pleases God, the one God so loves and who so loves the world - frees me from my sins and their control so that I can right now walk in newness of life. Today, therefore, is a new day, the first day of the rest of my life, a day to renounce evil, turn to Jesus Christ, obey his word, show his love and trust the Holy Spirit to do the rest.”
Even now, even today, God is sending you and me into God’s good, yet chaotic, world, resolved that chaos will not have the last word, violence will not have the last word, hatred and bluster will not be the last words. God is sending us, the baptized or soon to be baptized community of “Beloved” into the world, never to stumble about, alone in darkness, but to walk with confidence in the company of our God, assured that unlike our own, God’s resolution never fails.
Be it resolved, Beloved Children of God!