Good morning Christians, seekers, and friends:
Welcome. It is well that you have come. And we are made better, more whole, with you here as a unique and important part of the body of Christ. Now the phrases above are a little like a definition of or even a little of the etymology of the word ‘welcome’ to which I felt especially drawn to today. We have so many words in our language – over a million which is an awful lot of words. In comparison, French, for example, is said to have only 135,000 words. The sheer number of our words, however, many selected and borrowed words from many other languages, still doesn’t always make us better at communicating meaning.
Now I know I digress – something that in our time in community together—you have come to accept about me –and probably expect from me too. But right here and right now—I feel like I have to resist the urge to just keep repeating “Welcome” without at least some definition or explanation because when I say Welcome…. I mean it is well that you’ve come. It is well that you are here. It is well that we – Epiphany Parish – are here together united in the love of Jesus in this city of Seattle. Right now, the world seems scary out there. We are not talking about sounds that go bump in the night but rather events we can see with our own eyes – and events that may have shaken us to the core. And so, this church being together and praying together both in person and online is significant and meaningful. This building; this community is a place of refuge, love, and connection. We are truly welcome here. And I have to say that right now, it is this community that gives me hope and reminds me that the Good News of Jesus Christ does not waver, does not fade, does not lessen regardless of political and social realities that would seem to suggest otherwise. The Good News of Jesus Christ is not changed by the world because the Good News of Jesus Christ is that Jesus came into the world to forever change it. And while we can’t always clearly see it through the forests and the trees and the vines and the sea and thoughts we live with the private boats of our minds. But rest assured, whether we can see it from here or not, the world is different than the world was before Jesus came. And we human beings are different too. Because through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have been welcomed into God’s own household. Now I know it is sometimes easy to forget how welcome and how loved we are when the world swirls and we come upon places where the “wild things” as Maurice Sendak called them in his book, Where the Wild Things Are, roam. When we hear them roar their terrible roars and gnash their terrible teeth. When they roll their terrible eyes and show us their terrible claws, we can forget the miraculous events that we have just recalled and celebrated at Christmas and Epiphany.
In the last couple of weeks, we have walked scripturally through some of the seminal moments in the history of our faith. In Advent, we listened to the prophets of the Hebrew scriptures proclaim the coming of the Messiah who would save the people of God. We heard the angel Gabriel visit Mary and tell her she would bear the Son of God. We have listened to the angel who visits Joseph in his dream and tell him that Mary’s son is conceived of the Holy Spirit and that he is to name him Jesus for he will save his people from their sins. On Christmas we joined with the holy family, the shepherds, and the heavenly host to welcome the Christ Child into our world. And at Epiphany we faithfully following the great star that led the Magi to tiny King of the Jews. These wonderful stories given to us, preserved for and shared with us by our ancestors throughout the generations do more than just tell us tales of our faith – they show us how God has walked with us and worked amongst us throughout the ages – and how his great love for humanity reached its culmination in the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came into our world to live with us.
In the gospel of Mark, from which our gospel reading comes today, our story has fast forwarded quite a bit from that time just months ago when John the Baptist, just a little older than Jesus, leapt in his mother’s womb when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, arrived at their home. John the Baptist, now a full-grown and well-known prophet, living in the wilderness beyond the river Jordan has made his life’s work preparing the world for the coming of the Christ – our Lord.
The first chapter of our gospel today begins with a prophecy about John from Isaiah: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
And as Mark’s account of Jesus’ life skips over his birth, childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, we find ourselves first meeting Jesus at his baptism by John in the River Jordan just at the border which separates the land promised to the Israelites from the inhospitable and uncultivated wilderness. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves yet – because this is still a story featuring John the Baptist. We read: “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people were going out to him, were baptized by him, [and were] confessing their sins…. John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Isn’t it interesting that John’s clothing, food, and ministry are described for us here, but what Jesus looked like or what he said at this important point in his life is not? We are only told that the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, alights on and abides with Jesus and that a voice from heaven proclaims to him, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark’s story of Jesus’ life which began in medias res now skips to directly after Jesus’ baptism when we are told that Jesus goes out into the wilderness where he is with “the wild beasts.” This phrase caught my attention because Mark’s telling of it immediately reminded me of Maurice Sendak’s book about the boy Max in his wolf suit sailing off in his private boat through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost a year to where the wild things are – all before his dinner gets cold. Mark takes us right to the heart of the story. Jesus’ ministry begins with the coming of the Holy Spirit. That Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness comes right on the heels of the glorious moment of his baptism is important, too, because it reminds us of two important things – the first is that from the very beginning Jesus’ ministry was rooted in the wilderness – in the neglected and abandoned areas of God’s Garden – our earth. And Jesus went to those places – even to hell itself—to save all the people and all the beasts therein. God was there then in the person of Jesus Christ. God is here now in the Holy Spirit and her church.
And secondly, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection brought the Holy Spirit to us in a way that changed baptism from an act of repentance for the forgiveness of sins into baptism of the Holy Spirit. In baptism the Holy Spirit alights and abides forever in us just as it first did in Jesus. This change in baptism is significant as we can see in Paul’s interaction with Jesus’ followers in Ephesus. When they told Paul that they had not even heard that there was a Holy Spirit—that they had only been baptized by John, Paul immediately gave these believers the baptism of Jesus and they were transformed and began speaking in the Spirit and prophesying. While they had already believed in Jesus before, in their baptisms in the Holy Spirit, they were fundamentally changed.
Today as we recall the baptism of Jesus, we will also have the opportunity to reaffirm our own baptismal covenant. As we do so, let us also remember our baptism in which we were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. Starting then, and everyday since, we were welcomed into the very Household of God. Welcome…there is that word again but used here in its truest sense. Through Jesus, we were welcomed into God’s kingdom. Heirs of hope, love, joy, and peace who are needed in this world now more than ever.
In the book, Where the Wild Things Are, Max’s room, where he had been sent without his meal for roaring at his mommy and telling her he would “Eat her up!” expanded to include the world – the forests, the trees, and the land where the wild things are. In his time in that world, Max worked his ‘magic’ on the wild things by looking them straight in their yellow eyes and never blinking once. The Wild Things then named him King; the “most Wild Thing” of all and he ordered them to commence with rumpus—with all kinds of roaring and carrying on until he told them “Now stop!” and he sent them all to bed without their suppers. In the quiet, Max the King of the Wild Things, felt his loneliness and longed for a place where someone loved him the best….so even though the Wild Things begged him to stay—even though they pleaded “Oh please don’t go, We’ll eat you up – we love you so!” he got into his solitary boat and sailed almost through a year, in and out of weeks, and night and day to find himself right where he always was in his room in a household where he was loved the best…. And Max, now quiet in his wolf suit, found his supper waiting for him and it was still hot.
You are welcome in this household of God dear friends…It is well that you have come. Pray here, stay here. Take, eat, drink. Here is where you are loved best. And regardless of the wolf suits we might wear, God knows us. We are the body of Christ. So children of God, go forth into world – into the wild places– rejoicing in the power of the Spirit. And you needn’t use many words…sometimes looking someone straight in the eye and recognizing the God within them is the most powerful thing and the wildest kind of Good News love you can give.