Sunday, January 8, 2012

Joe Buck, the Beloved, and the Miracle of Baptism

 Sermon preached January 8, 2012, on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord.

“We’ll see you tomorrow night.”  That was Joe Buck’s now-famous play-call in game six of this past year’s World Series; the Texas Rangers, despite a valiant effort, falling to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven electrifying games.

This particular moment was high baseball drama: David Freese had just hit a game-ending, walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning to seal the victory for St. Louis.  We’ll see you tomorrow night, Buck said.  It was in that moment an apt, if not spectacular, description of what had just happened.  Had the Rangers won that night, the series would have been over.  No game tomorrow night.  But now, with the better part of two states watching on the edges of their seats, all parties would reconvene for game seven the next day. 

Now, for those unfamiliar with baseball - or at least baseball of TV - this much must be said: Joe Buck has never been accused of raucous enthusiasm.  No, his style is short, simple, to the point, still seeking to capture something of the moment’s essence: We’ll see you tomorrow night.

But on this night, something else was going on behind Joe Buck’s characteristically understated call.  Maybe you heard about it.  While he was speaking truth about the moment, Buck was also borrowing words his late father had used some twenty years before: Jack Buck, longtime the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals, and himself an outstanding postseason broadcaster, made that same call in 1991 when Kirby Puckett’s game-ending blast in the 10th inning of that game propelled the Minnesota Twins to victory over the Braves of Atlanta.

We’ll see you tomorrow night.

So when Freese won the game for St. Louis, Joe Buck’s words fit the moment to a ‘t’, but for those with extra ears to hear, Buck’s call transcended the announcer’s purely descriptive task and opened up a point of connection across time and space, back through twenty years and, indeed, into the the palpably emotional bond between a son and his late father.  We’ll see you tomorrow night, he said.  But he also said, “I love you, Dad.  And I miss you.”

And sometimes words do this, surprise us, stand up before us as symbols that tell us that more than what we see is going on in the present moment; they signal to us that the moment is deeper, is richer, than maybe we thought in the first place.  True moments that somehow become truer by the connections they reveal.

Our gospel this morning is just such a moment.  As with the baseball game between the Rangers and Cardinals, the story of Jesus’s baptism has much to commend it standing wholly on its own: we watch the drama unfold as Jesus comes up out of the water and sees the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  Then a voice comes down from heaven, saying, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

You’ll remember that when John the Baptist first showed up, there had been some question as to whether he would be the center of the story.  John said he wouldn’t be, that another was coming, and so a measure of uncertainty hung over the initial verses of the gospel.  But then, suddenly, the heavens are torn open, the dove descends, and the voice cries out.  This story answers the question the Old Testament had asked of John: it marks Jesus as the one around whom we’ll all reconvene the next day. 

Plenty of drama, but also something else going on here.  Not Jack Buck or Kirby Puckett, but this time our Old Testament lesson is the clue:

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.

It’s the familiar story you know: the story of creation, and it hinges on God’s voice over the face of the waters.  Chaos and uncertainty until the three words that changed everything: “then God said...”

Then God said.  The voice of God speaks over the formless void and creation springs into being. 

So back to our ballgame: the baptism of Jesus.  For those with extra ears to hear in Mark’s gospel this morning, the voice over the water that calls Jesus God’s Son does more than point out who Jesus is; the voice over the water tells us what it means for Jesus to be God’s Son.  The voice over the water tells us that God’s Son signals God’s re-creation, that this is creation happening again, new creation; that from this moment on, the destiny of the whole created order will be found, fashioned, redeemed, and remade in the person of this one in the water over whom the voice of God is speaking again.  This is what the church means when she calls Jesus “the firstborn of all creation.”

For those with ears to hear, Mark’s gospel transcends the evangelist’s purely descriptive task and opens up a point of connection across time and space, takes us all the way back to creation and, indeed, into the the palpably emotional bond of a Son and his Father.  It’s a true moment made truer by the connection it reveals.

Mark’s play by play of the gospel asks us to think of Jesus as God’s re-creating and redeeming God’s good creation.  So Mark’s telling of Jesus’s baptism also asks us to go back and compare the first creation to the second.  What do you remember from the first creation story?

You remember the main gist of the the first creation in Genesis: the water, the voice over the face of the water, light and dark, days and nights, plants and animals, lastly man and woman.  The garden.  The serpent and the tree.  The tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  And it ends with Adam and Eve eating from the tree and being ashamed of their nakedness, hiding from God.  In a strange act of mercy, God puts them out of the garden, because to eat of the tree of life at that point would have been to cement the estrangement of God and the people he called good.  They leave the garden in shame.  That’s the story of the first creation.

With these images in mind, we come back to Jesus’s baptism, and we learn that if Adam’s story ended with his hiding from God in shame, here is Jesus, naked in a river, receiving for humanity the words God has for so long wanted to give back to humanity: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  This is Jesus receiving his goodness as God’s gift; this is Jesus as second Adam.  The old, broken, creation made new and restored.  The shame of Adam undone in the face of the pleasure of God.

I wonder: how often do you wonder about the pleasure God has in you?

Let’s pause just a moment to consider this notion of shame that God’s pleasure undoes.  Gregory Boyle is a Jesuit priest who has worked with communities of gang members in inner-city Los Angeles for the past twenty-five years.  He writes this about shame:

The absence of self-love is shame.  Guilt, of course, is feeling bad about one’s action, but shame is feeling bad about one’s self. 

The inability to receive one’s self as a good gift of God, Boyle observes, creates all manner of misbehaviors, addictions, voluntary and involuntary enslavements - like gang banging itself - all rooted in the conviction of one’s unlovability.
 
This is what Adam discovered after the first creation when he learned to hide the self God had given him from God.  But this is also the shame that the voice of the new creation undoes when the voice speaks over the water: “This is my Son, my beloved, with you I am well pleased.”  This is how Jesus begins God’s new creation.

Of course, we’re not all the way home yet.  When we say that Jesus’s baptism begins God’s new creation, it’s a bit like when the blockbuster movie gives you just enough of a tease at the end to anticipate the sequel, the next move, in the story.  What’s the next move?

If the voice first spoke over the water at creation and the voice spoke a second time over the water at Jesus’s baptism - a new creation - we anticipate a third voice over the water, and that is your baptism: the moment in which you were baptized, made one with, the death and resurrection of Jesus.  If Jesus’ baptism erases the shame of the first creation with the words “this is my Son, my beloved, with you I am well pleased,” the third voice over the water makes these words true for you.  The third voice is Christ’s clothing you with the pleasure that God has had in him from the beginning.  So hear them for you: “This is my daughter, my son, my beloved.  With you I am well pleased.”  This is what it means to be sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.

Admittedly, this miracle strikes all of us differently, I think.  God only knows the shame that God’s pleasure undoes in your life.  Only God knows the deepest extent to which you have been made to believe that love was not or could not be meant for you.  But the God who made you, re-made you, calls you GOOD.  VERY GOOD.  You are a child in whom the fullness of God is pleased to dwell.  You are beloved by God.

So, in just a very few minutes, when we baptize Lily Heffley, pay attention.  Put on your hearing ears.  The story that you’ll see will have plenty of drama - a tub full of water, candles and fire, splashing and oil, but notably these will not be the first time the words have been used, spoken over the water.  Moreover, the re-use of these words, spoken over the water, is not for lack of creativity, but will join Lily Heffley to the new creation of life and love made possible by our Savior, the healing of Jesus’s baptism made her own.  If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the undoing of any shame that says Lily is not God’s wholly good creation, and Lily will be joined to the one in whom God’s first and last response is pleasure - delight.  The Spirit of God moving once more over water.  The voice over the water, speaking God’s true Word for her.

And sometimes words do this, surprise us, stand up before us as symbols that tell us that more than what we see is going on in the present moment; they signal to us that the moment is deeper, is richer, than maybe we thought in the first place.  A true moment made truer for the connection it reveals, opening up points of connection across time and space, taking us back to creation and, indeed, into the the palpably emotional bond between the Father and the Son.  Our share in the love that they share is the miracle of baptism.

Amen.

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