Genesis 1: 1-5 & Mark 1: 4-11
August 28, 2022
Chaos! A formless void! Darkness! Since the very beginning, God has been remolding and shaping such material into something new. In one way or another, new beginnings are the gifts which God offers to the world and to those of us who live here. God’s Spirit, sweeping over the face of the chaos, brings with it the refreshing breath of change which is, finally, the hope of the world. From the opening verses of Genesis, “In the beginning…God created…” (Genesis 1: 1) to the closing verses of Revelation, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21: 5), the scriptures speak over and over again of the God who offers us new beginnings.
And that is good news indeed. Words like chaos, formless void, and darkness often seem to describe more than merely the world as it was before God formed and molded it. Sometimes (often) they are descriptive of our lives and our world as well. The past couple of years seem like a prime example. There are times when we need nothing more desperately than a new beginning. Whether through unfortunate and unhelpful choices, or circumstances beyond our control, in relationships or our jobs, finances or our internal emotions, we all reach places in our life journey where we find ourselves at what seems like the end of a road or the end of our rope, with no idea where to turn or what to do next. Fortunately for us, we worship the God who specializes in transforming dead-ends into new beginnings. We must still do our part – opening ourselves to God’s guidance and stepping out in faith by taking the risk of trying something new. But all along the way God offers gifts of insight, wisdom, and courage which help to equip us to take such steps with confidence and hope.
John the baptizer stands as a road sign pointing to the ultimate example of God’s gift of new beginnings. He came preaching a baptism of repentance, challenging people to turn their lives around and choose another path. But he also knew that by itself such a message was not likely to produce much in the way of long term results. Even for those folks who took his message to heart and genuinely wanted to begin again, they were still faced with the sometimes overwhelming challenge of being human. On our own we are simply not very good at turning around and going a different direction. At least we’re not very good at finding a more helpful directions in which to go. So John’s message did not end with the call to repentance. He also proclaimed the coming of One who would do something to shift the balance in favor of making a lasting difference. “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me… I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1: 7-8) The odds of a new beginning actually sticking increase dramatically when, a) God stands behind it, and b) God’s Spirit is present in the midst of it. We are not simply called to change course. God offers us the strength and encouragement and inspiration to make the change in the first place, and then the ongoing guidance and support of God’s presence to keep us moving in the right direction.
In one sense we see the dawning of God’s new age as Jesus emerges from the waters of the Jordan. To follow where he leads is to be a part of God’s great gift of new beginnings. In another sense what we witness in that dramatic moment is nothing new at all. It is simply a definitive declaration of what God has been declaring since the opening moments of the world – God believes in new beginnings, and will keep offering them for as long as we need them. A friend of mine is fond of saying that we can begin again in each new moment.
In Genesis, chaos and darkness are no match for the Spirit of God sweeping over the face of the waters. Something new emerges and God declares it to be good. In our lives, the chaos and darkness which sometimes threaten to overwhelm us are no match for God’s Spirit sweeping over our world and blowing through our lives. The despair of a relationship gone wrong, the boredom of a job without purpose, the pain of a past which seems to control us still, the turmoil of a life without direction, the upheaval of a world turned upside down by a pandemic, social unrest, and political strife – all of these become less overwhelming in the face of God’s desire to offer us a new beginning. As we learn to trust God and seek God’s direction for our lives, we begin to discover new options to explore. We are touched by this new life whenever we dare to risk leaving the old behind and beginning again with God’s help. We have but to remember that the touch of God’s grace is an ongoing reality which we can experience over and over again. God is always and forever seeking to transform our dead-ends into new beginnings, in every moment of every day. It is a gift which is ours for the asking. Indeed, it has already been given. We have only to open our hearts and accept it. In the coming weeks, as we embark on an exploration of where God might be leading us next, we would do well to remember that where God leads God also accompanies. May our lives and this congregation be transformed by the ongoing gift of new beginnings.