1st Scripture Reading: Genesis 1:1-5 & Psalm 29
It might be hard for us in 21st Century Canada to imagine the harsh reality of life many centuries before the birth of Jesus. No place like IKEA to buy a nice bed, no supermarket to buy whatever food you fancy, no automobile to take you someplace out of the weather.
After a hard day of doing what was necessary to survive, early tribal peoples might gather around a campfire for warmth, social support and safety. And they would do what we still do around a campfire today – they would tell stories. Some of those stories, those told by the wisest of their people, were considered sacred, and would be told and retold by those with permission to do so.
We don’t often think about our stories as sacred – but we should. Our stories are the distillation of the experiential wisdom of a people. What have we learned that has been useful to the tribe or society? What stories help us to navigate our world, survive in our surroundings, and to thrive as we come of age. Which stories enrich and inform our understanding of who we are and our place in the cosmos.
Every culture and civilization throughout the history of the world has had, and continues to have, a body of sacred stories that have been guarded thru the ages, and which continues to shape each succeeding generation.
Anyone who has lived with a small child knows that every child goes thru a period, painful for most adults, of wanting to know the “why?” of everything. Why are we here? Where did we come from? How do I fit in to all this?
In their wisdom, our elders told us stories – stories that had no basis in science, but stories that satisfied the heart. Please note that I used the word “wisdom” – a Holy Spirit word – a Divine Presence word. At our best, when we take the time to reflect and to search our highest inner knowing, we are connected to the wisdom of Sophia – the wisdom of the ages.
Our Creation stories are such wisdom stories. They are not to be taken lightly. They are not to be taken literally. But they are our sacred stories, and they contain great wisdom.
The Psalmist reminds us that this Wisdom comes from somewhere or something – it has a reality that we can all acknowledge: in the power of nature, the beauty that surrounds us, and the inspirational teachings of our best leaders.
We might take a moment here to notice that many of our own elders tell stories – often the same stories, over and over. These stories represent the distilled wisdom of a life among us. They are the kernel of a lifetime of learning, the experience of many decades of life on earth. In many cultures these wisdom stories are treated with much more respect than here in the West. But even here, aboriginal cultures seem to be much more respectful of the accumulated wisdom of their elders. We could learn something, perhaps, from our indigenous neighbours.
We all bring something to the table. Holy Spirit moves thru and inspires all who are willing to listen.
Hymn #87 MV “Water Flowing from the Mountains”
2nd Scripture Reading: Acts 19:1-7 & Mark 1:4-11
This Sunday is the Sunday of two events important in our church calendar: Epiphany, and the Baptism of Jesus.
We use the image of a light dawning to describe what epiphany means: to have “an epiphany” is to have a moment of enlightenment, an “AHA!” moment. We might say that the baptism of Jesus embodies and “AHA!” moment for humanity. The Light of the world has come, and collectively human consciousness can never be the same. It may well have been an “AHA!” moment for Jesus too, as he sees clearly, perhaps for the first time, what his mission on earth is, and who he truly is – a beloved child of God.
In these two readings we see that there is a set up here: John’s baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins, versus Paul’s baptism in the name of Jesus, a baptism into the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let me read you from “Gathering” ACE 2017-18, a little story presented by David Lander, of Grafton, Ontario.
“How many of you expect an epiphany this morning? We come because our God came as an epiphany, to invite us to be open for an epiphany, and indeed to go forth as an epiphany, an “exhibit A” for God. Maybe this will be an epiphany for you.
You’ve likely heard the story of the break time at a private school where there was a sign on a bowl of apples: Don’t eat the apples; God is watching. However, down at the other end of the table, there was a plate of chocolate chip cookies on which someone had placed another sign: Take all you want; God is watching the apples.
Maybe worship is a bit like that. We may feel caught between two views of religion: guilt or grace, fear or hope, law and order and behave yourself, or, I love you. May this be your epiphany: Take all you want. Dare to be enriched, to be fed. Be risk-taking to get close to God and one another – those on the left, those on the right, those in front and behind. Celebrate our community. Let’s have an epiphany as we connect in worship.”
Thanks to the Rev. David Lander for that sacred, wisdom-filled story this morning!
Hymn #157 MV “I Am a Child of God”