I learned some new words this week, words that I don’t hope to hear again for a long time: bomb cyclone. Or the even more Biblical-sounding: bombogenesis.
For our mid-Atlantic and northeastern brothers and sisters, this collision of cold and warm air masses and sudden drop in atmospheric pressure resulted in a nightmare of cold, snow, and wind. For us, and most importantly, for the schoolchildren of Leon County, we got a snow day in Florida. Imagine that.
I know it only lasted a few minutes. But I can now say that I’ve seen snow falling in Florida. One family here at the church saved a snowball in their freezer.
There’s something like a spiritual bomb cyclone happening in our readings today. Let’s hone in on the story of Jesus’ baptism.
Now, remember, we’re in Mark’s Gospel. We’ll be traveling together through the Gospel of Mark throughout the coming year. Mark, the shortest of all the Gospels, is about speed. Jesus is a man of action and relatively few words.
The word that we hear a lot in Mark’s Gospel is “immediately.” Immediately, Jesus goes from village to village healing. Immediately, he casts out demons from the afflicted. Immediately, he goes to Jerusalem with his disciples.
Jesus’ ministry is like a weather system, an explosive movement that gets people’s attention from the very start.
The Jesus movement begins, though, with John the Baptist. He’s the forerunner, the one who prepares the way.
Imagine with me this scene: John is out in the wilderness. He’s left the crowded and noisy streets of the city for the solitude and quiet of the wilderness.
We’re meant to think of God’s people journeying through the wilderness after their slavery in Egypt. 40 long years of wilderness wandering. That’s what Mark wants us to envision as we follow John the Baptist out to this barren place.
In the Bible, the wilderness is a place of simplification. We can’t carry heavy loads there. We must learn how to let go of things that we’ve been carrying that we don’t really need.
What burdens have we been carrying lately that it’s time to let go of? What’s the difference between essential things in our lives and things that don’t really matter?
The wilderness is the place to ask these questions and learn how to simplify our lives. Free from distractions, we can see what clearly matters, beginning with our relationship with God.
So, we’re standing with John the Baptist and God’s people out there in the wilderness.
Through his words and deeds, we witness John pointing to Jesus, who’s standing by our side in this crowd. He’s come all the way from Nazareth in Galilee to be baptized by his cousin.
John walks with Jesus down into the Jordan River, immerses him in the water, and when Jesus is raised up, he hears a voice from heaven say to him: “You are my beloved child, and with you I am well pleased.”
Jesus’ baptism isn’t just a rite of passage. It’s not just a powerful religious ceremony. It’s the beginning of a movement, the Jesus Movement, a whole new thing that God is doing in our world to renew of all of creation.
As baptized children of God, you and I are part of the Jesus Movement. God’s people are always on the move, being transformed on the way by the Living God, whether they’re wandering through the wilderness or following Jesus on the road.
Some of you might remember Chuck Robertson. He preached and taught here at St. John’s about six years ago. He’s on the Presiding Bishop Michael Curry′s staff in New York City.
We had a phone conversation scheduled for this week, but I got an email from him saying that he needed to postpone, as he was shoveling mountains of snow at home. There are some things about the northeast that I don’t miss.
When Chuck and I connected, he wanted to talk with me about how St. John’s can get involved in the Jesus Movement. Bishop Curry has called on all Episcopalians to get on board and do their part. The Jesus movement is Curry’s phrase for the healing and reconciling ministry of Jesus in which we share.
Chuck reached out to me because he’s heard about St. John’s. He’s heard about what God is up to here and how we are growing and coming together for events like our parish-wide Visioning Day.
He reminded me that there are three particular ways that Bishop Curry would like to see Episcopalians join in the Jesus Movement.
They are evangelism, care of God’s creation, and reconciliation, especially racial reconciliation. All of these themes are good to keep in mind as we begin the new year.
Let’s start with evangelism. When you think of the Episcopal church, evangelism probably isn’t the first word that comes to mind.
Believe it or not, evangelism is part of our DNA. We were founded as the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church. According to our official name, we’re a church made up of missionaries.
St. John’s as its founding was a mission of the whole Episcopal Church—we were of one of the few missions in the early 19th century that took root and grew strong.
Bishop Curry loves the word evangelism, and so can we. What if we thought of evangelism like John the Baptist does: as a pointing away from ourselves to Jesus, as living out the good news in word and deed?
Here at St. John’s, we have a new name for evangelism. We call it invitation, as in our Invite.Welcome.Connect ministry of welcoming newcomers. Our Invite team has helped us all grow more comfortable in extending invitations to others to connect with Jesus and our community of faith.
In the coming year, let us all seek to invite just one person to a deeper relationship with God. Every Sunday can be an Invitation Sunday, as one of our team members likes to say.
St. John’s has about 1500 members. Imagine the power of more than a thousand invitations to know Jesus and be fed spiritually by this community. You could change somebody’s life through an invitation.
The Jesus Movement also includes care of God’s creation. This is another good theme for us to focus on in the new year.
Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River. From my travels to the Holy Land, I know that the Jordan River is heavily polluted. Sometimes, authorities even discourage people from getting baptizing there because it’s so dirty.
Our faith teaches us this truth: our health as human beings is totally connected to the health of God’s creation. When we pollute and exploit creation, we poison our own bodies and souls.
As members of the Jesus Movement, you and I can make a big difference even through small actions. Consider making the care of God’s creation one of your priorities in this new year.
And finally, as members of the Jesus Movement, we can also serve as ambassadors of Christ’s reconciliation. Bishop Curry is the first African-American Presiding Bishop and he’s made racial reconciliation one of his top priorities.
Bp. Curry is the son of an Episcopalian mother and a Baptist father. His father decided to join the Episcopal Church after the welcome he received during the Jim Crow era of racial segregation.
The first time Bishop Curry’s mother brought his father to church with her, the elder Curry was amazed that he was invited to the Communion rail.
In a world outside the church filled with so many dividing walls and obstacles, the Curry’s found the Episcopal Church to be a place of welcome and reconciling love.
I was excited yesterday during our Visioning Day to hear many members speak from the heart about how they desire St. John’s to be even more diverse, our welcome even broader. “Open arms and open doors” were common phrases.
The best way to accomplish that goal will be through our friendships and relationships in the greater community. A simple invitation can be a source not just of welcome, but also of reconciliation.
On this day, when we’re mindful of the baptism of Jesus and the meaning of our own baptisms, take these words to heart: you are part of the Jesus Movement.
On the road with Jesus, we’re always changing, always being transformed by the Holy Spirit into a new creation. May this New Year be a time for you to become a new creation in God.
A sermon preached on January 7, 2018 by the Rev. David C. Killeen at St. John′s Episcopal Church, Tallahassee.