Sermon for the 1st Sunday after Epiphany

Sermon for the 1st Sunday after Epiphany

Jan 10, 2021

Passage:Mark 1:4-11

Preacher: The Rev. Jared Houze

Series: Epiphany

Category: Baptism


We now find ourselves in the season after Epiphany, or Epiphanytide as the Church refers to it…Epiphany, in the Greek, means “manifestation” – it is a season in which we retell the stories and remember how God was made manifest in Jesus. Meaning, it is a season in which we take-in with all our senses God’s love, God’s justice, and God’s mercy on full display in the life and ministry of Jesus. 


And this first Sunday in Epiphanytide you and I get to watch such a manifestation in an odd place with an odd character…  


John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…


That’s where we are this morning…the wilderness, listening to John the Baptizer. I don’t call him John the Baptist because growing up Baptist I heard from certain Sunday School teachers that he was one of us – this John the Baptist. This only led me to assume that John must have been a Southern Baptist because surely he wouldn’t have associated with those liberal Northern Baptists. No! He is John the Baptizer…the prophet. 


…And he is crying and cussing and praying and preaching in the wilderness. The wilderness is a significant place and the people of Israel know this – it is a place intricately woven into their DNA, into their experience as the people of God. A lot of Israel’s prophets of old talked about the wilderness…Isaiah, Ezekiel, Malachi…and of course we think of Moses in the Exodus. The gospel of Mark drops us at the very beginning, to borrow the words of the poet Wordsworth , “not in entire forgetfulness, not in utter nakedness, but trailing clouds of glory.” 


It’s remarkable to think about really…this gruff man in the wilderness…trailing clouds of glory. 


He was the son of a priest, who, many think, left home when he was 14 years old. Instead of choosing the life of a temple priest, like his old man, he took another path and it led him into the wilderness. He could have inherited a position through his father, got the nice office with the leather chair, the library, his own parking space, and all the clout and respect that came with it. But he chose differently. He traded the inside track for the outside fringe, traded priestly vestments for camel hair; God became his father and the desert his mother. If you look at Byzantine icons of John the Baptizer he is this wild, wooly man – with skin darkened and wrinkled by the sun, his beard, the envy of any twenty something millennial male – it’s full and overgrown, his eyes like two birds with their wings on fire and you can almost smell the desert wind and see it tangling his hair in knots. 


And his diet…locusts and wild honey. Why would Mark include that little detail? 


Some scholars suggest it’s to emphasize the prophetic nature of the man; it speaks to the austerity of the life he chose. But something about that locust and wild honey intrigued me. So, a while back I did some research, chasing a rabbit trail – for sure, but you never know. Tom Waits said of songwriting, “I enjoy being puzzled and arriving at my own incorrect conclusions.” There’s something of that in the process of preparing a sermon that’s similar for me. Well, I came across a few academic works by people who devoted their professional life to studying the eating and dietary customs in Ancient Near Eastern cultures. (Kinda cool…and let’s be straight – gotta get that tenure somehow, right?) Well, I learned that locust and wild honey was once considered a delicacy. In fact, when a person of royalty would arrive in a house the master of that house would send the servants out into the wilderness to bring back the locust and wild honey to be served in honor of the arrival of the king. 


Think about that…Here’s John, he leaves the temple, he goes into the wilderness, calling people to a new way of being in the world, he’s baptizing, announcing a new kingdom…and he’s eating the food you prepare for when a king arrives.  And then Jesus comes down from Nazareth and just as he comes out of those baptismal waters we hear God say, “You are my son, my beloved. With you I am pleased.” 


This isn’t about scarcity and austerity. This is prophetic, this is symbolic, this is creative – but the kind of creativity that can re-create a people, re-create a culture because it is counter-cultural - calling people to live differently in this world. God’s love is being manifested through the backwoods baptism of a Jewish peasant at the hands of this wild bard of the desert…and it puts into motion the public life and ministry of a man who will change the world by manifesting God’s love, justice, and mercy - because that’s what the world needs. 


It did then and it does now. 


Because other things are made manifest too…and those things were on full display this past Wednesday at the Capitol – things like ignorance, fear, racism, and idolatry. And then after the fact social media is swarming with people trying to make sense of senselessness, and people arguing, and people posting prayers one minute and the next reposting MEMEs and images of what happened for laughs and it just accentuates that we find ourselves in this theatre of the absurd and over half the time we think we’re just watching the play without realizing we’re all characters in it. 


I’m tired of the script. I am not interested in political posturing or self-righteous grandstanding whether it be on Facebook or behind a pulpit and I am not concerned with passing fabricated lithmus tests whether they come from the left or the right – because I don’t think those things actually produce change. 

Maybe that’s because I’ve listened to just enough punk rock music in my life and I mistrust those mechanisms, but I think it may have more to do with the fact that I have witnessed a holy and fierce love that took many shapes and brought about change and I have been changed by people who have loved me in the midst of my flaws, failings, and many imperfections. They transformed my life and I watched them transform the lives of others. They were the manifestation of Jesus and they changed the worlds around them. 


That’s what I care about. That’s who I want to be. And that’s my prayer for all of us here at St. Andrew’s. 


This past weekend I was with our diocesan School of Ordained Ministry students. Ironically enough, the scheduled subject of study was “Church and Politics.” I was not excited. 


But…something we got to do together was go through Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and though I’ve read this letter many times, this time this sentence struck me…


We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that time is always ripe to do right. 


We must use time creatively. 


John the Baptizer used time creatively, Jesus of Nazareth used time creatively, and we are called to do the same. 


The kind of creative that has the power to re-create people, and cultures – the kind of creative that learns how to counter-culturally manifest God’s love, justice, and mercy, so we might be the manifestation of Christ in people’s lives and in this world.