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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Baptism of Jesus, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
January 12, 2020

Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Matthew 3:13-17

Today is the second Sunday of the Season of Epiphany; it is also the seventy first day of the catastrophic fires in New South Wales and both frame what I’ll talk about today.  It’s been hard to think about revelation as light, when there are so many images of light as fire, of bleeding red skies, of apocalypse right here in Sydney with the eerie yellow light and neon orange suns.  I imagine like me your lives have been touched by the fires, by the toxic smoke clogging our lungs, by family, friends and acquaintances who have lost everything, by a new kind of refugee, holiday makers packed into small boats trying to escape the fires, the 100,000s of dead animals and trees and the ash of their bodies falling on us since the 12th of November last year.  

Scenes of catastrophe from more than two and half thousand years ago are the impetus for the declarations from Isaiah that we just heard.  The unimaginable has happened to the Israelites, who after escaping Egypt and living for centuries undefeated in Canaan, have been conquered and enslaved by the Babylonians.  In chains and without hope they are then reminded by the prophet Isaiah that God who created the heavens, who spread out the earth, who gave breathe to the people, is sending a liberator.  If we’re in any doubt about the magnitude of God’s power it is reinforced in the reading from Psalm 29, where the voice of God is over the waters, it breaks the cedars, it shakes the wilderness and even causes oaks to twirl.

Amazingly though, despite Gods glory thundering throughout creation, the revelation for us of his manifestation in the liberator he sends, isn’t a fierce warrior.  He is not a soldier of old with a bloodied sword, or the contemporary soldier riding the joy stick of a killer drone, or even the liberator of current cinema with their light saber.  The incarnation of God on earth, as Isaiah tells us, is so careful with all he encounters that he doesn’t even bruise or break a reed, or quench a dimly burning wick.  Then when he has incarnated he is so humble that he asks John to baptize him even though John protests saying “I need to be baptized by you”.  Reading these lines in the Gospel and Isaiah resulted in a light bulb moment for me.  Or as I’ve heard epiphany described it led to a “spiritual aha moment” regarding the fires.  I’ve been struggling to understand what is happening and know how to act in this catastrophe, in these unprecedented times.  I now know I’m grieving as I’ve realised I’m experiencing the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance.  Although accepting my emotional response is a significant part of living in these harsh times, it’s not enough because I’ve remained confused as to how to understand and act towards what is incomprehensible, to what I have never experienced before.  

This was until realization dawned when reading in Isaiah and Mathew of liberation and understanding expressed in simple, humble, quiet acts.   Further when Jesus answers John’s confusion by saying that his baptism is “fulfilling all righteousness”.  It suddenly clicked that this righteousness could indicate the presence of an elemental plan running like a substructure of light through all creation.  It is mentioned time and again in these readings and is the network of God’s spirit moving through all creation.  In Isaiah God puts forth his spirit upon Jesus and through the earth which he spread out and in the very breath of the people he placed upon the earth.  Then in Mathew it can be seen as a mighty spirit that cracks open the heavens and alights like a dove on Jesus.  There is something about the coexistence of both immense power and fragility in the manifestation of God’s spirit described in Mathew that also struck me when looking for answers to the unanswerable.  It seemed to me that we are held in this mighty pattern that can manifest through us in simple, humble acts, possibly unseen by others that non-the-less keep our connection to that pervasive grid of light and spirit alive.  

Reflecting on how we might connect or reconnect with this light I was reminded of Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem from his album “The Future”.  Where he sings: “Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering, There is a crack, a crack in everything, That’s how the light gets in.  Speaking about this song Cohen said: “The future is no excuse for an abdication of your own personal responsibilities towards yourself and your job and your love. “Ring the bells that still can ring”.  Paraphrasing what he says next: all is imperfect, there is a crack in everything but this is no excuse, we need to acknowledge the brokenness, the cracks because that is where the light gets in (https://qz.com/835076/leonard-cohens-anthem-the-story-of-the-line-there-is-a-crack-in-everything-thats-how-the-light-gets-in/). So if like me you feel hopeless at times in the face of this current catastrophe, and if this hopelessness reminds you of the hardships in your life, past and present, to the point where you feel unable to understand or act, look again at your scars and cracks and find the light shining through.

Dr Patricia Morgan

Homily by Dr Patricia Morgan