A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

We’re Torn Apart: Sermon for Baptism of Our Lord Sunday January 9, 2021

This sermon was preached on Jan. 10, 2021, at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. You can view it on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Genesis 1: 1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19: 1-7
Mark 1: 4-11

I’ve been torn this week. Torn about what to say. Torn about how to feel. Torn about my own weariness. I’m torn apart. The events of this week nationally, congregationally, and personally have left me torn. Frayed edges of my heart, spirit and soul that need mended, that need put back together, that need smoothed somehow. I’m torn and you need to know that. I’m torn and yet convicted. The events that we witnessed this week, of this year, and of the past 400 years of white supremacy are leaving us all frayed and in need of repair. We witnessed the very tearing of the fabric of our lives together as peoples of this nation. But we have to be honest, that this tearing isn’t new. It’s the final ripping apart of a small tear that began long before us but now it’s up to us to stitch back together. For decades, centuries, we watched as we’ve torn ourselves apart with words and actions of fear, hate and bigotry. We’ve torn ourselves apart with racism, sexism, nationalism, and yes, our very religions. And yes, you might be thinking, “well this is the story of humanity. We tear ourselves apart.” It’s as if we’d rather be torn apart than do the harder work of being the needle and thread, the patch that brings us back together.

God has been watching us tear ourselves apart and it tears apart God. God loves us, all creation and it simply tears God up to see how we treat each other, treat the earth, and treat ourselves. But God acts though being torn up. God tore open the heavens at Jesus’ baptism to send the Holy Spirit to Jesus. The word in Greek for “torn apart” is schizo, where we get our word schism. God has witnessed the schisms of the world, of humanity from the first schism where humans thought that they knew more than God. All of history is God at work in this schism, sending angels, prophets, and judges with words that called God’s people to see the schism that they have created, to repent, to have courage to do and say what needs to be done. Repairing the schisms of our world, where we are tearing ourselves apart is not for the faint of heart, it’s why God had to come and be flesh in our midst. Only God has that kind of courage, strength and power that was culminated in Jesus. Jesus’ baptism inaugurates him for the vulnerable and courageous work of repairing the schism between the world and God’s kingdom. Jesus shines a light on it, and says it can be mended, but it might hurt as when our own flesh is torn open and a doctor stitches us back together.

At Jesus’ baptism the Holy Spirit falls through the rip in the heavens and lands on him, God’s very voice booms with the words, “you are my Son, the beloved.” And then the very next thing that happens, which we will read in a couple of weeks, is that Jesus is driven out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, for his ministry to begin. Jesus is sent right out to the edges of the frayed fabric of society, right to where flesh was torn and bleeding, right to where violence of minds, bodies and souls were ripping through communities. Jesus spoke words of healing, not just of ripped bodies but of torn hearts. Jesus words of healing and love also ripped open the truth of powers and principalities, the truth of following along with status quo where some lives did indeed matter more than others. Jesus, as God’s beloved, acted for healing, lifted up those whom were being sacrificed to keep schisms justified and normalized. Jesus refused to do any tearing but only sought to mend, through concrete actions of solidarity for those on the margins and with God’s mission of life, wholeness and abundance for all. Jesus’ baptism sent him right to where his own body would be torn and ripped, on the cross, as a testament to what we can do to one of our own. If we’re honest, we tend to sentimentalize this gruesome act and we move directly to the “yes but then God raised Jesus and everything is ok!” Well, for a long time, things were not ok and what was real was the tearing and ripping apart.

My beloveds, everything is not ok. We live in that time of tearing and ripping. In our own baptisms, we proclaim that we are baptized with Jesus, and we proclaim that the Holy Spirit rips through the heavens to land on us too. As God’s baptized people, we are called to go to where the schisms are, we are sent to the frayed edges of our world, we are pushed to the places where we are tearing ourselves apart as humanity. We are called to be courageous, and in our Lutheran tradition in the theology of the cross, to call a thing what it is. To say no to violent actions and words that are tearing our nation and society apart. To leave the comforts of our privilege behind. To stand up to would be tyrants and rebuff words that incite violence, hate, and destruction. To point out the disparities in how people of different skin colors, genders, ethnicities, religions are being treated by the government and governmental agencies. If you ever wondered what you would have done during the rise of Hilterism in Germany or in the civil rights movement of this country, you’re doing it right now. This is our baptismal moment. We promise in our baptismal vows to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. We must be willing to go the schism. We are being torn from our comforts, our privilege, our egos, our status and driven out into the world. I am beginning to think that there is grace in not being in our buildings right now. We are not baptized to sit in a building, we are baptized to go out into the world as menders.
I’m not naïve, although I’ll admit to being idealistic. I know that many of you right now might be uncomfortable or even angry with me right now for being “political.” Yes, I’m very concerned about how we live together. Jesus was too. I know that this is asking a lot.  This will mean that we speak and act in ways that will be much like the speaking in tongues that occurred in the Acts 19 passage-for when the Holy Spirit lands on us, we are torn from our old selves and our old ways and are made new, and we will be strange to the rest of the world, as Jesus was strange and that is why the world nailed him to a cross. Anything different than the ways of the world must be denied. But here’s what I believe with my whole heart, dear ones and why I became a pastor: I believe that when enough of us stand in the truth of the gospel, the gospel that only has words of healing, reconciliation and love, then nothing, nothing, can stop God’s wholeness from mending what we have torn. God’s power to mend, is greater than our power to tear apart. I want to be a mender, I want to mend myself and be wholly and made holy with Christ. I want to go to the frayed edges and do whatever is necessary, even if it’s unpopular, to heal you, to heal our community, to heal our nation and to heal the world. I believe that we don’t have to continue to tear ourselves apart. I don’t. I believe that Jesus gives me this courage, this strength, this conviction, because I surely don’t possess it on my own,

While we live in a time of tearing apart, we do know the end of the story. We do know that in the tearing open, Jesus comes. We do know that God’s words and actions only bring life, and life abundant for all. We do know that the tomb is empty and that wholeness, for us to be stitched together in the promises of God, is real. We do know that we will not always be torn apart for Jesus mends us together. Amen.