Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 11 Jan., 2015, Epiphany 1, The Baptism of Our Lord
Year B RCL: Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11
In the beginning...God said...and it was good.
Water, beginnings, God's spirit & God's approval flow through & connect our scriptures today.
Genesis says “In the beginning...a wind from God [also translated God's Spirit] swept over the...waters.”1 In the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, the waters of baptism flow over him & God's Spirit descends like a dove. In the beginning as Christianity spreads, the waters of Baptism flow over the believers in Ephesus, as Acts tells us, & God's Holy Spirit fills them so that they can serve God more effectively, just as Apollos has learned to do in the previous chapter (Acts 18:24-28).
The information about Apollos & in today's lesson show us that our work of sharing the Good News of Jesus & supporting each other as we grow in knowledge & God's grace continues the work that begins in the beginning of Christianity.
Beginnings are important. We speak of “a good beginning” & “that didn't get off to a good start.” Saying this, we reflect the understanding in the Genesis account of beginnings. The book we call Genesis (as the Jewish Study Bible tells us2) is the Greek name for the Hebrew book known by its first word, bereishitבְּרֵאשִׁית 3, that means “In the beginning.” The people in the world of Genesis consider beginnings very important, reflecting both the origin & purpose of what has begun.4
The beginning in Ephesus gives a deeper walk with Jesus for the Christians Paul encounters & who gain a new beginning of life as God's people. Our lived relationship with God & God's people takes precedence over our abstract theology & intellectualism,5 as we change & grow & encounter new beginnings.
Today we encounter the waters of baptism & God's spirit in our reading from Acts & in our Gospel. Mark tells us that Jesus stands in solidarity with the people of Isreal6 who are re-dedicating their lives to God. This Gospel also tells us of Jesus' unique status7 when God's Spirit descends like a dove. God says clearly to Jesus: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” This is a lived relationship with God.
How does that feel when someone says something like that to you? “Great job!” “I admire how you handled that.” “You are special to me.” I usually see a positive reaction in the lived relationship when a person hears such words.
As we leave Christmas behind & enter Epiphany, we focus on God's reaching out to us Gentiles. We enter the world of beginnings in the new year. One Christian tradition to mark the beginning Epiphany brings is to chalk one's home.8
So we will ask God to bless this chalk for you to take home as you may like to mark a special beginning, a deeper relationship with God & a fuller relationship with your Beloved Brothers & Sisters in Christ, with whom you shine the Light of Christ with whom you shine the Light of Christ.
As we do this, remember Philippians 1:9 that many of us pray daily at 1:09 p.m. We pray “that our love may overflow more & more with knowledge & full insight to help us determine what is best.”
The Blessing of Chalk9
Chalk is from the earth God created in the beginning. The short service at home is to ask God’s blessing on one's home & on all who live, work with & visit the home. In this way, we invite Jesus to be a “guest” in our home, a listener to each conversation, a guide for troubled times, & a blessing in times of thanksgiving, a light to guide us.
Chalking the door or the door stoop literally marks our beginning. It reminds us that the Israelites marked their doors with the blood of the lamb so that the angel of death would pass over them. It reminds us that Deuteronomy 6:9 says we are to write God's words on our hearts, teach them diligently to our children, talk of them at home & write them on our door posts & gates.
For 2015, take the blessed chalk mark over your front door or on the front stoop: 20 (the first numbers for this year) + C + M + B + 15 (the last numbers for this year] saying: “The three Wise Men, C – Caspar, M – Melchior, & B – Balthazar followed the star of God’s Son who became human 2 thousand &15 years ago” Then make the sign of the cross & say: “May Jesus the Christ bless our home & remain with us throughout this new year. Amen.”
C M B above the door also stands for Christus Mansionem Benedicat, Latin for “May Christ Bless this House.
God is love, & those who abide in love abide in God, & God abides in them. Jesus Christ, God’s incarnation, is present in the love & care we manifest to each other in our daily lives together. Let us pray: Loving God, bless this chalk which you have created, that it may be helpful to your people. Grant that through the invocation of your most Holy Name all those who with it write the names of your saints, Caspar, Melchior, & Balthazar, may receive health of body & protection of soul for all who dwell in the homes where this chalk is used, we make this prayer through Jesus the Christ., the Light of the world Amen.
Barclay, William. The Acts of the Apostlesk. Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press. 1962.
Barclay, William. The Gospel of Mark. Revised Ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1975.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
http://acatholiclife.blogspot.com/2012/01/blessing-of-epiphany-chalk.html Accessed: 10 Jan. 2015.
http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Scripture/Parashah/Summaries/Bereshit/bereshit.html. Accessed: 10 Jan. 2015.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 5 Jan.. 2015.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
Peters, The Rev. Bosco. “Epiphany chalk house blessing”. http://liturgy.co.nz/epiphany-chalk-house-blessing-2. Posted 29 Dec. 2010 by Bosco Peters. Updated for 2015. Includes parts from A New Zealand Prayer Book page 762. Accessed: 1 Jan. 2015.
1 Note: Examples include Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. P. 12. Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. P. 1. The New American Bible for Catholics. P. 8.
2 Ibid. Jewish Study Bible. P. 8.
3 http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Scripture/Parashah/Summaries/Bereshit/bereshit.html. Accessed: 10 Jan. 2015.
4 Ibid. Jewish Study Bible. P. 8.
5 Note: Adapted from Ibid. Jewish Study Bible.
6 Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. P. 986.
8 From Peters, The Rev. Bosco. “Epiphany chalk house blessing”. http://liturgy.co.nz/epiphany-chalk-house-blessing-2. Posted 12/29/10 by Bosco Peters. Updated for 2015. Includes parts from A New Zealand Prayer Book page 762. Accessed: 1/1/15. And from http://acatholiclife.blogspot.com/2012/01/blessing-of-epiphany-chalk.html Accessed: 1/10/15.