Out of Water and Wildness

Firstly of this new 12 months, we’re immersed in water.

That’s true fairly actually right here in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, the place snow blankets timber and fields and softens the sides of rooflines. However water additionally flows via our readings for this week, as we hear once more the story of the Spirit of God who broods over the face of the waters originally of creation and who descends on Jesus as he comes out of the waters of the Jordan.

The studying from Genesis 1 is probably too acquainted to essentially hear. It may be translated one thing like this: “When God started to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was wild and waste, utter darkness lined the deep, and the Spirit of God brooded over the face of the waters.”1

This can be a story not about creation-out-of-nothing however about creation out of a world that’s wild and waste, formless and void (tohu va-vohu in Hebrew). In Genesis, the world as we all know it’s created out of formless matter and out of the watery abyss.

Now, to make certain, Genesis 1 doesn’t inhabit the world of historic Close to Japanese creation myths, the place the gods should defeat chaos (within the type of the ocean or sea dragon) with a purpose to create the earth. There is just one God in Genesis, and that God creates every part, even the ocean monsters themselves (Genesis 1:21). Nonetheless, there may be in Genesis 1 “the deep” (tehom), the primordial ocean, which was to the traditional Israelites the epitome of chaos.

And one can perceive why. The traditional Israelites are recognized for some nice accomplishments, however sailors they weren’t. They most well-liked to stay with their toes firmly planted on land. And who can blame them? As a baby of the landlocked Midwest, I too am fascinated and on the similar time terrified by the ocean. It doesn’t assist that I’m a poor swimmer, however even sturdy swimmers, I think, standing on the shore looking over the huge, rolling sea, can perceive why the traditional Israelites equated the ocean with chaos. It’s not secure. It’s removed from secure.

However over these waters, says Genesis 1, broods the Spirit of God. The NRSV reads, “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” This can be a superb translation, however “wind” and “spirit” are the identical phrase in Hebrew (ruach), and the verb translated “swept” is utilized in Deuteronomy 32:11 to talk of a mom eagle hovering or brooding over her younger ones.

The fourth-century church father Ephrem the Syrian picked up on this picture of a brooding chicken when he wrote of Genesis 1:2:

[The Holy Spirit] warmed the waters with a type of important heat, even bringing them to a boil via intense warmth with a purpose to make them fertile. The motion of a hen is analogous. It sits on its eggs, making them fertile via the heat of incubation.2

Ephrem’s picture is startling—the Holy Spirit as a brooding hen—however it’s appropriate with the outline of those self same waters a couple of verses later:

And God mentioned, “Let the waters deliver forth swarms of dwelling creatures, and let birds fly above the earth throughout the dome of the sky.” So God created the good sea monsters and each dwelling creature that strikes, of each variety, with which the waters swarm, and each winged chicken of each variety. And God noticed that it was good (Genesis 1:20-21).

Whales and walruses, sea monsters and squid—the waters teem with life and it’s wild and assorted and splendidly free. These primordial waters (as we all know not solely from Scripture but in addition from evolutionary science) are the birthplace of life. And that life comes forth on the command of a God who creates all of it out of sheer pleasure and delight. Annie Dillard is unquestionably appropriate when she claims, “the creator loves pizzazz.”3

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The Gospel studying, too, speaks of water and wildness. In Mark 1, we’re out within the wilderness of Judea with that wild and wooly prophet John; and after he baptizes Jesus, the heavens usually are not a lot opened as torn aside whereas that very same voice that claims, “Let there be gentle” now declares, “You might be my Son, the Beloved.”

And the Spirit who broods over the primordial waters is similar Spirit who descends on Jesus within the waters of the Jordan and names him “Beloved.” After which the Holy Spirit drives him out into the wild and wasteland (Mark 1:12), to start his ministry of proclaiming the wildness of the dominion of God come close to.

And what about you? What about you who’ve been known as via the waters of baptism to comply with this One? What about you particularly, pricey Working Preachers, who’ve additionally been known as to proclaim the wildness of the dominion of God come close to?

Frederick Buechner writes that as a younger man coming into seminary, he was at a cocktail party in New York and an older, rich, subtle lady spoke to him, a bit too loudly, down the lengthy desk: “I hear you might be coming into the ministry,” she mentioned, “Was it your personal concept or had been you poorly suggested?”4

“Was it your personal concept or had been you poorly suggested?” It’s true, actually, that the lifetime of a minister (whether or not lay or ordained) just isn’t what most individuals would name, “the nice life.” It’s not making you rich. It entails lengthy days, and generally cellphone calls within the wee hours. It entails rolling up your sleeves at occasions and doing dishes or arranging chairs as a result of that’s what must be performed. It entails being in locations—nursing houses, hospitals—that many different folks attempt to keep away from.

And but, there may be additionally a sure journey to this lifetime of ministry, a sure wildness. You might be usually strolling on holy floor, invited into the lives of your folks at their worst moments and their greatest moments. And you might be given the immense privilege and duty of decoding how God is working in these moments, brooding over the wild waters, bringing forth new life.

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We’re immersed in water originally of this new 12 months. Water and wildness are our themes this week, however actually, all through our lives. And it begins within the waters of baptism. Water is a harmful factor. Water can drown and destroy and wash away all that we cling to for safety. Water, particularly the water of baptism, just isn’t secure. It’s removed from secure.

And but, the God who calls forth life in all its many and assorted types from the primordial waters is similar God who calls us to new beginning within the waters of baptism. Ephrem the Syrian, once more:

Right here, then, the Holy Spirit foreshadows the sacrament of holy baptism, prefiguring its arrival, in order that the waters made fertile by the hovering of that very same divine Spirit would possibly give beginning to the youngsters of God.5

It’s not secure. It’s removed from secure. However it’s neither to a lifetime of security nor to a lifetime of consolation that God calls us. The God who delights within the whale and the walrus, the ocean lion and the squid, and all of the wild and harmful creatures in between, additionally delights in us. God calls us to new adventures within the waters of baptism. And in these waters, for the sake of Christ, God names us “Beloved.”

Thanks, pricey Working Preacher, for answering Christ’s name to the journey of ministry on this wild and delightful world that God loves a lot. Might God provide you with pleasure within the journey.

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