One of the things I long for is the ability to hear these stories as they were first heard. With awe. And wonder. With limitless imagination. And sheer delight. But of course thatâ€™s nearly impossible for us. Blame science. Blame the Enlightenment, and every age since. More precisely, blame human response, our own reasoning. Weâ€™ve spent hundreds of years knowingly confusing, and, particularly in these past few decades, willfully conflating science and divine poetry. Which has sullied our ability to hear these stories as they were first heard.
At some level ours is a conscious choice. And it's an odd one. We long for awe and wonder in our lives. Yet chase after answers and facts. We want to explore something new, but generally are unsettled by anything beyond our immediate grasp. We search for probability but have a hard time with possibility. Ours is an equal aversion to ambiguity and uncalculated risk. Maybe it is deep-seated aversion such as this that makes us so quick to fill in these wondrously open statements. Is what drives us to search for why or how something happens. And when something happens we donâ€™t expect, to explain it away. However far fetched our explanations may be. We put dinosaurs on Noahâ€™s ark. Defend the world as being but a few thousand years old. And
say any other viewpoint is partial belief or no belief at all. We believe our explanations. Convince ourselves of them. Live by them. Constrain ourselves by them.
What precisely happened in the beginning? How did God become incarnate in humanity? And how is God baptized when God has no need of it? after all God was never thrown out of the garden. These, dear friends, are, in and of themselves, questions of our own constraining. Questions turning the focus over to what have we done, or what we have left undone. Which is not the point. Because constraint is not how God thinks or how God acts.
God does not look on impossibility or probability. Cause or effect. For God is both cause and effect. With God something always happens. In the beginning something happens, as it always does in beginnings. And that something is God. Scripture simply and magnificently tries to point to the something that happens with awe and wonder. The face of the deep. And the face of the waters. Light and darkness. And evening and morning. Day and night. In the wilderness something happens. And that something is God. Everything about the story attempts to maintain awe and wonder. A man appears. His name is
John. He is dressed in very particular garb. He stands at a riverbed. All of Jerusalem and Judea flock to him. Jesus is even baptized by him.
The point of these stories is not the details. The details are there simply to establish and maintain the awe and the wonder of God acting. God acting for us. Friends, if the details get in the way of you experiencing awe and wonder, pay no attention to them. They are means to an end. But if those details help maintain awe and wonder, hold them close to your heart. For they show forth God acting. For you. You may think Iâ€™m bordering on some sort of heresy. But you need not take my word for it. The Bible itself makes the point. Three different stories of Jesusâ€™ baptism. All of them different. Two different creation stories in Genesis. At least one in the Psalms And two in the New Testament. The details? All of them different. All of them Scripture. Scripture which points to God acting, God acting for us.
It's true for every single one of the Bibleâ€™s so-called problematic texts. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednegoâ€™s fiery furnace; Jonah and the great big fish; Paul and Silas bound in jail; the empty tomb. True, for every single one of the worldâ€™s religious practices. Miraculous events.
Appearances. Traditions. The details? All of them different. Meant to foster awe and wonder. Point to God acting, God acting for us.
We may not be the sort to put dinosaurs on the ark, but we do stumble into details constraining us. We disbelieve the cityâ€™s ability to heal. We cannot fathom our nation re-investing in broad strokes of society. We turn on the news and cannot imagine peace. We may not be able to see what tomorrow looks like for the church. We donâ€™t know what tomorrow looks like for us. We may not know the details. But this we know: God acts. And when God acts, we will experience awe and wonder. As in the beginning.
For God has a way with things like this. Goes acts in places of struggle and change. Formless voids. Darkness covering the deep. The face of the waters. Those points where water meet muddy banks. Where weâ€™re not quite certain where one thing ends and another begins. Where we canâ€™t make sense of separation. God acts precisely in those places. Hovers over the waters. Walks deep down into them. Is never afraid of them. But sees them as opportunity to do something new. To create. And to re-create. To claim. And to re-claim. To do something new. Over and over and over again. To birth wonder
and awe and delight again.
No wonder today, one biblical detail is before us in greater abundance than anything else. Water. For water both cleanses and washes away. And water brings forth new life. It at once can drown. And it can be calm. It can sweep across plains. And it can come down gently. Just about anything can happen with water. And just about anything can happen with God. Thatâ€™s why God hovers over the waters. Thatâ€™s why God in Christ Jesus walks down in those waters. Thatâ€™s why God proclaims Jesus the beloved Son. And thatâ€™s why God confidently calls you and me children. Weâ€™re water people. We are people of Godâ€™s acting. The Spirit of God. Holy. Creative. Life-giving.
For something new always comes from God. And something new always comes from us. Water washes away former ways of thinking and embraces the new. Rejoices in the day gone past and looks with expectation to the one ahead. Nourished by water. Cleanesed by water. Living our lives every day by the promise of water. See, I am making all things new. God acts. Thatâ€™s a promise that quells fears. Calms the heart. Invigorates the imagination. God acts. We call that life. Life as in the beginning, again. Life
filled with awe. And wonder. Limitless imagination. Sheer delight.
Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peterâ€™s Church
In the City of New York