Fall Afresh on Me
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
January 24, 2021 Third Sunday after Epiphany,
Baptism of Christ Sunday
Isaiah 42:1-9; Mark 1:4-11
Call to Worship: Welcome to the United Church of Strafford, Vermont on this Third Sunday after Epiphany, celebrating the Baptism of Christ.
Today we rejoice in the beginning of a new story. The prophet Isaiah says See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare. God’s people will not faint or be crushed until they have established justice in the earth. A new story.
Jesus goes down into the muddy waters of the Jordan and rises up having let go of everything, emptied himself completely, opened himself entirely to the Spirit. The Spirit then swoops down and propels him into the wilderness to be transformed in exactly the ways that humanity must now be transformed in order to save our civilization and all the earth. A new story.
Jesus did not begin it, Isaiah did not begin it, God began a new story with the spark that brought lifeless matter into being in the first single cells. God began it again and again after five mass extinctions. God began a whole new storyline with the spark of the first human word. God began it again with the great Axial Age dawning of the Golden Rule and the vision of a world shaped not by selfishness and violence but by compassion and love.
The Spirit of the universe is a spinner of new stories. Today in the United States it is happening again. The Spirit is beginning to do a new thing, and we are the ones it wants to do it through, we are the authors of this new chapter. God is depending on us to use the gifts the Spirit has given us, our time, our energy, our hearts and minds, our talents and resources. The passionate pursuit of light and life and love needs to be renewed and fulfilled by us now in order for the human part of the story to continue.
Let us rejoice in the opportunity, in the dawning possibility, and in all those who have gone before us who taught us the old story and gave their lives to bring us to this new day. Let us worship together.
Fall Afresh on Me
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us. Melt us, mold us, fill us, use us.
Melt us like old silver into a smooth new sheet. Mold us into a chalice. Fill us with the lifeblood of the Spirit. Use us for communion, bringing diverse people together as one force of love, refreshed and inspired. Melt us, mold us, fill us, use us.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us, we pray, and lo and behold it is happening. The Spirit is giving the homo sapiens species a chance to begin anew in its 300,000 year history.
Jesus was a homo sapiens. His body was made up of recycled parts, like everyone else’s, but he began a new story for all humanity and all the earth when he went down into the River Jordan. He did it by letting his past go and handing over his entire life to be guided and empowered by the Spirit.
The Prophet Isaiah said, “Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it…. I have given you as…a light to the nations…. New things I now declare.”
A new story is struggling to be born today. A culture war is raging between old and new. It is not the first time. All old stories were once new to human consciousness and civilization, and they had to struggle with older ways in their own culture wars.
These birth pangs are inevitable because the Holy Spirit drives humanity as it drove Jesus. The Spirit propels us to evolve until the realm of God is established on earth, a civilization founded on the Golden Rule and love of neighbor and compassion for all, on oneness, justice and harmony among people and with the planet.
Our current old story dates to the Industrial Revolution and Enlightenment before it. It represented progress in many ways, but it has led to the crises that threaten to destroy us. It has allowed racial and economic injustice to worsen. It has been unable to stop our greedy materialism and its deadly effects on the environment. Many people are clinging with fundamentalist fervor to the old story, insisting on its ways as immutable laws, hiding for fear behind its fortified walls.
Others of us see problems with the old story. They are prepared to undergo a baptism of dying to the old culture and being born anew, opening to the Spirit to guide humanity into our next evolutionary stage.
The new story traces back to visionaries over the millennia like Isaiah and Jesus who have prophesied and modeled it ahead of their time. New visionaries today are combining ancient wisdom with the most advanced science and insights.
This week two of those contemporary voices spoke for the entire world to hear, calling our society to undertake the collective composition of a new story.
President Biden said in his inaugural address, “Together, we shall write an American story of hope, not fear. Of unity, not division. Of light, not darkness. An American story of decency and dignity. Of love and of healing. Of greatness and of goodness.
“May this be the story that guides us. The story that inspires us.
“The story that tells ages yet to come that we answered the call of history. We met the moment. That democracy and hope, truth and justice, did not die on our watch but thrived.”
The inaugural poem was delivered by our National Youth Poet Laureate, 22-year-old Amanda Gorman. Everything about her on that podium was part of a new story, from her dawn-bright yellow jacket to her “caged bird singing” ring on her gracefully dancing hand, from her erudite writing to her eloquent elocution. Amanda Gorman has not let the old stories of racism or economic inequity be the story of her life. She has struggled to free her voice from impediment.
Her inaugural poem invoked a new story for humanity. Here are some excerpts:
When day comes we ask ourselves
Where can we find light in this never-ending shade…?
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
A nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.
We, the successors of a country and a time…
If we’re to live up to our own time,
then victory won’t lie in the blade but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promised glade,
The hill we climb if only we dare it.
Because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it….
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour,
But within it we found the power
To author a new chapter….
When day comes we step out of the shade,
Aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it,
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
President Biden said, “In another January in Washington, on New Year’s Day 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. When he put pen to paper, the president said, ‘If my name ever goes down into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.’”
The Emancipation Proclamation was a new story, and at the time Lincoln signed it, a story was all it was. It had no legal hold over the slave states. In fact, its constitutionality was questionable. But the power of that new story transformed American history and made light dawn where it had seemed night would never end, because Lincoln was brave.
Today we need to “step out of the shade aflame and unafraid” into our own brave new story, continuing the stories of Lincoln and Christ and Isaiah and the poet-prophet Amanda Gorman. We need to see it. We need to be it.
Let us pray, letting go as Jesus did in the River Jordan, emptying and opening ourselves to the Spirit to be made new, dedicating our lives and putting our whole soul into the new story we need. Let us pray in silence, “Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.”