I was looking for connections, relationships in this story, and this was the first thing I saw. Jesus, standing in line with ordinary people, doing what everyone else did when they committed their lives to God. He was waiting to be baptized, and after he showed that he also, was making a commitment, he prayed.
And that’s when the party got started. That’s where things took an unexpected turn, where the normal part stopped and it became obvious that something new was happening.
‘The heavens were parted.’ The people of that time would see this sign as the start of a new age. Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians (around 55 CE) “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation, everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Cor. 5: 17)
The New Age had begun, starting with Jesus’ baptism, as he headed out into the wilderness to pray before beginning his ministry.
What is the New Age? I think it’s another way of saying ‘the Kingdom of God.’ ‘The Kingdom of God’ sounds funny. We get it confused with heaven, and we don’t have any experience of what a kingdom is like. But we know a kingdom would be run like the king intended, with the laws and way of living that that king set up.
The Kingdom of God would be living in relationship with each other as if we really were each other’s family, and living as if we really cared for each other.
We do that well as a church. We enjoy each other and care for each other here pretty well. That’s because we know and like each other. And if we spread that into the whole world, that kind of caring and relationship, that would be the Kingdom of God.
But when we think of being in relationship, one relationship that we often overlook is that with the earth. Way back in history, early people saw the earth as a living organism, something that was alive that also took care of them. We hear echoes of that today when we say, “Mother Nature,” or “Mother Earth.” Ancient religions and Native American spirituality honored the earth as something alive. We know of the Native American practice of leaving sacred tobacco, as an offering, when they took something from the earth. Hunters would speak to animals, thanking them for the gift of their lives before they killed them.
When we know things are in relationship with us, we are much more thoughtful about when and how we ‘use’ them.
I’ve been thinking about that lately, when I wrote the last article in the Courier, and when I read this story about Jesus initiating the ‘New Age of God’ with his baptism.
In our story, Jesus starts out being in relationship with others. Many, many people were responding to John’s invitation to be baptized – starting a new life in relationship with God, and Jesus did that too. It was important for him to show that he also was committing himself to God. And when he did, he was surrounded by elements of creation, all relating to him.
He accepted John’s invitation, and stepped into the water. When he prayed, the heavens; the clouds and air somehow ‘were opened.’ Then, the Holy Spirit filled him, and Luke made a point to tell us ‘it was in bodily form like a dove.’ Jesus connected with John, with the people and God, and it sounds as if he was also in some form of relationship with water, air, clouds, and the dove. They all responded to him.
For the last few hundred years, (maybe after the industrial revolution, when we needed to start mining and cutting forests and ‘using’ the earth on a larger scale), we have thought of the earth as dead. We also have thought of creation as composed of ‘things’ to be used for our benefit. It is easy to use things if we think they are dead and have no awareness.
But science is telling us now that just like ancient people believed, the earth and the entire universe is more ‘alive’ than ‘dead.’ The universe itself keeps growing, becoming larger, and creating new stars every day. On the largest scale, the universe is growing, and on the smallest scale, everything is to some degree, alive.
The smallest particles we know are photons, which are part of light and made of energy. Photons move. They also move in relationship with each other. If you put one photon miles away from another photon, they still influence each other in their movement.
Scientists have shown that everything also has some limited form of consciousness, in that the smallest particles still organize themselves in complex patterns. So, the smallest, and the largest pieces of creation have energy, share some form of consciousness, and grow.
Jesus lived in relationship with creation. He talked to fig trees, compared God’s care for us to the beauty of flowers in the field and God’s care for the birds in the air. He related to everyone as if they were family.
We have a new age in front of us. We have spent many years relating to people as if some mattered more than others, and we have thought of the earth itself as dead, and to be used for our benefit. We are facing crises with refugees and immigrants, a government closure that will hurt those with less before it begins to bother those of us with more, and we face global warming.
But, Jesus shows us it’s a New Age. Now, we can experience the possibility of being in relationship more than ever before. We see pictures of our brothers and sisters, the refugees in the world. We see pictures of the plastic dams in the oceans and polar bears and seals not having enough ice left in the Artic.
At the same time, we also have seen the pictures of Jayme Clos, and because of that, she was recognized and saved. The same thing happened a year ago in Alexandria. Earl Melchert, a worker at a grain co-op, was driving his pickup truck home for lunch when he saw a girl running across a field. He recognized that she was Jasmine Block, who had been kidnapped and was missing for over a month. He rescued her and called the police. When the police chief presented him with $7,000 in reward money, Chief Wyffel told Jasmine,
“You ran into one awesome individual in Earl Melchert,” “His heart and compassion were instantly in your world. Because of the promotion of your story, your mother’s efforts, your family’s efforts, the community’s efforts, that story was out there, Jasmine. It was out there so much that when Earl saw you, he knew who you were.”
Earl refused the money, and gave it to the family instead, saying that to have dinner with them would be all the reward he needed.
To be in relationship with each other, all creation, and the earth itself. The baptism of Jesus, calls us into this New Age.