Defining Moments

February 6th, 2012 by MMiller

Rev. Dr. Melanie Miller

January 8, 2012

Contemporary Testimony: To Be of Use  by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

“To be of use” by Marge Piercy © 1973, 1982

Ancient Testimony: Mark 1:4-11

4John the baptizer appearedin the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.7He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved;* with you I am well pleased.’

Defining Moments:  If any of you were looking for the main characters  from our ancient testimony this week you should have come to my house.  Bill kept inviting Jesus  and John to dinner.  Almost every night over dinner, there they were.  It’s not that I don’t like them, I do.  But John’s dietary requirements are a challenge and, well, Jesus is a little intimidating.

So, early in the week Bill casually asked a question about the Christmas season, which turned into a convesration about Epiphany, which lead to today’s testimony.  As we began to talk about Jesus and John, Bill was shocked to hear that these two cousins were so close in age.  For some reason he thought John was much, much older than Jesus.  That John had been around for years and years preparing the way. When I explained that, no, in fact Mary and Elizabeth were pregnant the same time with Jesus and John, he made go get the Bible and prove it.  Over the next few night, over and over again, the cousins were invoked.  One night he exclaimed, “What else don’t know?!”   There was no way I was going to invite Job and Ezekiel to the table as well, so I simply smiled!

But, Bill got me to thinking.  John and Jesus growing up together.  Think about it.  They were cousins.  How often did they see each other?  When they did, what did they play?  How did they play? Did they ever fight over a toy?  John’s father was a priest.  Do you think they ever played church, enacting the sabbath rituals, just like some kids do today.  You’ve heard the funny stories of  little  Joey trying to baptize the cat.  Did they know, as children at play, that it would lead to the story we hear today?

Jesus and John at the river.  What an amazing moment.  Do you think John heard the voice from heaven?  Or just Jesus?  And if John did, how did it make him feel?  I’d like to think the voice was affirmation for them both.  John, that Jesus was the long awaited one.  That the long, long line of prophet, of which he was a part, had not preached and proclaimed in vain.

Barbara Lundblad says that , “There’s no indication that others saw the heavens open up. –only Jesus. He saw the heavens torn apart, not opened as in Matthew or Luke, but torn apart. The Greek word there is a form of the verb schitzo as in schism… It is not the same word as open. I open the door. I close the door. The door looks the same, but something torn apart is not easily closed again. The ragged edges never go back together as they were. Mark wasn’t careless in using that word: schitzo. He remembered Isaiah’s plea centuries before when the prophet cried out to God, “Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down to make your name known to your enemies and make the nations tremble at your presence.” (Lundblad, Torn Apart Forever, January 12, 2003)

This was an epiphany.  A defining moment. And John and Jesus were never the same.

These are the things that Bill and I talked about this week at the table.  Jesus and John sitting with us at table all week, but never telling us exactly what happened that day, or in their childhood.  But there, nonetheless.

I didn’t tell Bill that I invited Marge Peircy to the table this mornnig.  Things were complicated enough!   But, Ms. Piercy got me thinking.   She would have loved Jesus and John.  They were two people who jumped in head first.  They were both people who “swam off with sure strokes, native to the elements.” John submerged Jesus in the task.  After the baptismal moment, their lives “took a shape that satisfied, a shape that was clean and evident.”  Their pitchers were filled, overflowing.  (Piercy)

Marge Piercy and Bill got me thinking.  What about me?  What about us?  What about our baptism?  With Jesus and John at the river.  What an amazing moment.  Do you hear the voice from heaven?  How does it make you feel?  Does it make you feel affirmed.  Would that voice from heaven, that affirmation make you be of use?  Would it make you jump in head first.  “Swimming with sure strokes, a native to the elements.  A pitcher filled and overflowing.” (Piercy)

Some of you may have had one of these defining moments.  Maybe not as dramatic as the one  Jesus and John shared.  The heavens may not have opened up.  Or torn apart.  The ragged edges to never go back together as they were.  But maybe you did have a defining moment.  When things were crystal clear and you knew. You knew that you were where you needed to be at the right moment, doing the right thing.  That going forward you would be of use.

I love Marge Peircy’s words.  They are baptismal words.  Sacred, submerged, poured out, washed clean, caught up in the current words.

I think that’s what happended to Jesus and John that day.  It was a defining, sacred moment,  submerged, poured out, washed clean, caught up in the current.  “Reminiscent of Isaiah’s plea centuries before when the prophet cried out to God, “Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and be of use.” (Lundblad)  “To jump in head first.  To swim off with sure strokes, native to the elements.  To submerged  in the task.  To be  filled, overflowing.” (Piercy)  “To come down to make your name known to your enemies and make the nations tremble at your presence.” (Lundblad)

“You are my own Beloved Child.”

Even though John and Jesus were at my house for dinner almost every night last week my sky remained in tact.  I did not hear the voice they heard.  I did not feel my world changed.

Some of you are right there with me.  Waiting for one of these defining moments.  Maybe even wanting it desperately.  It doesn’t even have to be as dramatic and the one Jesus and John shared.  “The heavens may not have opened up.  Or torn apart.  The ragged edges to never go back together as they were.” (Lundblad)  Just some clarity,  just to know for sure.  To know for sure that you are where you need to be.

Even though John, Jesus and Marge failed to call God forth and crack open the sky above my dining room table, they reminded me that these baptismal moments happen.  These defining moments still happen.  But Just like John and Jesus we must step into the water.

If we jump in “head first and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight, native to the elements,”  God will use us.  If we submerge ourselves in the task.  In those  baptismal moment, our lives will be washed, our lives will take “a shape that satisfied, a shape that is clean and evident.  Our pitchers will be filled, overflowing.” (Piercy)

Our moments may not be as dramatic, but they still happen.  Maybe they are just moments at the table, when someone says, “why didn’t I know?!”  “What else don’t I know?!”

And then, just like that, we find ourselves in the water.  With Marge and with John and with Jesus.  Submerged.  Caught up in the current.  Baptized. Of  use.

What if we jumped head first into the social stream that separated rich from the poor swimming with sure stokes?  What if we strained in the mud and muck against  hardness of heart to move forth compassion?  What if we submerged in the taks of  breaking through rituals that had grown rigid or routine? What if our lives were washed with what it means to be God’s Beloved Child? (Lundblad)

Then our lives would take a shape that satisfied, a shape that is clean and evident.  Our sky may not open up, but I pray that we will all hear God in our baptismal moments, in our defining moments, saying “You are my Beloved Child.”