Epiphany 1 - Getting out of the river
Genesis 1:1-5 Acts 19:1-7 Mark 1:4-11
I used to write appellate briefs. I felt like a legal Monday-morning-quarterback. I would read transcripts, read case law and try to find all the mistakes that someone else made in a trial. Not because the lawyers or judges weren’t talented or prepared but because there are some things you just can’t prepare for. Trial work, like life, happens in real time. There are always hiccups, surprises and disasters. It can be chaotic. Everyone has to do the best they can.
According to Genesis, everything began in chaos. In the midst of the chaos, God acted saying, “Let there be light.”
No one second guessed God on this. No one suggested that if God had started creation with the sun or plants or the sea, the world would have turned out better. God got a pass.
We are not so lucky. When we act or speak or try to be creative, there is usually someone watching or reading the transcript who thinks they know better.
Liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez said that when it comes to being Christian, it is not enough to think about things. Being Christian is not about being perfectly prepared or understanding it all. Believers need to act and do they best they can under the circumstances. Understanding, theory and theology may come later, but only as a reflection on the actions undertaken by believers with and on behalf of the poor.
Gutierrez saw the process as cyclical: action, theological reflection, and back to action but transformed, with new insights into scripture and a new vision of faith. Because when we act – when we are doing – the Holy Spirit finds us.
We need critics. We need critical thinking about the ways in which systems and cultures perpetuate oppression. As I get ready for a new “Me and White Supremacy” group, I remember that we need to think critically about the ways in which we participate in those systems. Critics can rightly call us to repent of our sins.
We need critical thinking, theology and ideological commitments. But we also need action. Someone to do the trial work. Someone willing to think on their feet and do the best they can in the moment. Someone willing to try something new. It may not work, or it may break the case wide open.
There is a time and a place for John’s baptism of repentance. But as Paul explains in the reading from Acts, that’s not really what Christianity is about. After the repentance, we need to get out of the river, dry ourselves off and act. That’s when the Holy Spirit will find us.