First Lutheran Church and School

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The Word This Weekend – January 7, 2018

The Word This Weekend – January 7, 2018
“Rend the Heavens, Crack the Sky!”

The Rev. Dr. William L. Hurst
FLCS Senior Pastor


Dear Companions,

Hard to believe that it was only seven short weeks ago that our Advent minds were focused on sentiments such as those expressed through this verse from Isaiah 64: 

"Oh that You would rend the heavens and come!"

Our Advent prayer -- the hope of the Savior -- the Promise of the Newborn King.

Well, now it's Epiphany Season, the Time of “Manifest” -- 7 weeks later -- yet it might as well be a thousand years.

I heard a local pastor the other day respond this way to the question: "How was your Christmas?" --"It's over." And in that simple statement you hear all you need to know about how exhausting, and perhaps frustrating, this busiest of seasons can be for church folks and their leaders.

Because it is over: presents unwrapped and toys broken; ornaments tucked away or tossed away; yes folks, Santa's drunk his cocoa, eaten his plate of cookies, and fired up the old sleigh for yet another year. Look around -- the poinsettas are gone from the chancel, all but the stragglers. The candleholders are filed away, the creche stands empty.

Yet our faith tells us that Advent was more than a warm-up act for a few Candlelight Services. Our Advent hopes aren’t so easily dispensed with, wrapped up in tissue like some ceramic wise-man for another year.

No, there is something deep inside us -- something which speaks of more than the inauguration of shopping season. It speaks of our common emptiness, and uncertainty, and need. It speaks of something of that which unites God's people of every time and every place:

“Oh that you would rend the Heavens; Oh that you would crack the sky!”

Our Gospel text this weekend is about a baptism -- His baptism -- but it is also an answer to our Advent cry.

Enter into the story with me: Jesus arrives at the Jordan, one "penitent" among many; down into the water he goes -- to all the world just another of the "Viper's Brood".

And up he comes -- hair thrown back, spray of water – and, according to the Gospels, what happens?

"He, Jesus, saw the Heavens rent apart, and the Spirit descending upon him. And a voice from Heaven said, `You are my Son whom I love; I am very pleased with you'" (Mark 1)

“Oh that you would rend the heavens; Oh that you would crack the sky!”

And the Heavens were rent in twain -- the Spirit descended;

And God did crack the sky -- "You are my Son; I love you."

The Gospel knows our yearning, and, more important, the Gospel knows God's answer.

As a matter of fact, the word sxisma, "to rend or tear" in Greek (where our word “schism” comes from), is a crucially important word for Mark. He uses it here at the very outset of his Gospel, and once again at the very end, outside Jerusalem, on a dark Friday afternoon, at the place called "Skull." 

And look at the parallel between Mark's remembrance of Jesus' Baptism and his death:

  • At the Jordan God rends the Heavens;
  • the Spirit comes to Jesus;
  • the divine Voice names him "God's Son".

Then, far from Galilee and three years hence, on the mount called “Skull,” Jesus screams, "My God, why have you abandoned me? (The only "Cross" word Mark records);  

  • The Temple curtain, which conceals the Holy of Holies - as intractable a barrier as the darkening sky over Golgotha -- is rent from top to bottom;
  • The last of his breath, his SPIRIT, leaves him;
  • And a voice -- not Divine, but as coarsely human as any in Jerusalem -- the executor's voice, speaks out: 

"This was the Son of God."

Oh rend the Heavens -- Crack the Sky!”

The secret revelation of Christ's baptism, heard and seen by him alone -- Cracking the Sky, seeing the Spirit, hearing the voice of Abba -- Became the public revelation of that abba's love for every one of us -- you and me -- revealed in the person of God's chosen, the Beloved -- he in whom God cracked the sky and won our rescue, on the cruel, Holy Cross.

One of us at his Baptism -- just another penitent;

One for us on that hill far away -- God's answer for all our yearning, all our heavenward cry:

“Rend the Heavens; Crack the Sky; Heal our lives!”
"Truly this was the Son of God!"

Each and every Lord’s Day, we of the Jesus Community come to the sacred gathering as Jesus came to the Jordan -- fellow penitents all, fellow searchers on the hunt; sensing our yearnings, whispering our questionings: 

"What would you have of my life?"
"Where do I fit in your plan?"
"Why are you so far from helping me?"

“When will you Rend the Heavens, When will you Crack the Sky?”

And, as sure as the sunrise, as dependable as the dawn, comes the answer:

“In the Name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Your ordination day.

When the water dripped down your chin, and the Heaven's split, and the Spirit came, and the Mighty God said, "My Beloved -- in whom I am well pleased".

Yes, our Ordination Day --

The one which consecrates us to our common calling to serve; the one from which any others really spring!

Because of the One who endured the 2nd Baptism -- in His own blood -- on that dark Cross -- we who wear his mark can stop wasting our lives and our gifts searching for some sort of repeatable baptism for ourselves.

Rent Heavens -- Cracked Sky --
Drowned yet Risen -- ordained to serve!

You want to know what God has for you to do with your life, your gifts, your ministry? Look back at the story:

"And immediately the Spirit drove him into the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan; and the angels waited on him."

That's our calling, my witnessing, serving friends, our baptismal ordination: to wait on Jesus. To go -- No, to be driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, far from comfortable landmarks or familiar situations – wherever that driving Spirit wills!

And there we will find Jesus, still there in the wilderness, in the faces of those in need: still taunted and tempted, still oppressed and dehumanized -- Jesus in our kin who cry out as we do:

"Rend the Heavens! Crack the Sky! 

Jesus is there. Wait on him, you ministers, you servants, you "waiters at table". Wait on Jesus. Live out the ordination of your baptism, whatever else the world (or the Church) may make of you, take from you, or do to you.

‘Til the day when the Twice Baptized returns to take us home --

When He Rends the Heavens, and Cracks the Sky, AND COMES!

With You in God’s Good Work,
Bill Hurst