Sermon for Year B, First Sunday After Epiphany
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
January 11, 2015
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Don’t miss this! --
Jesus saw “the heavens torn apart.”
This is a primal act of God in a primal, almost chest-beating way.
It has the feeling of practically a violation, a sudden thing, a swift thing, a forceful thing.
A ripping-apart, a tearing-away.
“The heavens torn apart.” It’s not civil, it’s not polite, it’s not quiet.
There is no longer just the one little opening.
In the former cosmology, the ceiling of the sky
Was the bottom of the floor of heaven,
And the passing of angels and blesses and curses between them
Was controlled and gate-kept.
The burning fat of the sacrifices made by priests
Wafted to the heavens,
And God was either satisfied or not.
The only way to know was to wait and see.
In the same way, in Jerusalem, the curtain of the Temple, in the Holy of Holies:
About sixty feet high, said by legend to be as thick as a man’s hand --
Made from durable material of blue, purple and scarlet, and fine twisted linen.
A historian of the time tells us that it had
“Embroidered upon it all that was mystical in the heavens.”
Showing in dramatic fashion that God and man were unalterably separated by human sin.
This too, in Mark, is torn top to bottom -- at the crucifixion.
Years before Mark ever wrote his Gospel, Isaiah looked into the sky and lamented to God:
“Oh, that you would rip open the heavens and descend,
Make the mountains shudder at your presence --
As when a forest catches fire,
As when fire makes a pot to boil --
To shock your enemies into facing you,
Make the nations shake in their boots!”
Isaiah saw the filter in the sky, and he wanted it gone. Unplug it, let it loose, come on down.
He longed to see the pure burning brightness of God’s presence and justice and peace and mercy.
Isaiah longed to bring a word of divine healing and restoration and love
That was unmediated by anything -- just God.
The scrim, the filter, the cloud between heaven and earth -- it used to be good for something.
Now, at the baptism of Jesus, it’s useless; it’s all hanging open and free; it’s all been torn away;
There is now no difference; heaven is on earth and earth enjoys heaven.
It’s all one. “God and sinners, reconciled.”
In Jesus, God became one with us so that we might become one with God.
No more entertaining these illusions that this is not already upon us.
Think about Christmas, and opening presents.
A box is wrapped and mysterious.
But when you tear something open, you reveal the truth about it. You see its true nature.
Jesus Christ is that truth;
Jesus is the product of that tearing-apart of the heavens.
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Later in Mark, up on the mountain of the Transfiguration --
The same observation, the same voice, spoken so that others might hear,
And with one critical added dimension:
“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
So what does all this mean? All this tearing and letting-loose?
It means that Jesus has not only come among us, but that Jesus is among us --
God is with us and through us and in us, not “out there,” but “in here”!
Christ indwells and infuses this moment completely.
There is nothing lacking in that presence.
Heaven and earth are one because Christ is one with us.
In Luke, Jesus says all this quite plainly:
“The realm of God does not come in a way that can be grasped,
Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’;
For the realm of God is among you!”
The wall separating us from God has been knocked down.
There aren’t compartments anymore.
It’s been torn down and hauled away.
It’s all been spilled out and mixed in together.
It’s one big, beautiful, messy divine reality.
Divine and human cannot be separated, nor of course would we ever want to.
That’s the proclamation and the good word for today.
And is that ever exciting to ponder!
But boy do we have work in front of us.
For if we believe these things, we have to live them --
Not “as though” they were true, but because they are true.