A couple of years ago, I had a chance to watch a movie called The Tree of Life. It’s a quite abstract movie that touches upon some heavily philosophical questions on human existence, life and death. For sure, this movie is not just for fun. The most unique feature of this movie is that the director continuously counterpoints the events in frail human life against the dramatic splendor of nature. So, in the movie, the story of a middle-class family living in Texas in the 50s unfolds along with the creation story of the universe.
I know it’s hard to imagine. Let me give you an example. At one point, the movie shows the creation narrative that begins with the Big Bang and moves on to display swirling vortexes of exploding gas in the universe, the birth of stars, the newly formed Earth, the first stirrings of life, the development of living organisms, the age of the dinosaurs. And this goes all the way to the birth of a child in a hospital in Waco, Texas. Through this way of storytelling, the stories of the family—their inner struggles, complicated relational dynamics and conflicts—gain a new array of meanings from the weirdly wide and wild cosmic perspective.
The director’s message was very clear to me; which I believe is that although humans seem so fragile and insignificant compared to the magnitude of nature, our lives are still vivid parts of the greater creation narrative of the universe. And this cosmic narrative is indeed our own. So we better see the universe, life and, of course, humanity as a manifestation of something beyond it, something mysterious. Whether this something is just a massive force of nature or divine grace, it carefully interweaves and interrelates all things in the universe in a single thread of destiny.
Reading through the lectionary readings for today, the Baptism of the Lord Sunday, this movie just came to my mind, because I wondered why today’s readings include the creation narrative in the Book of Genesis. This Baptism of the Lord Sunday is the traditional Christian feast day commemorating Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. So today’s Gospel reading is about how Jesus was baptized, and the reading from the Acts of Apostles is about how Paul baptized people in the name of Jesus. How appropriate! But what does the creation story in Genesis have to do with baptism? I didn’t get it at first. Then, I got some clue from the movie.
Like the movie, today’s Hebrew Bible reading, Genesis chapter one, pulls our lens back and leads us to overview the grand narrative of God’s creation. It widens our perspectives so we can see our life and its meanings on a cosmic level. Yes, we better understand, the creation narrative is not something irrelevant to our lives. But rather, it truly is our story. This story begins with the creation of the universe when God created the heavens and the earth, and separated light from darkness. Then, it reaches a milestone point when Jesus was baptized and revealed the way of new creation, the creation liberated from the bondage to sin and death, the creation with the restored image of God. Then, where does the story go from there? The story finally reaches its highlights in our very lives. It is in our very lives that this cosmic narrative of creation and new creation is intimately manifested. In our beginnings, God created our life. And through our baptism, God initiates our new life in Christ.
Like the movie, here, the Bible tells us that the cosmic creation narrative is interlaced with our own creation stories. And yes, the Bible also affirms… behind the whole story, there is something beyond us, something mysterious that undergirds all things in the universe in a single history of salvation. Unlike the movie, however, the Bible doesn’t hesitate to give us an explicit answer about this something. And the Bible doesn’t finish the story with an open-ended question. Rather, today’s Bible readings tell us directly about the Spirit of God who brooded over the formless water and brought forth life, the Spirit who descended upon Jesus like a dove, the Spirit who makes new life in the practice of baptism and incorporates our lives in God’s story of salvation.
And now we know… the same Spirit, the Creator and the giver of life, is present among us. From the beginning of the universe until now, this Holy Spirit enfolds all things in the universe in God’s grace. Our story within the power of the Holy Spirit is not the story of creation and destruction but the story of creation and new creation. It is the story of new life, the story of the divine grace poured out for us through the Spirit from the beginning of the universe until its end.
Today, we are baptizing Avery . What a great day to welcome a new son in Christ! Through this baptism, he will be embraced into God’s great story of grace and new creation. And at his baptism, we, as a church, will witness that God’s creation narrative continues and that the life-giving Spirit vividly works among us through the life of Avery. And we will bless and pray for him together so that he can make his own story in the love of Jesus Christ and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
To conclude my sermon, I’d like to read a part from the service of baptism with you. This is from the Thanksgiving over the Water part where I consecrate the water right before the baptismal act. When we witness the baptism of Avery today, I hope you remember in your heart, this beautiful summary of God’s story of creation and new creation, connected by the water of baptism and through the Holy Spirit.
When nothing existed but chaos,
you swept across the dark waters
and brought forth light.
In the days of Noah
you saved those on the ark through water.
After the flood you set in the clouds a rainbow.
When you saw your people as slaves in Egypt,
you led them to freedom through the sea.
Their children you brought through the Jordan
to the land which you promised.
In the fullness of time you sent Jesus,
nurtured in the water of a womb.
He was baptized by John and anointed by your Spirit.
He called his disciples
to share in the baptism of his death and resurrection
and to make disciples of all nations.
And now at this moment Jesus is calling you and me to be the disciples who continue this story of grace within our stories. Let us give thanks to our God. Amen.
 Marcelo Gleiser, “‘The Tree Of Life’: Need We Choose Between Grace And Nature?” (NPR, August 17, 2011: https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2011/08/17/139680194/the-tree-of-life-need-we-choose-between-grace-and-nature)
Pastor Earl Kim