We just heard part of the story of Haroen and the sea of stories written by the novelist Salman Rushdie. It’s one of these magical child-line stories. Sometimes we have heard Bible stories so often that the wonder of it has faded for us. It’s like one of those flowery shirts you buy on vacation. Years later, after many washers and few visits to the dry cleaners, the colors are still there, but they’re not as vivid. Today we read Mark’s account if Jesus’ baptism and it seems we just talked about that just yesterday. We know about John the Baptizer’s clothing, about his unusual eating habits, his humility and Jesus’ humility to be baptized by John. Then we remember the voice of God they heard and the dove. But we heard it so many times that it doesn’t move us anymore. Have we lost that sense of wonder, or is it just because we know how it’s going to end, because it ended the same way last year and it ended the same for a hundred years and it ended the same for two thousand years. Or is there something wrong with the way we tell it? Do we tell it perhaps like a newspaper story or even like a financial report? So let me try to tell a story around this event of the Baptism of Jesus in a different way:
Let me begin by wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year. In case you are wondering why you didn’t get a Christmas card from our family, the explanation is simple: we didn’t send any. No one got one. We haven’t send Christmas cards for years. It’s just not our preferred vehicle for staying in touch I suppose. It’s not by principle or philosophy. It’s just something we don’t get around to. For those of you who send us cards, thank you. However, we have been noticing that year after year the number of cards we have been receiving has been steadily decreasing. We are aware of the fact that it is a reflection of the law of input and output. We tend to get out what we put in. You don’t send cards, over time you receive less of them. It’s true of other things. I for one have been noticing more output around my waistline in the last month. It is the result of my wife’s cookies on the counter I just happen to pass by on my way through the kitchen. Popping one in my mouth became a delicious and automatic habit over the past month. But what you put in results in output.
2012 is a year of new beginnings as well as of looking back. Parkview is entering a new century and looking back on an old one. So much has happened to the world around this little church between 1912 and 2012. It was horse and buggy days then and there were hardly any airplanes. All the major vaccines had not been invented. World War II hadn’t happened and neither had the roaring twenties. We’ve be getting used to the Great Recession, but the Great Depression was so much worse. Then came World War II and the internment, followed by the Korean Conflict, the Cold War, the Vietnam War and The Iraq and Afghanistan War. During all that came the fall of the Soviet Union and the Rise of Japan and then of China as economic powers. We went to the moon and in space on shuttles, developed electric cars and solar power and even people in their nineties use e-mail now. All that while polluting the planet perhaps irreversibly. So much has changed. In 1912 the world population was a little over two billion and now it is nearly seven billion. What lies ahead?. I don’t anyone would have predicted a hundred years ago what kind of century we would have. Their predictions may have been more modest on the one hand and more magical on the other. Think of what has happened to the Church. Who would have predicted the growth of the Church in Africa and South America and the decline of the Church in the West and North. Who would have predicted that a Japanese American congregation would last a hundred years while other once thriving congregations no longer exist?