Genesis 1:1-15, Psalm 29 , Mark 1:7-11
January 12, 1997 by Tad Mitsui
A famous entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes, who opened up Africa for the British Empire, asked the colonial authority to send many missionaries to Africa because, "They are cheaper than the policemen." Slave owners of the American South made church attendance compulsory for the slaves, because they believed that the church made them docile. There are many other examples of miss-use of religion in our history. When people lack self-confidence and feel insecure, they are easy targets for exploitation. Many times in our history, people in power used religions to impose their will on others. Their standard lines were: "You are a sinner. you are not good enough. So you must follow me, because I know what God wants. Just trust me." Abuse of power of the church is legendary in the Quebec politics until only twenty some years ago.
God created the world and everything in it, and he said it was good. The one of the most important points here is that it was good and that God was happy with it. Affirming the basic goodness of creation is very important for us. I say this because we are often not too sure about ourselves and we get hurt easily when we are criticized. When someone reinforces our sense of inadequacy and convinces us that we are not good enough, we often find ourselves defenceless against other people”s ways.
People in power, from time to time, abused religion in order to exploit people by emphasizing the original sin and by down-playing the original blessing of creation. The creation story, if you read it without prejudice, tells us that the world began with a blessing. "That”s good.", said God after he created each item. God wanted the world and everything in it to be the way they are. The world is not bad. We are not bad. Let us not be deceived to think that there is anything wrong with us. God loves us. We do make many mistakes in our lives for sure. But that does not mean there is something fundamentally wrong with us. There is nothing wrong with us even though we make mistakes. Let us celebrate goodness in us and around us.
Incidentally, there is an important lesson for parents here. We have duties to teach our children difference between right and wrong. But, while we do this, we must never give the impression that our children are not good enough. They make mistakes, but they are not bad. Punishment must be meted out, if you must, to correct their mistakes, not to condemn them. We must always make sure our children know that their parents always love them even when they make mistakes and have to be punished. When they do not feel that they are not loved, hence do not feel that they are accepted, they make themselves open to evil suggestions. We are not bad, but evil will come into us when we can not believe in our goodness.
We humans began our life on this planet by being good and acceptable. So we began with blessing. So did other animals, plants, and other natural elements. However, the Bible also tells us that there is difference between human being and other creatures. We do not know the exact nature of this difference. Genesis describes the difference by saying that God created humans according to God”s likeness. Even though we do not know what makes us distinct from other creatures, we know that it comes from the belief that all of us have a bit of God in us. And we call it spirituality. We are different from other creatures, because we are spiritual.
In our Christian tradition, we affirm our spirituality in baptism. When Jesus was baptized, he heard a voice of God saying, "You are my beloved son. I am very pleased with you." You notice the resemblance between the above sentence and God”s expression of satisfaction in the story of creation. But the difference is: in the creation story, God”s expression of satisfaction was a monologue. He was talking to himself that he was happy with what he made. But at the time of baptism, God spoke to Jesus and told him that he was pleased with him. Likewise, God wants humans to know that God is happy with us, because we are created with a spiritual ability to discern God”s will. We are capable of appreciating what it means to be acceptable in the eyes of God.
Practice of baptism is not unique to Christianity. Many religions use water as a symbol of divine cleansing power. In Judaism, converts went through water as the final rite to become Jews. However, at the time when Jesus lived, there were a group of Jews, who wanted to revitalize their religion by forming a community of committed believers. They were called the Essenes. They lived separately in the desert in a community of men and women, just like monks in a monastery. And baptism was the rite of entry into this community. For them, the act of going through water symbolized cleansing of their tired old religious life, and entry into a renewed spiritual life. We now know that John the Baptist belonged to the Essenes. In other words, Baptism was not only the rite of entering into a community, but also affirmation of the original blessing: of being accepted and being loved by God.
Today the strength of traditional religions are on the decline in the West. In this juncture, it is very important for people like us who are still committed to the spiritual way of life to affirm the purpose our lives. Recently, Bill Gates, founder and the CEO of the computer program producer Microsoft at the age of 41 the America”s richest man , was interviewed by the "time" magazine. On paper, he made $10.9 billion last year, $30 million a day. He has made money by reproducing a bit of human brains in computer programs. He was asked by the reporter if ever computers can completely copy and replace human mind. He had to think for weeks before he answered in writing. He said, "Human mind is a creation that must not be compared to computer programs. Even the parts of human mind that can be explained by science have an underlying purpose that can be explained only by religion." In baptism, we celebrate our spiritual being, the part that is beyond science; the part that explains meaning of our existence; the part that enables us to accept and love other beyond reason.
Adam and Eve represent the first human beings in physical sense. For Christians, however, Jesus represents the first human who acknowledged Godliness in every one of us when he was baptized. Let us celebrate goodness of creation. And let us celebrate godliness in all of us.