Have you noticed how packaging is changing? Most everything used to come in a box or a bottle, but we have become a single-use, single-serving society. Warehouse club stores like Costco and Sam’s Club bear much of the blame, because they sell cases of food and health care products designed for commercial use to household consumers like us. Everything from 36-packs of individually-wrapped muffins to boxes of 900 eyeglass wipes, each in its own sealed pouch.
But it is also our fault, because we are addicted to convenience. Who buys whole bottles of salad dressing when we can buy 144 single-serving packets all of the same variety – but it’s worth it because they will never go bad?
Then there are the single-serving communion kits with the hermetically-sealed cup of grape juice and a wafer attached to the top that our nephew Phillip calls “Eucharistic Lunchables.”
So much of what we eat or drink or use has the words “Tear Here” printed somewhere on the package.
Of course, the tearing comes with varying degrees of difficulty. It’s especially challenging if you have arthritis in your hands or thumbs – so you may have to use your teeth to tear open your packet of two aspirin.
And sometimes we are forced to disobey the direct order on the packaging and cut it open with scissors instead. If there are no scissors handy, it could take a heroic effort to get the blasted thing open.
But we “Tear Here” because it’s worth it. Our thirst will be quenched. Our hunger will be satisfied.
Our pain will be eased. We will be able to see clearly again. Good things come to us when we “Tear Here.”
The story we just read of Jesus’ baptism shows us the good things that came when God tore open the heavens. Tore apart the heavens. Rent the heavens.
The Father’s voice could be heard on earth declaring that Jesus was His beloved Son and that He was pleased with Jesus. Even if John the Baptist and the bystanders could not hear it, the affirmation was certainly heard by Jesus. And the Holy Spirit could be seen coming down through that opening in the sky so that the Spirit could land on Jesus and empower Jesus for His ministry and His redeeming work.
God went to great lengths at the time of His Son’s baptism to affirm Him and prepare Him for His mission on earth. And God still goes to great lengths at the time of our baptisms to affirm us and prepare us for His mission on earth. In each baptism, God tears heaven open and pours out good things on us.
When we baptized Larry and Lily last month, you probably didn’t hear God’s voice or see a dove descend – but I hope you knew at that time that God was affirming them as His beloved children and was sending His Spirit to empower them for a lifetime of serving Him.
We have an expression, “He (or she) would move heaven and earth to accomplish something.” Well, God would tear apart the sky between heaven and earth to accomplish something for the people He loves.
Did you know that the word Mark used – “to tear open” or “to tear apart” or “to rend”– is the same word that Mark and Matthew and Luke used to describe what happened at the moment of Jesus’ death? The curtain of the Temple – the one that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, where God dwelled in an especially powerful way – was torn in two from top to bottom.”
Who did that? Who did the tearing here? It was God. It had to be God, because the tearing was from top to bottom. If human beings had done it, the tearing would have been from bottom to top. The hand of God tore the curtain that separated the people of God from their God. It was as though God tore apart what separated heaven from earth.
The separation between God and His people was eliminated. We now have direct access to God. As the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews put it:
… we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus,
by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body …
As I said a few minutes ago – God goes to great lengths for us. His hand tore the temple curtain in half, so there would be no more separation for us. And while He doesn’t shred the drapes in our churches, each Baptism should remind us of the tearing of the heavens and the tearing of the curtain and the end of our separation from God.
That is how Paul could write in Romans 8:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Nothing can separate us from our God.
This is God’s doing – in the person and work of His Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
We see it first at the Baptism of Jesus – then at the death of Jesus. And as we join Jesus in the waters of Baptism, we again see the end of separation – as God declares that we are His beloved children, and He gives us His Spirit to empower us for ministry. So we can confidently life the Christian life, knowing that we are not doing this alone.
As we renew our baptismal vows this morning – you will be asked to remember your baptism. That will be a challenge for most of you, because most of you were too young at the time to remember. But you can remember that you were baptized and you can remember that God went to great lengths to end your separation from Him.
And when you do remember – see if heaven isn’t torn open right here and God pours out good things into your life. Amen.