The Beginning of the Gospel
Here is what John was preaching. “After me, there is someone coming who is more powerful than I am. I’m not good enough to bend down and untie his sandals. I baptize you with water. But he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
December 11, 2023, Words By: Hultner Estrada, Image By: Unknown
The first eight words of the book of Mark reminds us that everything has a beginning, our walks of faith included.
Street Psalms arrived in Nicaragua almost 20 years ago as a pilot project training series for youth leaders. The name given to this initial foray into transformational ministry was “Incarnational Youth Ministry: Reaching the Last, the Least, and the Lost.”
At that time, I was a youth pastor of a Pentecostal church. I was seeking something different, something transformational. With great expectations, I got involved in the initial training. I wanted more “lost” people coming to church events and growing our youth group. Almost as an afterthought, I also wanted them to acknowledge their brokeness and begin following God.
To my surprise, the first Street Psalms training session was about Genesis 1: “In the beginning… the Spirit of God, hovering in the chaos.” I thought, “What does this have to do with growing my youth group?” “Everything begins with the Spirit loving the darkness” commented the facilitator; “everything beautiful about Creation is possible thanks to someone deciding to descend into the abyss in order to bring love to the chaos.”
He added a phrase that impacted me even more: “Genesis tells us about a God who approaches us with so much tenderness and intimacy, it is as if He were making love to chaos.” What?! My conservative evangelical heart suffered some extreme palpitations due to that “exotic” metaphor by the presenter, who then asked: “what do you feel when you see darkness around you? What is your relationship with the chaotic places in your city? How do you feel about that disorder: love or rejection?”
Frankly, I felt the Spirit in that room speaking directly to me. Honestly, the Spirit was more than speaking: she was gently killing the old me and giving birth to a new mentality. It was not only the supposedly “lost” who needed to respond to God, it was I who needed to pay more attention to God’s love for all humanity.
It, however, didn’t end there. Soon another question arose: “What do you feel about your own areas of darkness, about the areas of chaos and disorder lurking in your life?” After a few brief moments of observing the chaos swirling in various areas of my life, I felt a deep and powerful love piercing the chaos, and something new and remarkable emerging.
What emerged from the chaos of my life was a deeper love and passion for the whole gospel of Christ. I felt a deep sense of liberation. For the first time, I felt I had permission to be more authentic and merciful to myself and others. My fears about the darkest, most chaotic parts of the city began to dissipate. I understood that the Spirit was already present in those places, actively loving and working.
This experience changed not only my mentality, but that of many other leaders. Significantly, it also changed our way of doing ministry. New friendships and relationships emerged between churches and their neighborhoods, and new projects were started between churches and public institutions for the benefit of at-risk youth. All this is thanks to a new perspective of the gospel.
Our lectionary text of this week starts by saying “This is the beginning of the good news…” (Mark 1:1-8 NIRV), and ends with the unforgettable words of John the Baptist “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” What a beautiful and rewarding promise!
For this enormous task in which God has involved us, serving amidst darkness and chaos, the necessary power and grace have already been provided. We do not deny that disorder is real, that darkness is dense, and that chaos is enormous. Making a positive, lasting impact on the city, even in small ways, is an exhausting and painful task. God, however, will baptize us with His grace and truth every time we need it.
Dwelling Among Us
How has your perception of darkness or chaos evolved after considering the idea of God approaching it with tenderness and intimacy? In what ways has acknowledging and embracing the chaos in your life led to unexpected growth or positive changes?