This is sermon 4 of a 4 part series on baptism
During the past four weeks, we have been talking about baptism. We have looked that our call by God found in the midst of the waters, a call which proclaims us as beloved by God and sends us forth to share that love throughout the world. We have talked about baptism as our initiation into the church, a ritual which brings us into community with the saints of God through the ages. We have remembered our baptism, and have been thankful all God has done through the waters in our lives.
As we’ve talked together I have tried to offer a sense of baptism as a source of meaning and identity for us. It’s a way that we know who we are and whose we are. It provides us a common witness and a common calling to service. Baptism is also something that ties us back to the earliest days of Christendom, a ritual that has been practiced for thousands of years. I have argued that there is power in the waters, a power that can’t be ignored and the fills us with the hope and knowledge of God.
But you ain’t heard nothing yet.
For there is another aspect of baptism that we haven’t yet thought about, another aspect of baptism that in fact makes us a bit nervous, another aspect that we give lip service too, but slide quickly through in fear that our desire for control will quickly fly out the window.
What is it? What is it that makes us wriggle in our seats and causes our eyes to widen both in anticipation and fear?
It is the relationship between baptism and the Holy Spirit.
“Oh no,” some are saying already. “Here he goes again about the Holy Spirit. We’re staid Methodists, not those Pentecostal holy rollers down the street. We like to think about the Holy Spirit in the abstract, but we’re not sure we really want to talk to loudly about the Holy Ghost, because if we do, the Spirit just might show up . . . and we all know what would happen then, don’t we? When the Spirit shows us, strange things start to happening. We’re sitting there, minding our own business when the wind blows and the fire burns and the next thing you know there are all sorts of folks sitting around us worshipping God in languages we never knew we knew. We will be going through life, trying to be as normal as possible, but then the Spirit shows us and people start getting healed of their brokenness. When the Spirit comes to us we start talking and acting funny, strange, and weird, like we belong to another realm entirely. When the Spirit moves people have been known to give money extravagantly; when the Spirit moves people have been known to worship with passion. “Oh yeah preacher,” y’all are saying, “we know about that Spirit and you’ve got to watch out or before you know it you will have gone all charismatic on us.”
And yet, when you look at the words we say every time we baptize in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit, we proclaim that baptism is “by water AND the Spirit.” You see, baptism is about being touched by the Spirit in a special way. When we step into the waters of baptism, the Holy Spirit descends upon us just as the Spirit descended upon Jesus. There may not be a dove or the heavens opening up to reveal mysterious voices, but in baptism we are touched by the Spirit just the same.
Unfortunately, far too often, we choose to be like those disciples that the apostle Paul encountered in Ephesus.
“Spirit? What Spirit? We don’t know nothing about no Holy Spirit!”
These twelve men were followers of Jesus. They had heard the stories and apparently were functioning at some level in the church at Ephesus. These were men of faith who were attempting to live out that faith in their community.
But in their case, they had never been told about the Holy Spirit, and Paul knew that they were missing something big. They were familiar with John’s baptism, the one that was connected to guilt and repentance. But they had never been baptized in the name of Jesus, and were missing a key element of faith, a connection to the living Spirit of God which fills us with the power to live out this journey with the one who created us. So they went down in the waters, and when they came out they were filled with the presence of the Spirit, and strange things began to happen. In the Spirit they were given new ways of talking about God, and they began to share those things throughout Ephesus.
The difference in those men and us today is that they had never been given the opportunity to learn about the Spirit of God. We don’t have that excuse. In our case we know about the Spirit, but choose to avoid the Spirit because we are afraid of the power, afraid we might act strange, afraid that God might call us to do things we really don’t want to do.
And yet, whether we like it or not, those who have experienced the waters of baptism have been touched by the Spirit. We have been given a gift, a very special gift, and we have to decide if we will take the dangerous step of opening it and experiencing all that God has to offer, or leave it back there in the closet of our interiority, gathering dust and getting moldy.
Yes, the Spirit of God is scary. Yes, the Spirit of God has a tendency to strike out on its own. Yes, the Spirit of God is not easily controlled and creates wrinkles in our stage managed lives.
But life without the Spirit is not life at all. It is merely existence. Yes, we can be like those men hanging out in Ephesus, bereft of the power and grace that comes from God. But it’s only through the power of the Spirit that we experience life abundant, the life in which God rules and we follow.
Do you wonder why life is difficult, why you have no energy to walk in the way of Jesus, or why our church seems to be missing something?
Could it be possible that we have failed to recognize (either through an active choice or neglect) that God’s Spirit has been given to us and desires to be let loose?
Look, I’m not suggesting that we all start swinging from the light fixtures or start speaking ecstatic utterances, although if the Spirit calls us to that, the so be it. As Paul reminded the church in Corinth, there is a place for order and reverence, a need do things in a proper fashion so that God isn’t mocked. In the years of this long strange trip of faith that I have been on God has never chosen to gift me with the ability to speak unknown languages or prophetic words that come directly from God, even though my trip included a season of life in the charismatic world. We should never forget God’s revelation to the prophet Elijah that the Spirit (what the Hebrew writers would have known as God’s breath) more often comes in the still small voice whispering in our ears than in the fire and earthquakes of ecstatic experience.
But we also can’t ignore the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives given to us through our baptism. To do so, I believe, is to belittle the power that God has given us, an act of denial that comes close to blaspheme.
Dear friends, we have been given a great gift. It is a gift that is given in our baptism, a gift that fills us and claims us and sends us out for great things. In our baptism, we are touched by the Spirit of the one who created us.
And no matter how much we try to deny it, there is nothing you or I can do about it.
So today, embrace the Holy Spirit.
Today, grab a hold of the gift give to you in your baptism.
Today, be filled with power.
Today, remember your baptism and be thankful.