Baptism of our Lord B
Baptism means a lot of things. It is an act of washing away our sins. It is a sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ- a guarantee of being raised to new life just as Christ was raised to new life. It is a birth into the Christian community of faith. But is also something that I feel we don’t give a lot of attention. In it, we receive the Holy Spirit. Paul asks the question to a couple of disciples, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit?” They answer quite inarticulately, “Huh? The what now?” I sometimes feel that I might respond the same way when trying to figure out what the Holy Spirit is and does and maybe you do too.
Some folks equate receiving the Holy Spirit with receiving ecstatic gifts like speaking in tongues and prophesying (as the disciples in our Acts reading did). Those are described as gifts of the Spirit in various parts of the Bible, but they are not the only ones. Paul presumably received the Holy Spirit too, but his gifts seem to be articulating the faith through teaching and preaching. He writes countless letters in support of churches throughout the known world and he tells the story of Jesus Christ in public places. In fact, right after our lectionary text ends, Paul goes on to speak at a synagogue and a lecture hall for over 2 more years.
There are many other gifts too. The gifts of healing, prayer, service, and giving just to name a few. Our baptism give us the Holy Spirit and the gifts that come with that person of the Trinity. We are compelled and empowered to share those gifts with others because the gifts that come in baptism are life-giving. In the waters of baptism, we are fed with life not just to survive, but to live. Through the waters of our baptism, the Good News of God’s unconditional love, the forgiveness of our sins and the sins of our world, and new life were given to us. We are called to share that Good News with others. To invite others to not just survive, but to live.
Sharing these gifts is often a daunting task. The waters of our baptism and the Holy Spirit sometimes carry us to strange or chaotic places with unfamiliar people.
I remember the first time my brother went to the beach and went in the ocean. He was about 2 or 3 years old and very excited to see the ocean. Foam and waves? Amazing. When we got to the water’s edge, my mother placed my brother on a boogeyboard in about 2 inches of water. The tide gently carried him a few inches to the shore, then a few inches back into the ocean. And as soon as my brother felt that he had no control (however subtle the movement of the ocean was) he became decidedly upset. He screamed bloody murder. A high pitched, blood curdling, terror shriek that only a two-year-old can manifest.
The waters of our baptism and the Holy Spirit may carry us like the ocean and like my brother, we may not like it.
Jesus received the Holy Spirit in his baptism and Jesus hears the comforting words from God the Father, “You are my son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.” Immediately after that, he is shaken out of these comforting words and the Spirit “immediately drove him out into the wilderness” where he was tempted by Satan himself. We may be carried away subtly or not so subtly by the waters of our baptism and the Holy Spirit, like my brother was being carried in and out by the tide. We may, like my brother, not like that very much. It may scare us.
When Paul left the two disciples in our reading from Acts, he goes on to teach and preach for over two years. Not everyone liked what Paul had to say. We read that “some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way” and that he was arguing daily with the people of the city.
In our Baptism we received the call to share this incredible news with others. We received the gifts of life, love, and the Holy Spirit in our Baptism as God’s free gift to us. The gift is not given to us under the condition that we tell the story of God’s Good News fearlessly and powerfully. We were given the gift freely and through that gift we are impassioned to share that great gift with others. It isn’t always easy or comfortable though.
We might be afraid of where the Holy Spirit is calling us and to whom the Holy Spirit is calling us. Do you loathe the idea of making an awkward church invitation to a friend with whom you don’t usually talk about religion? Or sharing your own faith stories with that friend? Do you feel too busy to stop and pray each day?
Are you overwhelmed by the 33 murders in Trenton this year? Or the 37 last year? The terrorist attack at a kosher grocery in Paris this week? The attack at the Charlie Hedbo newspaper office in Paris? Do you wonder how the Spirit might be calling the church to address these evils? Are you a bit nervous or afraid of what it might look like if we take seriously that call?
If Paul were to ask us the same question he asked the two disciples in our Acts reading, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit?” We can respond with a resounding, “Yes!” There are many faithful people including myself, who are afraid of where the Holy Spirit might call us. God’s mission is to bring Good News to all the bad places of our lives. To bring light into darkness. If we are swept up by the waters of our baptism and the Holy Spirit, and we are compelled to be a part of this saving work that God is up to, we are going to be in the bad places and in the darkness. But we never go without Good News and light. We never go without God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We share in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection because in our baptism, we are made sisters and brothers of Jesus. Hear the voice of God that spoke to Jesus at his baptism. It is speaking to you in your baptism. “You are my son. You are my daughter. My beloved. With you I am well pleased.” Those words belong to us and nothing can take them away from us. No matter how dark our lives get or the lives of those God calls us to proclaim light to, we have those words. We have that promise. In Christ, you belong to God, God loves you, and God is pleased with you. You have received the Holy Spirit in your baptism. May God share it with others through you. Amen.