1st Scripture Reading: Isaiah 43:1-7 & Psalm 29
Story Time: Lectionary Story Bible, Ralph Milton, p. 49 year B
Hymn # 264 VU “Immortal, Invisible, God only Wise”
2nd Scripture Reading: Acts 8: 14-17, & Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22
In our busy lives, in our busy and largely indoor lives, it’s easy to lose the sense of wonder that children have as they explore the newness of everything around them: the tiny fish and crabs in a tidal pool, the miracle of the life cycle of a butterfly, the incredible beauty of a summer day.
I was a high school student in a chemistry class when I first related my sense of wonder to the divine nature of all creation. As my teacher revealed to us the secret mystery of the periodic table, or the Table of the Elements, I remember being overwhelmed to the point of tears by the wonder of the perfection of Creation – something so complex and amazing could not, I believe, be produced by random chance. I had my first conscious experience of God-with-us. I was filled with wonder and a sense of elation that did not leave me for days, and I still remember it well.
Some of you have heard this story, but I will tell it again anyway. Some university scientists were working on discovering the mystery of life itself. One of them had a eureka moment and felt he had solved all the problems related to the creation of life on earth. He was a religious man, and so he got on the hot line to God to tell him that he could retire now, as they had all they needed to know to become the Csreators of life.
God took a few days to think about all this and then got back to the scientist. “Please tell me more about your discovery. How do you plan to create life? I am very curious to see what you now know.”
The scientist told God it was very complicated, but he would be glad to show him. The first step was to go on a long hike into the forest to a special tree. “We will go first thing tomorrow morning, God – at the crack of dawn.”
Very early the next day the scientist and God set out to find the special tree deep in the forest. After several hours of steady walking, they came to a clearing in the middle of the woods. There stood a magnificent tree surrounded by deep, rich, loamy soil. The scientist smiled broadly, and began to unpack his day-pack. He took out a small shovel, and sterile gloves, and a bunch of collecting or sample bottles.
By this time, God was very curious indeed! “What’s all this about?” God asked. The scientist answered, “I need to take some samples of this soil back to the laboratory. It’s an important first step in the process of creating life.”
“Whoa!” said God. “Use your own dirt.”
In our arrogance and our ignorance, we forget that we actually know very little about the mystery of creation. At this point in our evolution as spiritual beings, we still “see as thru a glass darkly”. Many of our scriptures deal with our blindness and God’s attempts thru prophets and Jesus’ teachings to help us to see that which is true.
Many students study the Periodic Table of the Elements and fail to be impressed by the wonder of the intricacy of such a perfect design. Even the parts we don’t know about yet can be largely inferred from the parts that are known: because the design is so perfect!
So there are levels to our understanding. We can learn something with our amazing brain and intellect, yet fail to be inspired by the wonder of what we are examining.
So too the disciples of Jesus. Our readings from the Book of Acts and the Gospel of Matthew attempt to show us the difference.
I had a friend once who was studying for the ministry. She and I had long theological discussions – stimulating but for me exhausting. Her intellect was and is much greater than my own. Have you ever noticed that sometimes deep intellectual discussions seem to go round and round, and never reach any satisfactory conclusion? Well , one night I was engaged with my friend in just such a discussion – and I was getting mentally exhausted and frustrated. “Tell me,” I said to her, “about your personal experiences of Jesus the Christ.” For the first time ever in the history of my relationship with her, my friend was at a loss for words. She did not appear to even understand what I was asking her, and was clearly unable to describe such an experience.
In all fairness, this was many years ago, and I have lost track of her – but at that time I might hazard a guess that she had not been baptized by the Holy Spirit in any way recognizable to her.
Let’s look more closely at the descriptions in our scripture readings this morning. John the Baptist clearly says that he baptizes only with water, and that the Annointed One will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. We understand this to be Jesus the Christ, who is baptized by John with water, and then by the Holy Spirit symbolized by the dove descending on him, and the voice from the heavens declaring: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
This Jesus, as the Christ, the Annointed One, is empowered to baptize with the Holy Spirit of God. And yes, I did say “empowered”. Jesus was and is empowered to be our spiritual connection with God.
My first baptism was at the age of 12 after a series of the usual confirmation classes with the minister of the Baptist Church I was then attending. I was prepared, I was excited and nervous and so willing – but I was taken under the water and had no spiritual experience that I was aware of. Disappointed, I left the church soon after that and did not return for many years. I was baptized with water, but not with the Holy Spirit at that time.
Since then, I have experienced the Risen Christ in ways that have been spiritually renewing. I can say to you with conviction that tho I am far from perfect, I am a new person in Christ – a different person than the suffering, stressed out person I was before he found me. I was carrying very heavy burdens and felt like I was dying a slow death. There was nothing hopeful or joyful about me. I was baptized again in this church in 2002 – a profoundly meaningful experience that cleared the way for my finding new purpose for my life.
Some people disparage the mystical experiences that are so central to the spiritual life. I do not. Many of you have had just such experiences of Jesus at work in your lives, and most of you are not willing to talk about it. Most of you have been baptized with water, but I challenge you all to ask yourselves, “Have I been baptized with the Holy Spirit?”
We call ourselves Christians, but do we truly believe that Jesus the Annointed One lives in us and we in him? Do we have the courage to ask for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, knowing that it will change our lives – that nothing will be the same again.
Transformation. Are we willing to be transformed, to become fools for Christ? Do we truly believe that he came to teach us how to live, and that unless we do that we are hypocrites? Can this world survive without spiritual growth in the direction of Divine Love manifest by all of us, for all of us, and for all creation?
Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. We are called, my friends, to take his teaching into the world. We are called to live it in our own lives, as he and the Holy Spirit ordain for us, to share what we know with others, and to listen every day for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we try to navigate the tricky waters that lie ahead.
The good news is that God is with us, like a loving parent – who has given us free will (the power to choose) but who offers guidance if we will take it, and forgiveness always when we blow it. Like Jesus, we also are God’s beloved children. We can choose to be part of God’s amazing purpose to bring all peoples, all nations, back to spiritual consciousness, back to our Divine Nature – back to oneness with all that is God.
Hymn # 382 VU “Breathe on Me, Breath of God”