It’s been a heartbreaking week if you watched the news.
I can’t imagine there’s anyone who didn’t.
I’m not sure what I found more disheartening- all the top leaders in our country being called out for international travel vacations over Christmas- /the Covid numbers -everywhere- /or the mob storming capitol Hill in Washington.
It was another one of those moments in my life- where I found myself glued to CNN. The last time I did that was 9/11. What are your words?- Shock- disbelief-despair-anger-fear—What is going on in this world?
As I watched CNN- you may have noticed- a great big flag—in addition to the confederate flag- and the US flag- someone in the mob- was waving a large- Jesus flag. It was shaped like a fish- with big black letters- JESUS. Did you see it?
It made me sad to see it- I would prefer to distance myself from the mob- I want to label them- vilify them-shake my head at it all and feel grateful that we ‘Canada’ could never get that lost.
The Jesus flag- forced me to consider what I know; many of those in that mob are Jesus followers. Their actions- behaviour- and words- are coming from a place of conviction-which they are trusting is right- and faithful and true.
In heaven we may have to sit at the same cafeteria table as them. We can’t assume just because one is lost- or deceived- or ignorant- they become disqualified from grace. So, we are best not to judge- or get too self-righteous- we have all lost our way a time or two I’m sure.
But--how can Jesus followers get so lost- so deceived-so convinced that what they are doing is something Jesus would endorse?
It is easy to make scripture say whatever you want- it’s called ‘proof texting’- whereby you go searching for scriptures- and pull it completely out of context to back up and justify your agenda- or belief or argument.
The most obvious violation of scripture in the name of Jesus was used by the Nazi Party. The party aligned itself with the large district of the German Evangelical Church and together they subscribed to the nazi-platform of ‘positive Christianity’- which was openly antisemitic. This was during a time when almost all Germans were Christian and only 1% of the population was Jewish.
How did that happen? How did Jesus followers get so lost or deceived- or partner with something evil and against God?
The churches in Germany are not the only ones to live with and carry the guilt and shame of their history. Before we can cast stones- I remind us that mainline churches in Canada- including the United Church partnered with the governments agenda to ‘tame the savages’ and ‘remove the Indian from the child’.
Our churches believed we were serving God-and many of our parents or grandparents gave sacrificially to the residential schools. We also carry the guilt and shame of a history that was done in the name of Jesus.
You may wondering- how on earth our scripture texts can answer any of these questions- but I believe the gift of having to revisit our scripture stories again and again- is it gives us permission to look at the fine print.
If I used the phrase- ‘to go over it with a fine-tooth comb’- you know- I’m talking about nit- picking. Which if you’ve ever had to do- is so tedious- but missing a nit- makes a big difference doesn’t it. I apologize for the sudden urge to scratch your head.
We need to look closely at the baptism of Jesus- because- there is something there- we may have missed before.
Let’s have a look.
This is the second Sunday in Epiphany- last week the Wise men show up- this week – Jesus is 30yrs old- about to launch into ministry- and we have little idea what happened in between.
What we know- is that John the Baptizer is Jesus cousin- born about 6mos before him. John’s ministry was to prepare people for the arrival of the Messiah. John’s baptism was one of repentance- it was based on the law that finds us all lawbreakers.
John ministry was a warning- ‘your sin is a problem- and you need to turn from it- the law condemns you- and you need to shape up-b/c the Messiah is coming. It was the attempt to get the house clean before the housekeeper arrived.
John baptized with water- going under water symbolized death- to sin- and coming up- was to be cleansed from that sin. John’s mission was that God’s people would be prepared- on the right path- cleaned up- and ready to welcome Jesus the Messiah.
So- it’s baffling- why Jesus- who was without sin- asked John for the baptism of repentance.
John objects as well- and Jesus makes it clear- “ this is how the Father wants it”- this is how it is to be- this is how the prophecy is fulfilled.
John- understands- baptizes Jesus- and then -all the gospels record- that the Holy Spirit- like a dove descended upon Jesus. The heavens open – God declares Jesus identity- ‘my son w whom I am well pleased’- and John and Jesus never see each other again-/ Jesus launches into his ministry-/ John continues in his.
Two different ministries- two different baptisms.
The symbolism of a dove for the Holy Spirit- in ancient scriptures- represents purity of heart- and gentleness. Author R.T. Kendell did a study about doves – and the symbolism for Holy Spirit. He learned specifically about turtle doves-which are often confused with pigeons but are nothing alike. Doves never fight- they can’t stand noise-they are not territorial- they cannot be trained or domesticated- once let it out of a cage, turtle doves will never return unless there is no other source of food.
(Remember the dove Noah sent of the ark? It returned- once- no where else for it to go- it returned twice with an olive branch- (yes that’s where that phrase comes from- coming with the gentleness of a dove- to offer an olive branch) – and the 3rd time Noah sent it out- it never came back, if found somewhere else to land.
In his book “The Sensitivity of the Spirit” Kendell tells a story about a couple, Sandy and Bernice who were missionaries, when they moved into their new home they were thrilled to learn a dove had come to live in the eves of their home.
They considered it a sign from God- like a seal of approval. Sandy noticed an unsettling pattern in the dove’s behaviour however. Every time a door slammed shut—or if there was a lot of noise in the house or if they raised their voices the dove would be disturbed and flutter off—sometimes not returning for some time. They worried they were in danger of frightening off the dove permanently. As they talked about it- Sandy said, “Either the dove will adjust his behaviour to us, or if we really want to make sure we never lost him, we will have to adjust our behaviour to the dove”
“Watching that dove was a daily reminder for that couple- of the similar lessons believers need to learn about our heavenly Dove, the Holy Spirit. It changed their lives forever”
The Holy Spirit- in the form of a dove rested on Jesus. His ministry- wasn’t one of law and judgment- his was one of grace.
Being baptized in the name of Jesus; the symbolic dealing of sin- the death and resurrection through the water- is not our death- but Jesus death. We are raised to life- new life- now longer bound by the law- but free in grace.
Remember grace is something we can’t earn or buy. Remember that baptism in Jesus name – is an outward symbol of inward grace. Grace is a complete and total gift. The Holy Spirits arrival -settling down upon-seals the deal.
Arrival of the Holy Spirit affirms the divine exchange- my old self- for my new self- my old life for my new life- my ‘guilty as charged’ -to my ‘not guilty’.
The Holy Spirit- rests on Jesus- and stays- and empowers- and bears fruit.
Do you see the difference between John’s baptism – and Jesus?
John’s was law-powered by human spirit== Jesus was grace =powered by Holy Spirit
In the book of Act’s- Apollos- was an amazing preacher. He was so good- people were in awe of him. It’s important – to look at the paragraph just before this one- to understand the context. This is from the end of chapter 18
Ministry of Apollos
24 Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross over to Achaia, the believers[m] encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him.
Then this is where our text picks up today
19 While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— 7 altogether there were about twelve of them.”
It is possible you could have someone – who is a good teacher and preacher- who says all the right things- and has never -ever heard of the Holy Spirit. You can have someone- who teaches all the right things about Jesus- but is only operates out of the law- out of John’s baptism only- that is only about confession- and judgment- and repentance.
I’ve met many a Christian who feels guilty all the time- who feels like they never measure up- who believes they must please God- and work and earn favor—this is not grace.
What I love about Acts 18- is that it was Pricilla and Aquilla- who listened to Apollos- and then pulled him aside. He was the expert- he was the preacher- they were the lay people- and they were women. It was these women- who explained to him-about the power of Jesus—it was the women- who because they knew the presence of the Holy Spirit could detect the absence of the Holy Spirit.
And then in our text- we find- Apollos meeting up with Paul- who discovers the source of the problem- Apollos did not yet know the baptism of Jesus- nor the presence of Holy Spirit that accompanies- and settles like a dove.
I wondered – and then asked several people in our congregation-
If someone came to our church and knew nothing about the HS- and they asked you b/c they had never heard about it before-what would you tell them?
There are times when I pray or are listening for God when I feel his presence, I feel his love for me. Sometimes we can feel it in a big way.
Sometimes we are afraid of speaking up or speaking out but if we are feeling the spirit of God within us, we become willing and able to do those things.
HS- is the tiny voice giving me guidance, though not palpable, it is joy, love, hope, faith peace, truth---- all of those personified
HS is a friend who is there always. I can confess my weakness and still feel loved.
HS is invisible but real- comforter- teacher—I feel it is God’s presence within us nudging us along. Sometimes I’ll think what would Jesus want me to do but it is the HS guiding me in the right direction.
I sometimes try to visualize the HS or breath of life moving throughout everything God has created. At the time I probably didn’t recognize it. Reflection after the fact brings about a realization.
I would tell them it’s the most advance network of communication in the universe. When I’m tuned into the HS, I experience a harmonious connection with God from within. The HS is always life-giving- life healing and life revealing. I’d also be happy to share with them what my life was life without a connection to HS and what happened.
HS is an overwhelming feeling of love, light and complete and utter acceptance. Despite whatever we may think of ourselves or believe ourselves capable of. The HS knows what we are made of and fills us with the most wonderful sense of belonging.
HS is energy around me and sometimes within me. Sometimes it reminds me that God is real when I forget or question. The HS pushes me to step beyond my comfort zone in matters of faith.
HS is helper- counsellor-guide- we are filled with HS to help us follow Jesus.
HS is the driving force behind God’s plan for us. I recognize HS in children’s laughter, good news, not so good news, people helping people- friends, family. I recognize the HS inside of me giving me the rush of spiritual wellness when I pray or just have a heart to heart chat w God
HS is the living and present God. When someone truly believes the HS enters their being and fills you with peace, joy, clarity and inner strength. I had a profound spiritual awakening almost 30yrs ago. I always believed but couldn’t find that great joy they talked about when your faith is genuine no matter how hard I tried. I could see it in others and I looked at them in awe and envy. Something happened to me on that special day. I was completely humbled and asked God to help me. It was as though I was cleansed and baptized by my own tears. I suddenly had that strength and clarity I so desperately needed.
My heart smiles with these responses- you are a congregation of Aquilla’s and Pricillas- who have come to recognize the dove- and it’s presence.
Kendal quotes an Episcopal rector who shocked many Christians by his comment on a national radio broadcast: “If the Holy Spirit were totally withdrawn from church today, 90% of the work of the church would go on as if nothing had happened”
That is how Jesus followers can get it so wrong-
When we function out of our own strength—
When we act as though we don’t need God-
When we don’t depend on God- and doors are slammed- and voices raised- and we don’t even notice when the dove flew away.
The warmth you feel at Trinity- the moments we’ve shared that are hard to articulate- is a result of grace- and the presence of the Holy Spirit- settling down upon us.
Come Holy Spirit Come- you are welcome here- may that be your prayer as you continue to adjust your life to this gentle dove. Amen