Awash in the Spirit

File:Caban-coch dam overflowing - geograph.org.uk - 148870.jpg

Watching for the Morning of January 14, 2018

Year B

The Baptism of Our Lord

(See the note below on why we are celebrating The Baptism of Our Lord this Sunday)

The heavens were torn open.

As he was coming up out of the water “he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.” It is the word that will show up again in Mark when the curtain of the temple will be torn from top to bottom. Mark doesn’t use a subtle word to describe what happens at the banks of the Jordan. Mark is rarely subtle. His story is urgent, compelling. Something powerful has burst into the world, tossing demons aside and healing all who come near. Bursting the bonds that bind. Tearing open the heavens to bring all heaven’s gifts down. This Jesus is the coming one, the promised one, who will flood the world with God’s Spirit.

So Sunday’s texts will take us to the beginning, when God’s spirit/breath/wind blew over the face of the great deep and God called forth light for the world. And the psalm will proclaim the mighty voice of God that shakes the wilderness and shatters the cedars of Lebanon. And the book of Acts will tell us of the believers in Ephesus who had not yet heard of the Holy Spirit, but will receive it in abundance. And we will hear again of John the Baptist and the promise of the Spirit, and we will see Jesus come and the heavens torn open and the Spirit descending.

And in our liturgy we will remember what it means to be a people awash in the Spirit, to be witnesses of a world forever changed, to be agents of that Spirit, a people empowered, the body of this Christ in the world.

The Prayer for January 14, 2018 (for the Baptism of Our Lord)

Heavenly Father, Eternal God, Holy and Gracious One:
in the waters of the River Jordan
you anointed Jesus with your Holy Spirit
and declared him your beloved Son.
Make all the earth radiant with your glory
and pour out upon all your children the abundance of your Holy Spirit.

The Texts for January 14, 2018 (for the Baptism of Our Lord)

First Reading: Genesis 1:1-5
“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” – The opening words of that profound vision of God creating a good and ordered world, assembled by a people who have lived through the chaos of war, social disintegration, famine and the destruction of their nation.

Psalmody: Psalm 29
“The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.” – Using the imagery of a thunderstorm coming off the Mediterranean Sea and rising over Mount Hermon, the poet proclaims the power of God’s Word.

Second Reading: Acts 19:1-7
“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” – Paul connects with disciples in Ephesus who knew only the baptism of John.

Gospel: Mark 1:1-11
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”
– The Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus in his baptism and God declares him God’s ‘Son’.

As noted the last two weeks, our parish departs from the appointed texts for the Christmas season in order to present the birth narratives with some integrity: reading Luke 2:1-20 on Christmas Eve (and John 1 on Christmas morning), then the reception of the child by Simeon and Anna on the Sunday in Christmas. The second Sunday after Christmas (nearest January 6) is celebrated as the Sunday of the Epiphany and provides us with Matthew’s account of the Magi and Herod’s attempt to kill the infant Messiah.

Occasionally, as in this year, this puts us out of sync with the appointed lectionary. So this Sunday, the first after our celebration of the Epiphany, we will celebrate as the Baptism of our Lord and next Sunday we will skip to the texts for the third Sunday after the Epiphany.

A post about the Second Sunday after Epiphany in year B and its readings from 2015 can be found here. For other comments on the readings for Epiphany 2 B follow this link.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACaban-coch_dam_overflowing_-_geograph.org.uk_-_148870.jpg Mark Evison [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit?”

Saturday

Acts 19

File:Peristeria elata Orchi 11.jpg

Peristeria elata, “Flower of the Holy Spirit”

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?”

It is a question that divided congregations when the charismatic movement swept though mainline denominations some years ago. This narrative from Acts 19 seems to suggest that there is a difference between baptism in water and baptism in the Spirit. Several Christian traditions depend upon that distinction. Personally, I think the text shows the exact opposite. Baptism and the Spirit belong together, and whenever they seem separated, it is a situation immediately remedied.

But the right use of the text is not first of all as data for a theological conversation on the doctrine of Baptism and the Holy Spirit. The right use of the text is to let the text speak to us – in this case, to question us.

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?”

We are the Ephesians. We are those who, at least in name, are following Christ. So, as we come to stand before the text, the voice of God asks: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?”

Paul may be asking the believers in Ephesus a question of fact, but the question comes to us as a probing of the heart: Did you receive the Holy Spirit? What has become of it? Is it working in us and around us? Is it shaping our lives? Is it drawing us into a deeper faithfulness to God and to love of our neighbor? Do we see in ourselves the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Do we know how to recognize the promptings of the Spirit? Do we know how to discern its presence? Do we know how to open ourselves to the movement of the Spirit?

If the Spirit is not alive and kicking within us, then it is time to seek the Spirit, then it is time to fan into flame the gift of God(NIV). And if the Spirit is alive and kicking, then it is time to trust it, to depend on it, to let it burn brightly. The only other choice, I suppose, is to renounce the faith and go home, for there is no in-between way, no adopting the name of Christ without engaging the Spirit of Christ.

So here we are, standing before the text, standing in the presence of God, who asks a simple but crucial question: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit?”

And whether we are spiritually alive or spiritually moribund, it is important to wrestle with the answer.

 

Photo: By TommyCrash (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Breath of God

Watching for the morning of January 11

The Baptism of Our Lord

Original painting by C. O'Neal

Original painting by C. O’Neal

Some thirty years have passed from the nativity stories of the angels, shepherds and magi that have occupied our attention these last two weeks. Now Jesus steps out onto the public stage. But in the Gospel of Mark, there have been no nativity stories. For Mark it all begins with the witness of scripture, the prophetic ministry of John, and the appearance of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus. The coming one, who would immerse the world in the Spirit, is come.

This mighty breath/wind/Spirit of God dominates our readings this Sunday. Although our translation of the first reading says that “a wind from God” swept over the chaotic primeval waters, the word in Hebrew and the ancient Greek is ‘spirit’. At the beginning of the creation, when the world was called into being, the Spirit of God was present.

John promises that the one to come will pour out the Spirit upon us – and in Jesus’ baptism, the heavens are rent and the Spirit descends.

And Paul comes upon a dozen believers in Ephesus who know the baptism of John but not the baptism into Christ that pours out the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit in creation, the Spirit upon Jesus, the Spirit upon us. The breath of God. The United States is not one of those cultures that believes you should stand close enough to one with whom you are speaking as to be able to smell their breath – we are very self-conscious about our breath – but there is something powerful in the image that we should stand close enough to God as to share his breath. Even better, that God stands close enough to us that we can share breath.

The Prayer for the Baptism of Our Lord, January 11, 2015

Heavenly Father, Eternal God, Holy and Gracious One:
in the waters of the River Jordan
you anointed Jesus with your Holy Spirit
and declared him your beloved Son.
Make all the earth radiant with your glory
and pour out upon all your children
the abundance of your Holy Spirit;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for January 11, 2015

First Reading: Genesis 1:1-5
“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” – The opening words of that profound vision of God creating a good and ordered world, assembled by a people who have lived through the chaos of war, social disintegration, famine and the destruction of their nation.

Psalmody: Psalm 29
“The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.” – Using the imagery of a thunderstorm coming off the Mediterranean Sea and rising over Mount Hermon, the poet proclaims the power of God’s Word.

Second Reading: Acts 19:1-7
“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” – Paul connects with disciples in Ephesus who knew only the baptism of John.

Gospel: Mark 1:1-11
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”
– The Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus in his baptism and God declares him God’s ‘Son’.