“Water, Spirit, Baptism”

 

Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Acts 19

1While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2He 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.” 3Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” 4Paul 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.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—7altogether there were about twelve of them.

 

Mark 1

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

 

 

 

Prayer: Holy Spirit, gift of God, bestower of our baptism, blow through our lives, refresh us, enliven us, and empower us to do your will in the world. Make each of us more aware of your Spirit’s leadings. Give each of us the boldness we need to follow your Spirit, to live out our baptism by daily dying and rising to new life in Christ. Amen.

 

This is a special day on the liturgical calendar,

the first Sunday following the Epiphany,

also known as the manifestation, of Christ.

This Sunday is called “Baptism of the Lord.”

Today we join together

with other Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox

communities of faith from around the world

to share the story of creation,

the account of Paul and Apollos,

and the narrative of the baptism of Jesus.

 

It is fitting

to speak aloud

our Gospel today,

ending with the voice of God

speaking to Jesus, saying,

“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

For these will be the identical words of God

spoken to Jesus on the last Sunday following the Epiphany,

the Sunday before Ash Wednesday,

always the Transfiguration of the Lord,

when Jesus stands on the mountain top with Moses and Elijah,

surrounded by his disciples,

and he is changed right before their eyes.

Like bookends, “You are my Son, the Beloved”

mark the beginning

and end

of Christ’s ministry

before he sets his eyes on Jerusalem.

 

There are three common threads

weaving together these scripture lessons with our lives for today.

They would be water, Spirit, and baptism.

 

In the first chapter of Genesis,

the first creation story,

we hear of God moving across “the face of the waters”

at the very beginning of the world.

Water becomes the necessary foundation

for defining the land,

giving meaning to light,

and the necessary soup for life to begin.

Without light,

water is a formless void,

a darkness, deep and unknown.

But with light, water comes alive,

giving shape and form to the land and to creation.

 

In a universe defined by laws of

conservation of energy

and matter,

we know this same water,

created by the actions of God,

flowed down the River Jordan,

rippled over John as he immersed Jesus under it’s surface.

This same water baptized a sinless Messiah,

who came not to be washed clean,

not to repent of some hidden sin,

but to bring together,

to gather the elect,

and prepare us for the emerging kingdom of God.

 

By means of evaporation, trade winds, condensation, and precipitation,

this same water came to Apollos and other disciples in Ephesis,

also baptized by John in the Jordan.

It marked the transition for Apollos

from a life of devoted Jewish faith

to a life of,

first, theological studies in Alexandria to learn the scriptures, and,

secondly, missionary service to the emerging church in Ephesus,

which had been planted by Paul’s missionary evangelists, Priscilla and Aquila.

Learning that the disciples in Ephesis had been baptized by John,

not in the name of the Lord Jesus,

and had never received the gift of the Spirit,

the same water returned to them

as they were baptized by Paul in the Cayster River.

 

This same water,

formed and defined in creation,

which baptized Jesus and Ephesisan disciples,

has come to us,

runs from the tap in each of our homes.

It filled the fount at each of our baptisms

It has washed us clean of our sins,

refreshed us with life,

and it unites us with each other

and with Christ.

It joins us with the life of Christ.

The water will join us with Christ when we die,

just as he died for us on the cross.

And the water will unite us with Christ in his resurrection,

and we, too, will receive the gift of eternal life.

 

 

A common thread in today’s scripture lessons

is the work of the Spirit;

the Holy Spirit of God.

“A wind from God swept over the face of the waters,”

we read (Genesis 1:2).

Wind, or “ruwach,” (roo-akh) in the Genesis Hebrew text,

meaning the breath,

or spirit of the Creator,

was present in the beginning of history and time

(Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible).

It was the spirit of God who not only created the world,

but who began a history of personal involvement in the world,

who took an active role in the lives of our ancestors,

and in salvation history.

 

The same Spirit of God is present in the baptism of Jesus.

The Hebrew is substituted with the Greek word “pneuma” (pnyoo-mah) in the Gospel of Mark.

It means the breath, breeze, the Spirit of God

(Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible).

The Gospel author reports

Jesus saw the heavens tearing apart

when he surfaced from beneath the water,

and the pneuma

“descending like a dove” rested upon him (Mark 1:10).

The same Spirit of creation

equips Jesus for ministry, giving power, and life, and purpose to Christ.

 

The coming of the Spirit fulfills the expectations of Israel;

the messiah has come!

The prophet Isaiah wrote

“Here is my servant, who I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:1)

The words “You are my son”

are word of coronation

that echo ancient words spoken to the king

as recorded in Psalms 2:7

“I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me,

‘You are my son; today I have begotten you.’”

(Lectionary Homiletics – January 2003).

The Spirit’s entry at the baptism of Jesus

clearly validates and empowers Jesus’ mission and ministry

as Savior of the world.

 

In the city of Ephesus,

40 or so years after the resurrection and ascension of Christ,

we find Apollos the scholar,

teaching according to the scriptures,

instructing people to

follow the one who John announced, Jesus.

He “spoke with burning enthusiasm

and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus,

though he knew only the baptism of John.” (Acts 18:25)

He was getting nowhere.

Even Priscillia and Aquila took him aside

to “explain the Way of God to him more accurately,” (Acts 18:26)

but this did little to help.

Though he “powerfully refuted the Jews in public,

showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus,” (Acts 18:28)

his efforts had little impact.

 

The apostle Paul passed through the region,

stopped by the regional capital of Ephesus

to visit the church that was the focus of his prayers and letters.

While Apollos was in another city,

Paul meets with some of the other disciples of Christ

and gets right to the point:

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” (Acts 19:2)

He doesn’t ask about their baptism,

their efforts at evangelism,

or how well they witnessed.

Did they have the Spirit?

Did they have the power, the presence, the call, the commission of the Holy Spirit?

No.

 

I heard it said years ago

that people who have the Word, but are lacking the Spirit, blow up.

But those who have the Word and the Spirit;

these, these are the Christians

who grow up.

 

Then “Paul laid his hands on them,

the Holy Spirit came upon them,

and they spoke in tongues and prophesied,”

it says in Acts 19:6.

They had lacked the Spirit,

and having now received it,

had the power, the breath, the pneuma

to fill the witness they were proclaiming.

Apollos became a principle in the Achaian church,

and in the church in Corinth.

 

The gift of the Spirit was given at Pentecost,

empowering the disciples to begin their apostolic witness and evangelism,

immediately after Christ’s ascension.

That same Spirit,

present at creation,

present at Christ’s baptism,

present when Paul laid hands on Apollos;

that same Spirit is poured into our lives,

first at our baptism,

filling our lives every day thereafter.

 

The common thread of baptism

weaves it’s way through our scripture passages for today;

sewing the lives of the baptized into the tapestry of faith.

You have to listen real close,

but for those who are acutely observant,

you can hear the whisper of baptism

in the Genesis story of creation.

Even before there was light, there was water.

Our ancient Jewish ancestors

recognized the presence of water in the creation,

understood its cleansing nature,

and correctly wove the symbol into the covenant of Law.

All have fallen, as a result of Adam.

All have sinned and broken God’s laws, as given to Moses.

Water provided the symbolic cure to the stain of sin.

Sin could be washed away.

Water purified, made clean, restored to wholeness

the one who had sinned.

It became an important purification rite of Judaism,

such that baptismal pools lined the staircases ascending the Temple in Jerusalem

so that pilgrims could wash before they entered the Temple

with their gifts, sacrifices, and worship.

 

The baptism of Christ in the River Jordan today

seems out of place to those of us who only see Jesus as sinless.

“What did he have to repent?” we ask.

It is not an act of repentance that Jesus undergoes

when he submits to John’s baptism.

What is important is that Jesus identified himself with the sinner;

with us sinners.

He gets into line, just like everyone else,

to wait his baptismal turn.

 

This is the whole point of Jesus!

He came to earth to identify with people,

to walk among us,

to learn our pain, our grief, our trials, our temptations.

He came to walk in our shoes.

He came to wash us clean by bearing our burden on the cross.

He came to further his Spirit forevermore.

“Go therefore into all the world,

baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,”

he would direct his disciples before he left them.

And we’ve been doing this ever since.

 

The Apostle Paul is simply doing what Jesus told us to do;

to baptize in his name.

Each disciple came out of the water at the name of Jesus,

and forever united the Word of Christ with the Spirit of God.

We emerged from our baptismal waters,

made a Christian,

joined with a cloud of saints who have gone on before us,

included in the fraternity of Christians in the Church

local and global today,

and we are linked to everyone who will in the future

come to the baptismal water.

Through our baptism we are joined to Christ in his suffering,

united to Christ in his resurrection,

and promised to be with Christ eternally.

The union of baptism cannot be undone.

The union of baptism can never be broken.

 

 

The dean of the theological school at Duke, William Willimon, wrote,

“There is only one Christian baptism in the New Testament.

It is baptism in the name of Jesus,

and it is Spirit baptism.”

(William Willimon, Pulpit Resources, January, 2003).

 

There are three common threads weaving together

these scripture lessons with our lives for today:

water, Spirit, and baptism.

We are united by these threads,

made strong by the grace of God,

and forever joined with Christ, as his body, the Church.

Through our baptismal waters

the Spirit fills our lungs with it’s divine breath.

The question that begs to be asked is this:

Have we used the gift of the Spirit to build up the church,

to further the will of God,

to fulfill the mission and ministry to which we are called?

Have you heard the whisper of the Spirit quietly in your ear

“You are my Son, my Beloved; with you I am well pleased?”

“You are my Daughter, my Beloved; with you I am well pleased?”

 

The Word of the Lord.

 Thanks be to God.

Amen.