Spirit on the Move

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The Baptism of our Lord
January 11, 2015
Genesis 1:1-5, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11
Peder Stenslie

The mystery of the power of God.  That is what is at the heart of today’s lessons and theme.

Our world is full of mysteries… for those who have the eyes and the opportunity to see them.  There’s the mystery of the power of love… the miracle of growth… the mystery of change.  There’s the wonder of the workings of the human body… and the incomprehensible vastness of space.  There’s the power of music… and the wonder of shared humanity across cultures and generations.  There is friendship.  There is faith in God… just to name a few.

These powerful mysteries are all around us… and they utterly amaze us when we look at them… and think about them… and ponder the powerful ways they shape our lives and world.

Today’s lessons and theme remind us what lies behind the wonderful mysteries of life and growth and joy.  In all of today’s lessons, the Spirit of God is on the move.  Coming from outside or beyond time and space, it slips into this world of atoms and flesh and sense to bring God’s kingdom into our midst.  The Spirit of God is on the move to create, to give life, to give strength and direction.

Today’s first lesson gives words to one of the greatest mysteries of all… the creation of the incomprehensibly vast and complex universe that we inhabit.

I remember when I tried to grasp what I had been told by trusted adults… that the universe had no end.  I must have been about 10 years old.  I would lay in bed at night and try to understand what that meant.  How could something not have an end?  It can’t be.  I would picture space in my mind and imagine going way, way out… and then… what?  Come to an end, right?  But what would be on the other side of that, then?  I would think about it and think about it until I actually got a headache.

I learned my lesson.  I don’t lay awake at night anymore trying to comprehend eternity.  I’ve accepted that it lies beyond my comprehension; but I embrace it as one of the most incredible and wondrous mysteries of my world… infinity… eternity.

Today’s first lesson speaks of God’s work in creation:  “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.”

I love the beautifully poetic words and images that describe for us what we are just not fit to grasp… how God formed the vast space and wove the web of life that we live in.

The second lesson, from the book of Acts, speaks of the Spirit of God at work in our lives… in our hearts and minds.  This too is a mystery that I’ve learned lies beyond my comprehension.

Though I’ve tried to figure it out over and over… I’ve learned that how and when God is at work in me is something that I just don’t know.  Yet I embrace the Spirit as a wonderful mystery that sustains and guides my life.  I’m free to live and trust that God is present and at work in me as I try hard to be the person of compassion, strength and hope that he has called me to be.

That brings us to our Gospel lesson.  This also shows us the Spirit of God on the move in our world.  In fact, it provides the model for how we understand the Spirit of God active in our own lives.

Jesus is baptized in the waters of the Jordan River.  It is a very brief, but dramatic passage.

As Jesus is coming out of the water, the Spirit of God is in motion, doing something new… the time of Jesus’ public ministry is at hand.  The voice of God declares:  “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

In this way, the Kingdom of God invades our world – in a very special way – to fulfill the promise given by the Angel Gabriel:  “He will save his people.”

That baptism of Jesus, however, does more than just mark the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It also foreshadows our own baptism.  We learn about our own baptism and how the Spirit of God is active in us when we hear the story.  The same elements are there.

There is the element of water… a symbol of both death and new life.  Then there is the movement of the Holy Spirit, laying claim to the one baptized.   There is the word of God, declaring the one baptized as a beloved member of God’s family.  And finally, there is a new beginning… a new way of being in the world that bears the mark of the Kingdom of God.

These same elements are all a part of our baptism.  In baptism, our old life… our destructive human nature that clings to selfishness and sin… is put to death.  At the same moment… in the same act… we are given new life in Christ… we are born again.

Baptism is one way that God reaches into his world to heal and save his people.  For sure, God works to heal and save his people in other ways, outside baptism.  But this is a beautiful way that God has promised to be there for us.  Through baptism, God delivers both a gift and an invitation.

The gift is this: God makes you a part of his family.  He forgives you; he frees you from your sins and from all powers that try to separate you from him.  He claims you as his forever and gives you new life.

That is why we say in the baptismal service:  “You belong to Christ.”  And “Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the Cross of Christ forever.”

God does all of this simply because you belong to him, and he loves you.  He doesn’t wait for you to earn it, or deserve it.  He gives it as a gift because you are his beloved child.

Along with the gift comes a call and invitation.  The invitation we receive in baptism is this:  As we emerge from the waters of baptism, God calls us forward to discover and embrace what it means to be a child of God.

We are invited to let the treasures of the Kingdom of God be planted and grow deeply in our lives… to change us and shape us.  And we are called to share those treasures with one another as God’s people.  The treasures of God’s Kingdom are things such as faithfulness, love, mercy, generosity, patience, gratitude… those things that make living wonderful and hopeful.

We are all called to new life in Christ.  We are called to see and love and live out of the wonderful mysteries of the Kingdom of God.  We are all called to discover and live what it means to be a child of God.  That’s an incredible invitation!

But sometimes it’s difficult for us to see the true value of the invitation.  Perhaps we have our eyes on other things.  Or maybe it’s just hard for us to appreciate the value of what we don’t understand.

When that’s the case, we need to move forward… we need to answer the invitation… on trust.  God calls on us to trust him… the one who created the heavens and the earth and the one who has declared us his beloved child.  Trust him.

He can see what we cannot see.  He knows what we do not know.  He understands what we need to make our lives happy and whole.  And he is determined to give it to us.

The season of Epiphany opens with Christ’s baptism, which marks the beginning of his ministry of love and reconciliation.  The baptism of Christ also establishes the model for our own baptism.  Through it, we are given the gift of full membership in God’s family and we are invited to follow Christ to new life as children of God.

And so, we keep our eyes are on Christ during this season of Epiphany.  In the Sundays to come, Jesus will call his disciples.  He will heal those in trouble.  He will preach and teach about God’s Kingdom.  And with our eyes on him, we will learn who Christ is, what the Kingdom of God is like, and what it means to be a child of God.  We will prepare ourselves to follow Christ into the mystery of new life that he has called us to.