"Boldly Following Christ"
Mark 1:4-11 and Acts 19:1-7
On this Baptism of the Lord Sunday, our two texts today proclaim to us the amazing depth of revelation that happens through the sacrament of baptism. In light of the a difficult week in our nation, may these two texts bring us hope, comfort, and courage.
As Jesus comes out of the waters he sees the heavens torn a part and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. For the listener of Mark this imagery of the heavens tearing a part would line up with the prophet Isaiah’s prayer to God to come and redeem Israel…“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” The heavens tearing a part at Jesus’ Baptism are revealing to the world God’s love for the world through Christ, and there will never be a barrier to separate us from God’s love. We rejoice that baptism is a sign and seal that God loves us through Christ. On this Baptism of the Lord Sunday we can celebrate that the heavens were torn apart and God’s love reigns forever.
While this is the meaning of baptism we hold the most dear, there are so many other wonderful revelations about what baptism means for our life following Christ. One of the many beliefs we have about baptism is the belief that the same Spirit that descended on Christ connects us together to Christ’s mission and purpose to love the world.
This apocalyptic moment of the heavens tearing a part above the river Jordan in the wilderness fulfills the promise of God made known to Isaiah and God’s people that God “will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” The Spirit descending from heaven like a dove on him is the sign that the world is about to turn, and the Kingdom of God is being made known through Jesus.
It is in the gospel of Luke when Jesus reminds the world that the scriptures have been fulfilled because the Spirit of the Lord is upon him to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim to the world God’s favor. When we participate in the sacrament of baptism we are not only celebrating God’s love for us; we are celebrating that our baptism is connected to Christ’s baptism. We celebrate that baptism connects us to share in his Spirit led ministry. We remember the same Spirit that descended upon Jesus is upon us and leading us to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to bring justice for the oppressed, and proclaim God’s favor towards the world.
While sacrament of baptism proclaims to us that the Spirit connects us with Christ’s purpose to the love world, it also connects us, the church, to one another. When celebrating the sacrament of baptism we remember that we are all one family, Christ’s family. This is why during a baptism we take vows as a church to care, nurture, and tend to each during our journey of life and faith. Baptism reminds us that through the Spirit we are connected to all of God’s creation.
Paul today is proclaiming to the Ephesians and Christ’s church the power of the Holy Spirit that is present at baptism, and how the gift of the Spirit will empower us to go out into the world and proclaim God’s reign of love through Christ.
Even though it is only a few verses you see the sense of connection to Christ and and connection to one another that baptism brings. Starting with verse 5, “…they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—“
By being baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, they were being reminded of their connection to his baptism, and their connection now to his purpose to love the world. The laying on of hands was a powerful reminder that the Spirit connects us to each other as we live out our calling to love God and love God’s creation.
Now there is a part of this passage that some churches might feel more comfortable with than others, and that is after receiving the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands they began to speak in tongues and prophesied. As Presbyterians, who are deemed by other churches as “the frozen chosen”, we might feel challenged by this reminder that the spirit comes upon us and leads us to prophesy and speak in ways that all understand.
Another way we, faithful presbyterians, might relate to this idea that the Holy Spirit gives us the gift of speaking in tongues and prophecy is to think of it instead with the mindset that the Holy Spirit gives the followers of Jesus the gift to proclaim the gospel with boldness. A boldness that uses the gifts of energy, intelligence, and imagination in all that we say and do to proclaim and reveal God’s love in the world. The sacrament of Baptism proclaims to us that the same Spirit that descended upon Jesus empowers us to go out into the world and boldly follow Christ and love God and God’s creation.
To be honest with you all, a few weeks ago I began reflecting on this idea that baptism by the Holy Spirit empowers us to go out in to the world, boldly following Christ and boldly proclaiming the gospel with our words and actions. I was so inspired of what it means to boldly proclaim the Gospel, especially as we celebrate the ordination and installation of our church officers today.
Yet, I was reminded this week that there can be a contrast in the way we are bold in this world. Sadly boldness can be used in harmful ways. On a day our nation will never forget, national leaders from two of the branches of our federal government used the power of their words and influence to tell a mass gathering of people to use “boldness” as they marched to the capitol to take back something they felt they lost. Sadly from this challenge to use “boldness” a mob soon formed from this mass gathering. They became bold with their fear, anger, disappointments, and harnessed it to seek a sense of power and control. Their boldness led to chaos and an insurrection towards our nation’s democracy. Their boldness led to a moment where civilians and law enforcement were killed and so many more injured.
As Christians let us not forget that the same mob waved their Christian flags, and flags that read “Jesus Saves” next to confederate flags inside our nation’s Capitol as was seized for the 2nd time in its history. This was human boldness, trying to force a human scheme of fear and hate to prevail. Since this sad day in our nation, leaders from both major political parties have condemned this tragic human scheme, and democracies across the world have shared their concern that we need to get our act together as a nation.
As we move forward together in this fragile moment in the life of our nation, for us Christians, may we do our part by standing up to a boldness that wants to harness fear and hate to seize power with human schemes, and may we remember that our boldness is Spirit led, not human led. Our calling as a church is to be a church guided by a Spirit filled boldness. The gift of the Spirit empowers us to proclaim the good news with boldness. Our calling in Christ’s church is to boldly love all of Gods children. Our calling is to boldly offer compassion, boldly strive for justice for those who are oppressed, boldly be empathetic towards others those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit, to be bold with our prayer, to boldly be emissionaries of peace.
May we go out into the world and love and serve God and tell others the good news of the cross and empty tomb that boldly proclaims to the world that God’s love trumps all things and reigns over all things, even those bold human schemes that want to divide us.
As we go out into the world, and offer the world our bold gifts of love, compassion, justice, empathy, and peace may we remember that the gift of the Spirit connects us with God’s presence and connect us to one another. May we remember that we are not alone in this journey of life and faith. We have our Triune God and we have one another.
Today is our ordination and installation Sunday, and there is a portion when we usually ask ordained elders, deacons, and pastors to come forward and lay hands on our newly called leaders and elders. It is always a powerful reminder that we are called to boldly proclaim together God’s love for the world through Christ. It is a powerful reminder that when we feel overwhelmed we can not only lean on God’s presence, but lean on one another for support. It is powerful reminder that God’s spirit connects us as Christ’s family, despite our differences. While we will not be able to have the laying on of hands as normal, we will remember in our special time of prayer today that the Spirit connects us to one another in every time, every place, every church, and every circumstance.
These words will be said during the ordination prayer today by various elders who have served on our church’s session over the years, “Give them the gifts of your Holy Spirit to build up the church, to strengthen the common life of your people, and to lead with compassion and vision. In the walk of faith and for the work of ministry, give to your servants gladness and strength, discipline and hope, humility, humor, and courage, and an abiding sense of your presence.”
As we remember that it is through baptism that we are connected to Christ’s purpose to love the world and as we live out our calling to love and serve God and God’s creation, may we say this prayer or prayers like it for one another as we use our words and actions to proclaim the gospel with boldness. May we boldly support one another in our journey of discipleship, and offer each other compassion, accountability, empathy, peace, and love. Alleluia Amen