Romans 8: 22-27
John 15: 26-27; 16:4b-15
May 24, 2015
We are celebrating the baptism of Rosie and Gary this morning. It is a celebration; celebrating God's faithfulness in walking with each of us as we walk with God's son, Jesus Christ.
Now you know I can't let a day like this go by without a Gary story. You know when he was a boy on the farm, they didn't have electricity and certainly no running water in the house. They had to use the facilities outside—yes, an outhouse. And Gary really hated that little outhouse—it was freezing in the winter and boiling hot in the summer and it stunk all the time. He developed a plan; since the outhouse sat on the banks of the creek running through the farm, he was going to tip it into the creek when the opportunity presented itself.
Finally in the spring, the creek had risen from the snow melt and Gary saw that all it would take was a little help and the outhouse would float away down the flooded creek. He found a long branch to use as a fulcrum, pried a bit and sure enough, the outhouse tipped and floated away.
That night his dad told Gary they were taking a trip to the woodshed. Well, Gary knew what that meant but asked why. “Someone pushed the outhouse into the creek today. It was you, wasn't it?” Gary thought quickly and remembered a story he'd learned in school. Gary said, “I cannot tell a lie, it was me.” When has dad said nothing, Gary then reminded his dad about what happened to George Washington. “When he cut down the cherry tree he didn’t get in trouble because he told the truth.”
“Well, son,” his dad answered, “George Washington's dad wasn't in the cherry tree.”
That's an unfortunate account of a baptism...it is not a true story but I think we could all see Gary doing that. The word baptism means simply, dunking. The father in this story got unceremoniously dunked. But of course we in the church know that the term baptism has come to mean much more than dunking. If the meaning of baptism could be boiled down to one word, that word might be identification. Baptism speaks primarily of a personal, public identification with Jesus Christ; telling the world that we are children of God. In Romans 6:3-4 the Apostle Paul puts the matter this way: “Don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” We'll hear these words again in the baptism ceremony. Strong words identifying our baptism in Christ with his death...but more, we identify with his resurrection to new life. This is what we are all celebrating today as we witness and participate in the baptism of Rosie and Gary.
It is fitting that this falls on Pentecost Sunday. That is the day that the promise of Jesus we heard in our gospel was fulfilled, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me,”. That Spirit of truth came on Pentecost Sunday and the disciples were filled with power. Peter explained to the crowd in their native languages: “No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:`In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit;” God promised the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, and as we learn in the New Testament all who believe in Jesus Christ receive the Holy Spirit as a guide, a teacher, a constant presence of God within us.
We don't preach a lot about the Holy Spirit. Some churches do—Gary can tell you about an experience in his youth where the church demanded the Holy Spirit to come upon and cause all kinds of commotion. There are still churches that are driven by the need to speak in tongues or go into trances to prove to one another that the Holy Spirit is with them. We Presbyterians are not quite so demonstrative. Does that mean we don't believe in the power of the Holy Spirit? No, it means we believe the power is displayed in more commonplace ways. It can be displayed in the giving of our gifts to help spread the love of God to Africa or to needy teenagers here in Litch. It can be displayed when the women gather and work in unity preparing meals for a funeral or for a Lilac Luncheon. It can be displayed when a few faithful saints gather after worship to pray for wellness for those in need. It can be experienced when we share the sacraments and feel the overwhelming love of God. That's the Spirit of God touching your heart. Maybe we need to talk about it more so we more regularly recognize it. For it is possible to suppress the presence of the Spirit. We can hear the still small voice saying, “Yes, you can help in this way, yes, I am calling you to make that visit, yes, you are my beloved child”; and we can ignore it. We can say no to his prompting. We are invited every Sunday to listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit—either in our gifts or our time... or our prayers. And Paul wrote of another way the Spirit touches our lives, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” I count on this promise. I don't know the right words to say to convey to God the desires of my heart. But I talk and the Spirit intercedes, helping me in my weakness. That is there for each and every one of us. Struggling in your prayer life? Include the Holy Spirit in your prayers and trust that your deepest desires are being conveyed to God by the intercession of the Holy Spirit. We may not have the right words, but The Spirit knows and sighs with us and prays with us.
How many of you count on your morning cup of coffee or tea to give you energy for the day? Myself, it is Mountain Dew. 90% of adults in the United States consume caffeine in some form every day. And it's not just coffee and energy drinks. Did you know you can buy caffeine loaded marshmallows? On line, they cost $20 for a box of 24. (by the way, while checking this out I discovered you can buy a bag of cereal marshmallows for $3.99! Yum) Or else there is beef jerky infused with caffeine. It's called...ready for this—Perky Jerky. Better yet, if you are off red meat, you can get Turkey Perky Jerky! I'm not making this up! Now I'm not suggesting that the Holy Spirit is our spiritual caffeine...but maybe that's not a terrible comparison. The Holy Spirit can give our spiritual life a boost. It can energize our prayer life, our bible study, our worship. We are to invite the Holy Spirit into our lives; and it is up to me as pastor to invoke the power of the Spirit more often...remind me if I'm not doing this. In the book I'm currently reading, Big lessons from Little Places, author Kay Collier McLaughlin tells of a new church in Appalachia called the Wild Goose Church. The founder explains, “In Celtic Christianity, the symbol for the Holy Spirit is a wild goose, rather than a dove, because they feel it is more powerful and wilder, and there's a little sense of humor with it. And a wild goose will come up and bite you right in the seat of the pants, exactly like the Holy Spirit will.”1 Perhaps our prayer should be on this Pentecost, “Come Holy Spirit—and bite us in the seat of the pants.” The Holy Spirit can inspire and teach and get us moving—listen when he speaks.
Back to our baptism this morning. We baptize with water; you may have heard of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It is another of the doctrines that divide the Christian Church. Some see it as a separate action of the Holy Spirit somehow being more fully with them; and then speaking in tongues is one of the expressions of being baptized in the Holy Spirit. As reformed believers, Presbyterians, we do not see the so-called baptism of the Holy Spirit as separate from the receiving of the Spirit when we begin our relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Scripture tells us we receive the Spirit at that time and so Christ lives in us through the Holy Spirit. Baptism is the outward sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit and is the sign and seal that we belong to Jesus Christ. It is our identification as children of God. It is our identification as brothers and sisters in Christ. The coming of God as Holy Spirit into our lives is always and simultaneously both individual... and corporate. We believe that there is no such thing as a lone Christian living in isolation. And so the baptisms we witness, our own baptisms as well, indicate that we are part of this community of God.
It is also a sign of our redemption in Christ. Julie and I went to the movie Behind the Mask on Thursday. The leading lady had this line, “You can't earn redemption or love. They are a gift.” Baptism reminds us that God's redemption and love are free gifts and we acknowledge that Gary and Rosie accept that gift today. For children, the parents accept that gift on their behalf. We give thanks for the free gift of redemption and love.
We are celebrating a sacrament this morning. You probably learned when you joined the church that we have two sacraments--baptism and communion. We celebrate communion much more regularly. Baptisms don't come along every day. But a sacrament is an outward sign of an inner grace. That grace allows us into relationship with God through faith. John Calvin tells us, "it is only in the Spirit that (Christ) unites himself with us.” And, like so much of the deep things of faith, it is a mystery. From the Presbyterian website, “The Reformed tradition clearly asserts that this event of faith is a profoundly mysterious, even mystical, one. But it also asserts that it cannot be known or seen directly, consciously. It happens, but it is invisible, unanalyzable, indescribable.” So today we celebrate an invisible, mystery of faith. But one that allows us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to reaffirm and acknowledge our connection with God and with one another. We are forgiven by God's grace; we have new life by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Baptism doesn't do that to it but it is an outward sign of God's work within us.
This morning, let's each ask ourselves, How important is your baptism? It was a long time ago for most of us. For Rosie and Gary today, it is a very present reality and mystery. Baptism is, for each of us, our personal identification with the greatest act of human history—the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We understand that baptism doesn't save us—only God's grace does that. And God is faithful to fulfill his promises of salvation and grace.
Pentecost—the birthday of the church because of the appearance of the Holy Spirit. Baptism—the outward sign of our forgiveness and new life. Our identification as children of God. Causes to celebrate. As we share the ancient words of baptism this morning, may we be reminded of the wonderful blessing God's gifts are for each of us. And may we celebrate with Rosie and Gary their identification—official identification--as children of God through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
Hymn: Spirit of the Living God 322 PH.
1McLaughlin, Kay Collier; Big Lesson from Little Places pg 61