January 7, 2018
It is the first Sunday of the new year. Often we would have the readings about the Epiphany, the coming of the Magi to worship the baby the first Sunday of the year. It is fitting that the Old Testament lesson is the first 5 chapters of the bible, the beginning of the word for the beginning of the year. Acts is a little out of the mainstream. There were disciples, which means students or learners. But they had evidently not learned the whole story of Jesus. They were believers in the baptism of John. We read of that in the gospel and in Acts, Paul told those disciples, “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.” But Acts also talks about being baptized with the Holy Spirit when Paul laid his hands upon them. We Presbyterians don't often talk about the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” There are streams of belief that distinguish the two named baptisms. The proponents of baptism of the Holy Spirit. would say that you know you are baptized by the Holy Spirit when you exhibit certain gifts, primarily the speaking in tongues which happened in Acts. We (Presbyterians) would say that water baptism is an outward sign of God's work in the believer's life. When that work comes to fruition and one recognizes God's call to be a disciple, the Holy Spirit is gifted to that person. You are born again. It is not baptism that saves, it is faith in Jesus Christ which is a gift of grace. To get the Holy Spirit, we acknowledge Jesus as Lord.
"I think so," the man replied. "My wife has made appetizers and we have a caterer coming to provide plenty of cookies and cakes for all of our guests."
"I don't mean that," the pastor responded. "I mean, are you prepared spiritually?"
"Oh, sure," came the reply. "I've got a keg of beer and a case of wine." It is awfully easy to make a baptism or a confirmation more about the party than the spiritual significance. That wasn't the case in our gospel.
There is no birth narrative in Mark's gospel. It begins with John and his baptizing in the river Jordan. We should understand, baptism for the Jewish people was just not something they did. Baptism is what a convert to their religion would do. Baptism is a part of our faith tradition, not so for the Jews. For the Jewish people to flock to be baptized says a lot about John's message. He preached a baptism of repentance. That meant turning your life around in a different direction.
If you read my article in the newsletter, you read about my goal to make hungering and thirsting after God a greater priority this year...and beyond. That's what I think motivated the unusual act of the Jewish people flocking to be baptized. John's preaching drew them in, his fire and brimstone style got their attention, his call to repent got them in the water and his promise of one greater yet to come fulfilled their yearning, their hungering for the Messiah. “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me... I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” And here we are, back to being baptized by the Holy Spirit.
Scripture makes it clear, the Holy Spirit is given to believers in Jesus Christ. ( Ephesians 1:13-14a (NCV)) “So it is with you. When you heard the true teaching—the Good News about your salvation—you believed in Christ. And in Christ, God put his special mark of ownership on you by giving you the Holy Spirit that he had promised. That Holy Spirit is the guarantee that we will receive what God promised for his people.” Again, there is not universal understanding of this doctrine. We believe and we teach that the scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit is a gift given the moment you believe in Christ. Ephesians goes on to make clear that this faith is not our own doing; saving faith is a gift of grace. And so we hold and believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit spoken of in Acts is one and the same as the gift of the Holy Spirit at the moment of belief.
That said, most all of you here have professed faith in Jesus, at confirmation or when joining the church. All of you then have the gift of the Holy Spirit. But that doesn't result in automatic growth in our faith journey. The fruit of the Spirit is not automatically expressed in your life from that moment. It is a process. A process that the church calls sanctification. Technically, sanctify means to set apart. Sanctification in scripture means our life being set apart for God. We can say that sanctification is living a life that is becoming steadily more holy. True, we are set apart for God at the moment of our belief. The term for that is positional sanctification; we are set apart for God as holy by Christ's power, our position in God's eyes is holy. But then going forth and living a holy life is a process. As we draw closer to God and seek to follow God's path more closely, that is technically, “progressive Sanctification”. We progressively become more like Christ in our thoughts, words and deeds.
The thing is, this isn't automatic. I'd like to think that one believes...and boom-their actions become Christ's actions. But anyone among us being honest will admit that type of sanctification does not happen immediately. We continue to sin, to fall short of God's good will for our lives; we fail to grow in holiness. Anyone in that position with me? Again, holiness is not an immediate result, it is a process. And understand this, the greatest saints who ever lived struggled with the same truth. The apostle Paul was responsible for most of our Christian theology and doctrine, he wrote about his experience with becoming holy. Does this sound familiar? Romans 7: 15 “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” But Paul did not let his failures defeat him. He pressed on to the goal; to quote later writings of his. And that is what we want to do in our faith journeys. We are not to be content to know Jesus and live life just as we always have. We want to grow in faith so that more and more, we do the things we should do and don't do the things we shouldn't do.
I used the example of hungering and thirsting for God in my newsletter article. It fits well right here. We should hunger and thirst to live a sanctified life. How do we do that? By consuming more and more of the things of God. I wrote this in the newsletter quoting David Jeremiah: “Spiritual hunger works the exact opposite of physical hunger. With physical hunger, you get hungry when you don't eat. Once you've eaten, you are no longer hungry. With spiritual hunger, the more you eat, the hungrier you get.” I want to encourage us all to eat more spiritual food. It is scriptural. In Hebrews 5, Paul instructs the immature Christian the importance of growing in God's word: “you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” We want to develop an appetite for solid food. And that solid food is the word of God. Christianity Today had an article with this statement: “There is no factor more influential in shaping a person's moral and social behavior than the regular reading of the bible.” Solid food, God's word, is important to our growth as Christians.
Steven Covey has written a series of books on succeeding in business. What he wrote applies to our success living the Christian life. In his book First Things First, the examples of clock and compass demonstrate how our nature often competes within itself. He said the clock represents our schedules, our usage of time, our commitments, our activities. The compass represents our visions, our goals, our priorities in life. For most of us, there is a gap between the two, the clock and the compass are not running together. We run and we work and we schedule and so much of what we spend our time with is not corresponding to the goals we've set for our lives. You may have heard the expression about doing the important things versus the urgent things. In my life, the urgent things are getting a sermon on paper, getting Julie the bulletin, newsletter, annual report info on time. Getting to work on time, mail sorted. Urgent because they need to be done on time. The important things are spending time in prayer, ice skating with the grandkids, supper with my wife, reading for spiritual uplifting. Too often, the urgent pushes aside the important. What I'm saying today is make sure you life is directed by the compass of what is truly important rather than the clock of the urgent.
I'm going to challenge us this morning. The challenge is to make our spiritual lives more of a priority. If our compass direction is pointing toward growing closer to God, we need to use our clock and actually making time to study and learn. A question, Outside of church, how much time do you spend with God during the week? If I asked for a show of hands showing how satisfied are you with your walk with God, would any of you say 10 out of 10? Not me, and I spend hours working in the word of God and trying to bring a message to you. But I admit too much of my time is spent, even in study, just getting a sermon down on paper; the urgent. Too little is spent actually in personal contact and reflection and conversation with God; the important. I would hope that everyone here, as part of your Christian faith, wants a closer relationship with God. That's your compass, your goal, the important. But is your clock showing that desire, that appetite for the things of God? “Spiritual hunger works the exact opposite of physical hunger. With physical hunger, you get hungry when you don't eat. With spiritual hunger, the more you eat, the hungrier you get.” We need to eat more! But it takes a decision to do it. Find your bible, put it on the kitchen table, on your reading table, in the bathroom...wherever you will see it. Then pick it up and read it. As you read it, your hunger for the word will grow. As your hunger grows, your clock management will get better and the word will become part of your life. And your life will go in the direction of God.
And so I'm giving you an assignment for this week. Yes, homework. It's important, but it's not urgent. I'm giving you a whole week to get it done. It is not difficult but it does require you to do it. Read the first chapter of Mark. That's it. You can read it all in one setting or divide it up over the week. You can read the whole chapter every day for the week (Great!) Or you may end up reading it during the prelude next Sunday morning. (Not ideal as it is then more urgent than important.) It may mean looking for your bible when you get home. You may want to read it on your phone or computer. But that's my first challenge to you in the new year. As I wrote, I plan on working to increase our appetites for God this year. And so this won't be the last assignment I give. But it is a start. If you are not reading any scripture during the week, it is the start of discovering God's word in your daily life. For some of you, it will be added to your regular study. I will be checking next week...so get it done.
Our hymn is Take My Life and Let it Be 391 PH. We are consecrating our life this week by reading God's word!
Take My Life and Let it Be 391 PH