Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Spirit and Baptism (it’s messy)—more thoughts about the Baptism of the Lord, Year C

Acts 8.14–17
Luke 3.15–17, 21–22

…when Jesus also had been baptised and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. (Luke 3.21c–22a)

The Son of God is baptised, and the Holy Spirit comes down to earth. It’s the beginning of a new age, ‘God with us’!

But wait. Just a few spare years later,

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them…). (Acts 8.14–17)

Did the Spirit dry up? Was the Spirit upset, or asleep? Doesn’t the Spirit like Samaritans? Is there one law for Jesus, and another law for everyone else?

Or is this the way it’s meant to work?

There are those who say this is the way it’s meant to be. You become a Christian, you get baptised and then you wait for a ‘second blessing’. You are ‘filled with the Spirit’ at some later time, when you ‘speak in tongues’.

(You can see from the story though that the Apostles were concerned. This was not the way it was meant to work.)

Let’s talk about baptism (in water) and the Holy Spirit. Two things to say:

  1. Baptism and the Holy Spirit go together
  2. It’s messy. Quite messy.

Baptism and the Holy Spirit go together in the Book of Acts. But it’s messy.

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Do not fear…you are mine: Baptism of the Lord, Year C (13 January 2013)

Isaiah 43.1–7
Luke 3.15–17, 21–22

Today’s Old Testament passage is well-known, but it deserves to be much better known still. What wonderful words! God says:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.

“Do not fear…you are mine.”

These are the kind of words I expect A’s mum and dad to say:

Don’t be scared…It’s ok…Mummy and Daddy are here.

Of course, they would only say those words if A were upset. And God doesn’t say “Do not fear…” unless the people are afraid.

And the people were right to be afraid.

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Inclusive, welcoming and forgiving—Feast of the Epiphany, Year C (6 January, 2013)

Isaiah 60.1–6
Ephesians 3.1–12
Matthew 2.1–12 

Fifty years ago, back in 1963, Rev. Dr Martin Luther King said this:

We must face the sad fact that at 11 o’clock on Sunday morning, when we stand to sing…we stand in the most segregated hour in America.

In his gospel, Matthew tries to show us that God’s vision for his people is an inclusive one, which grows from Israel’s calling as the people of God.

It shows how the Gentiles are called to become a part of God’s chosen people. In other words, everyone—“Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female” (Galatians 3.28), black or white, left or right, gay or straight—is now an equal member of the chosen people.

Paul bears witness to this truth. He speaks of his ‘understanding of the mystery of Christ’:

In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Unlike Paul, but like all the other gospel writers, Matthew speaks of this “mystery of Christ” by telling a story. We call it the story of the Three Wise Men, but I’m not convinced there were three. Or that they were all that wise, when they fall as they do for Herod’s machinations. And it’s not at all important that they were men.

Let’s call them what Matthew called them: the magi. We get our word ‘magic’ from ‘magi’. Magi were considered to be sorcerers, astrologers, interpreters of dreams, potion makers. They seem to belong more on the set of a Harry Potter movie than in the pages of the Bible. But here they are.

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