1 Epiphany: Baptism of Our Lord-January 13, 2019
Isaiah 43:1-7, Psalm 29, Acts 8:14-17, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
I want to start with a couple of questions: With a show of hands: how many of you have been baptized? Now, how many can remember your baptism? I certainly can’t remember mine and that raises the question we find in our reading from Acts: “Did we receive the Holy Spirit when we were baptized?”
If you were an infant at your baptism, like me, you are in no position to have any personal knowledge of the Spirit coming into your life at that time. But the church tells us, as a matter of institutional dogma, that we did receive the Holy Spirit when we were baptized. So to paraphrase a fundamentalist bumper sticker: “The Church says it, I believe it, that settles it.”
I could argue with this on biblical grounds, since the good folks in Samaria did not receive the Holy Spirit when they were baptized. In fact, it takes Peter and John to lay hands on them and pray for them before they receive the Spirit. But I’m not going to argue with the dogma nor do I want to place any doubts in your minds about it. I believe that when we are baptized, no matter the age, we receive the Holy Spirit.
What I do want to raise, however, is a much more interesting question, namely, “Are we aware now of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives?” I know quite possible to receive the Holy Spirit and know it, but over time to become unconscious to her presence in our lives.
Folks who following their confirmation they stop going to church for 40 years and who live in an environment where there is no experience of God, may become unconscious of the presence of the Spirit.
Now they are functionally dead to the Spirit’s presence. Not because the Spirit has turned her back on them, but because they have turned their back on her. And of course, those days when we get tapped in our thinking, thinking about our problems and how people aren’t treating us properly, we may also turn our back on the Spirit. So it’s an important question: Am I aware of the Holy Spirit in my life now?
The fact that you’re sitting in a worship service listening to me drone on is strong evidence that God’s Spirit is active in you. You could be home getting primed with different spirits for the Patriots playoff game.
Saint Paul tells the church in Corinth that they have the Spirit when the gifts of the Spirit are operating through them. If they are exercising a spiritual gift like teaching, healing, administration, helping others, on and on, then the Spirit is working in them and through them.
Spiritual Teacher Joel S. Goldsmith 70 years ago, points in another direction when he says: “How do we know the Spirit of God dwells in us? If we are letting go of hate, envy, jealousy, malice, self-seeking, self-glorification, prejudice, and bigotry, we are making room for the Spirit of God, for the Spirit of God cannot dwell in the midst of such qualities.” Practicing the Presence, page 22
Paul puts this in positive terms when he says in Galatians, chapter 5, that, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. So if the fruit is growing then we can know the Spirit is working.
So for churchgoers like us who have the Holy Spirit in our lives, there is another question that we might consider asking, namely, “Is there any way we can enhance our experience of the Spirit in our lives going forward?”
Well, we could attend a Pentecostal Church where there is speaking in tongues and people being slain in the Spirit, which I’ve done, but that might overload our circuits if we were raised in a tightly wrapped church like ours.
But this isn’t the only way. I was at an ordination to the priesthood yesterday at Christ Church, Andover. Right before the bishop lays on his hands the congregation was singing over and over the words “Veni Sancte Spiritus”, which means Come, Holy Spirit”. This soft meditative chant was opening us up to the Spirit’s presence.
If we’re not careful we can make the mistake of thinking that we have to ask for the Spirit to come to us because the Spirit is somewhere else other than where we are, maybe somewhere off in space. But if we take Psalm 139 seriously, which we read during the sermon last week, that there is no place we can escape the Spirit for the Spirit of God is always with us.
The image that came to me as we sang Come Holy Spirit is that soft meditative chant, was of a flower, like a rose growing in the depths of our being. When we ignore her, the buds tighten and remain closed. But as we gently and lovingly open our hearts to her, as we enter the cave of our heart with silence and stillness, that rose begins to open, filling our lives with the fragrance of the Power and Peace and Presence of Triune God.
So if we were interested in enhancing our experience of Holy Spirit I would gently suggest we build some time into every day for turning inward in silence and stillness and pray “Come, Holy Spirit” open up more and more in my life. This is what Psalm 46 says: “Be still and know that I am God.”
But how do we do that when we’re running crazy as it is, with carpools, jobs, and family?
Most days, if we’re honest, we find time for what we really desire. And truth be told we spend a lot of time numbly staring at a screen.
But if we decide that along with that New Year’s resolution to work out to add a few minutes to every day turning inward toward the Spirit there are several spiritual practices that can help us. Slowly reading scripture, known as Lectio Divina, can do this; spiritual reading or Daily Morning Prayer from the Prayer Book can do this. Practicing a mindfulness meditation can do this.
Centering Prayer does this. Centering Prayer is the practice where we descend into our hears and gently let go of our thoughts as they arise by saying a sacred word we have chosen. Thoughts here also includes feelings, emotions, grand ideas, wild dreams, noises, itches, anything that takes us back into our minds and more thinking.
This is not about fighting our thoughts or pushing them away, or even getting rid of them, but simply gently letting them go and resting in the cave of the heart so that Holy Spirit will know she is welcome to flow through our lives when we get up from our prayer.
We can’t make the Spirit do anything, but we can gently let go of the rush and tumble of our lives for a few minutes every day and see if her petals open.
These kinds of practices are not prayers for something we don’t have, but rather prayers for the grace to surrender more and more to the Spirit already present and active in us.
In the gospel today we see Holy Spirit manifesting herself in Jesus’ life after his baptism as he prays on the shore: in this moment of prayer he experiences the dividing wall between heaven and earth torn down, and experiences himself as son of the Father, who is well pleased with him.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit wants to do in us.
So one last question—and you don’t have to raise your hand: Would you like to grow more in this experience of the Spirit in your life? If so, commit to a few minutes every day to rest in your heart in silence and stillness and let Holy Spirit reveal herself as you open the petals of your heart to her.