This is a sermon that I gave on January 10, 2010 at Church of the Saviour in Clermont, Iowa.
Don’t you hate it? You are watching a great movie on T.V. The excitement is mounting. You are getting to a really good part. You are sitting on the edge of your seat. Then right in the middle before the plot is revealed or the plot takes a new and exciting twist, a commercial comes on. For the next two to three minutes you see commercials about everything imaginable.
We are told that advertisers may buy at least forty time slots on a single station, for a single day, when introducing a new product. No doubt they are on to something. Classic sayings abound. “Plop. Plop. Fizz. Fizz. Oh, what a relief it is.” “Snap, Crackle , Pop.” “Don’t Leave Home With Out It.” "Finger lickin’ good." "Have a break. Have a Kit-Kat." "Just do it." “Built Ford Tough.”
The very successful media people have one question in mind: Have you heard? We have heard. We remember those jingles, even years after they have been taken off the air. They are memorable. Now, I wonder, have we heard the Gospel? It is full of the Good News of the gospel! Did we give it our full attention to hearing it? Do we hear the Gospel with all our channels on, our tuning controls adjusted and the sound turned up?
There is a lot of interference in our lives. Sometimes we even may experience a complete breakdown in the reception. Just as when it comes time to hear a sermon. The sleep mode kicks in or we put everything on mute. Hearing is not easy even at the best of times. I read a story about a church that installed devices for the hearing impaired. One man in his mid-eighties had been going to the church regularly for years. But in these later years he was unable hear very well. Still, he came to be present, to have a feel for what was happening, to imagine what was being said, to read the preacher’s lips and catch enough to enable him to later talk with his wife about the main points. The day came; he was given a receiver; he placed the earphones in his ear. As he left the church all he could say was, "I could hear. For the first time in years I could hear, but I guess I didn’t miss much.”
When Jesus was baptized a voice spoke to him, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. ” According to some of the gospel accounts it seems that Jesus was the only one who heard that voice even though he was baptized with others. Was it because the voice was only spoken to him or was no one else really listening? How easy it is to tune out the voice of God, to focus our lives on the routine, the practical, the house to be cleaned, the oil change for the car, the errands to be run, taking the kids to their various activities. How easy it is tune out the voice of the world. Even though we now live in a "global village" our own little worlds are becoming smaller.
As the earth becomes one family, the fences become higher around our lives. Often it is said people don’t visit like they use too. How ironic that we are becoming more insular in a world that has become much smaller. We would rather keep to ourselves than hear the voices of others. One thing is clear, God needs many channels, many witnesses, and many voices speaking the Good News. That is why the baptism of Spirit comes not only to Jesus, but also through Jesus to his followers, that’s us. We are the voices of the Spirit. We are communicators of the gospel in the midst of the world. We are called, every one of us to live each day with the central question in our minds, heart, and souls: Have you heard? We need to ask ourselves have we affirmed this part of our baptism - the promise that God will speak through us for the transformation of the world? Have we considered the promise of a Spirit who will work in us and through us in many surprising ways for the blessing of God’s people?
Earlier in this Chapter, John the Baptist had been preparing for an important visitor. He encouraged people to turn to God and baptized them in the Jordan River. Baptism was normally administered to Gentiles, non-Jews, who wanted to join the Jewish religion. For a Jew to submit to baptism required great humility. It was as if they were admitting to not being part of God’s people, and wanting to join them.
There was also the symbolism of washing. Baptism conveyed a spiritual cleansing, turning from what was wrong to make a fresh start with God. So this should affect the way they lived their lives. The chronological order of this was :
someone decides to turn away from living life their own way and start living for God.
they are baptized to symbolize this.
They have to live for God in a practical way.
John’s ministry caused people to question if he was the Messiah or anointed one from God whom they were expecting. John makes it clear that he is not, and that the Messiah will be superior to him in a number of ways.
The most menial job that a slave could do was to untie someone’s sandal before washing their feet. That is why none of the disciples volunteered to do this job before the Last Supper in the Gospel of John. It was a vile job because people’s shoes and feet would be caked with who knows what from the streets. John is saying that he is not even worthy to do this menial job for Jesus. He said that he baptized in water. This Baptism was inferior to that of Jesus. John’s baptism signified that people wanted to turn from their sin to live life God’s way. But it gave them no power to live like that. It was not a Christian baptism because it did not involve the death of Jesus, or the work of the Holy Spirit. The first Christian baptisms were administered to three thousand people on the first day of Pentecost.
John said, "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. " What did he mean by this? This is not saying that pouring water on someone’s head with water, or plunging someone under water will make them a Christian. It is saying that Jesus will give the baptism of, or immerse or flood his followers with, the Holy Spirit when they give control of their life to him.
In the Bible, fire can be used in a number of ways. Here it is referring to the refining or purifying work on God’s Holy Spirit. A precious metal such as gold or silver is heated up to burn away any impurities. The Holy Spirit also works like fire, burning away our nasty bits, making us more like Jesus. God the Holy Spirit gives us the power to be holy. The word holy means set apart for God. He lives inside all Christians and being God, and being Holy is opposed to that which is unholy, not of God.
John goes on to talk of how Jesus will divide and judge people. "His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
The winnowing fork was used to toss wheat and chaff into the air. The wheat grains, being heavier would fall straight to the ground. The lighter chaff would be blown to one side, and be swept away to be burned. This represents the way that God will one day judge people in the way that they have responded to him. Those who have accepted God into their lives will be gathered up, taken to be with God for ever. Those who do not accept God will be condemned to spend an eternity without God. This is another way that fire is used in the Bible. To refer to the punishment that awaits the unrepentant.
Did John the baptist have the Holy Spirit within him? Of course he did, just like all of the prophets in the old testament had the Holy Spirit within themselves. Do we have the Holy Spirit within us? I believe that God, through the Holy Spirit, does work within each one of our lives. In Acts today, Peter and John laid hands upon some Samaritans and then the Holy Spirit became very evident within those people. This is very much like when the Bishop lays his hands upon the heads of the confirmands at their confirmation.
So my prayer for all of us today is that we recognize that the Holy Spirit is within us. And that we use the Holy Spirit to do God's will within our lives as well as in the wider world.
I would like to close today with the following:
Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on us,
Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on us,
Melt us, mold us, fill us, use us,
Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on us.