Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Epiphay 1; Baptism, Creation and the Spirit of Life

Today, we celebrate the baptism of Jesus.  Maybe we can take in this feast day best as part of a seasonal faith progression as we move from Advent, into Christmas and through Epiphany.  We have over the past few weeks begun a journey, contemplating the revelation of Jesus Christ.

First we contemplated the human birth of the Word incarnate.  God takes on our humanity, born of a woman.  In this conception, our humanity is “Christified”.    Our contemplation of the birth allows us to engage with Jesus—this babe who was born without sin, and took on our human nature.  But the birth is also the moment when God engages with us, as God comes into Mary’s womb, we become vessels of God.  Our human nature is changed as we come to know ourselves as created by God.  Advent and Christmas help us to know God’s nature in a new way as we see God coming into the world in the form of a child.  And we can come to know ourselves as part of God’s creation because Jesus was born of a woman and took on our human form.  When Jesus is born, we know ourselves as God’s children. 

Then with the celebration of the visit of Magi—last Wednesday on Epiphany, we contemplated the revelation of Christ to the world.  Note here that I am separating our experiences of Jesus and our experiences of Christ.  The historical Jesus is the man who lived, died and was resurrected.  Jesus is our teacher, our healer.  Jesus came to show us the Way.  Christ is our experience of Jesus’ divine nature—revealed in retrospect, known by God’s people as the fulfillment of God’s promises articulated by the prophets.  Christ is the New Covenant, a promise made in the form of a person.    When the Magi follow the Star to Bethlehem, they recognize not just that a baby was born, but that the Messiah, the Christ has come into the world.  This revelation to the Magi promises us that God’s presence in the world is revealed for all people, everywhere.  This experience of Christ is available not just to the few who knew Jesus of Nazareth.  As we contemplate the journey of the Magi, we know that Christ is revealed to all people everywhere, in every corner of the earth, in every generation.

And then today we come to Jesus’ baptism.  This is the next step on our faith journey.  We have come to know God’s nature in the birth of Jesus.  We have contemplated our Christification as Jesus has taken on our humanity.  We  have focused on the revelation of God to all God’s people.  Now we come to Jesus’ Baptism, by water and the Holy Spirit.  We return to the theme of Christification—John baptized with water, but Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit.  Our understanding of God is changed.  In this moment we come to know God’s Trinitarian nature.  God the Father-Creator, with God’s willing servant Mary, called God the Son-Incarnate into the world.  Now God--Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus like a dove.  The voice of God comes down from heaven, Jesus is anointed with the gifts of the Spirit.  In Jesus’ baptism, we see that this is more than a child born in Nazareth, this is God’s son.  The third person of God, the Holy Ghost is acting on Jesus the man.  The voice of God names Jesus as Christ.  Jesus has grown (at this time he is approximately thirty years of age), the Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus had grown in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.  As a mature person, the Holy Spirit comes to Jesus at his baptism, giving him the gifts of the Spirit. 

Jurgen Moltman, a 20th century theologian, in his wonderful book, the Spirit of Life,  works on this theme of Christification by the Spirit.  He calls it sanctification.[1] When the Holy Spirit upon Jesus we know that all life as sanctified.  It’s not that Jesus is transformed from human to holy at that moment, because Jesus was holy from the moment of his creation.  But with the descent of the Holy Spirit there is growth in faith.  Moltmann says that the nature of all life is to grow.  Sanctification is the process of that growth in creation.   Jesus who was always sanctified by God is named as God’s only Son.  Jesus comes to know himself.  The Holy Spirit is working on Jesus, bringing him into deeper knowledge of God’s will.  The Voice of God is heard.  Jesus is growing in faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

For us, we have in these Scriptures and in our lives an experience of the Holy Spirit working.  By our baptisms, with the Holy Spirit, we come know God’s work in the world.  God names us as God’s children by adoption.

Again our journey of faith is a two way journey,  we come to know God in a new way when we experience the Holy Spirit working in Jesus the mature man.  And we know ourselves as  “sanctified” as the Spirit comes upon all of creation.  This growth in faith is not something that  we do, it is something that God does.  The Holy Spirit is working in us, enlivening us, expanding and motivitating.  But our work is to remove the imediments to growth of the Holy Spirit. 

As our passage from Acts reminds us, the Holy Spirit comes upon the Samaritans as a result of prayer and the laying on of hands of the apostles.  The Samaritans have already accepted the Gospel and they have already been baptized with water.  But the Spirit comes upon them as a gift.  One way to think of this growth in faith is that the seed is already planted, but growth of the plant requires tending, nurturing, feeding.  If our lives are to show forth the “fruit of the vine”, then we must care for that seed that is already within us.  The Samaritans are God’s people, they are made in God’s image, as all of creation is made in God’s image.  God’s creation is sanctified, but the nature of sanctification is growth[2] and by the gift of the Holy Spirit, our worldly impediments are taken away and we come more and more into the divine, sanctified life the God has given us.

In the passage from Luke, we have the image of the Holy Spirit coming with fire.  Fire is unquenchable, but it can be starved.  The fire that burns in us, must be tended, encouraged and looked after.  It is the fire of the Holy Spirit that motivates us, brings us closer to God, helps us to grow more and more into God’s hope for us. 

Today, I want to conclude our reflection with Moltmann’s thought that the sanctification of life is a universal experience for all of creation.  If everything God created is sanctified, then our work is remove the impediments to the fulfillment of that holiness.  We are motivated by the Holy Spirit, as Jesus was motivated.  As we grow into mature faith, we take this faith journey coming to know God’s nature more and more, we are called to respond by caring for all of God’s creation.

Often we talk here about care for God’s people.  And we do things to hold up the sanctity of life, recognizing Christ in all the people we encounter.  Today, I’d like us specifically to focus on the sanctity of non-human creatures, the birds, the animals, the water and earth, the sun and the moon.  If all is part of God’s creation, then our obligation is to care for all of it.  As we grow in faith, we can come to deepen our understanding of our relationships with the rest of God’s creation.  We can take this moment to feel the Spirit moving us remove the impediments to creation’s full and holy existence.  We have held the world back, we have destroyed God’s plan.  We have not cared enough and have polluted the streams, destroyed habitats and killed off species, we continue to take God’s resources out of the earth and use them for our purposes instead of respecting the balance with which God created all things to have new, full life in God.

Today, in this season of Epiphany, we have God’s nature revealed to us in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  We can come to recognize God’s sanctification, the Christification of all God’s creation.  And we can be motivated, called to respond to this Truth by preserving, nurturing and restoring God’s created world so that as God’s Body, this planet, and the entire universe—God’s people and God’s creature we may grow into the new life to which God calls us.  Amen.

[1] Moltmann, Jurgen.  The Spirit of Life.  Fortress Press, 1992 (paperback, 2001), p. 161.
[2] Ibid.

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