Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,[a] 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with[b] the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 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.”
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;[a] with you I am well pleased.”[b]
The first Sunday after the Epiphany is called Baptism of the Lord Sunday, when we follow the Revised Common Lectionary. Baptism is one of the 2 sacraments that we as a protestant church observes, the other being Communion. Both sacraments were acts that Jesus participated in during his public ministry. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River and served the disciples the Last Supper. Baptism kind of takes a back seat though to Communion. In our church we celebrate Communioin every month but baptism is not as often. Depending on the people who come to church it might even be rare. Our denomination also baptizes infants which means that for most of us we have no recollection of baptism for ourselves. We also believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins, where some denominations believe differently and baptize more.
Yet, baptism is one of the few tangible things we do to express the presence of the Holy Trinity. If we look at the readings from Luke and Acts today, we get a different perspective on baptism than we do from Matthew and Mark. In the gospel of Luke, John the Baptist is speaking about the need to repent and prepare of the day when one will come to baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. We have to remember that many Biblical scholars believe that author of the gospel of Luke and Acts is the same person. This is written after the events occurred, so that when the fire is spoken of as being the Holy Spirit.
“2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:2-4)
The fire that John preaches is referenced at this moment, the fire of the Holy Spirit. Then something bizarre happens in the gospel of Luke. We have a picture in our minds from the other two gospels that Jesus shows up, John baptizes him and then the Theophany or God speaking and the dove come down, but not in Luke. Here are the verses that we skipped in the gospel reading today, “18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19 But Herod the ruler,[f] who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison.” John was already in prison then we read that Jesus among the others was baptized. Did John, the cousin of Jesus, baptize Jesus? Now we don’t know, for sure. Then something else very strange happens, After the baptism, Jesus goes and prays and while praying the voice of God is heard as the heavens open up and the Holy Spirit is then received and it looks like the form of a dove—not fire.
The author of Luke-Acts puts a big emphasis on prayer, more than any other gospel. Jesus is dependent on God’s Spirit which marked Jesus at his baptism. When the heavens are opened, in the Jewish tradition, it is associated with a blessing. In Noah’s day, the disaster of the flood poured out when the windows of heaven were opened (Gen. 7:11). When the heavens opened for Ezekiel he sees visions (Ezek. 1:1), a tradition that continues with John the Revelator, who also experiences visions, when gazing into an open heaven (Rev. 4:1; 19:11). Nearing death, Stephen looks though an open heaven to visualize the “Human One” standing next to God (Acts 7:56). Peter receives heaven opened and receives a vision that points to the inclusion of the Gentiles and Jesus tells Nathaniel that he will see heaven opened and activities of angels assisting the Son of Man.
God speaks as Jesus prays and says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Lk 3:22) God initiates the pronouncement of who Jesus is and then the Holy Spirit comes to Jesus. In keeping with the theme of Epiphany and the revelation of who Jesus is, God tells everyone. The Spirit come to rest upon Jesus. When we are baptized, we too receive the Holy Spirit. Yet how do we know we received the Spirit? In the lesson from Acts the people of Samaria accepted the word of God.
Who were the people of Samaria…
They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus but had not received the Holy Spirit. Peter and John go and pray for them, they lay hands on them and they receive the Holy Spirit. Just because they had been baptized by Nathaniel, (assumed) they did not receive the Holy Spirit—it was an act that occurred later when they had been prayed over by Peter and James. Why did they not receive it? Were they not ready? Did Nathaniel not know the magic words? Was it a matter of Spiritual maturity/knowledge in the saving grace of God? We really don’t know, yet it should cause us to ponder our own baptism and our spiritual maturity.
This was a divided community that God united by the gift of the Spirit. Peter and John helped bring unification when they physically laid hands on them and prayed for them and blessed them. Do we have the Spirit with in us? Does the Spirit look the same in each of us? 1 Corinthians 12:4-5 (4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;)
This is where we come to celebrate our gits of the Spirit when we reaffirm our baptismal vows later in the service. Infant baptism keeps us from stating our vows and understanding how we receive the Spirit. We confirm our vows when we join the church like confirmation.
We need to recognize that each of us responds to the Spirit in different ways and no one had the right to tell others how to respond. Some feel the Spirit in ways that are different than others. Just because we are the frozen chosen doesn’t mean we are all frozen. Some feel the presence of God most in silent contemplation. Others feel God in music, while others actively pray, or read scriptures. Responding to the Holy Spirit is also different for all of us. We should never judge others when they feel the Spirit move them. When we attend other churches in other denominations it takes us some time to get used to their ways, but it is still the Spirit that moves us. (feelings surrounding when I prayed…)
Sometimes we try so hard to act in a way we think is right that we might miss what the Spirit might be saying. When we judge others and their reception of the Spirit, we are not acting in a unifying way that the Spirit wants us to. The Spirit was not given to us so that we would feel awkward, but our own perceptions facilitate those emotions. May we always be open to receive the Holy Spirit. Amen.