Sunday, January 7, 2018

Sermon for Baptism of Our Lord

Acts 19:1-7/Mark 1:4-11

“Life Survival Kit”

            All of the reports of the cold weather all over the country are bringing me back to my days as a pastor in rural South Dakota – and the Sunday morning one winter day that one of my parish members handed me a box. 
            It was a gift, she said, and this particular gift was useful – it was a winter survival kit.  I’m from the Midwest, you know, but I had never had a winter survival kit. 
            So I looked inside to see what was in it.
            The box had a flashlight, candles, a bar of Hershey chocolate, matches, a coffee can, and a roll of toilet paper.  I thought it was very interesting.  I put it in the trunk of my car. 
            Truthfully, I did not now what any of it was for, or how it might help me if I was stranded on the road on a winter day. 

            For the next few years that winter survival kit stayed in the trunk of my car.  I never used it. 
            I didn’t know what it was for.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  I had a couple of ideas. 
            I had for example, an idea about the chocolate bar, and I was pretty sure about what the matches were for.  I also thought I knew what the toilet paper was for – but I was wrong….. 
            What I didn’t know was that I really had everything I needed in that box, everything I needed to survive in a blizzard.
             But I didn’t know how to use it.

            Everything I needed – maybe we don’t think of it this way, but when we are baptized we receive everything we need for the life of faith.  We receive the Holy Spirit.   
            It goes all the way back to John the Baptist in the wilderness.
             He was pretty clear when he was baptizing people…. “I have baptized you with water… but the one who is coming after me?  HE will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  
            Not that the water is unimportant – but there is something more going on when we are baptized – the point is the water AND the Spirit.     And, you may not remember it, but when we are baptized, no matter what age that is – whether we are 2 months or 2 years or 20 or 80 – when we are baptized – we also receive the Holy Spirit.
            “Pour out your Holy Spirit on Tori  -- or Dennis – or Henry – or Yvonne --we pray….  The spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence…”  
            Everything we need.   For the life of faith.

            That is what we get when we receive the Holy Spirit.  And we receive the Holy Spirit when we are baptized.  
             That’s the way it is supposed to be. 
            That’s behind this story from Acts 19 that we read today.  Paul comes across some believers and asks them if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed. 
            And they said – they haven’t even heard of the Holy Spirit.  They had only received John’s baptism. 
            So he baptizes them and they do receive the Holy Spirit.  And they receive gifts – strange gifts it might seem to us, but gifts. 
            Everything they need for the life of faith. 

            I can’t help thinking though that even though we have heard of the Holy Spirit,
             that the Spirit’s gifts to us are sort of like that “Winter Survival Kit” I received – they are sitting in the equivalent in the trunks of our cars. 
            Because maybe we don’t have any idea what they are for.  How does the Holy Spirit help us in the life of faith? 
             What do we receive and how do we use it?  Maybe we should ask.  Maybe we should be curious, and take a look and….

            Wait a minute… what do I have here?  There’s a box here, and it says, “Life survival kit.”  Do you think I should open it?   Let’s see what is inside.

            1.  The first thing I’m seeing is a slingshot. 
            You know what this slingshot reminds me of?  It reminds me of that story in the old Testament about David and Goliath. 
            And how Goliath was someone to be afraid of, a bully, and how David was young, and everyone thought it was foolish of him to stand up to the giant, but he did. 
            And all he had was this slingshot.  He didn’t have a sword, and he didn’t have any TNT and he didn’t have any nuclear weapons. 
            All he had was a slingshot.  But that’s what the strength of God is like. 
            We’re promised the might of God, but it’s not like the might of the world.
             We’re not promised that God will make us into giants, but that God will give us what we need.   A different kind of strength.
              Remember also that David used the slingshot against Goliath, but he also used it to protect the sheep. 
            The strength we get from God is to help those who need protection – the poor and the vulnerable and the weak.

            2.  What’s this?  Here are some ear buds.
            One of the things that the Holy Spirit helps us do is hear God’s voice. 
            There are a lot of voices in the world, and not all of them belong to God. 
            Some of them are telling us to be afraid, and some of us are telling us to be selfish and some of us are telling us that God is not around. 
            But the Holy Spirit helps us to hear and recognize God’s voice, God’s word, in the Scripture, and in our lives. 
            The Holy Spirit helps us to hear that God is with us, and helps us to know what God wants us to do and who wants us to be in the world right now. 
            Sometimes God shouts and sometimes God whispers, but God is always speaking to us….

            3.  Here’s something else  (big glasses!)  The Holy Spirit gives us a way to see what God is doing in the world – that God really is active in the world.  And in our lives.
             Sometimes the Holy Spirit helps us know where to look – because it’s not often we see what God is doing when we look in the obvious places – the places where the powerful people are – and where important things happen
            – but God is working in small ways and through ordinary people and we need these new eyes to see it.  Through us! 
            Through family Promise!  Through the pre-school – and the children –

            4.  And here’s something else we receive (a microphone).  This reminds me that one of the things that God gives us is a voice. 
            God wants us to speak up. 
            And that can be scary.  But God gives us a voice and will give us courage when we need it – to speak up –
             to speak up with words of love for our enemies – to speak up with words of mercy for those who are down
            – to speak up for words of truth for the powerful –   oh, and I see that there are some bandaids here too
            – because it’s not just about words, right?  But actions are important too…

            5.  There’s one more thing in here – and it’s a passport.  Huh. 
            It has my name on it.  I can carry it with me anywhere, so that if anyone asks me who I am – I can tell them that I am a child of God.           When Jesus was baptized, that’s what the Holy Spirit told him, and that’s the most important thing – because there were plenty of people who did not believe him. 
            But he kept on his mission:  loving people and forgiving people and healing people – anyway. 
            And that is so important for us as well – to remember who we are.  To remember our mission. 
            Because there will be plenty of people who will encourage us to doubt it. 
            And there will be times when we will doubt it, because of things that happen to us. 
            Martin Luther said that when he felt beset by adversity, he would say to himself, ‘I am baptized!”  A passport reminding us of who we are – and what our mission is. 

            The Holy Spirit.  Everything we need. 
            For the life of faith. 
            Everything we need to – not to survive – but to live.  Wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, fear of the Lord,  joy in your presence.  Joy. 




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