The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:

s035g08 Sunday 2 20/1/2008

'the one who baptises with the Holy Spirit' John 1.33

John 4.2 tells us however that Jesus never baptised either with water or with the Holy Spirit and we have no record of any of the apostles being baptised (other than Paul).

Of course the differentiation between water baptism and baptism with the Holy Spirit has spawned all sorts of controversies as to which baptism is valid and which isn't. Infant verses adult baptism. Immersion verses pouring. Even Jesus' name verses the name of the Trinity. Why should the religion of loving one's neighbour also necessitate being baptised, when that very baptism is used to delineate and essentially limit the number of others we are called to love and to admit into the kingdom? Why does becoming a 'christian' however this happens essentially delineate and limit the number of others we are called to love and admit into the kingdom? Why does the outpouring of the Holy Spirit leading to speaking in tongues, charismatic style, essentially delineate and limit the number of others we are called to love and to admit into the kingdom?

Is God less tolerant of diversity than humanity? Hardly! Will God refuse the kingdom to a doctor who has not been baptised but has spent his or her life helping others and admit someone into the kingdom who has been baptised but has done nothing especially helpful to others other than attending church every week? And of course attending church each week we generally participate in that other great sacrament of hospitality turned into something that delineates us from other 'christians' and limiting the number of people we are called to love the Holy Communion! Is it any wonder that thinking people begin to question what the church is on about?

So the question I am really asking is not which baptism conveys the Holy Spirit, but what sort of church are we being baptised into? If we are being baptised into a church that marks us off from others, privileged over others in this world or the next, then I am not at all sure that this is conducive to a religion of love. It seems to me that this can only result in further sectarianism, writ small or writ large. It may possibly result in some form of paternalistic charity, but this is a far cry from love.

How does the gospel message of love, the atonement wrought by the Cross and resurrection and baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit link together?

In the parable of the lost sheep, in Luke 15.4f, the shepherd leaves the 99 to seek out the one who is lost. Usually this is interpreted so that we as 'christians' should seek out those who are not, and bring them into 'our' fold. But Jesus was killed by those who loved God with all their hearts and minds and strength yet were scandalized by Jesus. The ones who are lost therefore are those who love God and are scandalized that God loves others as well. The lost sheep is not the irreligious one, but the religious one who sets him or herself apart from the rest of humanity the 99. He or she has wandered away deliberately, not inadvertently. The same point is reinforced by the third of the parables in Luke 15 where the father pleads with the elder son to join the party for his younger sibling. The elder son is scandalised that his father calls him to accept his brother who has done the wrong thing.

So we are baptised not into a subset of the world, but into the world, into the whole human race as it exists in the here and now. If this is not true then we are using the sacrament of baptism to deliberately set ourselves apart from the rest of humanity.

I have written and said, often enough, that our atonement with God is dependent on our atonement with other human beings, so it follows that the sacrament of baptism entirely depends on being baptised into the world and not just a subset of it. If sacraments make us sacred, they do so by bringing us into communion with all other people.

Of course this means that the kingdom is advanced not by the Anglican Church (for instance) becoming predominant but by the Anglican Church opening itself to other people. Instead of trying to get the lapsed back onto the pews, we, as the church, must allow ourselves to be found by Jesus, placed across his shoulders, and brought back to the mass of humanity. Instead of becoming more defined, we have to become less defined.

I mean we can hardly even cope with other 'christians' let alone those of different faiths, and of no faith! Do we think that the world is blind to this?

The importance of the fact that Jesus didn't actually baptise anyone in water means that being baptised with the Holy Spirit may or may not necessarily result from a form of water baptism. Being baptised with the Holy Spirit means being brought into relationship with all of humanity and not just adherents of the same faith, no matter how many millions or not this involves. Anything less means that God supports sectarianism, which might be nice, but is certainly not true.

It is perhaps time to quote again the definition that the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary gives for the word catholic: 'embracing all' (p277).

Jesus is the one who baptises with the Holy Spirit, but that baptism is often more like the picture of being carried over the shoulders back to the mass of humanity, than a ritual involving water and a formula. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost enabled the first apostles to speak the language of the hearers, not the other way around, enabling the hearers to understand the language of the church.

No matter how enthusiastic we are, for all we are really trying to improve the corporate image of the Anglican Church, 'christianity', or some subset of these, we will eventually run into a brick wall. It is inevitable, because our definitions will always exclude some. It is only as we are, by definition, baptised into all of humanity that the brick walls disappear, we open ourselves to all others and enable all others to respond.

Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"