The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s168g10 Sunday 1 Baptism of Jesus 10/1/2010
'when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying .. the Holy Spirit descended ..' Luke 3.21
I find it interesting that Luke remembers that the Holy Spirit didn't come to Jesus when he was baptized, but afterwards, when he was praying. This is different from Matthew and Mark, who remember the vision of the Holy Spirit coming at the moment that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Again, Luke remembers that when Peter visited the house of the gentile Cornelius, the Holy Spirit came on those who heard Peter preaching and **before** they were baptized. Indeed when I begin to think about it, the gift of the Holy Spirit, poured out on the disciples on the first Pentecost was not associated with baptism either. I have mentioned before that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the household of Cornelius was primarily a lesson for Peter, not for the benefit of Cornelius. And if it was for St Peter's benefit, and it is certainly written down for our benefit, being members of the church, then it is a lesson for us that the Holy Spirit operates wider than our theologically limited perceptions. Similarly the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost was to enable the apostles to speak the language of the hearers, not for the hearers to understand Aramaic. It is a lesson for US.
In fact, of course, Jesus did not need to be baptized at all. If our Trinitarian theology means anything, it surely implies that Jesus was never separate from the Spirit. The vision of the Holy Spirit was not to suggest that Jesus was not lead by the Spirit in his life before being baptized. The vision was for the disciples and for us. Even though the words of God as recorded in Luke are directed toward Jesus alone; 'You are my Son', not 'This is my Son'; this implies a continuing relationship, not something that the baptism initiated.
So the perception that we as the Church are the dispensers of the Holy Spirit through the administration of the orthodox sacraments is arrogant nonsense. The scriptural evidence is that the church has to catch up with God the Holy Spirit who is ever taking the initiative. The Holy Spirit is already out there amongst others. God is ever bidding us, the church, to stop dawdling and get on with recognizing this. We have too many distractions, too many doubts, too many theological scruples, and we put in front of others far too many hoops through which to jump. We do not see God active, because we are looking only for God to be acting according to our perceptions, backed up, of course, by OUR reading of scripture, tradition or whatever, which (we believe) demonstrates that we are right and everyone else has to toe our line.
So if we are baptised into the church as distinct from the rest of the world then our concept of baptism and our concept of the church are both wildly inaccurate. We are baptised into the real world, as Jesus was incarnated into the real world, not into a holy huddle separated from it. Or perhaps I should say that God wants us to be baptised into the real world, to be incarnated into all of society, but we use baptism to escape from the real world and those in society. This will be in vain, and we exclude ourselves and others from the good news in doing so.
When I was confirmed in the Church in 1962 my certificate listed the 'Rule of Life' thus:
'To be present at Divine Worship every Lord's Day, and to pray daily. To receive the Holy Communion regularly and frequently. To make humble repentance and confession of sin. To make devout and regular use of the Bible. To support the Church and Ministry by gifts and service.'
What a totally different ethos this is to the book I am currently reading by Robin R Meyers: "Saving Jesus from the Church How to Stop Worshipping Christ and Start Following Jesus". What happened to 'loving others' in my old 'Rule of Life'? Is loving others too difficult for teenagers, or perhaps they don't need to be encouraged to do this :-)? And I suspect that the Church, if it really wants to appeal to young people, it needs to return to loving others rather than supporting the church. Issues of social justice, inclusiveness, and peace have been taken up far more stridently by people outside the church rather than those inside it. I, for one, am glad that these issues have been taken up by young people rather than spending their time worshipping 'god'. The world is a somewhat better place because they have, and often with no thanks, if not active criticism, from the church. For the Church of the baby-boomers was not something to which I want to go back. And the Church of the baby-boomers is what I see at worship in parishes every week. All unrelated to the issues that really confront society.
Mother Mary McKillop is being recognised for addressing precisely those issues, not for the time she spent on her knees. Sadly, I fear, her eventual sainthood will provide many with another distraction from dealing with issues like the marginalisation of women and the alienation of gay persons.
I am not competent to assess the mental state of Susanna Maiolo, the 25 year old lady who recently hurdled the ropes and tackled the Pope to the ground, but one has to admire her courage and take a lesson that thinking young people want more inclusiveness and compassion in the church. And I have to wonder who hurts the more people, the institutional church with her lack of inclusiveness and compassion or this, perhaps deranged, attacker?
I want to end by returning to a theme from last week's sermon, about the church arguing about who Jesus was before the incarnation, to the neglect of realising the importance of who Jesus was after the incarnation, and with whom he associated. And I suppose it is the same trap set by the excuse of those who had Jesus killed. Their excuse was that Jesus committed blasphemy by claiming to be Son of God. The reality is that they had him killed because he associated with others. Their excuse was all about Jesus' status, avoiding the problem of with whom he associated. So too the church has been seduced into arguing about the status of Jesus before his coming, and neglecting the real good news of his coming to all.
This has resulted in the church been seduced into limiting the efficacy of the sacraments to those administered with appropriate words by authorised persons believing particular doctrines. The Holy Spirit cannot and will not be confined by any such foolishness. The limiting of the efficacy of the sacraments to those administered with appropriate words by authorised persons believing particular doctrines, axiomatically implies that we are in competition with other people, when the Holy Spirit works to bring people together. So with all the sacraments, they are sacraments of unity with others, all others, or they are no longer sacraments of Christ. For entry into the kingdom is determined by us and our willingness, our rejoicing, to be there with others.
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