Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Church is a Baptized Body

(A sermon based on Mark 1:4-11 & Acts 19:1-7 for Baptism of the Lord Sunday)

When we think about baptism the first thing we think about is water. We Baptists are known for the extravagant employment of water in our baptisms; we put you in a big pool and we get you wet all over. Regardless of the baptismal mode and of the amount of water employed, though, when we are baptized we are baptized in much more than water—we are baptized in the Holy Spirit of God. We get water on our bodies but we get the Holy Spirit in our spirits.

The presence of the Spirit in us is absolutely vital to our identity as the Church, to our life as the Church, and to our witness as the Church. Without the Spirit we are not the Church; with the Spirit we are much more the Church than we have ever imagined or have ever shown.

John the Baptist preached that while he baptized people with water, when the One who was to come arrived he would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus came to be baptized by John; as Jesus was coming up out of the water, “he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him” (Mark 1:10). The coming down of the Spirit on Jesus communicated that Jesus’s life and ministry were guided and empowered by the presence of God. The Holy Spirit is vital in the coming of the kingdom of God into the world; the Spirit was with Jesus and Jesus in turn passed the Spirit on to the Church. The Spirit is our legacy; the Spirit is our life.

The Spirit of God comes into all people who come to trust in Christ. In the narrative of the book of Acts, the Spirit comes in very powerful ways upon people who might have been expected to remain outside the body of Christ or at least to have been pushed out to the edges of it; such is the case with Samaritans, with Gentiles, and, in today’s text, with disciples of Jesus whose baptism had not been in the name of Jesus but rather had been John’s baptism for the forgiveness of sins. God evidently wanted to make it very clear that those who might have been regarded as “inferior” Christians were in no way inferior; God made that clear by sending the Spirit on them in ways that were very obvious. Also, while the commitment of these men to repent, to change their lives, and to follow Jesus was no doubt sincere and legitimate, they could be fully a part of the Church only if they had the Spirit of God upon them.

So when Paul encountered twelve men in Ephesus who had been baptized with John’s baptism, they were baptized in the name of Jesus and when Paul laid hands on them “the Holy Spirit came upon them.” Then, “they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6).

We the Church constitute a baptized body; we are baptized in water but more importantly we are baptized in the Spirit that the water symbolizes.

Because we are baptized in the Spirit, we speak in unknown tongues, too. Now, in the book of Acts there are two different kinds of speaking in unknown tongues. On the day of Pentecost, those on whom the Spirit fell were able to speak in languages that were unknown to them but that were known to others. But in other cases, including this one of the twelve Ephesian disciples, the language in which they spoke was apparently a kind of communication between God and them. It was a heavenly language, we might accurately say.

All who are Christians have been baptized with the Holy Spirit and all who are baptized with the Holy Spirit are to speak in unknown tongues. I don’t mean by that we should speak verbally or even mentally in words that no one can understand; I mean rather that we are to be in deep, real, ongoing communication with God. I also mean that we will speak and live in ways that most people find impossible to understand because we will speak the language of love, of grace, of forgiveness, of service, and of sacrifice.

Thus it is vital that we practice such disciplines as worship, prayer, Bible study, and service to put ourselves in the best position possible to be open to what God wants to say to us and to do through us.

All who are baptized with the Holy Spirit are also to prophesy. Understand that biblically speaking to “prophesy” is not to forecast the future; it is rather to tell the good news of what God is doing in the world right here and right now. We are all to tell the good news of Jesus Christ with every aspect of our lives, including our thoughts, motives, decisions, words, and actions. We are to translate into words and actions those great truths of God that are so wonderful as to be almost inexpressible.

As the Church we are a baptized body; we are baptized with water and we are baptized with the Holy Spirit.

On the one hand, because we are baptized we think, feel, speak, and act in ways that are almost impossible for people to understand.

On the other hand, because we are baptized we display such love, grace, and mercy that we might as well be dripping wet …

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