Wind and Water

The Prayer Book suggests four times in the year when Baptism is especially appropriate.

The first time is All Saints Day, November 1, when we remember the witness of men and women through the ages who have modeled what it means to be a follower of Jesus. There are people like Francis of Assisi, John Donne, Margaret of Scotland, Mother Teresa, and so many others. We baptize a baby and give thanks that they have those examples to follow.

Then there’s the second Sunday of January,  coming right after Christmas, when we remember Jesus’ baptism  and baptize others following that example.

Third, there’s Easter Even, when we begin the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. That’s probably the best time for a baptism because it reminds us that baptism isn’t just about water and washing away of sins but that it’s about new life, resurrection life: that we are baptized into eternal life, sharing with Jesus in life for ever.

The fourth appropriate time for baptism is Pentecost, this day, the celebration of the gift of the spirit.

Now think about these four days.  Suppose you were a typical, non-religious American:  How would you know that one of these days was coming?  All Saints?  Easy.  The stores would be full of witch’s costumes and skeletons and all that sort of thing for weeks ahead of time. You know its All Saints because of Halloween.  Never mind that it’s All Saints Day that matters and that all you hear about is Halloween.  One way or another, it gets attention. The merchants know how to sell it.

Then there’s Jesus’ baptism just after Christmas.  Well, the baptism itself gets no notice but Christmas – well, even pagans celebrate Christmas – and there’s a certain rightness about it.  The point of Christmas is that God takes on human flesh  and comes into this material world. So the merchants have it right:  it’s about materialism.

Then there’s Easter: that’s more of a challenge but flowers and chocolate bunnies  make good business for the florists and chocolatiers.

In all three of those festivals there’s something concrete, something to get your hands on,  something you can sell.

But then there’s Pentecost,  the festival of the Holy Spirit. Where are the merchants on this one?  How much action have you seen in the store windows or on television  to remind you that Pentecost is coming? If you weren’t a Christian,  how would you know? Even if you are a Christian,  how would you know? Did you remember it was Pentecost yourself when you came to church today?

The fact is, that for all their ingenuity and pursuit of capital gains, no one seems to have figured out how to capitalize on the Holy Spirit.  How do you promote Pentecost? What is there to sell?

A former archbishop of Canterbury once said  that Christianity is the most materialistic of the world’s religions and it is.  It’s all about God coming into this world  and taking human flesh and our great occasions have to do with material things. That’s why it works so well for the merchants:  there’s something to sell. Whether it’s witches’ costumes or  Christmas presents or chocolate bunnies,  there’s something to sell.  But not at Pentecost, not on the festival of the Spirit.

Jesus compared the Spirit to the wind and said, “You don’t know where it comes from and where it’s going.”  It’s invisible. There’s nothing concrete or material; nothing to get your hands on.  And that’s good.  For one thing it means that we’re not being crowded out by the merchandisers. This one’s for us, the in-group.

But don’t imagine that this invisible Spirit, this wind of life coming and going unpredictably is unimportant or irrelevant.  What you don’t see can make a difference. Ask the people in Springfield or Joplin, Missouri, whether the wind can make a difference. What you can’t see can wipe your town off the map in a matter of minutes.

What we are talking about today – this mysterious third person of the one God –  has that kind of power also. Did you hear that story today about the apostles at Pentecost? Think about that. Jesus had been crucified and the apostles were hiding in the upper room.  “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind.” If they’d been in Kansas, they’d have headed for the storm cellar.  But instead they went out into the street where the crowds had been screaming for Jesus’ blood not that long ago.  They went out into the street and proclaimed the gospel and they kept it up, day after day, year after year.  And some of them were crucified, and others were beaten and banished and killed in other ways, but nothing stopped them anymore than the wind – the tornado wind – can be stopped or turned aside. The Spirit has that power.

Well, all of us know what the Spirit can do  and how mysterious it is. We’re in good spirits one day and low spirits another. Love comes into our lives and our spirits are lifted up. We go to a UConn game and the crowd spirit gets into us.  It’s nothing material.  You can’t bottle it or give pills for it. It comes and goes. And it doesn’t respect church boundaries.

The Spirit – Jesus said it to Nicodemus – blows where it will. It can change a whole society. The Sixties had a unique spirit. A Tea Party rally has an unique spirit. There are also dangerous spirits.  Germany was taken over by an evil spirit in the 1940s.  The Arab Middle East seems to have been possessed by a spirit of freedom – unpredictable, uncontrollable.  There are spirits of all sorts but the Bible talks about the Holy Spirit, a transforming power that took a little group of frightened disciples and sent them out to change the world.

There’s a unique spirit in this congregation,  a welcoming spirit, a faithful spirit, we need to pray for a witnessing spirit  that will send us out to tell others about Jesus.  There are no hostile crowds out there, no reason to cower inside.  Pray for the Holy Spirit  to be poured out on us  and enable us to bear effective witness to the love and joy and peace that are found in serving God.

And pray for Sean  that he may grow up  to know the Spirit of God in his life. Water also is an excellent symbol of the Spirit.  Like the wind, water is so ordinary and familiar, usually peaceful but sometimes with the power of the tsunami.  Water like wind is a potential destroyer but a also a necessity of life.  Pray for that power here for life and renewal. Pray for the invisible spirit to become visible in Sean and in all of us. Pray that the power that sent the apostles out will send us out also to find new ways to serve, new ways to witness, new ways to transform this society and this world.

1 Comment

AnnMarie T. MartinJune 13th, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Hi Christopher,

This is a powerful, moving sermon I felt the Holy Spirit in your delivary as I was reading Wind and Water you are anointed to preach the Gospel of Christ Jesus. I am glad I had this chance to partake of this sermon.

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