The Holy Power
The other day, I was driving up to Lancaster to pick John up from school which, hopefully, I will only have to do for about another 4 or 5 months. By the end of this school year, John should have his license to drive on his own. Anyway, as I was driving on this blustery afternoon, the wind hit my car and, suddenly, I was fighting to keep my car from drifting off the road.
I know you all have experienced that before. You kind of expect it when you are driving in a bad storm and you sort of know from which direction it will come, but on a clear sunny day, when that gust of wind hits you, it takes you by surprise, and you have to be ready in the blink of an eye.
In the Gospel lesson this morning, John is at the River Jordan and he is baptizing those who have come to him with a baptism of repentance. That he is baptizing with water as a ritual of cleansing. It is something that is done also at the temple, the only difference is at the temple, you must offer a sacrifice before you can be purified. John was not making people offer up animal sacrifices. Instead, as the preceding verses in Luke tell us, when those who came out to hear him, such as a general crowd of people, but in particular, tax collectors and soldiers, they asked him what must they do to be baptized. Or what must they pay or give up.
John tells them, if you have more than what you need, give to those who have nothing, For the tax collectors, he told them to collect no more than what is due. Do not rob people of what is rightly theirs. As for the soldiers, he told them to not take advantage of their authority and extort, rape or harm the poor, and those under their authority no matter who they are.
This was a radical shift from the old way of doing things. Moving away from offering animal sacrifices year after year which became more and more cost prohibitive and that really did not cleanse anyone of anything or get people to actively make a choice to change their lives.
But John knew that he was not the one to take that idea, that model of repentance and give it the power it needed to move it forward; however, he was simply the one to usher it in, to forecast it if you will, to tell of the one who was coming who would bring the power to shift the world off its course, and to begin to move us in a new direction, such as a burst of wind is prone to do.
Let’s look at this from another angle. This time from Acts. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Apostles, those who had seen Jesus, witnessed his ministry and were faithful believers; they had been told that the people of Samaria had accepted the word of God. It had been proclaimed in their community and believed it to be true. But that was like hearing a good story and believing in it, but left with the question “what now?”
Learning that we are saved by Jesus Christ provides great hope and motivation, but what it lacks is the catalyst or the fuel to ignite a fire underneath us or better yet a hand of authority that gives the permission to take that authority and run with it.
That is why Peter and John were sent to Samaria after learning that the people there had heard and believed in the good news of Jesus Christ. You see they were primed and ready to start moving in a new direction. They wanted to not only be cleansed of their sin, but they wanted to take the gospel and begin to live it. They were ready for a change.
So Peter and John came and laid their hands on them, baptizing them with the power of the Holy Spirit. I am sure that this also means that they laid their hands on showing them the practical ways of living out that gospel message, things that Jesus had taught them, showed them, similar to what John the Baptist was sharing with the crowds at the Jordan River.
The power of the Holy Spirit is not so much some mystical mystery that defies our understanding as it is simply opening our eyes to witness a sudden shift in our conciseness, our way of thinking to regard others as an important part of God’s creation. To have enough care and compassion for others that we resist the notion of trying to take advantage of them, or to hurt them, even if they have hurt us.
The power of the Holy Spirit only has that power in our lives if we allow it to. But if we allow it to, the power of the Holy Spirit begins to shift our selfish ways of thinking to include others whom we may have been at odds with.
If we allow it, the power of the Holy Spirit cleanses us, it moves us in directions we would never have thought to go, it purifies our hearts and minds to do the right things for the sake of the Love in Christ Jesus, who is the power of God in human form.
Unlike the wind that nearly blows your car off the road on a clear day, when you hear the word of God and believe on him, when you have come to recognize his presence working right there in your midst, and all you need is the laying on of hands to spark the fire to get you going, though it may seem risky and it can be, because God is behind it, it will definitely be a shift in the right direction.
When you take that step, when you say to the Holy Spirit, I allow you in, then you won’t have to step back and watch what happens because you will be what happens.
The power of that Spirit will begin to work in ways you would never imagine, It won’t take away your problems; but it will provide a new avenue of solutions, You will find in this family of faith a trust that encourages you to trust – trust God, trust one another, trust that even though things may get tough, God will see you through. And most important, the Holy Spirit will spur you on in ways to share your faith, and to help build up the Kingdom of God.
That is the purpose of the power and fire of the Holy Spirit. The old United Methodist Logo back in the 70’s and early 80’s was Catch the Holy Spirit. But that suggested that we can somehow capture and contain the Power of God. I think it is much better if we let it catch us.
The Holy Power, it comes out of nowhere and blows you off course, or better said, it redirects you. It is one thing to be baptized or ushered into the faith of Jesus Christ. You accept, you believe, you want to know more, but it is at a whole other level that we are touched by the hand of God. We are moved by that Holy Spirit, a spirit that spurs us on.
It comes in and purifies us with fire and energizes us like a strong wind that shifts our direction, our spirit, and our thinking in cynical and corrupt ways. Amen