January 13th, 2019
The Outward and Visible Sign of the Spirit
Scripture: Isaiah 43:1-7
The Methodist Church recognizes two sacraments; the sacrament of baptism and the sacrament of Holy Communion. We describe sacraments as outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual acts. Oh, I could write many pages on the meaning of the sacraments, and actually have for my ordination interviews. But for today, I am inviting you into the process of examining what the sacrament of baptism means for you. I will offer a few thought starters, and then hand the conversation over to you.
Baptism by the Holy Spirit is a deeply nuanced phrase in the Bible. It is a New Testament concept, but the covenant that it symbolizes runs like a golden thread through the breadth of Holy Scripture. The idea of being filled with the Spirit is first offered in Gen. 2:7 when God breathes the “Breath of Life” into clay and it lives. The same Hebrew word (nesama) is given definition in Job 32:8; “But truly it is the spirit in a mortal, the breath (nesama) of the Almighty, that makes for understanding. The breath of life comes from God. Without it nothing would live. See Genesis 7:22, where we are given demonstration that when the (nemasa) breath of life is removed, the creature dies. The breath of life is also the wisdom or understanding of God. By the breath of God, we live, breath, and have our being. By the breath of God, we also comprehend and understand. So, when the Spirit descends upon Jesus in the sacrament of baptism, it is not like he was empty of the Holy Spirit to begin with. No, there is something more happening here. In Luke 3:22 God gives us an outward and visible sign (the Spirit descends and rests upon Jesus in bodily form like a dove) of the identity of Jesus and God says, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
So now we come to Isaiah 43:1-7. The selection begins with, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” This is a theme frequently expounded by the prophets; we have already been redeemed. Yes, God knows our propensity to turn away from God, but God always accepts our return. This is the promise offered by Isaiah a few verses later; 44:22 “I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud, and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.” Sacrifices and sacraments have always been a gift to us, and not something that God “needs.” They are an outward and visible sign of grace given and grace received. They are our way of participating in our relationship with God. They are our way of experiencing redemption.
In baptism, we accept the gift of the grace. In baptism we enter a covenant with God. In Baptism we make a commitment to follow the way of God as defined by Christ, and God promises we will always be a beloved child. Baptism is an outward and visible sign of grace given and grace received; of love given and love received. It is an acknowledgement of, an awakening to, the presence of the Spirit who has always been filling our hearts, minds, and souls. It is the assurance that God loves us; for we are God’s beloved children with whom God is well pleased.
- How have you experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life?
- How have you changed / grown / matured as you have been “empowered” to follow Christ?
- How might you strive in the coming year to go deeper into your baptismal promise to follow the way of Christ?
Next week: John 2:1-11
Going beyond Sunday:
Here is a wonderful book to guide you into an experiential Spiritual relationship.
Subversive Spirituality By Eugene Peterson
“Spirituality is the attention we give to our souls, to the invisible interior of our lives that is the core of our identity, these image-of-God souls that comprise our uniqueness and glory. Spirituality is the concern we have for the invisibility that inheres in every visibility, for the interior that provides content to every exterior. It necessarily deals much with innerness, with silence, with solitude. It takes all matters of soul with utmost seriousness.”
May you be filled with God’s grace and peace as you awaken to the Spirit’s presence within and upon you.