Worship Service, January 10, 2021 “Baptism in the Spirit Comes with Gifts”
Join Holy Trinity church members and Pastor Erik
on January 10, 2021 via YouTube
The message for January 10, 2021 “Baptism in the Spirit Comes with Gifts” by Pastor Erik can be heard during HTLC Virtual Worship Service.
GOSPEL: MARK 1:4-11 Sermon January 10, 2020
“Baptism in the Spirit Comes with Gifts”
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
As Jesus comes up out of the water after he has been baptized by John, the Scripture says the heavens were torn apart. The word that’s used here in the Greek is the word, “schizo.” It’s the word from which we get our English words “scissors” and “schism,” etc. “Schizo” means to “split,” to “rend,” to “tear apart” or “rip open.” It has almost a violent connotation which is interesting when you think this is the word that is used when Jesus was baptized.
When I think of the heavens being torn apart, I think of the trail to Mystic lake. My family and I hike up this trail when I was in high school. It was me, my mom, dad, and my brother. It is located in a fairly remote part of Montana. In order to get to Mystic lake you have to hike up a fairly steep incline at one point before topping the ridge and going down to where the lake is. There are several places where the trail narrows and runs along a cliff on this section which makes it a little nerve-wracking.
It was a nice day when we began and we managed to make it all the way to the lake. But thunderstorms can roll in quickly in the late afternoon of the Montana mountains and on the way back we noticed gray clouds gathering behind us.
We picked up our pace. It didn’t take long, however, before we began to feel droplets on our skin. Just as we topped the ridge to go back down the steepest part of the trail, the clouds burst open and we began to get drenched.
We looked around desperately for some shelter and spotted a rocky outcropping. The four of us huddled under the slanted rocks trying to keep some part of us dry. We were also nervous about being exposed on the mountainside with the possibility of lightning.
Sure enough, we soon saw lines of light scrawled across the sky followed by huge cracks of thunder. One of the thunder cracks came so suddenly and loudly that my mom let out a blood curdling scream. If were not already nervous, hearing our mom scream definitely made us a little scared.
Fortunately, mountain thunderstorms don’t often last very long. We managed to make it down safely, even though we were fairly wet. When I think of the phrase “the heavens were torn open”, though, I think of that afternoon feeling small, exposed on the side of the mountain with lightning splitting the sky and the deafening sound of the thunder. It isn’t a warm cozy feeling that comes to mind. It is one of anxiousness and fear.
What was Jesus thinking when he saw the heavens split open? What were the people around him thinking as they were witnessing his baptism? What was coming into their minds as they began to see the heavens torn apart above their heads?
I think when we picture the baptism of Jesus, we tend to imagine warm and cozy feelings.
We might picture a sun beam coming down from the clouds and a soft halo around the head of Jesus. But we have the benefit of looking back when we think like this. Those who didn’t know who Jesus was or what was going to happen next may have been feeling something different. They may have been feeling some anxiousness or fear.
Remember, those people there, at the River Jordan had come to see and hear a vocal prophet named John who was living in the wilderness eating locusts and wild honey. He was wearing camel’s hair with a leather belt. He was looking rough and unkempt and he was calling people to repent for their sins. People were confessing, hoping to avoid God’s anger and judgment. It is in this context that the people saw the sky split open. So, they may have been thinking that something a little harsher than sunbeams were about to come out of the clouds. They may have been thinking about lightning flashing and thunder cracking with the sound of God’s wrath.
This is because in much of the tradition found in the Hebrew Scriptures when God splits open the skies like this, it was judgment that came crashing down.
Think of the time of Noah, when God opened up the heavens and flooded the earth. The clouds burst open, and it rained for forty days and forty nights. Massive, total destruction. A worldwide catastrophe. God’s extreme judgment on a wicked and corrupt humanity. In that case, the heavens being torn open spelled doom and disaster.
Or think of the time of Abraham and Lot. The heavens opened up at that time, too. And what came down? Fire and brimstone. God sent fire and brimstone down as a judgment upon the perverse and wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The idea of the heavens being torn open is not usually a very pleasant or desirable thing in Biblical thinking. The prophet Isaiah cried out to the Lord, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!” Isaiah wanted the judgment of God to descend upon the wicked nations of the earth. “Oh, that you would rend the heavens! Split them open, Lord! Tear them apart and wipe out all the evil on this earth! Come down in judgment on sinful humankind!”
So when the people saw that the heavens were being torn apart as Jesus comes up out of the water, they may have cowered or covered their eyes. They may have shrunk bank in fear and trembling, waiting to see if God was going to punish them for their sins. They may have fallen on their knees or thought about running away as the sky split open.
This last week an event occurred which tore at the fabric of our society and split open wounds of division. An angry mob attacked the Capitol building and the images tore at our perception of democracy. They threatened our norms and beliefs about a peaceful transfer of power. As windows were broken, property vandalized, and people were injured, we may have felt our own sense of security in our system beginning to shatter. Our anxiety level might have risen, and fears begin to creep in as deep divisions became an awful reality.
I felt anger and shame as well, as Christianity was woven into the reasons for mob to be resorting to violence.
Large signs with “Jesus Saves’ and “Jesus is my Savior” were being carried by those storming barricades and beating police. People wearing “Know Jesus” on their shirts and holding signs saying “In God We Trust” were among those touting conspiracy theories and racist slurs to justify their actions.
While it seemed so opposite of what I believe following Jesus is about, it also convicted me of how Christianity has been used to promote misogyny, xenophobia, racism and hatred. It convicted me to step back and be aware of how I have benefited from a racist system. It also reminded me of how we as religious people can so easily slip into a posture of judgment. It reminded me of how when people become so convinced that God is on their side and they need to enact the judgment of God on others, it can easily lead to justifying violence.
This is where today’s passage of Scripture speaks to us in this moment. Those coming to be baptized by John were hearing a call to repentance. They were hearing a call to confess their sins. If there is going to be healing in our nation, we need less judgment and more confession. The mobs declaring Jesus as their savior might do well to remember that the Scripture calls all of us to repentance and self-examination. This might instill a little more humility and willingness to listen to another side. People of faith would also do well to remember what happened when the skies split open at the baptism of Jesus.
As I mentioned before, the people witnessing the heavens being torn open may have been expecting a sign of God’s wrath to come crashing down. Imagine their surprise then when what comes down is the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. Imagine their surprise when it is a symbol of peace they see coming down and not a symbol of wrath. Imagine their shock when they do not hear words of judgment, but words of mercy as the voice comes down and says, “This is my beloved son with whom I am well-pleased.”
A baptism of repentance leads to the receiving of the gift of the Spirit. It leads to a gift of all that the Spirit brings, like peace, patience, goodness, joy, self-control and love. It leads to a reassurance of belonging to God rather than being condemned by God.
When it may seem like the world around us is torn apart whether it be from a pandemic, or political violence, it is important to remember that we belong to God. When it may seem like our sense of security, safety or health has been split open, it is important to remember that we have been claimed by God in our baptism and that is where our true identity lies. When our shame or guilt gets the best of us, or our desire to judge and condemn creeps into our hearts, it is important to remember that God comes down not like fiery lightning or drowning floods, but like a peaceful dove, calling us back to who we are meant to be and filling us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
-Pastor Erik Goehner