Baptism sermon – Pentecost 2016

Baptism

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each…

Our first lesson from Acts, or the Acts of the Apostles as written by Luke, is considered the “fifth” book of the bible, written a generation after Jesus’ ministry. It’s written as a “continuation” of the story, taking up where the Gospel of Luke left off in the story of Christianity. Written as an attempt to answer a theological problem; namely how is it that Jesus, the Messiah of the Jews, came to have created an overwhelmingly non-Jewish church. It was not write in order to provide historical justification – in other words “did it happen?,” but to encourage faith; “what happened, and what does it all mean?

The writer engages with the question of a Christian’s proper relationship with power, at the time the Roman Empire, the civil power of the day: could a Christian obey God and also Caesar? It’s an interesting question for us today, with the political division and strife going on as we head towards election day. How do we as Christians exist in relationship the challenges of political posturing and the negative commentary espousing the alienation of whole groups of people? Do we follow the whims of the times, do we ignore it, or do we stand for something different, something more important; the need for hope that comes from faith and trust in God. What guides us in our journey?

Today we celebrate Pentecost, the arrival of the Holy Spirit. As promised by Jesus before his death and ascension, the Advocate, the guide, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father sent in his name, arrives in this morning’s lesson. And true to Jesus’ statement, it arrives. Teaching and reminding the disciples of all that he had said to them, fulfilling scripture of old. It’s arrival heralded with a rush of wind and those gathered suddenly speaking in unfamiliar tongues, in all the languages of the word. So startling an event that crowds gathered around them, astonished and amazed at hearing their own language. Something familiar and comfortable heard in the foreign land they were in. An event so unusual that their first assumption was that they were watching a bunch of drunk people making a spectacle of themselves. But Peter reminds the crowd, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. They aren’t drunk!

I’m a big believer in the Holy Spirit. To me, it’s a whimsical almost magical presence, always guiding, sometimes tempting and teasing. A Holy Instigator, most always leading to moments of amazing grace. I believe being playful is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And in a nod to the inclusive and open nature of my theological training at Episcopal Divinity School I’m one of those people that more time than not refers to the Holy Spirit in the female pronoun of “She.” She has been quite active in my life and especially my call to ordination and never ceases to amaze me here in this special place Trinity Stoughton. I’ve commented to colleagues more times than I can remember that this place is filled with examples of the Holy Spirit in action. In our growth, in attendance and pledging. In the gift of our music program as it continues to grow. In the excitement of mission and outreach as we continue to build programs with meaning for our parishioners to participate in. Each in their own way impacted and formed by the work of the Holy Spirit and those who are open to her guidance.

It is the presence of the Holy Spirit that empowers us to work for the recreation of this parish, but also the world. For healing relationships and the growing of God’s all inclusive kingdom here. She brings us to new places, places where in our faith we find the words, in our language or in one we don’t yet recognize to connect with others. She helps us to lose our shyness in speaking with others, speaking their language – about the needs and cares they have, and the way in which they can be met with the love of God. To be the voice for hope and love, a voice need in this world: a world that needs to hear about reconciliation, about mending hearts and souls. A world yearning to hear of the healing joy of the spirit, joy that leads to true love and friendship.

This joy is the joy of the good news of the love of God in Christ: this is the language we are called to speak, using our imagination and vision, and dreaming, to find the words and deeds which will tell this good news. And all the while, the Holy Spirit is clearing the way for us to do a new thing, to speak a new truth, to change and be changed, and to be free from fear to speak these words. The fear Jesus recognized in the disciples when he said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Today we celebrate one of my favorite moments in ministry, the rite of Baptism. And what makes this morning particularly special is the baptism of Rose Tinsley Davis comes two months after the baptism of her father Steven. In years to come they will share a unique bond, experiencing this rite so close together. Sharing as our book of common prayer describes it, the “full initiation” of a person, by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church.

In some ways, this way of thinking challenges our understanding of what initiation is and what it is that membership means. In years past, initiation was thought of as the end of a persons understanding and training in faith. That, as we matured and as we “learned” about church, we reached a point where it was celebrated in the act of confirmation. We had arrived in our faith journey. Our 1979 Book of Common Prayer shook that concept up a bit. It instead places all the emphasis on Baptism. Baptism is front and center as the mark of our faith and sets the stage for all that comes later in our life. It’s all we really need, this marking of ourselves as Christians. And while Confirmation is still celebrated as a mark of passage as an adult into the church community, for me, baptism is what it’s all about. Something eternal and everlasting, like the mark of the chrism on our forehead, it remains with us forever, helping us to recognize the Spirit’s presence deep within our lives.

In a few moments as our baptismal hymn reminds us we will be invoking the Holy Spirit, the advocate, the teacher to come; “Veni Santus Spiritus, Come Holy Spirit, from heaven shine forth with your glorious light. Come from the four wind’s O Spirit, come breath of God; disperse the shadows over us, renew and strengthen your people.” Words of incredible beauty and meaning as we call for the Holy Spirit to come and bless Rose and shine on her in baptism.

One of the beauties of our church is the understanding that Baptism is a communal event. It’s meant to be done as one of the central acts of our principle service of worship on Sunday. And there’s a reason for that. In this service we who gather this morning for this celebration are called to renew our baptismal vows also. Each time we celebrate a baptism we do so, over and over and over again. Our initiation, and that of Roses, in the years to come in her life is a process that never really ends. We’re constantly formed, informed and reformed by each and every person we meet through our journey in life. We are God’s holy people, created and formed in his image and called to be in relationship with one another. And it’s in moments like these, celebrations of baptism, of marriage, of death, that we gather in the strength of our faith.

When you look at our readings this morning have one theme in common, a call to relationship. And in the call to be in relationship is the idea, the gift given to us by the Holy Spirit of being playful and creative. We miss out when we think the word Church is limited to a building. We miss out on the importance of relationship when we are too serious. Pentecost reminds us that church is a body of people working to be in relationship with one another, building a relationship with God, and manifesting God’s love in the world. And Church is at its best when the people are diverse, creative, invigorated, prayerful, supportive of one another and a little wild and playful, just for the fun of it. Acting in love, in fun, filled with the hope of the holy spirit.

The greatest gift we’re given from our Triune God is the three part gift of hope. Hope of an endless deep abiding love for his created from the Father, Hope of eternal life from his Son our Lord, and perhaps for some like me, the hope of lifelong guidance offered by the Holy Spirit.

And that’s the hope we have for Rose. That by being guided by the Holy Spirit she may someday shed abroad her gifts throughout the world, by the preaching the Gospel that it may reach to the ends of the earth. That she may one day prophecy and see visions, and not only dream dreams, but share those dreams for a new world, to those hungry for a message of hope, love and promise. And that she many one day say to someone in need “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Offering the gift of her presence in their lives, daring to be the person destined to show God’s kingdom on earth through her actions and love.

So with that hope in mind, let us celebrate our faith and invoke the Holy Spirit to rest in this special place on this great and glorious day. To God be all glory, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

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About

I'm a priest in the Episcopal church who responded to the call when the voice said "who shall I send" This blog is a holding place for sermons past and present. These sermons are not necessarily in order by any particular date given.

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