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November 21: The Spirit at Work

Voices United Choir: We Praise Thee, O God

Sunday School Activities

Isaiah 42:1-9

Sometimes I feel a bit like a broken record when I speak about the resilience, grace, and care of this faith community over these many pandemic months. But it is something that I feel is worth uplifting time and again because it is true. Together we have been – and continue to be – the Body of Christ to each other and to the wider community in a time of great challenge and need. 

And now, here we are on our second official week of hybrid worship that integrates those worshipping here in-person in the sanctuary and those worshipping with us online. It is truly remarkable and there have been moments over the past few weeks when I look out into the sanctuary, then to the faces and names appearing on Zoom and Facebook and my heart wants to burst. We are moving forward as a faith family in exciting and innovative ways. 

There are a lot of things about church that I have missed over these many months, but one of the most significant ones for me have been baptisms. It is always a joy to celebrate with families and individuals – but today as the baptismal words were spoken and the water poured, I felt a myriad of emotions: joy, relief, gratitude, and hope. Thank you to Ellis and Rylynn’s families for celebrating this joyful and sacred sacrament with us today.

The sacrament of baptism is an outward and visible sign of the grace of God. We baptize with water as a representation of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River. Baptism by water and the Spirit connect us all as one in the Body of Christ. We are welcomed into this community of faith and celebrated as a child of God.

Baptism means different things to different people; it is expressed in different ways in different churches around the world. People are baptized at all ages; baptism can take place both inside and outside; some churches baptize next to small fonts and sprinkle water on the person’s head and some churches baptize in large fonts and pools and completely submerge the person. But in spite of any of these differences, I do believe that there is one similarity in the way that Christians around the world practice and experience baptism – the Holy Spirit is always, always alive and at work in the midst of it.

“When Jesus was baptized,” the Bible says, “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.” The Holy Spirit that descended upon Jesus in his baptism is the same Spirit that – generation upon generation – descends upon all of us.

It is usually noted that the Holy Spirit is what unites the Body of Christ. But I think more than that the Holy Spirit is what ignites the Body of Christ as well. Throughout the years, I have been part of many discussions about baptism and membership. Baptism isn’t about meeting some kind of obligation – in fact Scripture understands it very differently.

Every year in early January, we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. Many scholars say that after Jesus was baptized is when his ministry truly began. 

For Jesus, baptism wasn’t simply a ritual that completed something, it was the beginning of something; the beginning of his ministry that touched, moved, and changed the world.

When we baptize infants, children, youth or adults, we are not just going through the motions of an ancient ritual. We are creating a space for the Spirit to move through that person and in this place; we are welcoming that person into the Body of Christ; we are celebrating that person as a beloved child of God.

Baptism is an opportunity for a new beginning; an opportunity for a new beginning infused with the Holy Spirit. And this opportunity for a new beginning is not just for the child or adult who is being baptized, but for all of us who are witnessing it as well. How fitting then to be celebrating this act of new beginning in a time where we as a community of faith embark on new beginnings in how we worship and work together. 

In Isaiah 42, the divine speaker announces the presence of one who is chosen by God and a source of delight for God. God will place God’s spirit upon this person so that they are able to bring forth justice to the nations, to be a light, to open eyes and bring out prisoners. Today’s reading provides an opportunity to talk about our roles as God’s earthly representatives, as God’s beloved children, as workers of justice in the world. But we — as a community — also participate in this work of justice together as communities of faith. As churches, not just as individuals, we are called by God to serve the world. We participate in God’s new thing (Isaiah 42:9)

How might we, as God’s people today, fashion our actions and demeanors into ones fitting for us as agents of God, ones in whom God delights? Are we establishing justice on this earth?

How do we take up the mission we are called to in Isaiah and live out our baptismal promises?

In today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah, I was struck by two verses in particular.

The first was verse six:

I am God, I have called you in righteousness,

    I have taken you by the hand and kept you

Right away, I saw the image of God taking me by the hand. That sense of the divine presence in our lives is a powerful truth. This presence is what has sustained me through some of the most difficult and challenging times in my own life. It is that same presence that I pray Ellis and Rylynn both feel as they grow into the individuals they are to become. 

The second verse that stuck out to me was verse nine:

See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them. 

Baptism reminds us of the continual evolution of the Body of Christ – and of God’s presence in all of it. God is constantly creating, and baptism is really only the beginning. Every time someone is baptized, or we take part in a baptism or we witness a baptism or we even recollect Jesus’ baptism through scripture, we are experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. We are allowing ourselves to be open to new things, to a sacred presence, to the gift of community.

From now on, when you witness a baptism – and you will have the opportunity to witness even more baptisms at Parkminster in the coming months! – I invite you to think of it as a new beginning for yourself as well as for the person who is being baptized. Remember that baptism is one opportunity to see a tangible and visible reminder of the grace of God. Allow the Spirit to open your hearts and minds and see how God is still creating in our lives. Allow God to take you by the hand as the waters of baptism wash over the newest member of the Body of Christ and rejoice in a God that is creating, redeeming and sustaining – and give thanks for a God that is still speaking in our lives and in the world.

Thanks be to God! Amen.

Rev. Heather Power