You are already filled with the Spirit of God, who moves in you with every breath, filling you, changing you, leading you into the life God has always wanted for you and for this world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Baptism of Our Lord, year B
Texts: Genesis 1:1-5; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11, with references to 1 Corinthians 6 and 12
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
In the beginning, God breathed on the waters of chaos.
God’s Spirit, like wind, moved over the waters, and, as light was separated from darkness, land from waters, God opened a space for the creation.
In that beginning, God created humanity in God’s own image, and God breathed again, into these frail creatures. God’s breath filled them, and as they took breath, they breathed in God. God still breathes into the creation, into us. Our every breath breathes in God’s Spirit, exhales God’s Spirit.
When Jesus rose up out of Jordan’s waters, baptized, and saw the Holy Spirit descending, this wasn’t the Spirit’s arrival in his life. Human, like us, from his first breath he breathed God’s Spirit. Yes, Jesus was also God’s Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, one with the Father and the Spirit, yes, that, too. But in his humanity, he was filled with the Spirit. We all are.
So what happened at the Jordan? The presence of God’s Spirit was witnessed publicly. Jesus saw the Spirit, heard his Father’s voice, was confirmed as God’s beloved Son. So as Jesus headed into the desert and then his ministry, he went reassured that the Spirit was with him.
In the beginning, God breathed life into us. But that doesn’t always mean we know it.
In Acts today, Paul comes to Ephesus, and finds disciples of Jesus. But when he asks them if they received the Holy Spirit when they became believers, they say, “We haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” We haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit!
Yet with every breath the Spirit of God had always moved in them. They just didn’t know it. So Paul teaches them, and baptizes them in the name of Jesus. Then, as always in Acts, after their baptism Paul lays hands on them, and the Holy Spirit fills them. As at Pentecost, they spoke in tongues, they prophesied. They knew the Spirit was in them.
But the Spirit had always been with them. Naming that, calling it out of them, opened them to see the Spirit’s presence and gifts, just like Jesus.
It isn’t just Genesis that says this about the Spirit. Paul knew it, taught it. Maybe even shared it with these disciples.
Paul told his friends at Corinth in his first letter that faith itself is evidence of the Spirit’s presence. He said no one can confess Jesus as Lord if the Holy Spirit isn’t with them. (12:3) So the fact that these Ephesian disciples believed in Jesus proved the Holy Spirit was already there.
But he also could’ve told them a deeper wonder: God is never “out there,” but within. He could have said, as he also did in that first letter to Corinth, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?” (6:19)
Their very bodies are where the true God lives! That’s always been their reality. They just didn’t know it.
“We haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
Is this our problem? Lutherans talk a lot about Jesus, the Christ, about the cross and resurrection. We talk about and pray to the Father and the Son a lot. But the Spirit doesn’t often get much attention from Lutherans.
That may be because the Holy Spirit is God’s wild card. The Spirit is the uncontrollable God in the world, who moves where she wants, fills whom she wants, does what she wants. The Spirit breathed over the waters of chaos at creation, and still breathes into this world, and there’s nothing we can do about it. She will fill all people, no matter what they believe, will inspire and give gifts to all people, no matter who they are.
We’ve always been a little afraid of this unpredictability of the Holy Spirit. It’s easier to nail down doctrinal truths, tighten up our theology. There you can feel a little secure.
But calling on the Holy Spirit, who can’t be controlled? You’d have to be a little reckless even to try.
But don’t you know, Paul says, that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?
How have we let that truth be buried, this astonishing, miraculous proclamation of Paul? We spend our lives looking for God. We talk about God, make theories about God, we try to get all our teachings in order.
But in our dark hours of the soul, when we’re lost and afraid and can’t see through the brambles of the woods that have overgrown our path, none of that helps at all. When you’re terrified, or despairing, or angry, or grieving, or desperately lonely, or feeling guilt, words and theories do nothing. You need to know if God is with you, and nothing more.
But don’t you know, Paul says, that God is in you already? That your body is God’s temple? There’s no place to “go” for God. The Spirit of God lives in you, Paul says. The Hebrews say, you know this in your every breath.
In the beginning of your life, God breathed into you, and you were filled with the Spirit. You became God’s house.
But no, you say, we know science. Breathing, respiration, that’s a natural function. All animals do it. You take in oxygen, it feeds your body, you exhale carbon dioxide. It’s a mechanical function of a living organism.
OK, say our Hebrew ancestors. Maybe so. But this is also true: your breath is God’s breath. Your spirit is God’s Spirit within you. God has taken up residence inside us, has always been there. There’s no other temple.
John might not have been right about his baptism.
He distinguishes between his – a symbolic washing away of sin after confession – and the baptism in Christ, which, he says, is a baptism in the Holy Spirit.
But if the Holy Spirit was in all those people who came to John at the Jordan, if she brought them there in the first place, John didn’t realize the Spirit was also in his baptism.
Our baptism, like John’s, is also a washing away of sin and evil, and every day we renew that washing, every day we seek God’s forgiveness and cleansing, we start afresh.
But unlike John, in our baptism, the Church, as in Acts, asked the Holy Spirit to come upon us. The Spirit of wisdom and understanding. The Spirit of counsel and might. The Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. The Spirit of joy in God’s presence.
But the Holy Spirit isn’t waiting for this asking, waiting to enter a person until the Church says so. We ask the Spirit to come knowing she’s already here, so we name that, recognize that anew. We need to hear that there is such a thing as the Holy Spirit in us, and then we are able to see what happens.
So breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe of God.
You’ve been doing it your whole life, but now, like those folks near Ephesus, you know what you’re doing. You are living in God, and God is living in you.
Your baptism was the public announcing of this grace. Your washing in the waters of God, the waters God breathes upon, wasn’t the first time you were forgiven, either. But it is your washing, your cleansing in God. Just as it’s a sign that God’s Spirit is in you.
So breathe of God. Exhale into God. You are never alone. You are God’s beloved child, and God is well pleased with you. With each breath, the Spirit is moving in you, even when you don’t know it. The Spirit’s gifts are yours, as close as your breathing and sighing.
And now, following Jesus’ steps, it’s time to move from the waters, cleansed of sin, filled with the Spirit, with God’s voice still ringing in our ears, to do our work and life as God’s beloved children.
But not alone. Never alone. Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?
In the name of Jesus. Amen