The Holy Spirit of the Triune God is moving and breathing in you and in the world: name it, watch for it, confidently expect it.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Baptism of Our Lord, First Sunday after Epiphany, Lectionary 1 C
Texts: Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22; Isaiah 43:1-7
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
The Holy Spirit is like the wind, Jesus taught us in John 3.
The Spirit blows wherever she wills, and as with the wind, we have no control. All we can do is see where the Spirit has been.
It’s strange that Christians often want to control who thinks the right thoughts about God and control what those right thoughts about God are, when the primary way the Triune God lives and moves in the world is through the Holy Spirit, who can’t be controlled, or predicted, or stopped.
The Spirit of God moved over the waters at creation, and since then has been moving, inspiring, changing lives and changing the world. Today we see the Holy Spirit come upon the Son of God, and the voice of the Father speak words of praise and love. But this isn’t just a place we see the Triune God together. We also know what this means: Jesus will be Spirit-filled as he does his ministry and work.
Little wonder the early Church, as we see today in Acts 8, always laid hands on those who had just been baptized and prayed that the Holy Spirit would come upon them, too. Claimed in baptism as beloved children, just like Jesus, now the apostles prayed that, just like Jesus, the Holy Spirit would fill these newly baptized.
But the Spirit goes where the Spirit wills.
So, on the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit of the Triune God poured out on over around 120 believers, we have no idea if any of them were baptized. But when those who heard them speak in many languages asked what they could do, Peter invited them to repent and be baptized, so their sins may be forgiven and so they, too, may receive the Holy Spirit.
Clearly, even if those first 120 weren’t baptized yet, they were so moved by Pentecost that they believed the Spirit would continue to come. They expected it. In Acts, after Pentecost, the early Church watched for the coming of the Spirit, they named where they saw the Spirit, and they lived with confident expectation that the Spirit would continue to bless the Church, and individual believers.
So this became the pattern: baptize, then lay on hands and pray for the Holy Spirit.
Over the centuries, however, gradually the second part, the prayer for the Spirit, grew further and further separated from the baptism.
By the Middle Ages we see the rite of confirmation as the time of laying on of hands and praying for the Spirit. You’d wait years for what used to happen immediately.
I didn’t have hands laid on me at my baptism, and a prayer said for the Spirit. None of you who were baptized before 1978 in the Lutheran church in this country did, either. But since 1978, when Lutherans here restored this ancient practice from Acts, immediately after each baptism hands are laid upon the newly baptized. I will baptize Gus and Howie today, and after each baptism I will lay hands on their head, like Peter and John, and pray that the Holy Spirit come upon them.
But we do not claim any control over the Holy Spirit with this prayer.
The Spirit of the Living God lives and breathes throughout the world, through all God’s children. There is no question that these two boys have had God’s Spirit breathe on them and in them already. The Holy Spirit blows wherever she wills, and we can only watch in wonder. In fact, in Acts 10, the Spirit pours out on a group of Gentiles during Peter’s sermon, and before they ever were baptized. Peter and the others had to catch up.
And even if many of you, like me, didn’t have that prayer prayed over you, the Spirit has been in our lives. We, too, have watched for the signs, and named the Spirit when we saw what she had done, and confidently expected the Spirit would continue to come.
But today we name out loud what we all watch for and expect so Gus and Howie can cling to that promise. Today in this prayer we claim the Spirit who moves like the wind has come upon these two.
And what we pray for, what we name, is astonishing.
In the thrill after Pentecost, the early Church looked at Isaiah 11, speaking of the Spirit falling upon the Christ, the Messiah, and said, “That’s what happened at the Jordan with Jesus. But that’s also what happened to us at Pentecost.”
So they prayed that as a prayer, Isaiah’s promise for Messiah, and so will we: “Sustain this one with the gift of your Holy Spirit: 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 your presence, both now and forever.”
We pray that in baptism we become God’s Christ, God’s anointed for the world, to be part of God’s healing, just like Jesus. This is what we ask for Gus and Howie. This is what we desire for ourselves. We dare to name such a gift because we’ve been promised it in Scripture. We’ve also seen the Spirit do these very things among us and in the world. We’ve seen deep wisdom and understanding come to those who are Christ in the world. We’ve known counsel from the Spirit, and felt God’s power in us. We’ve received insights and a sense of awe before God. And we have been filled with joy knowing God is within us.
The Holy Spirit blows where she wills, but today we say, “here, too, in this place.”
Maybe we should have a liturgy where all who wished could come forward and kneel at the altar, and have hands laid on their heads, and this prayer prayed over them again, or for the first time.
What might it mean for you to hear these words over your head? To be told: the Holy Spirit is in you. And then to live your life, like the early Church, watching for signs of the Spirit’s moving in your life. Confidently expecting wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and fear of God, and joy in God’s presence.
Well, hear them now: Washed in God’s waters and given forgiveness and life, God has called you by name, and you are God’s beloved child; God is well pleased with you. And now God’s Spirit lives, and moves, and breathes, and loves in you. Name that. Watch for it, and confidently expect that you will see great wonders.
In the name of Jesus. Amen