Saturday, August 21, 2004

Baptism again 4

Baptism again!     4

Immediately before beginning his public ministry, Jesus went into the wilderness desert after his mikvah, his baptism in the River Jordan. All three synoptic gospels: Mark (1:12-13), Matthew (4:1-11) and Luke (4:1-13) record Jesus' time in the wilderness with its accompanying temptations. In Luke and Matthew the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness; writing with his typical sense of immediacy and urgency, Mark says the Spirit drives Jesus into the deserted-ness! One translation says Jesus was "urged on by the Spirit!" And when Jesus leaves his experience of "wild-ness" and returns to his hometown, Nazareth in Galilee, to begin publicly ministering to the world, he returns from to *civilization* "In the Power of the Spirit!" (Luke 4:14) The Great Spirit gives power to Jesus to initiate God's kingdom on earth and to have authority over the forces of death and defeat, authority over the powers and principalities that rule the world. (Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 2:15) Joel, one of the prophets in the Hebrew Bible, promises God's Spirit will be "poured out on all flesh. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old people shall dream dreams, and your young people see visions. Even on the slaves, men and women, shall I pour out my spirit in those days." (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18) Then, as Luke records in Acts, on the Day of Pentecost after the gathered followers of Jesus receive the Holy Spirit in its visible, tangible, audible manifestation, just as Jesus returned to the world in the Power of the Spirit, (Luke 4:14) Jesus tells his followers to wait "in the city," to stay in Jerusalem, until they are clothed with, dressed in, arrayed with "Power from on High," (Luke 24:49) which is exactly what happens on the Day of Pentecost, the day that births the church. (Acts 2:4)

The church receives the same Spirit Who is active throughout the biblical witness from the very beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation. It's hardly surprising the Holy Spirit is in the texts of every one of the writers of the New Testament. All four gospel writers begin their gospels with the Spirit's activity. The Spirit's purpose is to bring order, light and life to the people of God, to bring glory to God. The Great Spirit's purpose is to raise us from death into new, resurrected life, and to make possible our witness to the cross and our witness to the empty tomb. The Spirit gathers, nurtures and cherishes the covenant community, the church, the covenant people of God. Again from Luther's Small Catechism "I cannot by my own effort or understanding know Jesus my Savior or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me…calls, gathers and enlightens the church…" In other words, it's all about gift, it's all about immersion in grace, in the presence of the at once crucified and risen Christ in baptism and in the Eucharist, submersion in God's constant, ongoing free, gracious activity in each of our lives. About Immanuel, "God With Us!" About God making Shekinah, dwelling-place with us. The Spirit of God brought Jesus from death to life and moves us into life from death, into life from the little deaths we each experience all the time and ultimately, from the final death of our mortal bodies. Because in baptism we experience the "First death," the second death, the death of our physical bodies, no longer has power or dominion or any sway over our lives. (Romans 6:9) The Apostle Paul talks about that a lot!

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