St Mary, Balcombe Baptism of the Lord 13.1.19
John the Baptist said, ‘I have baptised you with water;… but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit Luke 3:16
Why do we need the Holy Spirit?
To pray, to love, to serve, to evangelise, to be obedient, to forgive, to heal…
Without the Holy Spirit:
God is far away,
Christ stays in the past,
the Gospel is a dead letter,
the Church is simply an organisation,
authority is a matter of domination,
mission is a matter of propaganda,
the liturgy no more than an evocation,
Christian living a slave morality.
But in the Holy Spirit:
the risen Christ is there,
the Gospel is the power of life,
the Church shows forth the life of the Trinity,
authority is a liberating service,
mission is a Pentecost,
the liturgy is both memorial and anticipation,
human action is deified.
(Words for Pentecost Sunday from the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Athenagoras)
As baptised, confirmed - and some of us - ordained Christians we possess the Holy Spirit!
We possess the Spirit - but does he possess us? That is the key to a spiritual vitality!
As Our Lord says in St John Chapter 7:37-39 If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.
Our renewal in the Holy Spirit is about the releasing of the life of the Spirit within us.
The late Dom Ian Petit of Ampleforth wrote these words in his book You Will Receive Power: Baptism and Confirmation confer a supernatural gift, but ignorance or lack of understanding of the gift, can block its full effect. In other words, while the sacrament is valid and has been given, the effect has been blocked. When the block is removed then the full effect floods in...(a) baptism in the Holy Spirit… an opportunity for awakening in (people) their sacraments of initiation..
The New Year begins with a liturgical reminder about our ongoing need for this unblocking and awakening to the power of the Holy Spirit who visits us at every Eucharist.
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is the grand reminder that Christians are people who have woken up to Jesus and to the Gift of the Holy Spirit, to the living God - nothing less. An awakening to the Spirit, a releasing of the Spirit, an unblocking of his flow – this is the invitation and challenge of today’s Feast!
There is one baptism for the forgiveness of sins and it confers the Holy Spirit. A gift though is given that needs to be received. For Christians to seek the renewing power of the Spirit – as we do as we receive Holy Communion every Sunday - is a matter of seeking to be more fully what we are in Christ and nothing more or less than that! We want to be a people that live knowing their need of grace!
The Spirit is waiting to confirm to us the same words that were spoken to Our Lord at his baptism: You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.
Christians share in the anointing of the Anointed One – Jesus is the Christ or Anointed One so he can share his anointing with us and speak into our hearts those words of adoption: You are my son, my daughter; with you I am well pleased.
There’s a great tale from C.S. Lewis' about a doubting Bishop. Lewis once imagined an additional scene at the Marriage at Cana - a sceptical bishop sitting further down the table from Our Lord and Our Lady. There are the guests with the water turned into wine. As everyone enjoys the new wine of the Kingdom Feast the doubting bishop is holding up his glass and scrutinising, "How can this be? How can water become wine? How can the philosophical difficulties about an interventionist God be overcome? Is this some sort of conjuring trick?" All the while the rest of them at table are drinking up the Spirit in whatever sense you like!
There are many who make an 11th Commandment Thou shalt not commit thyself! Such folk – and they are around in the Church today – miss out on Christian basics, on the empowering promised in today’s feast.
I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit. This baptism or gift of the Holy Spirit is an ongoing reality for those who will commit themselves. The Gift is not so much a once for all thing or commodity but rather something dynamic and ongoing.
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a process in which the relationship that opens up at Baptism involves an ongoing flow of love, praise and power leading into ongoing consecration in the Truth.
It is worth recalling that though Our Lord himself was conceived by the Holy Spirit he waited 30 years for his Baptism in Jordan. So it can be – as it was for me and can be for you- that though I had received the Spirit through Infant Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination the first deep experience came many years later – and through, of all things, a crisis of faith – and a recommitment!
In a faith crisis years back I went on a retreat and prayed God if you’re there show yourself, give me a vision of yourself more to your dimensions and less to mine – and he did – but it needs refreshing!
Another way to look at it is like this: if the Christian life is like a rose bush there are great spurts of growth from time to time that push out new branches with new flowers. One such branch and its some branch in its fruitfulness – is, if you like, a new opening up to the Spirit. Yet just like the life of the rose bush before and after such a new spurt of growth we have the same inner life.
We possess the Spirit - but does he possess us? That is the question we are being asked on this feast of the Lord’s Baptism. There is a commitment issue here we need to address. As we come to receive Jesus in Holy Communion are we really committed and open to his empowering? Are we ready to hear and to believe those wonderful words: You are my son, my daughter; with you I am well pleased.
In the silence that follows you have a chance to act in faith upon those wonderful words and place fresh trust in our heavenly Father preparing for an especially solemn and transformative Act of Communion this morning.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people as they look to you with expectation on this day of anointing with power!