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01.13.19 Isaiah 43.1-7, Luke 3.15-17, 21-22 Spirit is Biology Sermon Summary

by on January 14, 2019

Epiphany means “appearance” and the season kicks off with the visit of the Magi on January 6. Epiphany was originally the celebration of Christ’s birth in the Eastern Church. Since the fourth century the West and East reached a compromise: We would celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25 and Epiphany on January 6. This is why there are twelve days of Christmas.

One of the other major Epiphany “appearance” stories, when Christ’s identity is revealed, is the baptism of Jesus. Except for a brief story about the boy Jesus at age twelve, we have no account of his life from his birth to his baptism by John.

John’s was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. But when Jesus was baptized, something new “appears.” At Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit descends “like” (not “as”) a dove, and a voice from heaven declares, “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

When the church baptizes today, both messages are present; John’s baptism AND Jesus’ baptism. Christian baptism offers cleansing from sin and the reception of the Holy Spirit. It was the Spirit that made Jesus’ human birth possible, and it was the Spirit that revealed his divine status as Son of God.

Christian baptism proclaims both repentance and renewal, both human act and divine act. Baptism offers salvation not as a point in time but as a process of maturing through collaboration so we can become children of God, just like Jesus. This is why the Gospel of John can say that in Christ and with the Holy Spirit, we are given “power to become children of God, born not of blood, or of the human will, but of God.” (John 1:13)

This is the truth that appears with Jesus: The Spirit causes us to be reborn and adopts us into God’s family. In other words, through Christ and the Spirit you are as much a child of God as is Jesus.

You may find yourself arguing with this truth. You might say, “I’ve sinned too much.” But God answers that the Spirit has cleansed you of sin, and Christ has rescued you from its consequences.

You might argue, “I’m still sinning.” But God answers that Christ and the Spirit give you the “power to become a child of God.” It is a process. Remember Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature, in human and divine favor.” (Luke 2:52)

You could argue that, “we’re merely adopted children, not real.” But the Spirit really unites us to Christ in the sacraments, we have communion with Christ through water, bread, and wine. So Paul can declare that, “because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:6)

We argue with the revelation that we are as much God’s children as is Jesus for these and many other reasons. And that’s why it takes time, collaboration, the Spirit, and the resurrected Christ. But go ahead and argue. It’s OK to argue with God. Through Isaiah God even says, “Come now, let us argue it out. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

We need to have this argument so that God can win the argument. We need to see God win this argument so that salvation appears in our lives.

In our day, no one articulates this truth better than Henri Nouwen. In his Life of the Beloved he says, “Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.” (p. 28) Using phrases drawn from scripture, he speaks the truth of being the Beloved thus:

I have called you by name, from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst. I will not hide my face from you. You know me as your own as I know you as my own. You belong to me. I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover and your spouse . . . yes, even your child . . . wherever you are I will be. Nothing will ever separate us. We are one. (p. 31)

Nouwen understood the truth of Epiphany that we are as much God’s children as is Jesus.

Before the Epiphany, it was Isaiah who understood it best. Writing 600 years earlier to Exiles on the threshold of deliverance, Isaiah cries, “Don’t lose hope! God has not abandoned you! How could God abandon his own child?” God, reminds Isaiah, is our “creator, redeemer, and savior.” God “calls us by name.”

Does that mean we won’t have trials with waters and fire? No. But when we do, God is with us. Isaiah understood that salvation is not the absence of suffering, but rather God’s presence within suffering.

“All this,” Isaiah says, because, “You are precious to me, and honored, and I love you.” Isaiah understood the truth that we are as much God’s children as is Jesus.

I know this is hard to believe. Some of us have been working so hard to be a worthy child of God. We’re like the two sons in Jesus’ parable: The one who lived a sinful life and returned, and the one who lived a righteous life with his father. Both had to learn that regardless of anything else, they were children of the father. One of the sons didn’t argue about it. The other one did.

Go ahead and have that argument. It’s OK to argue with God. Only then will you discover God wins that argument and you are God’s beloved child.

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