and Isaiah 43:1-7
Let’s go ahead and get into something’s that old, and that is Isaiah 43, our Old Testament lesson. It’s Isaiah 43, verses 1-7 and if you would like to follow along you can find that on page Number 514 of your red pew bibles. Here then the word of the Lord as it comes to us through the prophet Isaiah.
But now, this is what the Lord says- he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ” Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; The flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. Since you are precious and honored in my sight and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, “Give them up!” and to the south “Do not hold them back”. Bring my son’s from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth- everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
May the Lord add his blessing to this reading from his Holy Word.
Thank you, Jerry. The New Testament lesson you see printed in your bulletin is from Luke, Chapter 3, verses 15-22. And I would like to ask you to turn to that. I can’t tell you the page number. I am reading from a different translation today, from the new Revised Standard Version. It is fairly similar, but just a couple of word changes. Listen to the gospel of our Lord.
As the people were filled with expectation and all were questioning in their hearts, concerning John, whether he might be the messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptized you with water but one who is more powerful than I is coming and I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.” He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. He winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his grainery. But the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. So with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod, the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done added to them all by shutting up John in prison. Now when all the people were baptized and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, like a dove, and a voice came from heaven: ” You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.” And let me sneak in verse 23, Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work.
Since two weeks ago, since Christmas, we have made a liturgical jump of thirty years. Two weeks ago we were reading about the birth of Jesus, actually last week was emphasis on the Magi, in liturgical terms and that’s when Jesus was two, and now we are thinking about when Jesus is thirty years old, just at the beginning of his ministry. It is interesting, I got to thinking about before the moment in Jesus’ life, from lets say age 21 to 29 or 30, or whatever he was, he was unknown, he was unrecognized. He was walking around, kind of anonymous. He may have bumped into his future disciplesone Passover in Jerusalem, and nobody would have known it. Oh, by the way, Happy Epiphany. Did everybody know that yesterday was the Epiphany? Of course not, everybody didn’t know that. January 6, is Epiphany. Let me ask you, do you know what Festivus Maximus means? How many people know what Festivus Maximus means? Look at all the men raising their hands. Now, I will clue in the women. Festivus Maximus, it’s funny we know what Festivus Maximus means, but we don’t know what Epiphany means. Now maybe some of you will know what both means. Festivus Maximus, Coach Brian Billick told his players that he didn’t want to hear the word playoffs before they got in the playoffs, and so they started calling it Festivus, taking it off a Jerry Seinfeld episode. And Festivus Maximus, therefore, would be the Superbowl. You get it?
Why did I take the time to tell you that? I don’t know, but I do want to heighten your expectation for what Epiphany means. Epiphany is an unveiling. It is a revealing, it is a showing forth of that which was previously hidden. If we had a special service last night, on Epiphany, we have had Thanksgiving Eve services, and we have had Christmas Eve services, we had New Year’s Eve services, but we didn’t have any Epiphany Eve services, but it we had one we would have read the story of the wise men and the fact that to Gentiles, Jesus was revealed by their being led by the star. Now, this text of John’s baptism is Epiphany on a grander scale. Jesus going from anonymity to full recognition, or at least starting to go to full recognition. Everything in this test emphasizes that the curtain is now going up on Christ’s ministry and work. He is being revealed. Okay. So what? The same Holy Spirit that descended in power upon Jesus at the introduction of his ministry, who actually gave birth through Mary, that same Holy Spirit desires to play a vital role in our lives. Because earlier in the text, John the Baptist said, when people were wondering if he was indeed the Christ, he said “Listen I am going do a work that is going to prepare you for something, but there is one coming who is greater than I, and He is going to baptize you, He is going to identify you, He is going to unite you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” What his work is going to do is come from the inside and cleanse you, and fill you, and give you power like you have never known. Much greater than the work I am going to do. So much so, that those who believe and have this same Holy Spirit inside of them will become an Epiphany to others of the revealed Christ.
So our work in Epiphany is collectively and individually to be so filled with the Holy Spirit that when people look at our lives they see Jesus revealed among us. Christmas is a festival of God with us. Epiphany and all that it points to towards Pentecost is a festival of God in us. I wonder if that strikes you with amazement. Or if it strikes you like it struck maybe a women that I read about recently. I read about a women, who was checking her list of things to do before Christmas, and she realized in a panic that she had not sent out any Christmas cards. She looked at the calendar; she figured if I try really hard, I can get it done. So she rushes out to the store and it’s her lucky day, the cards are already 50% off. She gets two boxes. She is so feverish in her activity, she just starts addressing the envelopes, signing the bottom of the cards, stuffing them in, she rushes it to the post office, and gets to the counter just before the gate comes down. Right under the finish line. On Christmas day, when some sense of order was returning, late in the day, she looked at one of those leftover, last minute cards, and she wondered what exactly was the message that I sent to my friends. And she looked in and saw these words, ” This card is just a note to say, a little gift is on the way”. I thought about that, and I thought boy that’s just such an illustration of what our Christian experience is like. We think we got it done, we think we got some transaction made with God, He has come in, Savior, fire insurance, right? But, we have no clue as to how much God really wants us to bless other people. We think we’ve done it when we got in here and God’s Holy Spirit wants to bless us so much that we go way beyond what we ever thought we ought to be doing, to be a revealer of God’s love and of Christ’s presence in this world. Beyond our perceived capacities, God wants to use you and me to reveal Christ to the world. Many times, however, instead of revealing (TAPE CHANGE HERE-SOME MISSING TEXT)
Our lives kind of obscure Christ, don’t they? I mean think about it. If some total stranger was to accompany you for a day or for a week in your life, how much would they see Christ revealed? I mean that’s a scary thought. I think to myself, boy if somebody accompanied me for a day or week, it would kind of be like, probably scitzo! I mean, okay there is a little revelation of Jesus from him in this moment and in this moment, nothing. Complete shadows. How would it be for you? Well, that’s the word today in this last of the Divine Yes series, Jesus’ Incarnation, The Coming of the Holy Spirit, becomes our yes to growth as Christians. Yes to the possibility of God’s fullness living inside of us. Think of that, that Jesus can control us through the power of his Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit comes in, when we believe, cleanses, empowers and starts to work on our subconscious, all kinds of things happen, when the Holy Spirit takes over. And just as we desire the growth of our children, we want to see their development match their age. God desires that as we go along on our Christian experience, our spiritual development is to match our age. And yet there are many, many Christians who are stuck at like a twelve year old faith, when they were confirmed, and God doesn’t want us to be stuck, anymore than we want our 25 year old being stuck at 12. And so this text, I think, gives us some indication of why people get stuck and don’t start to live in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I think there are two quick things I would like to share with you. The first thing this text shows is that our expectations of God are too low. Look at verse 15, as the people were filled with expectation and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the messiah. They were hoping in their experience with God, that someone would come and that their circumstances would change. That’s what they expected from the messiah, the deliverer, that someone would come and take them out of their oppression and their bondage and their life would be better. John says playing down his role and playing up the coming ones role, he says, ” Listen his work is not to change your circumstances, his role is to change your life, to change everything, your whole point of view about God, and about life and about people.” Baptism by the Holy Spirit and fire cleansing, empowering, purifying. You know as a pastor I have heard many people share about their journey with God. I have listened to many people who have been outside the church start to come inside the church. These are some of the things that I have heard people say. It’s great to hear these things. I’m not downplaying them. People say things like you know “I’ve not been part of the church very much, but you know when I come into this place I just feel so good to be here. It feels warm. People are friendly. The pastors are so encouraging. There are nice, friendly folks. I like it here. I think I am going to join.” Then I think to myself, boy if that is all they are going on, we are way short. Because a religious life, a religious life will not bring inner-transformation. Real religious life, and the word religion means to be rebound in God, a real true religion is when we are reconnected with God, so that it’s not just external, exterior, but it’s interior decorating that the Spirit does, in the inner most recesses of our hearts. Without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Christianity is all outward. It’s all surface. It’s not inward, and think Jesus hated outwardism. He fought against outwardism. He wanted inwardism. So many texts in the scriptures point to that. So God gives the Holy Spirit to live in us and to help us grow. And in this text it is very clear, that the thing that will separate human beings, wheat and chaff, is whether or not the Holy Spirit lives inside of our body. When the Holy Spirit comes to take up residence in our bodies, when we empty our self before God, and ask Jesus to come into our life and to fill us, the Spirit takes up residence in our body. So one of the first reason’s we get stuck, is because our expectations of God are too low. God wants to do incredibly more than we think.
The second reason that we get stuck, is that our expectations of people, even great people, are too high. John was a great man. Jesus said as much. No one greater, prior to the coming of the kingdom. And he preached good news. You know you look at that verse that says “he will burn with unquenchable fire,” and then the text says “and with many exhortations he proclaimed the good news to the people,” I think, whoa, unquenchable fire good news! What was good news about that was that John was starting to preach the fact that now human beings can have a different relationship with God. Change from anything up till now. This is good news. God and humans are going to be united. One. So John’s preaching this good news, he is a great man, and in Luke’s gospel we see through evil Herod that John is set aside. In fact, if you really look at that text, John is out of the picture in one sense, before the baptism of Jesus ever happens. It is almost like Luke is trying to make a theological point. And I think what happens to us is that we have to be careful of placing too much hope in our people. We should encourage other people. We should be in good strong relationships. But one reason I think people get stuck in their spiritual journey is because they place too much hope and expectation on human beings, even great human beings. You know it’s possible that half of the country on this first Sunday of the New Year, has dashed expectations because Al Gore is not the president elect. I mean half the people voted for him. But you know, our future, our well-being is not depended upon, as Jerry shared a couple of weeks ago, it’s not depended upon who is president. It is depended upon the Lord, guiding us and leading us. Hope centered in a person or in government, that’s the other subtle thing about this text, Herod is an image of government, and it’s like we know where Herod is going. Government, or guru, or whoever is a false hope. That’s a false hope. If you have dashed expectations, about people or about the church, listen to this, maybe you still have dashed expectations about the fact that Ron is not your pastor any longer. Did you ever think of that one? Maybe some of you are still struggling with that. And it would be okay if that were the case, but it’s not who the pastor is. It’s that the Holy Spirit is in our midst and in our hearts, and so listen. If expectations are low or dashed today, the scriptures emphasizes God’s activity centered in the personal work of Jesus. That is why the Spirit came upon him. That’s why the voice came from heaven. Behold my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. The Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus, the voice comes from heaven, the scripture is teaching. God’s work is centered in the activity of Jesus Christ. And then in the same text it says that the same Jesus Christ will take the Holy Spirit and place him in you, when you believe, so that you might be an expression of God to other people. When the Holy Spirit comes into us, two things happen. One, we are adopted children of God. And so when God looks at you because of Jesus, behold my beloved, this is my beloved son, my beloved daughter in whom I am well pleased, because Jesus is in you. Not only are you adopted as God’s child, now you are commissioned for God’s work. And Jesus began his work after the Holy Spirit empowered him and it is the same with us. We cannot do the work of the church apart from the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
Rick Warren said it this way “Spiritual growth occurs when Christ is both resident and president of our life.” Now, some believers may be thinking like they think about George Bush being president. That, yeah the Lord’s in there, he is moving into the White House, but he really doesn’t have that kind of influence or power that we really need from a president. Yeah, God is in there, Jesus is in here, but you’re not feeling that power. You know you’re a Christian, but your not feeling that power of fire and of the Spirit. What’s wrong? Well, it’s kinda like a similar illustration from one of my favorite preacher’s, Juan Carlos Orteze, he talks about the English government, I love the way he say’s this. You know the English government; they have a Queen and a Prime Minister. The Queen is for all the pomp and circumstance. The Prime Minister is for the decision making and power. And so he says, “If we were really honest as Christians, here’s the way we would sing.” He is Lord, but I’m the Prime Minister. He is Lord, but I’m Prime Minister, He has risen from the dead and he is Lord, but I’m the Prime Minister. That’s what’s wrong. He has taken up residence, but he is not president. Acknowledge his supremacy. Raise your expectation of what God wants you to do in your life. There is a seed of spirituality that lives in each one of us, because of God’s grace. And your heart is either good soil and that seed is flourishing, or your heart is hard soil and it’s kind of lying dormant.
When you are willing to give all to Jesus, let him be all the decision making power, his Holy Spirit comes and waters that seed and brings about growth. And brings about power beyond what you could ever think you could experience. All you have to do, you empty, Jesus will fill! You empty, Jesus will fill! And that emptiness can become fullness at every recess of our heart and our mind, so that we will be an Epiphany, a growing revealer of Jesus Christ to other people. So let’s have a prayer as we close. The singers are going to come back up and I am going to have a prayer and ask you to have an emptying prayer and we are having communion today, so as you empty yourself now ask and anticipate that God’s Spirit through the sacrament, through faith will fill you again today, and that you will be growing, not stuck, but growing in your relationship with God.
Let’s pray. Lord, we open our hands, we open our arms, we open our hearts, we empty ourselves today. We confess that our expectations of you have been very low. Our expectations of others have been too high. We want your power. We want your Spirit to live in us and to flow through us, to forgive us and cleanse us, and empower us in ways that bless others beyond what we could ever think. Lord, we want that for the church as well. As we are on the threshold of change about how we will even come to worship and how many worship services your Spirit desires to work through new configurations, so that it will be revealed to people that Jesus lives here in us. God, we empty ourselves to you again today. We do not have it all together, but now we ask that you fill us by your Holy Spirit as we allow you to take up full presidency in our life at this moment. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.