The Beginning of the World
1 In the beginning God created the sky and the earth. 2 The earth was empty and had no form. Darkness covered the ocean, and God’s Spirit was moving over the water.
3 Then God said, “Let there be light!” And there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good. So he divided the light from the darkness. 5 God named the light “day” and the darkness “night.” Evening passed, and morning came. This was the first day.
Paul in Ephesus19 While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul was visiting some places on the way to Ephesus. There he found some followers. 2 Paul asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They said, “We have never even heard of a Holy Spirit!”
3 So he asked, “What kind of baptism did you have?”
They said, “It was the baptism that John[a] taught.”
4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of changed hearts and lives. He told people to believe in the One who would come after him. That One is Jesus.”
5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 Then Paul laid his hands on them,[b] and the Holy Spirit came upon them. They began speaking different languages and prophesying. 7 There were about 12 men in this group.
4 John was baptizing people in the desert. He preached a baptism of changed hearts and lives for the forgiveness of sins. 5 All the people from Judea and Jerusalem were going out to John. They told about the sins they had done. Then they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothes made from camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. 7 This is what John preached to the people: “There is one coming later who is greater than I. I am not good enough even to kneel down and untie his sandals. 8 I baptize you with water. But the one who is coming will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus Is Baptized9 At that time Jesus came from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to the place where John was. John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. 10 When Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven open. The Holy Spirit came down on him like a dove. 11 A voice came from heaven and said: “You are my Son and I love you. I am very pleased with you.”
Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. Now we just talked about baptism in Godly Play so you all know something about what a baptism is, or at least what we do during a baptism. There are a few things that we do that are really important in baptism, but there are somethings we do that might not make sense, or the reason they are important might not be clear. The first really important thing we do is use water. Now we just pour water on the baby’s head three times, but sometimes you will see a baptism where the person goes completely underwater, like in a pool. Either way, there is water. The second important thing is having other people there. Parents, god-parents, the congregation, etc. they all make promises to help raise the baby in the church. The last important thing is fire, in the form of the baptismal candle.
So why are these things important? What do they mean? You could have a party with friends, throw water balloons around a campfire, and you would have all three of these things, but it would not mean anything, it wouldn’t be a baptism. What makes this different? The people in Ephesus couldn’t answer this question, because they had never heard of the answer. The thing that makes a baptism different, the truly important piece is the Holy Spirit. We can be like John and baptize with water, but that is just water, it is not really anything special. John admits this much, “I baptize you with water. But the one who is coming will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” So where does the Holy Spirit come into our baptisms? This can be a really tricky thing to answer, because it is not something we can see. We can feel water being poured on our head, we can hear the people’s responses to questions, and we can see the flame of a candle, but how do we tell if the Holy Spirit is there?
Let’s think about John, and Jesus’ baptism. John had already told people that the baptisms he performed were only with water; they did not measure up to a baptism by the Spirit that Jesus could perform. But it was this simple baptism by water that Jesus had. He went into the river with John, just as the people standing around and listening had, and Jesus was baptized by water, just like we all were. What happened right after is what showed that the Holy Spirit was there, involved in the baptism by water. Mark tells us, “When Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven open. The Holy Spirit came down on him like a dove. A voice came from heaven and said: “You are my Son and I love you. I am very pleased with you.”” So the spirit came down like a dove and a voice came from Heaven and spoke to Jesus. Do you think that it was an actual dove that came down? Mark says the Spirit was like a dove, I wonder what that really means. I wonder how else the Spirit might come to a person. The voice from Heaven, spoke directly to Jesus. It said “you are my Son”. Did anyone else there hear the voice? Did they know what was said? Was this voice like the voices of the congregation that we hear during a baptism, or was it a private voice whispering only in Jesus’s ear? Do these questions get us any closer to the answer of how we can see the baptism by the Spirit today?
I think we need to go to those folks in Ephesus, the people who had been baptized by water, but had never heard of the Holy Spirit. Paul told them about the difference between the baptism of water and of the Holy Spirit, he explained what Jesus brought, and this changed things for those people. “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Paul laid his hands on them, and the Holy Spirit came upon them.” They were baptized with water again, but this time in the name of the Lord Jesus; this brought the Spirit to them. This still brings the Spirit in a baptism today. This is how you were all baptizes, in the name of Jesus, with water, a candle lighted, and surrounded by people promising to help you along the way. I am sure none of you remember it as you were babies, but I want you to think about it. Pretend you are there now, feel the water, hear the people, see the flame, and most especially think about how the Spirit might come down on you like a dove? What does that feel like, what does it look like, how might that happen? Even after we leave here today, try to think about that dove, where is it, did it go away, how can you see it, how might it be part of your life every day?