“Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:4-11, January 10, 2021

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

Read Statement of Faith

“Hear now these ancient words of scripture that speak of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist from the gospel of Mark, chapter one, verses four thru eleven.”

Mark 1:4-11

4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.  8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

“Having listened to this writing regarding the baptism of Jesus, let us consider all that happened that day and its implication for us today.”

“Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Today’s scripture lesson is about the baptism of Jesus as he prepares to begin his ministry.  The entrance of the Holy Spirit into his baptism is the thrust and focus of this passage.  As in the following scriptures, verse twelve specifically, takes us forward into his journey, as we are told: “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” /Mark 1:12/ It is in the wilderness where Jesus is prepared for his journey, his ministry amongst we mortals!  Today’s message is about new beginnings, new focus, and new empowerment!  This message speaks directly to each one of us as we seek out a new pathway in the midst the storms of our lives.  As Christians, we follow the tradition that John the Baptist began, yet Jesus has super-charged our tradition of baptism with the introduction of the Spirits presence, the Living Spirit of “The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit” all wrapped up into one God!  Minister’s, Pastor’s, and Priest’s have been using these words while passing on the sacrament of baptism, to infants and adults, in this fashion a long, long time now!  At first it was just confessing adults who were baptized, until the introduction of infant baptism in the Fourth Century expanded that process to everyone within the family, the body of Christ.  The key here is the introduction of the Spirit, first into Jesus’ baptism, now into all who seek to be baptized, or have their children baptized into the living Body of Christ!

The challenge for us this morning and every morning is this: How shall we ‘Receive the Holy Spirit!?’  First, we must note how Jesus humbled himself and allowed John the Baptist to baptize him.  Jesus received the Spirit and allowed the Spirit to dramatically influence who he was, thereby empowering him for the journey ahead.  In the process Jesus set an example for all who wish to follow in his footsteps and become part of his ministry here on Earth.  Jesus took the initiative to go to the river Jordan seeking out John.  We need to also seek out the power of God – each, and every day.  Baptism is a once in a lifetime event, yet the willingness to allow the Spirit of God, to form and shape our lives, must be renewed every day!  So many folks come forward to confess their allegiance to Christ as they process their faith and their relationship with the beloved Son of God.  Yet, the harshness of life wears away at them and they drift away from the true Spirit, the true fellowship with Christ.  You and me, we need to guard against these phenomena, if we are to follow Christ.  We need to be intentional about inviting the Living God, the Spirit of God into our daily lives, no matter the occasion, no matter where we are on life’s journey… God is there ‘if’ we invite the presence of God to be with us.   

Let us be clear here.  John the Baptist, the man Jesus, and all those who gathered at the Jordan River to be cleansed of their sins by the Baptizer, they lived in a difficult time in history.  Their society was subservient to the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire!  They were all there, at the river that day, living into a shared feeling of humility.  They were acknowledging they needed to be, they needed to ask to be cleansed, publicly cleansed, albeit in the wilderness area, where they sought cleansing by God through this process at the river.  There was no reference to the sins of their oppressors.  Rather, they were cleaning up their personal part in this drama which we call our life journeys.   That is a ‘really’ big event in anyone’s life.  

Every day we all run into, or brush shoulders with someone who trespasses or wrongs us in some way, even if it is as simple as cutting in line in front of us.  It truly is a blessed day when no one offends us in any way.  The same is true in reverse.  It is a blessed day indeed if we, if you or me, never cross over someone else’s space and offends them in some way.  Let us pray we never do serious damage to another with a thoughtless word or a hurtful remark.  Notice, I am not mentioning the harsher wrongs that others commit, every day, in hopes that… that it is never us, that we never ever physically harm another.  The key is we work on our side of the street and make sure we keep it clean and healthy.  Yet, most of us make a mistake here and there, and we do need to repair or make an amend, to another before we move on.  The ancient people of Jesus’ time understood this, and thus they were at the river asking the Baptizer to cleanse them.   

Can we say we have no sin?  Can we see the failing of others but not our own?  Are we willing to humble ourselves and admit when we are wrong and then seek to make it right?  If we do so, can we rely on the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of the Living God, to come and alight upon us like a dove?  Can we?  The dove symbolizes how gentle and ‘light’ the touch of God truly is – when we are humble in the Presence of God.  My prayer for each one of us is… that we shall all one day feel the Spirit, opening our minds, to new possibilities, new enlightenment; and that the Spirit will empower our renewable willingness to do the will of God!  Through the Spirit we are brought together.  Debating a solution amongst ourselves is a process, and this is good!  Yet, when the discussion ends… we need to come together; United by our common belief in the ‘Will of God’ through the Spirit of God, in which we come together, in the common thread of the Spirit’s movement amongst us – to move ever forward. 

I am reminded how our moderators, during these past seven plus years as the Pastor of this church, I am reminded how our leaders such as Nancy Cook, Ann Pierce, and Linda Mathews, each embraced a simple tradition of leadership and endeavored to pass it on to the following Church moderators: Ashley Molozaily and Herb Parisi.  It was said to us as a Church Leadership team something like this.  In our Church Council meetings, we voice our opinions on a subject, debate its ups and downs, then, once the debate is over, we vote and decide as to how we might proceed.  Subsequently, once a decision is made, we come together and embrace our decision, each one of us making it our own; and then we move forward embracing our choices as ‘the church leadership team’ which we are called to be.  When the spirit of this tradition, a tradition that is embraced by ‘healthy’ leadership teams throughout the United Church of Christ, when it is held – a spirit of unity is embraced!  This too is steeped in the tradition of baptism!

Baptism is only the beginning!  Yes, it is very important to celebrate a baptism, yet we must accept that this is but the first step of ones growing, and expanding in faith, and relationship with God!  Just as a leadership team is called upon to come together with a common consensus so also are – we!  Baptism is the common denominator for faithful followers of Christ.  Jesus was compelled to go out into the wilderness where he was honed and polished and prepared for his ministry.  In the same manner we each are obliged to move through our infancy as Christians, learning what it means to follow one such as Jesus, the man from Nazareth.  In our adolescence we are taught the rudiments of our faith and the teachings of Jesus, during his three plus years of ministry amongst the people, in and around Jerusalem.  Leadership teams are taught how to work together, when they do not: gridlock, stagnation, and ultimate failure are the ‘gravel’ which teaches them the harsh truths!  No one, no committee or team wants to fail, and the fear of failure is often contradictory to the spirit of faithful elegance to our Baptism!  Sometimes, just like a child needs to ‘fall-down’ and learn how to stand up again, so do we need to learn how to ‘pick ourselves up’ especially when we have fallen-down!

“Now John (John the Baptist) was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” /Mark 1:6/ Can you just imagine me, your pastor, clothed in the “hair of a camel,” a camel’s dried skin wrapped around me held together by a crude leather belt, to hold it on.  Imagine me, your pastor, dressed like that: standing alongside the river Jordan, eating some dried crunchy locust and a handful of wild honey, perhaps with a few bees buzzing around!  I know – I shuttered too, before I began to laugh.  Why was it so important for our writer of Mark’s gospel to give us such a description of John?  I suppose for the same reason that the writers of the gospel of Luke, tried so hard to glorify a scene where the baby Jesus was born, dramatically contrasting the imagery of the Mark account of Jesus’ baptism!  There was a point to be made.  Luke was trying to get us to embrace the majesty, the mystic glory of the birth of Christ; even causing us to glorify being homeless and poor for just a moment!  In sharp contrast our writing in Mark, which has skipped the birth story entirely, sought to break and smash down our imagery of a softer easier way through Christ Jesus!  It is not easy, as adults, to believe we must humble ourselves, admitting our wrongs, before being propelled by the Living Spirit, to do the ‘will of God’!  Before, being given the intuitiveness necessary to be bold enough to be a faith filled people!  Yet, the baptism of Jesus, at the start of his training and preparation for his ministry, needed to do just that!

And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”’

/Mark 1:11 & 12/ The Spirit shall lead us, if we will but humble ourselves and allow the Spirit to be amongst us.


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