Saying Yes to the Spirit of God
Yesterday was Epiphany, the last official day of Christmas. It is a celebration of God becoming human through Jesus. It’s also known as Three Kings Day and is a resounding YES from wise and far-away people willing to travel many miles to behold the baby Jesus, for whom every knee should bow. Today, though, we celebrate Baptism of Jesus Sunday, for many, it may seem sad now that the lights must come down. The scent of pine and holly will only be outside. All those Christmas cards will be discarded, but as I write this sermon, many cards line the bookshelves in my dining room. They make me feel loved and I am grateful to all those people who went out of their way to prepare and send a card, not to mention the messages and e-cards. Yet even when the cards are gone, the love is still there. But it is time to get back to ordinary life. The parties are over. The turkey and ham are now memories. Perhaps not--we may have a lot of leftover ham! Many of us have new gifts to enjoy, new clothes to wear. We may have made New Year resolutions that call for change. While in some ways today may be an ending, but it is also a beginning. Every day is an opportunity to say Yes to the Spirit of God.
In Isaiah we read the prophecy about the one who is coming
42:1 Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.
42:2 He will not cry or lift up his voice or make it heard in the street;42:3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.
Jesus is the promised servant. He is the one who shows us and teaches us about the Spirit of God.
To paraphrase Isaiah 42:4 we can understand that This spiritual leader, Jesus, will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
What incredible guidance is promised.
Imagine that--a frontrunner who does not yell and make false promises. A leader who does not wound others but heals them. A top dog who is gentle with people, young and old, whether their lives are starting out or their lives are ebbing away.
And we know Jesus has come. We celebrate his birth every Christmas.
And we know Jesus is a way to transform lives, to heal wounds, to open hearts, to gather communities of people.
Jesus is the Yes of the Spirit of God. Always. Everywhere. He is part of the Lord of All, a flow from the spirit of Love with a capital L.
Paul the great evangelist a brilliant and arrogant man who was killing Christ-followers discovered the great Love. It struck him down and blinded him long enough for him to come to a different sense of what mattered. He was undoubtedly humbled, and realized he was not the end-all be-all of his life. He consented to a force greater than himself, and he said YES to the Spirit of Jesus: Paul now understood that God is known to people through Jesus. Paul discovered real Love. Love of God, love of other people, and love, too, of all creation.
Paul said to the people in the church in Corinth: (in 1 Corinthians 13), Love never fails. And what will remain with us forever is faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
What a great icon, this man Paul became and still is for so many people, because of his YES to the Spirit of God through Jesus.
But we ordinary people, we too are important. We too are affirmed by our YES to Christ, our YES to LOVE.
Have you ever watched Fixer Upper, a popular home improvement show, with hosts Chip, a contractor, and his wife, Joanna, a home decorator. They work together to renovate old houses for people brave enough to take on worn-down wrecks that often look like they need to be torn down. Chip and Joanna did not begin as celebrities, yet millions of viewers started tuning in to their show. Millions! I was one of them. I loved their kindness, their loving interaction with one another and with their children, and the joy they got in helping people afford a wonderful home.
Chip said, “As for Fixer Upper, we have been surprised at the impact of our faith through the show. We haven’t been overtly evangelical, but the rich feedback we have received on family and love all source from our faith. Jesus said the world would know His disciples by their love for one another, and we’ve glimpsed this in practice and strive for it every day.”
How are we to begin this journey, saying YES to the Spirit of God?
Do you remember your baptism? Did someone bring you to church? Or were you dunked in a stream like Jesus, who was immersed in the Jordan River by his cousin, John the Baptist? Jesus accepted baptism not to gain anything but because it was the right thing to do and to set an example for all of us.
Maybe you weren’t old enough to remember your baptism. I was forty-five. Not a kid. I didn’t make the decision lightly. I still remember an experience in First Christian Church in Ashland that led me to seek baptism. I wondered if I’d gone crazy because I had a vision of Jesus on the chancel. It was not what I saw, though I knew it was Jesus, but rather it was what I felt. I felt a welcome into love that surpasses all understanding.
When I went forward to profess my faith in Christ, it was a special moment for me personally, a beginning of a new way of understanding and thinking, being and doing. And when I was baptized, I became a member of a large family, people from all over the world who also had chosen this particular spiritual journey, people who’d said Yes to the Spirit of God in their lives.
My family is so much bigger now, so much fuller, so much more connected. Through Love. Through Christ. Through my Yes to the Spirit of God. I little knew the LOVE I was entering. Who would have thought I’d get a chance to share and help with this time of worship with you?
Many followers of Christ are remarkable, not only the Mother Theresa’s of the world or the Chip and Joanna Gaines, but also people like Richard Rohr, who became a leader all in good time. "All I want to do is be like Saint Francis," Richard Rohr said to his spiritual director, over and over, during his first decade as a Franciscan. Finally, one day, the spiritual director said, "Hey Richard, you're not, and you're never going to be Francis of Assisi. You're not even close, all right? You're 'unfortunately' Richard Rohr from Kansas." Richard said to himself this doesn't sound nearly as dramatic or exciting. Except when he realized: all God wants is Richard from Kansas."
And all God wants is you!
I did not know the amazing and diverse family I was entering when I said yes to Jesus. I certainly did not know what I’d choose when I was in England in Rye, a pretty town filled with antique stores and sweet restaurants, fragrant with flowers. It was a Sunday, and the plan was to go antiquing but when I heard church bells, I went instead to worship in a local Anglican church where I was welcomed, and my satisfaction was more lasting than any antique treasure I might have found and long ago discarded.
Saying Yes to the Spirit of God through Jesus is like fresh paint on the walls but it is much more than mere appearance.
Baptism is the beginning of total restoration of our souls.
In our daily lives not just in church will we discover a different way of being with others, a life lit up from the inside out with wisdom beyond even our smartest of teachers. Our consent, our yes to the Spirit of God through Jesus, is a YES to hope, to faith and to love. It is the way of strength that surpasses our own. It is a way to be filled with traits that we admire in others, patience, peacefulness, humbleness, generosity, gentleness, kindness…it is the realization of God not only with us, Emmanuel, but God within us, through Christ.
Do not think yourself unworthy. Remember Paul, he was arrogant, and a murderer, but he became righteousness itself, not by himself, but because of the Love and spirit breathed into him through his YES to Christ.
Jesus shows us the way (John 3:13) Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.
and even though (3:14) John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"
(3:15) …Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness."
(3:16) And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.(3:17) And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
We are not Jesus, we are not St. Paul, we are not Richard Rohr, and perhaps we won’t have visions or see doves descending, but we will be lit up from within and begin on the journey of unending spiritual growth.
All God wants is you, yourself, to grow you into more than you have ever imagined, to grow you into a person who lights up the room with Love.