Sermon Options: January 7, 2024

December 1st, 2020

In the Beginning

Genesis 1:1-5

What is your first memory? Some people claim to remember images from infancy; others don’t recall any clear memories before age six or seven.

If the universe could speak—and perhaps in some ways it does, through natural revelation—the first memory it would have is of God, the Creator. Creation is God’s handiwork. The opening verses of Genesis reveal some marvelous truths about God and his creation.

I. God Is Before Creation

Before there was anything else, God was. “In the beginning, God.” Before the human mind could comprehend, before anything we know existed, God was there. Before the Big Bang or the Little Pop or anything science imagines, God was there.

God is foundational—before all, above all, beyond all, over all. That is why idolatry is a heinous sin in the Bible—because it puts the created thing above the Creator.

II. God Is the Active Agent in Creation

When the time of creation arrived, God was the agent of creation. He is the prime mover, the supreme creator. Anything that exists does so because God brought it into being.

How God creates is of little importance. When we get hung up on such questions—was it a twenty-four-hour day or an aeon?—we are majoring on minor things. What matters is that God is at the center, the foundation of all creation. As Madeleine L’Engle said, “To argue about how God made us is to argue about non-essentials. . . . The important thing is that creation is God’s and that we are part of it.”

In his grace, God allows us to be part of his continuing creative work. Anyone who has held a tiny baby in his or her arms must rejoice and marvel that God allows us to be a part of his creative process.

III. God Accomplishes His Purpose in Creation

Though some people argue that the universe is a giant accident—a cosmic coincidence—the words of Genesis ring true to ears of faith. Creation has a divine purpose. God has a reason in all he creates.

God accomplishes his own purpose in creation:

• from nothing—something!
• from formless—structure!
• from darkness—light!

That is how God creates—taking what seems like nothing, and in his divine hands transforming it into an incredible something. What was once “without form and void” is now the miraculous universe in which we live.

That is also what God has done in us through Jesus Christ. He has transformed us into his children—sinners into saints, lost into found, nothing into something! (Michael Duduit)

Have You Heard About the Spirit?

Acts 19:1-7

There’s a wonderful true story about the brilliant pianist, Artur Schnabel. In the middle of a public performance of a Mozart piano concerto, Schnabel had a memory lapse and forgot the notes! The conductor, Toscanini, kept the orchestra playing, although there was an unexpected pause of about three minutes in the piano music. When they found out later that an unauthorized, pirated recording of the concert was going to be reproduced for distribution, Schnabel was told he would have to play the piece over. He refused, on the grounds that if he did it again he “might play it better, but it wouldn’t be as good.” He used the word “good” to mean moving “under the influence” of the Spirit.

I. The Spirit Brings Cleansing and Power

In Acts 19 , we catch up to Paul in Ephesus, “where he found some disciples” (v. 1). He asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit and they answered: “We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” (v. 2). They had experienced the water baptism of John. But Paul told them that was just a prelude, as John himself had said, to the main music of Jesus baptism.

Outlined here are two distinct levels of religious experience. The first, water baptism, is the baptism of repentance; the humble admission of sin, which draws one to seek forgiveness and cleansing. One is then technically “better” because one is allowed to “forget” and make mistakes, as one is released from the fetters of the unforgiving law. But what then? Is that it? No, that is just the first step. Then comes the fiery baptism by the Holy Spirit, which illumines one to live in the fullness of grace, inspired to be really “good.”

II. The Spirit Brings Awareness and Communication

When Paul baptized the new disciples “in the name of the Lord Jesus (v. 5), the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (v. 6). As at Pentecost, when the first disciples received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues, so too did the disciples in Ephesus. When they received the Holy Spirit they could speak to foreigners and be understood. They weren’t just babbling in foreign tongues—they were communicating. The Spirit had lifted them to a new level of awareness.

This is the same Spirit that Genesis 1 tells us brooded, like a hovering bird, over the formless void and darkness of the deep. As the voice of God spoke the Spirit brought light out of the darkness. And then there was morning.

This is the same Spirit that Old Testament prophets likened to water in the desert. It brings forth new life and hope out of parched places. It makes all things new.

The Spirit releases us to go forward and then inspires us to become what we were created to be.

III. The Spirit Brings Unity and Growth

Christians need not act as if they have never heard of the Holy Spirit! We can move with the Spirit, beyond old assumptions, beyond ego and pride, beyond the need to look “good.” The Spirit calls us as Christians to be able even to look foolish in the world’s eyes. We can be open to new understandings, new connectedness, and easy access to our unity with each other. We can be ready to be amazed at how the Spirit can lift us out of deep waters, washed, renewed, and ready to be recreated in love. We can wait with assurance for this daily baptism.

My daughter told me a story that reminded me of the Spirit’s presence in daily life.

One day while she was folding clothes and singing as she worked, a friend dropped by. He came into the house, sat down, and just looked at her. “What?” she asked him, thinking he must have something to tell her. He responded, “Don’t stop. It makes me feel so secure when I hear you singing.” No concert hall, but real “good” Spirit. (Kathleen Peterson)

Taking His Place

Mark 1:4-11

A rather active layperson came to me seeking baptism. Her request caught me off-guard. Being somewhat new to the congregation, and having seen her at almost every function, I had assumed she was already a member of the congregation, perhaps of long-standing. Membership aside, it had never occurred to me to wonder whether she had ever made a public profession of her faith—in fact, she had done so regularly since my arrival!

So when she made her request I expressed my honest befuddlement. She smiled and said, “It’s only been lately that I’ve decided I’m ready to take my place.”

She went on to say that membership in the church was a sacred responsibility to her—too many people had given too much of themselves for too long for her to take it lightly. She had wanted to make sure she was ready to take her place, shoulder to shoulder with others for whom our congregation was life and home. She had wanted to be ready to give completely of herself before she took the vows of membership.

And even more to the point, she said she wanted to be sure she was ready to take her place through baptism. While she had always believed, she had not always been sure she was ready to commit in the fashion so many faithful others had. “After all,” she said, “so many have died for the faith—I just wanted to be sure I could live for it. And now I am ready to take my place with them—to be one of y’all.”

I. Jesus Modeled the Way for Us

Look at the text from Mark and you see a story of Jesus taking his place such as the laywoman did. He goes to the Jordan to get in line and be baptized by John. Did he need to do it? Why did he submit to such a thing? The Lord of the universe, the Word by which all that is made was made, being baptized like a common sinner? What’s going on here?

These questions and others like them have haunted theologians and exegetes through the centuries. And while I have no decisive conclusions to offer , I am reminded of Frederick Buechner’s observation that Jesus honored human life by living one. He hallowed human death by dying one. He created new life by being raised to one. He took his place among us that we might take our place with him.

Similarly, it would seem that Jesus commends baptism by submitting to one. Jesus takes his place with sinful Israel as a means of accepting Israel’s plight onto himself. He is more ready to give himself to the task before him, there to take his distinctive place among other prophets of God who ultimately gave their lives for the restoration of God’s people. That which drips off Jesus face as he rises from the water is no less than his obedience and his commission, his commencing to do the will he came to do.

Theologians and exegetes should expect no less, then. In fact, the more speculative question might be, “Why not earlier?” All we can say is that, somehow, the time was right.

II. Our Call Is to Follow Him

In Mark’s Gospel, the baptism serves as the second scene in a three-part introduction to Jesus ministry. The first scene is John’s ministry, and the third is the temptation. Mark uses each to offer distinctive insights into the work Jesus will do.

In this scene, explicit connection is made between Jesus work and the Holy Spirit’s leading; implicit connection is made with the generations of faith who, at the right time and at the leading of the Spirit, will take their own place in line to do God’s will. (Thomas R. Steagald)

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