Sunday, May 31, 2015

Our God is an Awesome God (a sermon on Isaiah 6:1-8)

In the English language we often use the word ‘awe’ to describe our encounters with the beauty of nature. I remember the first time Marci and I took the tramway up Whistler’s Mountain in Jasper and then climbed to the top. It was one of the few days in the year when the air is absolutely clear, and we were able to see all the way to Mount Robson. Mountain ranges were stretching away on either side of us into the distance, and far below us we could see the Jasper town site and the various lakes and rivers around it. I could only feel a sense of awe at what I could see all around me.

The words ‘awe’ and ‘fear’ are sometimes used in the New Testament to describe people’s reactions to Jesus. Frequently, in response to a miracle or a healing, we read about people having a sense of awe at the mighty acts of God. What they were seeing was way outside of their previous experience, and certainly outside their control, and they were shaken by it; that’s what the New Testament means when it says that they were ‘afraid’.

But I think most of us today would prefer not to use words like ‘fear’ and ‘awe’ to describe our relationship with God. For the most part, we’ve tamed God down; we’ve restricted him to the pages of a service book and the walls of a church building and the hours of a Sunday worship service. And so when we read about an experience of God such as the one Isaiah recounts in our first lesson for today, we find it hard to relate to what is said there.

Also we’ve been told many times that it’s wrong for us to fear the Lord; Jesus apparently did away with that, and all we should feel nowadays is a warm fuzzy feeling of being unconditionally accepted. The God who many people believe in today is more like a cuddly teddy bear than the awesome creator and Lord we read about in our Old Testament reading today. And so it’s probably a healthy corrective for us to focus on Isaiah’s story for a few minutes and think about what it has to say to us about the God we are worshipping today, on Trinity Sunday.

First let me set the scene for you. We’re told that Isaiah had this transformational encounter with God ‘in the year that King Uzziah died’ (v.1). Uzziah died in approximately 740 B.C., after an exceptionally long reign of fifty-two years. During his reign the little kingdom of Judah had enjoyed a time of relative peace and independence, but it was not to last. At about the same time as his death, Tiglath-Pileser III became the king of the mighty Assyrian empire, and he began a period of aggressive expansion in which he did his best to absorb all the little independent states in Syria and Palestine. From then on, in Isaiah’s lifetime, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah lived under the threat of Assyrian domination.

So Isaiah was living in a period of change; it was the end of a golden age and the beginning of a time of instability and fear. Israel and Judah felt small and vulnerable against the might of Assyria and its king. And in this context, God gave Isaiah a vision of who the true king really was, a vision that emphasized God’s power and majesty and holiness – which was exactly the message Isaiah and his countrymen needed to hear. Isaiah seems to have had this vision of the glory of God in the temple; perhaps he had gone there to pray or to take part in a sacrifice.

So what does the vision tell us about the Lord, the God of Israel?

First, and most obviously, Isaiah encounters a holy God, one who cannot be adequately described, one in whose presence awe, and even fear, is an appropriate response. Look at verses 1-4:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance around him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory’.
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.

Notice that Isaiah does not attempt to describe the Lord’s appearance. This is a common feature of accounts of appearances of God in the Bible; they seem to describe the edge of the field of vision, and the ‘court personalities’ around God, but not God himself. It seems as if the authors have accepted the fact that there is no human language available for them to describe the awesome God who they have seen. The most that Isaiah can bring himself to say is that the Lord’s throne was ‘high and lofty’, and that ‘the hem of his robe filled the temple’. I don’t know if any of you have seen the coronation photographs of Queen Elizabeth from 1953; she is a fairly small figure but is wearing an absolutely enormous cloak, which stretches all around the platform on which she is standing. And so Isaiah sees God as the high King of all kings, with a massive cloak that stretches around him, so huge that it fills the entire temple building.

Truly there is no language that we can use, or no picture we can create, that can adequately describe God. The Bible uses all sorts of images for God: the rock of our salvation, the Good Shepherd, the Lord of the armies of heaven, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the true heavenly Father, and so on. But none of them is big enough to give us a complete picture of what God is like. Quite possibly, if we actually saw God face to face, our brains wouldn’t be able to take him in.

In Isaiah’s vision even the ‘court personalities’ around the king seem pretty impressive. The Hebrew word ‘seraph’ means ‘fiery one’. Each of the seraphs has six wings, but they only use two for flying. With two they cover their eyes, because the Bible says you can’t see the face of God and live. With two more they cover their feet, which is a polite Hebrew euphemism for the private parts, because the Old Testament cautions priests against appearing naked before the Lord. They are calling out to each other in a song of worship: ‘Holy holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory’. And this is not a quiet song; Isaiah says that the threshold of the temple shook at the sound of their voices, and the whole house was filled with the smoke from the incense and the sacrifices.

The living God is truly awesome! Earthly rulers may be impressive, but they pale into insignificance beside this holy God. And this isn’t just an Old Testament emphasis. The gospels tell us that when the disciples saw Jesus transfigured before them on the mountain they were awestruck, and in the Book of Revelation, when John saw the risen and ascended Jesus he says ‘I fell at his feet as though dead’ (Revelation 1:17). This is God: loving and merciful and tender to all, yes indeed, but also awesome and holy, the Creator of the galaxies, the one who is completely untouched by evil, and is determined to drive it out of his creation.

Then comes the second thing we learn from Isaiah’s vision: Isaiah encounters a forgiving God. When Isaiah sees God in all his majesty and awe and holiness, the effect on him is dramatic. He has seen God with his own naked eye, and the people of Israel have been taught from the time of Moses that no one can see God and live. The seraphs cried, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (v.3); the word ‘holy’ means ‘separate’, ‘different’, ‘removed from all evil’. God is completely good and holy and righteous; he’s totally opposed to sin, and Isaiah has always been taught that it’s a fearful thing for a sinful human being to come into the presence of this holy God. And Isaiah is very aware of his own sinfulness. And so we read in verse 5 that he cries out, ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!’

Fortunately for Isaiah, the Old Testament had a way of dealing with sin; it took place in the very temple where Isaiah was standing. Animals were offered to God in sacrifice on the altar, and as their blood was shed, forgiveness was poured out upon God’s people. These sacrifices are alluded to in the next part of the reading, verses 6-7:
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said, ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out’.

The animal sacrifices were burned before the Lord, and this is the significance of the burning coal that the angel takes from the altar and applies to Isaiah’s lips; it’s the power of the sacrifice bringing forgiveness to Isaiah. The coal is a sort of sacramental sign of this, bringing it home and making it real for him.

The New Testament tells us that those animal sacrifices were like a signpost pointing to the perfect sacrifice that Jesus would offer when he gave himself freely on the cross for the sins of the whole world. That sacrifice touches each of us when we turn to Jesus in faith and ask for God’s forgiveness. And in our New Testament era God uses sacramental signs to help us, too, just as the coal was used to help Isaiah: the signs of baptism and Holy Communion. Each time we come to the Lord’s table in faith and receive the bread and wine, it’s as if the angel says to us as well, “See, this has touched your lips, and so your sin is forgiven and your guilt is wiped away”.

When we understand Holy Communion in this way, it can be a powerful thing for us. We might find ourselves coming up to the Lord’s Table very aware of our own shortcomings; we know very well that we haven’t loved God with our whole heart, and we haven’t loved our neighbour as ourselves. Perhaps there are particular things on our conscience, weighing us down and causing us to be afraid. And we’re very aware of the fact that God is a holy God, as Isaiah tells us in this reading.

But nevertheless, we take comfort from the fact that Jesus died for sinners, and we all qualify. We remember how he turned to the criminal who died beside him and assured him of salvation: “Today, you will be with me in paradise”. And so we come forward to the Lord’s Table; we stretch out our hands in faith to receive the gift the Lord has for us. Our hands are empty; we come as needy people, asking the Lord’s forgiveness. And somehow the miracle happens again: we eat and drink as Jesus commanded us, and God’s gift meets with our weak and trembling faith, and perhaps we even sense a weight lifting from our shoulders. “Go in peace”, says Jesus; “Your sins are forgiven”.

Will we feel that every time we receive the sacrament? No, probably not. Is it true, whether we feel like it or not? Yes, it definitely is. When Jesus first gave the cup of Holy Communion to his disciples he said, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28). We may not be able to understand it, but we trust the promise Jesus gave us. Queen Elizabeth 1 is reputed to have written this little verse:
‘Twas God the word that spake it,
He took the bread and brake it;
And what the word did make it;
That I believe, and take it.
So let us come, whenever we celebrate Holy Communion, so that we may meet this forgiving God that Isaiah tells us about.

But there’s one more element to Isaiah’s experience that we need to notice: Isaiah encounters a sending God. He has a message he wants to send out to people everywhere, and he is looking for messengers to take it. And so in verse 8 we read, ‘Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!

Isaiah accepts the call of God to be a messenger. He has seen the awesome God of Israel; he has experienced the forgiveness and cleansing from his sins; now he must take the message of God to others. God does not promise that his messenger will have an easy life; far from it. Our reading stopped at verse 8, but if we continue to read we see that God gives Isaiah a very discouraging prediction: he’s going to speak and speak, but the people aren’t going to listen, to the point that Isaiah will be saying to himself, ‘It seems as if the more I speak, the less they want to listen – it’s almost as if my words are turning them away from God, not toward him’. When God’s message goes out, people do not always turn to him with joy, and if we’re not having much success – if people are not responding and our church is not growing - this doesn’t necessarily mean we’re doing anything wrong. It may be that we’re speaking the truth, and people are finding that truth too hard to stomach!

God is still looking for messengers today, as he did in the time of Isaiah. The good news of Jesus needs to be announced to everyone, and God has chosen to speak it through human mouthpieces. If you have experienced the wonder and joy of forgiveness and new life, as Isaiah did, then you too are called by God to share that news with others.

‘Whom shall I send?’ Where might he be sending us? To most of us it will be to our families and friends, our work colleagues and neighbours. You may be the only Bible those folks will read; when the Lord wants a word spoken to them, are you willing to be the one who speaks it?

In 1981 the words of this text inspired a Jesuit priest, Father Dan Schutte, to write a song that has become a classic. Here’s the first verse
I the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry,
All who dwell in dark and sin my hand will save.
I who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them? Whom shall I send?
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.

God is holy and awesome, far above anything we can imagine, and completely free of evil and sin. But this holy and awesome God is also the one who forgives our sins; he came among us in Jesus and poured out his blood for all of us on the cross so that the burden of sin could be lifted from our shoulders. And if we have tasted that free gift of forgiveness, then we also are sent out, like Isaiah, to tell others about God and to help them come closer to him for themselves. God says to you and me today, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” I hope you will join me in the words of Isaiah: “Here am I; send me”. Amen.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Rosters for June 2015

June 7th, 2015   2nd Sunday after Pentecost
Coffee between services
Greeter/Sidespeople: B. Cavey/T. Wittkopf           
Counter: T. Wittkopf/S. Jayakaran                                   
Reader: S. Jayakaran                                   
(1 Samuel 8: 4-20, Psalm 138, 2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5: 1)
Lay Administrants: T. Wittkopf/G. Hughes           
Intercessor:  D. McNeill                                   
Lay Reader:  E. Gerber          (Mark 3:20 – 35)                       
Altar Guild (Green)P. Major/L. Pyra
Prayer Team: L. Sanderson/M. Rys                       
Sunday School Combined Class: T. Laffin/K. Durance           
Kitchen: - 9:45 am M&B Woytkiw                       
Music:  M. Eriksen
Altar Server: Annette Jayakaran

June 14th, 2015  3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Greeter/Sidespeople:T. Willacy/L. Schindel           
Counter: T. Willacy/M. Chesterton                                   
Reader: D. MacNeill                                   
(1 Samuel 15: 34 – 16: 13, Psalm 20, 2 Corinthians 5: 6 – 17)
Lay Administrants: C. Aasen/E. Gerber                                               
Intercessor: C. Aasen                                   
Lay Reader:  L. Thompson                 (Mark4: 26-34)                       
Altar Guild: (Green)P. Major/T. Wittkopf
Prayer Team: M. Chesterton/M. Rys                       
Sunday School Combined Class: T. Laffin/M. Aasen           
Kitchen:  R&W. Mogg
Music:  E. Thompson           

June 21st, 2015   4th Sunday after Pentecost
Greeter/Sidespeople: D. Legere/T. Cromarty           
Counter: T. Cromarty/M. Eriksen                                   
Reader:  C. Aasen                       
(1 Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11,19-23,32-49, Psalm 9: 9-20, 2 Corinthians 6: 1-13)
Lay Administrants: T. Wittkopf/D. MacNeill                       
Intercessor: B. Popp                                   
Lay Reader: B. Popp    (Mark 4: 35 – 41)                       
Altar Guild (green)M. Lobreau/A. Shutt
Prayer Team: E. Gerber/M. Chesterton                                      
Sunday School Combined Class: T. Laffin/E. McDougall
Kitchen: Sunday School BBQ – L. Popp  Coffee only
Music:  R. Mogg

June 28th, 2015   5th Sunday after Pentecost
Greeter/Sidespeople: The Aasens           
Counter: C. Aasen/D. Schindel                                   
Reader: D. Schindel                                               
(2 Samuel 1:1, 17 – 27, Psalm 130, 2 Corinthians 8: 7-15)
Intercessor: L. Thompson                       
Lay Reader:  D. McNeill             (Mark 5: 21-43)                       
Altar Guild (green) M. Lobreau/MW              
Kitchen: M. Rys
Music: M. Chesterton           

June 1st - June 7th, 2015

The Spring Congregational Meeting will be held after the 10:30 am service. A light lunch will be provided.

Events This Week
June 1st, 2015
  Office is closed.
June 1st – 8th, 201
  Tim is away at Threshold Ministries National Board meetings
  in St. John New Brunswick
June 4th, 2015
  7:00 am Men’s and Women’s Bible Study@ Bogani CafĂ©
 June 7th, 2015     2nd Sunday after Pentecost
  9:00 am Holy Communion with Shelia Hagan-Bloxham
  9:45 am Coffee between services
 10:30 am Holy Communion with Shelia Hagan-Bloxham
                  and Sunday School

Rev. Sheila Hagan-Bloxham will be providing Emergency Pastoral Care while Tim is away. If you are experiencing a pastoral emergency and you need the services of a priest, please contact the office at 780-437-7231 or after hours by e-mail

Dates to Remember!
June 1st–8th T. Chesterton is away at Threshhold meetings
June 11th -  Last Lunch Bunch Lunch before Summer Break
June 19th - Habitat for Humanity BBQ at Neufeld Landing
June 20th – 3:00 pm  Annual Parish Picnic & BBQ at Rice Place
June 21st – Sunday School BBQ after the 10:30 am service

The next Lunch Bunch is June 11, 11:30 a.m. at St. Margaret's Church.  Everyone is welcome. Please join us for fun and fellowship.  Our "Theme" this month is "A Blast from the Past".  Please bring 1 or 2 pictures of family, school, vacations or anything you feel would be interesting or entertaining for everyone. There is a sign up sheet in the front foyer or call the office 780-437-7231 if you would like to attend.

Holiday Bulletins! Summer is a time we like to travel, whether nearby or in a far off land. We encourage you to bring back a bulletin from whatever church you attend on your travels and post it on our “Holiday Bulletin” board.

Anglican Marriage Encounter Weekend
November 6-8, 2015 – Providence Renewal Centre
“Take your Marriage to a whole new level”.
For more information please contact the office and Jen will put you in touch with the facilitators.
World Vision is looking for Special Event Volunteers in Edmonton.  Our volunteers act as our ambassadors at events, volunteering at our booth, answering questions from the public, and helping to sign up new sponsors of children. We usually have a few events each month that require volunteer support. Online training is provided prior to the event and there is on-site support at the majority of events so you will be well supported in your volunteer journey with World Vision. If you are looking for a flexible, meaningful and fun volunteer opportunity, then this is it! For more information please contact, Susanne Milner, Regional Volunteer Coordinator at .

FREE 1” x 6” x 16’ – 0” Spruce lumber: These boards are salvage from the roof of the old demolished shed and are in too good a condition to just be thrown away. Presently they are piled on the bench located near the trees behind the church. If anyone can use some or all of them, please take them ASAP, otherwise they will be hauled to landfill when the old shed floor is demolished in the near future. For more information contact the office at 780-437-7231.

At the end of May the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be holding its final four-day hearing in Ottawa. When that hearing begins on May 31st it will be exactly 22 days until National Aboriginal Day on June 21st. Our Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, has called our Anglican Church of Canada to observe those 22 Days with special intention. A website has been established (, and there will be daily stories and suggestions for observing this time. You can also sign up to receive a daily email from the '22 Days' project. You can read a letter about this from Archbishop Fred and our national indigenous bishop, Mark MacDonald, at; copies of this letter are also available for those who do not have Internet access. After that, please visit the website ( and consider signing up for the daily emails.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Three Baptisms (a sermon for Pentecost)

This morning as we celebrate the baptisms of Doug and Gideon, I want to think with you for a few minutes about the word ‘baptism’ and what it means. Jesus actually uses the word ‘baptism’ to refer to three different experiences that Christians have, and all three are important.

The Greek word ‘baptizo’ originally had a very simple meaning: to dip, or to immerse. It wasn’t necessarily in water; ancient Greek chefs made pickles by ‘baptizing’ them in vinegar, and if they’d had fondues, they would have used the word ‘baptizo’ for that as well! When it comes to water baptism, Jesus is obviously using the word literally for dipping or immersing people in water; the other two meanings are metaphorical, but no less important.

Let’s start with baptism in water. We know that Jesus commanded his disciples to do this. In Matthew 28:18-20 he says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”.

The early Christians obeyed this particular command to baptize right from the beginning. In our reading from Acts today we heard of the Holy Spirit filling the followers of Jesus; a crowd was attracted, and Peter preached the good news of Jesus to the crowd. Later on in the chapter, some of the people were convinced by what Peter said, and they asked, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter replied,  ‘“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”…So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added’ (Acts 2:38, 41).

So the act of becoming a Christian in the early church always included not only the inward actions of repentance and faith, but also the outward action of being baptized. Some people think of this as strange, but in fact it isn’t strange at all. We humans have always used physical signs in this way. We don’t just say hello to each other, we shake hands as well, and some people will formalize a deal by shaking hands on it. At a wedding we don’t just promise to love each other, we join hands, give and receive rings, and exchange formal kisses. Athletes attending the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games carry the flag of their country, and they know it’s not just a piece of cloth; it has a very special meaning to them. These are just three examples of our human tendency to use physical signs and give them a much deeper meaning.

Baptism in the early church was such a rich symbol that all sorts of meanings were discovered in it. As we’ve seen, Jesus connected it with becoming disciples; it was a sort of enrolment in the School of Jesus. It was also an obvious sign of cleansing – washing away sin and evil through God’s forgiveness, as Peter said on the Day of Pentecost, and starting a new life with Christ. Paul also talks about it as a sort of death and resurrection, and immersion was a particularly good symbol of that: going under the water was like dying with Jesus to the old way of life, and coming up out of the water was like rising with him to the new way of life. Sometimes in the early church, new Christians would symbolize that by taking off their old clothes before being baptized, and then putting on new clothes when they came out of the water.

Sometimes people denigrate symbols, but I think that most of us know how powerful they can be. For instance, many of us in church today are wearing wedding rings. There’s no law that we have to do this, but we choose to do it – we choose to wear on our fingers a symbol of our love for our husband or wife, and our commitment to them. I think that most of us would agree that these rings are very important to us. Yes, they are a symbol, but we’d never say, “They’re just a symbol”. We know how powerful that symbol is, and what it means to us.

Baptism is like that. It’s so powerful a symbol, in fact, that the New Testament often talks about it as actually accomplishing what it symbolizes. For instance, in John chapter 3 Jesus says ‘No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit’ (John 3:5); baptism with water is seen here as an essential part of the process of new birth. And in Galatians Paul points to both faith and baptism; he says, ‘For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ’ (Galatians 3:26-27).

So the Holy Spirit uses two things - our faith, and the act of baptism - as a means of bringing us to new birth in the family of God. This is true, even though faith and baptism might be separated chronologically. A baby might be baptized, and then later on come to faith in Christ. An adult might come to faith and then later on be baptized – perhaps even after many years! But the two things belong together theologically; neither of them is complete without the other. Peter didn’t just tell the crowd to repent and believe in Jesus – he told them to be baptized as well. But on the other hand, we don’t just baptize people – we ask them questions about their faith as well.

So this is the first baptism – baptism in water. But there’s a second way Jesus uses the word ‘baptism’: he talks about baptism in the Holy Spirit. In the book of Acts, chapter 1, we read these words: ‘While staying with (his disciples), he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This”, he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now”’ (Acts 1:4-5). And in verse 8 he goes on to say, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.

In the next chapter, as we read this morning, the Day of Pentecost arrived and they were all together in one place, when suddenly from heaven there came a sound like a mighty rushing wind that filled the whole house where they were sitting. And they saw little flickering tongues, just like flames of fire, resting on each one of them. And then all of them were aware of being filled with the Holy Spirit, and they found themselves speaking in different languages that they hadn’t learned before, speaking about God’s mighty acts of power.

This was obviously a very powerful experience that changed their lives – a real encounter with the Spirit of the living God. But it was not the only time they experienced this. Two chapters later – and we don’t know how much time had elapsed in between – they were meeting after some of them had been imprisoned and flogged for preaching about Jesus. In their place we might have prayed for safety, but they didn’t – they prayed for boldness to keep spreading the message of Jesus, and they asked God to keep confirming it by sending signs and wonders. And then we read that, ‘When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness’ (Acts 4:31).

So this is ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’. A person being baptized in the Holy Spirit is being immersed or plunged into the power of the Holy Spirit. And this is not just a fanciful metaphor. Many people who have had these powerful experiences of the presence of God report that this is exactly what it felt like: they felt as if they were totally surrounded and filled with the love of God and the power of his Spirit.

What’s it like to be baptized with the Holy Spirit? I suspect there are many different answers to that question. To some people it’s probably the same sort of dramatic experience that these early Christians had. To others, it may be something quieter and less tangible, but it’s obvious its happened because of the changes in their lives. I still love the way my dad described it to me years ago; this is what he said:
On Shrove Tuesday 1971, I was part of a prayer group and all the members knew that I was waiting, in obedience to the Lord, to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Two of the group asked me if I would like them to pray with me. I agreed and they prayed but nothing happened. I was trying to will myself into the experience but that isn’t how it happens. So, in my heart I prayed, “Well, Lord, I’ve waited twelve years, I can wait longer, if that’s what you want”. And that was what the Lord was waiting for… And so it happened. My heart was bursting with a joy and peace and love I had never known before.

The way I would describe it is that it’s like standing under a great waterfall but the water not only cleanses the outside but pours through the whole body, soaking and enriching every cell. It’s realizing that every drop of that water is the Spirit's power filling me to overflowing with the love of Jesus.

So you see, it’s not just something that happens in the pages of the Bible. I’m sure there are probably hundreds of thousands of people around the world today would who would testify that they, too, have experienced what Jesus promised: baptism in the Holy Spirit.

But here’s the thing: water baptism is within our control, but baptism in the Holy Spirit is not. Only God can baptize people with the Holy Spirit, and only God can decide what form that baptism will take – whether it comes with deep emotions or not, or whether it’s accompanied by miraculous acts, like those early Christians suddenly finding themselves speaking in languages they’d never learned. Jesus told his church to baptize people in the name of God, but he told them to ‘wait’ for baptism in the Holy Spirit. We can’t make it happen; we can only wait for it, praying that the Holy Spirit will fill us, and that God will make us open to whatever it is he wants to do in us by the work of the Holy Spirit.

So we’ve talked about baptism in water and baptism in the Holy Spirit. But there’s a third way the word is used in the New Testament: the baptism of suffering. In Mark chapter ten, two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, come to him with an audacious request: ‘“Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory”. But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able”. Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared”’ (Mark 10:37-40).

Jesus is referring to the cross, of course. On the cross he would drink the cup of suffering on our behalf, and he would be plunged or baptized into suffering, just like a ship in a storm being overwhelmed by the waves. This baptism is like the ‘taking up our cross and following Jesus’ that Jesus talks about elsewhere. To be baptized is to be baptized in the name of Jesus, and not to be ashamed to own that name.

And not everyone is going to be glad that we own that name. Around the world today many of our Christian brothers and sisters are persecuted for following Jesus. In some countries it is a capital offence to convert to Christianity, and everyone knows it. In many of those countries, if you obey the command of Jesus to be his witnesses, you will be thrown in prison and possibly executed as well. Here, in the tolerant west, we don’t suffer that sort of persecution, but I would suggest to you that if we obey some of the more controversial commands of Jesus – loving our enemies and praying for them rather than pouring hatred and violence on them, for instance – we will also experience some of the scorn and derision that followers of Jesus have always experienced.

So I want to say to all of us who have been baptized, and especially to Doug and Gideon who will be baptized in a moment, that in our baptism we take the name of Jesus Christ – we are called ‘Christians’ - and Jesus calls us not to be ashamed to own that name. Of course, he’s not asking us to be self-righteous, as if we were saying “I’m a Christian, so I’m better than those who aren’t”. That would be completely foreign to the spirit of Jesus! But equally, he’s calling us to walk into those situations where we know that the name of Jesus is not respected or honoured, and not to be ashamed or fearful to say, “I’m marked with that name; I belong to him”.

Let’s go around this one last time. In the New Testament there are three experiences that Jesus describes with the word ‘baptism’.

Water baptism is something we do in obedience to him. Through faith and baptism we become followers of Jesus; we are washed from sin and born again into the family of God. Once it’s done, it doesn’t need to be done again; Paul says in Ephesians that there is ‘one’ baptism. In joyful obedience to that command of Jesus, we will baptize Doug and Gideon this morning.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit isn’t something we can do; it’s something we can pray for and wait for. And I hope that all of you will pray for it and wait for it. If you’ve never experienced anything like it, I hope you will keep on praying for it. Don’t try to make it happen; don’t try to manufacture some sort of powerful emotional experience. None of that works, because it’s not real. True baptism in the Holy Spirit is a gift of God. And unlike water baptism, it is repeatable; as we’ve seen, the early Christians experienced it more than once.

Baptism in water is something we do; baptism in the Holy Spirit is something we pray for and wait for. But the baptism of suffering is something we’re ready for. We don’t go looking for it, and no one in their right mind asks for it. But when it comes our way, we accept it - I’d even go so far as to say, we accept it with joy, like the Christians in the book of Acts, who, we’re told, ‘rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name’ of Jesus (Acts 5:41). It’s not a sign that we’re doing something wrong; it’s an inevitable consequence of faithfulness to Jesus in a world that does not recognize his authority. So when we experience it, let’s ask God to strengthen us to endure it, and to be faithful to the one who has called us to follow him as baptized Christians.

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.