Saturday, 30 January 2010

Candlemas - helping

Candlemas Heb. 2:14-end, Luke 2:22-40

I'm doing something slightly different now, and including the readings before the sermon, so you can see where I'm coming from if that's helpful.

Hebrews 2:14-end
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Luke 2:22-40
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.

A few years ago one of my closest friends went through one of the most devastating experiences that I think it’s possible to have when her husband left her for another woman. Those of us who had known them both for years were, of course, really shocked, but there was from us all a huge outpouring of love and compassion for our friend in what she was going through.

One thing which has remained in my mind, though, was recognising that however much we loved her, Ali and I could only know in part what she was going through. Neither of us could imagine the pain of the breakdown because we hadn’t been through it ourselves. We felt love and warmth, and a desire to affirm her, and that flowed out of our own experiences of rejection in other spheres of life.

I’ve never made any secret of how my teenage years were clouded by persistent rejection and bullying from my peers, so I know, from that perspective, a sense of being cast to one side. That was what I had to draw on. But I had never been rejected by my spouse, so I could not know the same kind of pain, only something like it.

And then into the maelstrom stepped another mutual friend. She had been through an almost identical experience a few years earlier when her husband had left her for another woman. The circumstances were different, but unlike Ali and I, she really knew what our friend was going through on a very deep and almost indescribable level.

She was able to articulate care and love and understanding that were beyond what Ali and I could do because she really knew what it was like, and that knowledge makes all the difference.

A similar thing happened to me following the death of my eldest sister. I had lots of love and care from people, but apart from my other sister, Ruth, no one really understood what it felt like, and how it feels like a part of you died as well. That was until recently when I met someone else who went through a similar experience and who understood exactly what I meant.

This truth holds in all matters between us as humans. Unless we have experienced something for ourselves, we can’t really understand what the other is going through. To help our friend whose marriage had broken down I had to draw on the nearest thing in my imagination, the rejection at school. Not the same thing, but an approximation that gave me something to start from.

But our other friend had such a deep well of understanding because of the similarities in her own experience. This is the mechanism we use to help each other; we look inside for something similar and use that pattern to help us approximate in feelings what the other person is going through. If we don’t do that we just get in the way, basically, and maybe cause further hurt.

Now let me remind you of a section we heard from the letter to the Hebrews.
Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

This is the greatest mystery, I think, of the incarnation, of God becoming human. Until Jesus was born as one of us, someone going through a terrible trauma could quite rightly have stuck two fingers up in the face of God and said, ‘You do not understand. How could you? You are God and I am just a human; indescribably small.’

Yet here, in these few short verses we find the answer. God does understand because Jesus was tested in every way. He is able to help because he has been there first. When we lie on our beds sobbing with the heartache of loss, he sobs with us. Remember how he wept at the grave-side of his deep friend, Lazarus.

When our hearts break with rejection, his heart breaks with us because on the cross he was rejected, not just by the people he came to save, but even by his heavenly Father who turned his back on Jesus at his death because he became sin for us and God would no longer look on him. His rejection went even deeper than anything we can know.

But what about losing a spouse, or a sister? How can he understand that? I remember, many years ago, listening to a speaker at a conference articulating a vision that a friend of his had had. This friend had asked for a vision of what Jesus looked like. What he received was a vision of Jesus on the cross.

This person described the way in which he watched as Jesus’s face changed moment by moment as every experience known to us seemed to cross his face. Every pain, hatred and vile emotion crossed his face as he hung there. And this resonates with what we find in Isaiah 53:6, part of the Servant Songs, where it says, ‘All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us to our own way, and the Lord has laid in him the iniquity of us all.’

When he was crucified God laid every experience we will ever have on to Jesus. Why do you think he sweated blood before he died? It was the fear of what he had to experience on the cross, because he had to experience everything. And that’s why the writer to the Hebrews says Jesus can really help us, because he has been through everything we go through.

I think that this is why Simeon said that he would be for the rising of many when he was presented in the temple. What is it that keeps us down when we are suffering? It’s because no one is there for us; no one can really understand. Even my two close friends did not have identical situations, and so there was a limit to the understanding. Yet here is one who truly understands the life we live, because he has lived it too, and had all of our experiences laid on to him. And so we are saved because he understands.

Which leaves us with one final thing. If you remember from last week, we are the Body of Christ, and that means that we are now called to minister help too. We may not always understand, but we minister love in the name of the one who really does understand, and by ministering help, we are being as Christ to others.

So the message to us today is, in whatever place we are, Jesus understands, and is perhaps the only one who really understands and can enter this place with us. Likewise, from the experiences we are helped through, we are called to use those experiences to help others. Amen

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
Of falling or catching fire
I choose to inhabit my days,
To allow my living to open me,
To make me less afraid,
More accessible,
To loosen my heart
Until it becomes a wing,
A torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance;
To live so that which came to me as seed
Goes to the next as blossom
And that which came to me as blossom,
Goes on as fruit.

(Dawna Markova)

Saturday, 23 January 2010

3rd Sunday of Epiphany: What happened next?

1 Cor.12:12-31 Luke 4:14-21

Are there any ‘Question of Sport’ fans reading this? I don’t normally watch it (no honest...) but I remember it being a favourite with my dad. I always used to enjoy the, ‘what happened next part?’ when we’d see a video clip of something quite innocuous, like a goalkeeper coming out to catch the ball, and then as he throws it back into play he loses his balance, spins around and throws it into the back of the net.

Today’s Gospel reading is all about that idea of, ‘What happens next?’ It’s a recurring theme and indeed it’s a question I want to pose at the end. But first a summary of how we got to be here. For the last couple of weeks we’ve been thinking about the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and you may remember that on a couple of occasions I mentioned how, after Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit at his baptism, the Holy Spirit drove him out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

What we have before us in today’s Gospel reading is what happened next. Jesus has returned from the temptation in the wilderness, and he is literally full of the Holy Spirit. He goes back to Galilee and begins to teach in their synagogues, and was praised by everyone.

If you remember from what we said a couple of weeks back about Jesus’s early life, all we know was that the Gospel writers said that he grew in favour with God and with people. And now this growth in people’s favour continues as he begins his preaching ministry.

Jesus has taken on the mantle of a Rabbi, a teacher. He is explaining the truth about God to the people by expounding the scriptures, which would have been what we call the Old Testament, and quite clearly what he is saying is having a huge and positive effect on the people, and on their regard for him.

Now I’d like to pose you a question. What do you think Jesus must have been saying for him to grow in the favour of the people? What was so good about him? Why do people praise a preacher?

Is it about style? Well certainly that’s a big part of it. Nobody wants to sit back and listen to someone who can’t articulate what they want to say. I remember being a twelve year old sitting in an evening meeting that the curate was taking. I still have no idea what on earth it was that he was talking about. Apparently, according to the chap next to me at the time, what he said was amazing, but his delivery was so appalling that I simply didn’t listen.

So I think we can assume that Jesus knew how to speak in public in a way that drew the attention of the people, and indeed elsewhere in the Gospels you can read how the people said he taught with authority.

But it must have been more than just his delivery. What he had to say must have been important too.
There is always a temptation for preachers to say what their congregations want to hear. Almost everybody wants to be liked on some level deep down within us, and I suspect that was one of the temptations Jesus had to deal with. But I don’t think he preached what people wanted to hear.

Instead, and this is a subtle but important difference, he preached what they needed to hear. In fact I think that’s a mark of everything Jesus did. He did what people needed him to do, not necessarily what they wanted him to do. That’s an important difference because doing what people need us to do won’t always make us popular.

So what was Jesus saying that they needed to hear? Well I think we can find it in the message he gave at Nazareth. ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me’, which we know is true because Luke told us that this is what happened at Jesus’s baptism, and then he goes on, ‘because he has anointed me’, and the ‘anointed one’ is what you get if translate the word Messiah or Christ, it literally means ‘anointed one’, so Jesus is claiming the title Messiah or Christ here, and he goes on...

‘ bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight for the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ To understand why Jesus was a popular Rabbi all we have to do is look at the context of the people he was speaking to and then listen to his message.

These Galileans were very largely very poor. There were exceptions. The Galilean town of Sepphoris, where Jesus and Joseph had probably done a great deal of work as tradesmen, was a place of cultured Greek-influenced Jews. But by and large these were fishermen, farmers and labourers. And more importantly than all of that, these people were oppressed.

They lived in a country that had been over-run by the Romans. They were not free, they were politically repressed and had to live according to someone else’s rules, paying taxes to someone else’s government. And into this reality comes a young Rabbi who seems to be teaching that God has called him to be the Messiah, to come and proclaim that God’s judgement is over. His message is of God’s favour towards them, and to set them free.

Now if you were an oppressed people and someone came and started preaching that to you with authority, you also might be inclined to listen. But it is vital that we remember the distinction here. Jesus wasn’t telling them what they wanted to hear. He was telling them what they needed to hear, which was the truth; that he was coming to set them free. God had not forgotten them.

That was the message that people were caught up in, that there was hope. God had not forgotten them. When we bring hope, people listen, it is as simple as that.

One of the most successful bands of all time are U2. They have won more grammy awards than any other band, and have sold more than 145 million records in a career that has spanned three decades. Part of their success is because a thread of hope runs through so much of their music. Not only that, but they act to bring hope.

Lead vocalist Bono is actively involved and campaigning for human rights for the oppressed and for countless numbers of issues involving those in need. People are drawn to them not only because they make great music, but also because they make a difference, they give people hope, and because they live it out.

Whenever there is word of hope, people listen, and that, I believe, is why Jesus was making a mark. He was bringing a message of hope. Of course that message was often misunderstood, which brings us back to ‘What happened next’. If we were to continue with the Gospel reading beyond where it finishes today, what we find is that the people of his own home town reject him.

They couldn’t see past the boy who had grown up amongst them, and couldn’t accept the message he was bringing. His call to hope fell on deaf ears, and they were so enraged at what he had to say that they tried to kill him. Now I don’t know about you, but if that happened to me, I might disappear off into a cave and feel sorry for myself, but if we ask, ‘And after that, what happened next?’ we find Jesus going into Capernaum and carrying on his ministry, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus came to bring a message of hope to a people who needed to know that God still cared for them, and even when some rejected him, he just moved right on to the next group of people, and offered them the same message. And now it comes back to us, because St. Paul makes it quite clear in the reading that we had from 1 Corinthians 12 that together, collectively, we are the Body of Christ.

That means that the responsibilities for passing on the message of hope that Jesus had is now our responsibility. How we go about that depends on us as a church, not just as individuals. St Paul describes the ways in which we are all given gifts which are meant to be used collectively to continue the message of Christ.

Together we are called to live out and to bring a message of hope, that we truly are treasured by God. We may well be misunderstood by some people, and so we should not regard this as a popularity contest. Our calling is to preach and do what people need, not necessarily what they want.

I know that, from my perspective, one of my biggest difficulties is trying to judge the difference between what is wanted and what is needed. It’s a delicate balance, but one thing is clear; if everyone is happy and I am universally popular, then I am not doing my job because I’m not saying what sometimes needs to be said.

Likewise our lifestyles and what we say will sometimes clash with those of people around us. I’m not saying we should go out of our way to become unpopular religious fanatics. Those are no good to anyone because of their own inflated sense of arrogant self-righteousness and perhaps a persecution complex. There is a balance to be struck. But there will be occasions when we have to go the other way to what people would like us to do.

And if we have earned their respect, then when we do so we will bring them hope, just as Jesus did, and that’s how it should be because we are the body of Christ.. That’s part of what we celebrate when we take communion. It’s acknowledging that we are a part of the body of Christ on earth with all the responsibilities that come with that.

So the question I asked at the beginning, and several times throughout, was this one. What happens next? And so it’s a question I want to ask you. If we are to make a difference to those around us; if we are to bring hope, what are some of the practical things that we can do as individuals and as a church. Now it’s your turn to think. What can we do to bring hope, to make a difference?

Saturday, 16 January 2010

2nd Sunday of Epiphany - Seeing Clearly

Readings: 1 Cor.12:1-11, Jn.2:1-11

Although traditionally on this, the second Sunday of Epiphany, we should be concentrating on Jesus revealing his glory to the world, as in the story in the Gospel, I would rather major on something else that comes out of the epistle reading. That’s because last week I talked in some depth about the need for us to follow the new Testament practice of asking to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Just to remind you briefly, and for the benefit of those who couldn’t struggle through the snow last week, being filled with the Holy Spirit is, according to St. Paul, an on-going need. We should continually be asking to be filled with the Holy Spirit because it is that in-filling which equips us to be better Christians and allows us to understand better what God is calling us to.

Today’s epistle comes from a lengthy part of this letter which concentrates specifically on the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Corinthian church had clearly been subject to internal divisions over precisely this matter and St. Paul was writing to them to straighten out some of the difficulties that had arisen.

Now when I was reading through the chapter I found that one line leapt out at me, from verse 3, ‘No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit. Given that we had been thinking about the ministry of the Holy Spirit last week, it seems to me that what we find here is a justification for our need to be filled, to be baptised with the Holy Spirit, so let’s think a little about what this phrase, ‘No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit’ actually means.

It’s not quite such an issue now so many of us have double glazing, but in this cold weather that we’ve been having, have you noticed how hard it can be to look through a glass window into the outside world if you get rather close up to it? The first thing that happens is that our breath fogs it up and we can’t see clearly. We, ourselves, get in the way of looking through glass and seeing what’s really going on outside in the cold world.

And a similar thing happens with mirrors. You may recall that Ali and I went off in our caravan for the October half term. Whilst we were away we had quite a cold snap, and I found out just how difficult it can be to have a shave using a mirror in the campsite facilities on a cold day. I kept steaming it up with my breath, and then missing where I was supposed to be shaving.

When the weather is cold, and the glass is cold, it’s difficult for us either to see out, or to see our own reflections. What we need is for someone to warm the mirror or the glass up for us so that it stays clear when we get close. If we think in spiritual terms, that cleaning and warming of the glass or mirror is an effective metaphor for the work of the Holy Spirit.

I don’t know about you, but I find some of the comments by those being called ‘The New Atheists’, such as Richard Dawkins and Eddie Izzard, as being hard to fathom. How can they be so blind to the reality of something which seems so obvious to us? Well here is the answer. We can only say that Jesus is Lord because the Holy Spirit has cleared our vision. If that doesn’t happen, we remain blind to spiritual truth.

I think it’s also true to say that the more we give ourselves over to be filled with the Holy Spirit, the more completely we can see the truth about the Lordship of Christ. The one follows on from the other. Those for whom their spiritual vision is fogged will not see clearly, but, as anyone who has tried to clear a cold piece of glass will tell you, windows keep fogging up.

That’s why, as I mentioned last week, elsewhere in Ephesians 5:18 St. Paul says, ‘Be filled with the Holy Spirit’, or more particularly, ‘Be being filled’, go on being filled with the Holy Spirit. Fill us Holy Spirit, and help us to see Jesus clearly. The more we are filled, the better we will understand what it means to say, ‘Jesus is Lord’.

There is, however, another side to this. Everything I have said so far is with respect to looking out through fogged glass that has been warmed and cleaned, but you’ll remember I also talked about trying to use a cold mirror, and how the same thing happened. We fog the mirror with our breath and can’t see ourselves clearly.

I mentioned last week how some people can feel very happy, perhaps ecstatic, when filled with the Holy Spirit, but the converse is also true. As well as helping us to see Christ more clearly the Holy Spirit also reveals our own nature to us as well, and that can be very uncomfortable. Some of those things that we think we do for the purest of motives can seem decidedly grimy when the Holy Spirit clears our vision for us.

And so, far from the baptism of the Holy Spirit leaving us with perpetual silly grins on our faces, in fact it can be quite discomforting. Maybe that’s what John the Baptist meant when he said Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire. We may well be able to see that Jesus is Lord far more clearly, but we will also see ourselves more realistically.

But then this is necessary because the work that Christ wishes to do within us is both transformational and generous, provided we are willing. If we briefly look at the way in which Christ begins to reveal who he is in the first of the signs in St. John’s Gospel what we see is the chief steward at the wedding feast doing as he is told, and Christ transforming six stone water jars filled with water for washing into very high quality wine.

Now leaving aside all the signs and symbolism that fill this story, the most obvious thing is the amount of wine. Those stone water jars were very large, and there were six of them. The amount was equivalent to750 litres of wine, or 1,000 bottles of wine, or if you like, three large wheelie bins filled with the highest quality wine.

The water was utterly and totally transformed, and the transformation was both generous and undeserved. And this is why I find myself returning to this need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. She reveals Jesus to us so that we can say Jesus is Lord.

She reveals us to ourselves so that we can see how much we need the Lord to transform us, and then Jesus shows just how willing he is to begin that work of transformation so that instead of merely being water fit only for washing in, we become something of far greater and long lasting value. And it all begins when we start to recognise how much we need the Holy Spirit to fill us. Amen

Sunday, 10 January 2010

The Baptism of Christ - the point of waiting is...

The Baptism of Christ Acts 8:14-17, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Last year Jenson Button came from seemingly out of nowhere to win the formula one world championship, and good for him. But have you noticed how quickly books came out about him, charting his career? The same was even more true of his predecessor, Lewis Hamilton. Lewis was an even greater sensation because of the way he exploded on to the scene, becoming the youngest world champion ever.

And once again people were trawling through his history, writing books and posting videos of him as a young boy. We all love to know what it is that went on in the background of people’s lives that prepared them for super-stardom. Maybe we’re wondering, ‘What did they have to go through to prepare them to be this good?’
Who knows what the psychology behind our inquisitiveness actually is? Maybe we’re just naturally curious about the earlier lives of those now famous. The trouble is, when we get to the early life of Jesus we hardly know anything. We know he was born in Bethlehem, and we know that soon after his birth he was visited by people from both ends of society:

On the one hand there were the shepherds, and on the other there was a group of Zoroastrian astrologers. We know that his parents had to take him to Egypt because of Herod’s determination to kill him. Then there’s silence for twelve years while he’s growing up in Nazareth.

Then there’s just one more incident when his extended family took him to Jerusalem and unwittingly left him there, only to find him in the Temple a couple of days later, intelligently engaging with the priests and scribes, and apparently completely unaware that his actions would cause such pain and worry to his parents. And that’s it!

After that there are eighteen years of silence and all we are told is that he increased in wisdom and in human and divine favour. That’s it. There are no juicy details out there with which to concoct stories about him. There just seem to be eighteen years of silence before he burst on to the scene at his baptism to begin three years of ministry that changed the world.

Why didn’t Luke or any of the others tell us more? Did nothing actually happen during those eighteen years? Well I think Luke has probably told us all we need to know. During those eighteen years Jesus increased in wisdom and divine favour. Those eighteen years were eighteen years of waiting and developing; a time for him that was becoming increasingly pregnant with possibilities waiting to be birthed at the proper time, as he used the waiting time to grow.

And waiting is what we need to think about when we concern ourselves with the baptism of Jesus, and with the baptisms in Samaria discussed in the new testament reading. When I read through these passages a sense of waiting was what came over to me; waiting for the right time, and more importantly, using the waiting time profitably. So with waiting as our context let’s look at the two baptisms in our two readings.

We’ll start with the new testament reading and this curious wait that seems to take place in Samaria. All along in the book of Acts we get this sense of people receiving the Holy Spirit with great power when they were baptised. Yet when we get to Samaria, it didn’t happen. You could perhaps imagine a sense of puzzlement. What was different here? Why hadn’t things happened as before?

And so the Samaritans have to wait, and they wait until Peter and John arrive, and it is only when Peter and John lay their hands on them that they receive the Holy Spirit. Why was there a delay in their case? The key is to note where this baptism took place. It was in Samaria. Remember that the Samaritans were hated by Jews. These were outcasts; non-Jews; outsiders.

And so it was necessary that Peter and John, two Jewish Spirit-filled Christians, should go there in person, because their arrival and the receiving of the Holy Spirit at their hands was a clear sign from God that there was to be one church which crossed nationalities and races; that we should all be one family in Christ, united by a common baptism in water and the Holy Spirit.

Peter and John going there showed that the same Holy Spirit that was given to the Jews was for everyone, and this episode was the very first step out from Judea as the Gospel began to be spread throughout the world. The waiting period was necessary to underline that what came from the Jews was for everyone. Godly waiting always has a reason, even if we can’t see it at the time.

The same thing is true of the baptism of Jesus, although the waiting is much shorter. It’s very interesting to note how Luke isn’t interested in the actual baptism itself. He tells us that all of the people were baptised. Then Jesus was baptised, and then while he was praying, that was when heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit came down upon him.

The Holy Spirit, according to Luke, did not descend automatically because Jesus was baptised. Instead She came as a consequence of Jesus praying. It was praying that opened heaven.

So all the way through these stories, and all the way through this season, you have a sense of waiting in expectation. The people had been filled with expectation. They were waiting to see if John was the Messiah they’d been waiting for. Jesus had lived for thirty years, quietly growing in the waiting time until, when he prayed, heaven was opened and he received the Holy Spirit and began his ministry.

And then the Samaritan Christians had to wait after their baptism until Peter and John came and prayed with them, and the Holy Spirit came upon them. All the way through there is this common motif of waiting on God, and when the time is right, God sending the Holy Spirit. And so the questions now come down to focus on us.

When I talk to people I often get this sense of people wanting something to happen in their lives. A number of you have told me about this wanting to do something, yet not knowing what it is that needs to be done. You are, in a sense, in a waiting period, wondering how long this is to go on for. The question I think I want to pose all of us is, are we praying for the Holy Spirit while we wait, to come and lead us in what we are called to do?

I expect that most, if not all of us have been baptised. Have we also prayed for the Holy Spirit to come and fill us? Now this is one of those loaded questions because sadly whenever we talk about the baptism in the Holy Spirit our thoughts are immediately drawn to American revivalism or emotional pentecostalism, and we get scared that baptism with Holy Spirit, being filled with the Holy Spirit, or whatever label we want to attach, looks like that. Well it doesn’t have to.

What we see in those places are emotional responses to filling with the Holy Spirit, by emotional people. If someone happens to be the kind of person given to emotional responses, then it is quite possible that they will respond emotionally. But if someone is quietly spoken and introverted, it is not at all necessary that we should think receiving the Holy Spirit will lead them into an over-emotional state.

What’s more, the aim of receiving the Holy Spirit is not so that we should feel really good inside. The Holy Spirit comes to equip us for the work we are called to do. When Jesus was baptised with the Spirit, there’s no talk of him speaking in tongues or laughing uncontrollably, or lifting his hands in the air and dancing around in the water.

No, the giving of the Holy Spirit was to equip him for his ministry. And far from making him into some ‘happy-clappy’ Jew, the first thing the Holy Spirit did was drive him out into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Remember, John the Baptist talks about being baptised with the Holy Spirit and with fire. It is less about the experience and more about the consequences.

And that’s why I believe that we, too, should be praying for and waiting on the Holy Spirit to come and fill us and equip us for whatever God is calling us to do. If we have been baptised, then we have been baptised into God’s service. Just as Jesus’s baptism was a sign of his submission to the will of God, so our baptisms are also meant to be a sign of that same submission.

Baptism with water and baptism with the Holy Spirit seem to walk hand in hand in the New Testament. They don’t always happen at the same time, and it is completely impossible to build a logical framework of what we should expect. But the lesson of these readings is that we should be prepared to wait on God, and to ask for his Holy Spirit, so that when God chooses to, we can be equipped and led in what God asks of us.

I recognise that this is a difficult subject, which is perhaps why we don’t talk about it very much. But you know that I am not some excitable over emotional character, yet I strongly believe that for a Christian to grow and develop they, we, should ask for God to send the Holy Spirit to fill us and lead us. Amen.