I don’t remember my own baptism. Much like many of you, I was still a baby. I think it was September 1978. I was baptized at Saint Gregory’s Roman Catholic Church in Maryville, Missouri. My Godfather is my uncle, Vince. My Godmother is my aunt, Krisanne. I think we have pictures of the occasion somewhere (probably my baby book). But, I don’t know much more than what I’ve told you. I don’t even know if there was cake involved (and we all know how I feel about cake). And honestly, until seminary there weren’t many occasions that I needed, wanted, or actually remembered my baptism. There were a few well meaning friends in high school or college who were concerned for my soul (maybe rightfully so) that wanted me to get baptized. But, once I told them I was already baptized, they moved on to pestering someone else.
I’m not saying that I took for granted the fact that I am baptized, but it wasn’t a routine to think of it daily. It’s not as if when you get pulled over the officer says “licence, registration, and proof of baptism, please.” And as I said, it really wasn’t until seminary that I really started to pay attention to the Holy Spirit and everything she was up to. Now, I don’t want to necessarily make any bold, large sweeping generalizations, but here I go anyway. I think we, as Lutherans, don’t always like to talk about the Holy Spirit or even acknowledge the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
I think this comes from a few places. First, I don’t know that we have always been taught about the Holy Spirit and its place in the trinity. Sometimes when we talk about the Holy Spirit, language is used (I call it “church talk”) can be confusing and has the tendency to make people feel even more like outsiders. Second, I think that when people do think about the Holy Spirit, there is a fear that just talking about the Holy Spirit will turn someone into an evangelist. I think we’ve all either seen a church service or know someone who attends a church service that we could describe as “being filled with the Holy Spirit.” Even over break my brother in law was talking about attending a church where they “raised their hands when the band started to play” and how uncomfortable he was. He’s a lifelong Lutheran, so I get it.
We sometimes think about the Holy Spirit as the hand waving, speaking in tongues, faith curing force that can cause us Lutherans to get uncomfortable in a heartbeat! So we do what we do best, we just avoid talking about it altogether. But, as God does, God doesn’t necessarily care whether we understand the Holy Spirit or not, God will make it stir in whatever way God wants. And whether we acknowledge it or not, the Holy Spirit is stirring in our lives. It starts at baptism and doesn’t let go. We hear in our reading today that after his baptism, Jesus was praying, and that the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him. In other Gospels, the heavens are torn open. This doesn’t happen just with Jesus, it has happened and will happen with all of us. The opening up of the heavens and descending upon us is God’s way of infiltrating our lives. There will no longer be a distance between God and us.
When the heavens open, God enters our lives. When we witness a baptism, we see what may appear to be everyday normal things: water, a cute baby (or nervous adult), a font, cameras snapping pictures, and maybe a family member wiping away a few tears. But, God takes those ordinary, everyday things and makes them Holy. It doesn’t matter if the baptism is a full on dunking in a local river or a few precious drops at a hospital bedside, when God encounters us through water and the Holy Spirit, everyday things become holy things.
Those water droplets become a promise of God’s undying love and affection for us. They become a promise of God’s constant presence in our lives. And that water, what we may see as something so common, so every day, even so disposable, becomes a promise of eternal life. It’s amazing what God can do with two hydrogen and one oxygen molecules! We hear sponsors make promises to accompany the one being baptized. God takes those promises and uses sponsors to point out the presence of the Holy in our lives. And we, the people of God, are so fortunate to be able to witness this because it is one of the times within our worship that we can actually see something tangible (like water) come in contact we can’t see (the Holy Spirit) and we are able to experience God in all of God’s amazing fullness.
We shouldn’t avoid the Holy Spirit, brothers and sisters. In fact, it’s pretty impossible to do that. God has a way of sneaking into our lives whether we like it or not. Pardon the terminology, but God is like a Holy Spirit Ninja. When you least expect it, when you’re not looking for it, when you are completely and totally unprepared to experience it, that is when God sneaks up on us with the Holy Spirit. We serve a God who promises us that he will show up. Start expecting God to show up in your lives; that’s the Holy Spirit. Acknowledging the Holy Spirit doesn’t always look like hands raised, speaking in tongues, or dancing. Acknowledging the Holy Spirit may look like hands outstretched, accepting a humble piece of bread, and remembering that you are forgiven. Acknowledging the Holy Spirit may look like watching a child splash around joyfully in the water and remembering that we should all encounter water with such joy! Acknowledging the Holy Spirit looks like people surrounding a grave trusting that death is not the final answer for any of us.
My brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit is indeed in this place. Watch for it, be prepared to experience it, and expect it to show up. The heavens have been opened, the Holy Spirit is here.