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The Spirit Descending

The Baptism of Our Lord b

Mk.1.4-11

 

The Rev. Thomas L. Weitzel

All Saints Lutheran Church, Port Orange, FL

12 January 2003


 ďAnd just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.Ē
 

What a powerful image. Jesus, coming to God at the River Jordan. To be baptized. Clearly sensing his call to ministry or he wouldnít have even been there. Jesus, obviously having a relationship with the Father already. Close enough to hear call, and feel call, and act on call. Jesus, answering call by coming to the Father at the River Jordan.
 

And then the Father, coming to Jesus. God coming down. God, sending his Spirit down upon Jesus. God SPEAKING to Jesus. Speaking words of affirmation. Speaking words of encouragement. Speaking words of love. "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
 

What a powerful image. Yet it looks quite extraordinary, doesnít it? Miraculous even. Looks just like one of those fantastic bible stories. Heaven ripping open, and doves coming down, and voices speaking from the clouds Ė it seems so out of the ordinary as to challenge our reality, I suppose. We think, ďWell maybe itís something that might happen to Jesus, but surely not something that happens to me.Ē Right?
 

No, not right. Iím here today to say that to you. And I say that because of what I saw here Ė right here in this church Ė yesterday. Iím here to say that I saw just that sort of thing happen right here in church yesterday. And so did a lot of other people from this church. Let me tell you about it. It too is extraordinary.
 

We had all gathered in the nave here for a day of discerning Godís will. I know you heard about it, even if you didnít come. There were perhaps 40 of us or so. We had come here, because you have some pressing issues before you that are on the table for your congregational meeting later today. We had come here, not to debate them, not to just discuss them Ė you had already done a lot of that through your forums and other meetings. No, we had come here to where God is to see if we could discern Godís will about the matter. We had come here to meet God, just like Jesus did at the River Jordan. Out of our faith and love of God, like Jesus, we had come to God to ask him, ďWhat is YOUR will?Ē We came here to LISTEN. Not to talk, but to listen. To ask God to come and to LISTEN to him.
 

And God came. He did. God came down to us. Right here, in this church. We all saw it. God came down and spoke to us Ė just like for Jesus at the River Jordan. And we all heard it. And it was awesome. It was just about as awesome and as dramatic as the gospel narrative of heaven ripping up and the dove descending on Jesus and the voice coming out of the clouds. It was one of the most exciting occasions of my ministry. Others expressed it similarly.
 

We met God several times, actually. We started by inviting him in with worship. One person pretty quickly heard him speak to her during the reading of the parable of the sower in opening worship. But the vast majority encountered him in the afternoon during a 20 minute guided meditation and in the conversation about it afterwards.
 

In that guided meditation, everyone was asked to shut their eyes and go to a place where they knew Jesus to be and spend time with him. And since we were trying to discern where God was leading us and this congregation on the issues before us at the congregational meeting, we asked Jesus to take us on a journey and show us where he is leading.
 

What happened next was incredible. Each person had a different experience, but all the experiences were rich with images.
 

One person met Jesus in a field. Another in a pavilion. Another in a large glass room where openness and healing could be felt. Surprisingly, two people met Jesus on a mountain. They were a married couple. When each found out the other met Jesus in the same place, it reduced them to tears.
 

And what did people feel while they were with Jesus? One person said she felt love so powerful, so pervasive, so full and fulfilling, that she had never experienced anything like it ever in her life. Another said he met Jesus right there at this altar, and he told Jesus he hoped that the ministry he served would be helpful to others, and Jesus told him straight out, ďIt will.Ē It was the first time Jesus had ever said anything to him, ever, he told us.
 

What was awesome was discovering that although different people had different experiences of God, there were links between the experiences, common themes. The first six reports all visualized Jesus outdoors. Two people saw Jesus in faces, faces of others. Openness kept coming up. Water and a lake kept coming up. So did healing.
 

We didnít always understand the message behind the common themes, but we saw the links, heard the stories, and knew it was God. God was here. God was in our midst.
 

And our discussion about where God is leading in relation to our congregational meeting? We learned one thing that is most important that I have to share: God IS in control. God IS leading. God IS interacting with us here. And itís going to be alright. God showed us that in those experiences of loving us, affirming us, being with us, giving us peace. Itís going to be alright.
 

We learned something else too. Itís time to get close to God. We talked about needing to shed some things in order to know Godís will. We need to shed some things even to follow it. Itís time to get close to God and get rid of everything thatís in the way, or weíre not going anywhere. We learned that too.
 

It was quite a day. A day that I think many will remember as being about as significant as the day Jesus went to the Jordan. I bet he remember his day for a long time too.
 

Itís a day that is available to you, folks. You are people of God. You too have a relationship with God, as Jesus did that day he went to the Jordan. You too have a call. And it can happen to you as it did to him. As it did to those of us who came here yesterday seeking Godís will.
 

If you come to God, he will come to you. God WILL come to you. But you have to LISTEN. You have to be quiet, and LISTEN. You have to stop talking, and LISTEN. God WILL come to you. In ways that may be just as extraordinary as our gospel story Ė just as extraordinary as our discernment day story.
 

Itís the Baptism of Our Lord. Itís a Spirit day. God is here today. Right now. Itís a Spirit day and God has come down. You can come to him here Ė at the altar. You can come to him in your prayer. Just LISTEN. He will come to you.
 

And when he does, when he comes, he will speak. If you LISTEN, you will hear him. If you are quiet enough and stop talking yourself, you will hear him. And you will know his love. You will hear him call you sons and daughters, and you will know his love. You will know that he IS in control. And you will know that everything is going to be alright.
 

That is the Good News for today. Everything is going to be alright.