Sunday, January 7, 2018 – Spirit Renewed (Sharlene McGowan)
I recently saw two movies which I thought were quite intelligent: The first was the story of the evacuation of Dunkirk during World War II. The second was about Churchill at the time he became Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1940, Darkest Hour. In my opinion, the two films complemented each other tremendously and, although the subject of both films was solemn, each portrayed events which could be seen as new beginnings for the characters involved and, indeed, the circumstances of that time.
The Nazis had cornered the Allied soldiers on the beaches of Dunkirk on the coast of France and the sea was filled with oil, and therefore fire, from bombed warships. Nazi planes were bombing the coast from above. From May 26 through June 4, over 800 British civilian boats heroically crossed the English Channel rescuing 338,000 Allied troops. On June 4, Winston Churchill gave one of his most profound speeches starting with “We shall fight on the beaches” and ending with “We shall never surrender” which marked a new beginning in the United Kingdom’s resolve to fight until the end.
As we gather here to worship together on the first Sunday in 2018, we are thinking about new beginnings. Our scripture texts are about new beginnings also and they invite us to ponder the new beginnings in our own lives.
John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, at the Jordan River, proclaiming that a new beginning was upon them. “The Lord is coming!” John thunders. “There comes one after me who is mightier than I … I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John knew something that no one else—except Jesus—knew. John knew the real identity of Jesus. John knew that Jesus is the one whose coming he has been announcing.
But then something surprising happens. Jesus approaches John the Baptist and asks John to baptize him. Trembling, John honours the unexpected request. At his baptism, Jesus sees the Holy Spirit, dove-like, descending upon him from heaven and he hears a heavenly voice, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The baptism of Jesus by John is a new beginning for Jesus because it marks the start of his earthly ministry. It also marks the moment when God’s voice was heard from heaven declaring Jesus as his son.
The baptism of Jesus is a new beginning and each baptism in the name of Jesus since that time marks a new beginning for the one being baptized.
The scripture from Acts 19 occurs after the baptism of Jesus. Paul goes to Ephesus where he meets fellow Christians who, like Apollos, seemed to have a limited understanding of baptism. They told Paul they had not heard of the Holy Spirit but they were baptized according to John which meant that they were baptized as a sign of repentance. Paul then baptizes them into “the name of the Lord Jesus” and, laying hands upon them, invited the Holy Spirit to come upon them. The scripture account ends by saying they began to speak in tongues and prophesy. So, in our scriptures today, we have two different baptisms: John’s baptism is for repentance and those who are baptized in Jesus’ name receives Holy Spirit.
Notice at the start of our scripture from Acts, it is noted that Paul came across disciples, those who had already committed their lives to Christ, who had been baptized unto repentance. Paul then re-baptizes them in order for them to receive the Holy Spirit and therefore bring them into the fullness of life in Christ.
While not all those who become baptized Christians will have the gifts of tongues or the ability to prophecy, they will have the blessing of the Holy Spirit and the gift of grace which results.
We have witnessed a few recent baptisms in our congregation: Each time we delight in seeing the excitement of parents and others as they gather around the one being baptized. Baptism is a new beginning often for a new life but also for all of us who have the privilege of witnessing it. And with each new baptism we are given an opportunity to ponder our own: We sense our own renewal by the Holy Spirit each time as we celebrate the one who has entered Christ’s presence through baptism.
Almighty God offers us as many new beginnings as we need. He is the author of new beginnings. After all, the first words of Genesis are: “In the beginning…” Those words are echoed in scripture countless times and are visible all around us through God’s creative works. Indeed, each sunrise offers us a new beginning.
In the film Dunkirk, a teenage soldier returns to England after being evacuated from the beach across the English Channel. As he lines up to receive a first meal, the old gentleman serving soup congratulates the young man on returning safely. “All I did was survive,” the youth says. “That’s good enough,” the gentleman says and the young soldier goes on his way towards a life of new beginnings.
So, at the start of a new year, we ponder our own new beginnings with a renewed spirit to live our lives in the fullness of Christ which began with our own baptisms. We look forward to the coming year, to our continued worshiping together, and we open our hearts to the wonders the Holy Spirit will reveal to us. Amen.