Jan. 9, 2022

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, you anointed Jesus at his baptism with the Holy Spirit and revealed him as your beloved Son. Keep all who are born of water and the Spirit faithful in your service, that we may rejoice to be called children of God, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.Amen.

Isaiah 43:1-7

1But now thus says the Lord,
  he who created you, O Jacob,
  he who formed you, O Israel:
 Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
  I have called you by name, you are mine.
2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
  and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
 when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
  and the flame shall not consume you.
3For I am the Lord your God,
  the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
 I give Egypt as your ransom,
  Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
4Because you are precious in my sight,
  and honored, and I love you,
 I give people in return for you,
  nations in exchange for your life.
5Do not fear, for I am with you;
  I will bring your offspring from the east,
  and from the west I will gather you;
6I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
  and to the south, “Do not withhold;
 bring my sons from far away
  and my daughters from the end of the earth—
7everyone who is called by my name,
  whom I created for my glory,
  whom I formed and made.”

Psalm 29

1Ascribe to the | Lord, you gods,
  ascribe to the Lord glo- | ry and strength.
2Ascribe to the Lord the glory | due God’s name;
  worship the Lord in the beau- | ty of holiness.
3The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of | glory thunders;
  the Lord is upon the | mighty waters.
4The voice of the Lord is a pow- | erful voice;
  the voice of the Lord is a | voice of splendor. 
5The voice of the Lord breaks the | cedar trees;
  the Lord breaks the ce- | dars of Lebanon;
6the Lord makes Lebanon skip | like a calf,
  and Mount Hermon like a | young wild ox.
7The voice | of the Lord
  bursts forth in | lightning flashes.
8The voice of the Lord| shakes the wilderness;
  the Lord shakes the wilder- | ness of Kadesh. 
9The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe and strips the | forests bare.
  And in the temple of the Lord all are | crying, “Glory!”
10The Lord sits enthroned a- | bove the flood;
  the Lord sits enthroned as king for- | evermore.
11O Lord, give strength | to your people;
  give them, O Lord, the bless- | ings of peace. 

Acts 8:14-17

14Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16(for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

  21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The Holy Spirit and Fire with Baptismal Fong – Church in Mexicali, Mexico

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

It seems a bit out of season to ponder and speak about the Holy Spirit the second Sunday of January. Shouldn’t we wait for Pentecost in the spring when the Holy Spirit descends upon all those gathered in Jerusalem? But the Holy Spirit shows up in several of our scripture passages today. Furthermore, I have been pouring over all the annual reports submitted over the past few weeks and am keenly aware of the Spirit’s activity and presence among our congregation. 

In our gospel reading we hear that after Jesus had been baptized and was praying, “the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.” Many of us can conjure up portrayals of this scene from children’s bibles or art hung on walls of churches or museums. 

It’s hard to say exactly what happened in this moment, but there is no doubt that the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus. That’s the same Holy Spirit that came upon all of us in the sacrament of baptism. For Jesus, it is going to empower him for ministry–for teaching, healing, and performing signs and miracles.

If we were to pull together various baptism passages from the New Testament, a clear picture would start to emerge. Jesus’ baptism and the baptism of Jesus’ followers bear a striking resemblance. Baptism by water is assumed or supposed to be accompanied by baptism of the Holy Spirit.

There is more. Baptism is how God’s family is demarcated on the earth. It starts with Jesus as the son, receiving the Spirit. And it expands to everyone who receives the Spirit of adoption as God’s children. Baptism is about belonging to God and belonging to a community. Baptism is about following Jesus. Because of this, baptism is also about receiving the Holy Spirit.

What in the world are we to make, then, of our story from Acts Chapter 8, in which people do not receive the Holy Spirit when they are baptized? It’s only after the apostles came from Jerusalem, prayed, and laid on their hands, that they receive the Spirit.

The Spirit shows up in unique way in the books of Acts. The dramatic arrival of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts happens when the gospel breaks through a new geographical or sociological barrier. In other words, Acts does not show that the Spirit comes dramatically and tangibly on each individual when they come into the community. 

Instead, the Holy Spirit serves as proof that the gospel has reached a new group of people. It starts with Jerusalem at Pentecost. In this morning’s story the Spirit comes to the people of Samaria. Next, we see a dramatic arrival to the Gentiles. 

Let’s get some deeper perspective on our particular story from Acts. First, the Samaritans were among the last people that many Judean and Galilean Jews would have wanted to socialize with, let alone share good news with. 

From the Jews’ perspective the Samaritans were descendants of Hebrews from the ancient Northern Kingdom of Israel. Long ago they had married people from other nations and therefore forfeited God’s blessing. They made false claims to the identity “the people of God.” As far as the Samaritans were concerned, however, they were the true descendants of Abraham. 

However, and thanks be to God, the deep legacy of enmity appears not to be stumbling block for Philip. He simply goes to Samaria, delivers people from illness and demonic power, and tells everyone that Jesus is the Christ. As a result, the Samaritans go all in.

Philip, it should be noted, was not one of the twelve apostles. Still, no one seems concerned about he validity of his actions. And yet there is something peculiar about what happens when he is with the Samaritans. They do not receive the Holy Spirit even though they are baptized in Jesus’ name. So the apostles Peter and John make the journey northward, pray for the Samaritans, lay their hands on them, and the Holy Spirit arrives.

One scholar points out that a lot of people today are uncomfortable with this story, with the idea that certain church leaders and not others might be empowered with the ability to dictate exactly where God’s Spirit may or may not go. No where else in Acts is there a suggestion that one’s baptism needs an extra apostolic jolt in order to become complete. What explains this anomaly? 

Maybe it’s simply because this is Samaria. If anyone might seem unqualified or unworthy to join the young church of Jesus Christ, it’s probably the Samaritans. The Samaritans’ receptivity to the good news and the willingness of God to dwell within Samaritan people would have flabbergasted many Jews’ notions of who this new church was for. 

This and this alone is why it is crucial for apostles from Jerusalem to come to Samaria. They must experience in person the new thing that God is doing. God does not need Peter and John to come and grant their approval. Instead, Peter and John need to come so they, as representatives of the Jerusalem church, can know that Judeans, Galileans, and Samaritans all possess the same Holy Spirit. They are all included together in a new, diverse community centered in Jesus Christ.

God has no plans to build a special “Samaritan church” and a separate church for Jews. Peter and John are so convinced of this that when they finally journey back to Jerusalem, they do not ruth. Instead, they proclaim the good news to many villages of the Samaritans.

Willie James Jennings asks, “Could it be that God waited for Peter and John so that they could watch the intimate event? Here and now these disciples, especially Peter, will see a love that extends into the world. They will watch as God stretches forth divine desire over the Samaritans. They must see again the Spirit descend and sense afresh the divine embrace of flesh. Disciples of Jesus must be convinced not only of God’s love for the world but also God’s desire for people, especially peoples we have been taught not to desire.”

I serve a congregation full of people willing to reach out to people I would often not desire. I for one am grateful to be among people willing to ask, who are the people outside our faith community God wants us to welcome, include, and commit ourselves to? Who are the strangers in your personal lives God is calling you to personally welcome? 

We too were once the people outside the faith community, or our ancestors were. Correct me if I’m wrong after worship but although some of us may have Jewish friends and in-laws, none of us traces our DNA to the Jewish community of 1st century Palestine. 

Acts well maps Jesus’ commission in Acts. 1:8. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Most if not all of us qualify, or our ancestors qualified, as those people from the “ends of the earth.” Though Christianity has held center stage for many years in this country, at one time our people were grafted into the family of God. I find that a humbling and ultimately helpful perspective which these stories from Acts helps foster.

At the same time, I assume that each of us has felt on the outside at some point, either personally or as part of an ostracized group. My nephew and his wife Leigh came and stayed with my mom and I in Oakland around New Year’s. Leigh has had a big medical year and part of it included a genetic test to see if she had the same heart condition has her sisters. The test confirmed it and Leigh had surgery but what struck me in her telling was her complete conviction until the test results came back that was not a blood relative of her family. She felt totally loved and cared for but like she did not belong, almost as if she had been adopted and never told.

When have you felt that way? In your family of origin or the family you married into? After a separation or divorce? Maybe you felt that way in a new workplace or neighborhood? Maybe you felt that way as you or a loved one struggled with addiction? I wonder how many people have lived with depression in the last few years who felt that they were the only ones experiencing it. 

Digging into these memories can be painful and we need to take care with ourselves for what they might trigger. And yet, they are part of helping us create empathy, helping us see with clear lenses who the strangers are today who God is calling us to welcome. And collectively, we can continue to ask who are the people outside our faith community God wants us to welcome, include, and commit ourselves to?

It does not mean that they will join our congregation. It does not necessarily mean that we will remain static–often relationships with the strangers transform everyone involved. It simply means sharing the love and sense of beloved community which was one day extended to us.

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

The Spirit of the Lord is poured out upon us in abundance; so we are bold to pray for the church, the world, and all that God has made.

A brief silence.By the Holy Spirit, you gather your church and send it out in mission to share the good news of Jesus. Inspire your faithful people to be fervent in prayer and service, that all people know they are precious in God’s sight. God of grace,hear our prayer.

You reveal your love and power through water and the Spirit. Guard rivers, seas, and all bodies of water from destruction and pollution. Secure access to clean water for all, and protect the land from drought and flood. God of grace,hear our prayer.

Establish among the nations the blessings of peace. Raise up leaders who will protect vulnerable people in their care. Strengthen advocates who risk reputation or retaliation for the sake of mercy and justice. God of grace,hear our prayer.

You protect us through the fires and troubled waters of this life. Assure us that we will not be cut off from you by illness or despair, anxiety or pain, confusion or weakness. Comfort all who are in need (especially). God of grace,hear our prayer.

We are joined in baptism to Christ and to one another. Bless those who are newly baptized and those who are preparing for baptism. Help us to be faithful in fellowship, worship, evangelism, service, and justice-seeking. God of grace,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.You created each of your saints for your glory. We give thanks for those you have called by name into your eternal embrace (especially). Comfort us in grief and release us from fear. God of grace,hear our prayer.

Since we have such great hope in your promises, O God, we lift these and all of our prayers to you in confidence and faith; through Jesus Christ our Savior.Amen.

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