First Congregational Church
January 10, 2016
First Sunday after Epiphany
Luke 3:15-17 & Acts 8:14-17
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
What can you hold without touching it? Your breath. Why does your sense of touch suffer when you are ill? Because you don’t feel well. Why do pickles laugh when you tickle them? Because they’re pickle-ish. Someone once said of an acquaintance: She had the Midas touch. Everything she touched turned into a muffler.
Our scripture passages this morning don’t actually mention the word “touch.” But the idea of touch is laced through the incidents as air is tied to breath and visa versa.
15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Ole was coming out of church one day, and Pastor Ingqvist was standing at the door as he always did to shake hands. He grabbed Ole by the hand and pulled him aside. Pastor Ingqvist said to him, "You need to join the Army of the Lord!” - as they used to say. Ole replied, "I'm already in the Army of the Lord, Pastor.” Ingqvist questioned, "How come I don't see you except at Christmas and Easter?” Ole whispered back, "I'm in the secret service.
Although the passage from Luke would normally be the primary text for this day, the one from Acts ties in so perfectly when speaking about baptism, and what it means on this first Sunday after Epiphany, officially beginning this season of light.
For instance, both the books of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles - as is it’s proper title - were written by the same person; Theophilus, as it is said. One can surmise that items of importance to the writer would be raised in both books. In Luke, the word baptized is used five times. In Acts, it is used seventeen times.
In Luke, Theophilus tells us about John the Baptist’s “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). Under his preaching, “even tax collectors” came to be baptized! And, of course, John baptized Jesus. Those that John had baptized earlier in Luke came to acknowledge “that God’s way was right,” (Luke 7:29) while the “Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves.” (Luke 7:30).
In Acts, Theophilus references John the Baptist’s legacy of baptism, and Peter’s call to the gathered crowd on the day of Pentecost to be baptized, of which 3,000 people took up the offer. And then he tells of Philip baptizing the eunuch on the way between Jerusalem to Gaza. (Acts 8:38) The great Saul-then-Paul’s baptism is described in this book (Acts 9:18). While Peter was at Cornelius’ house, he made the argument that even Gentiles were worthy to be baptized (Acts 10:47). Then some of the baptized believers in Jerusalem got all bent out of shape because Peter was baptizing those not like themselves. (Acts 11:2-3)
Later on, when Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God - as happens so often - the jailer was lulled to sleep, waking when the doors of the prison flew open following a violent earthquake. Being - understandably - deeply moved, the jailer wanted in on whatever it was that was going on. After talking about what it meant to follow Christ, the jailor ended up asking for baptisms - for himself and his entire household. (Acts 16:25-33).
Near the end of Acts, we are told about Silas, Timothy and Paul’s break-up, and Paul going on to baptize the household of the synagogue leader, Crispus (Acts 18:8), the re-baptisms of disciples at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-5), and finally Paul’s recollection of his baptism to those in Jerusalem (Acts 22:6-16).
In hearing that little baptismal history lesson - or is it historic baptism lesson - may slide all of us nearer to the edge of “sermon-fog,” so -
After the christening of his baby brother in church, little Ole sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car. Ole’s father asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, Ole replied, “Dat pastor said he vanted us brought up in a Christian home, and I vant to stay wit yous guys!”
I was so glad for the Vigland family that so many of this church family were able to attend Alan’s Celebration of Life - or light - yesterday morning. If there are any who don’t recognize the name of Alan Vigland, he was a well-known potter - not only in our little county, but all over the nation. I would daresay that some of his work has made it to places outside our national boundaries, too.
The Rev. Dr. Ned Edwards - Alan’s brother-in-law, did a beautiful job of describing how that which Alan touched - and conceived and formed - has left a legacy that has touched more people than any of us could imagine.
For those who haven’t had a chance to see part of the living legacy of a “hand”ful of folks around here last week, do check out the Red Room downstairs before you leave - or what’s left of the red, anyway. It will not be seen like this for a long, long time. Should you ever need to “check out” of a sermon sometime, the exercise of imagining the hands that touched those red and white panels over 50 years ago, that protected the work of the hands from nearly 110 years ago is quite staggering.
All those baptisms from Luke and Acts, and all the baptisms since then, are probably most noted for the stream of water connecting them all. But I can’t be the only one who has thought a little about the other underlying element of unity throughout all these centuries - that of touch. Baptisms, even if done in large groups, are still a one-on-one process, a literal hands-on legacy from one person to the next, one life to the next. Machines don’t baptize and when it comes to baptism, I don’t know if anyone would really want to be baptized by any other entity than a human - regardless of the method of baptism.
I don’t often feel lead to preach about baptism, because on any given Sunday, we will have an unique mixture of baptized and unbaptized people sitting with us, and I think our spirituality is more about celebrating inclusion than pointing out exclusions. Some of us have been baptized more than once, and for different reasons, and that’s utterly cool. Others of us have never been and never felt the call to be baptized, and that just as cool. Some have been baptized to God and some have been baptized with the Holy Spirit and still others have been baptized into life. And this morning’s message has no underlying or over-all coercion for anyone to baptized - or not. It does have, however, a huge point in the personal touch that has been passed along from Christ - and before - handed down - one by one- person to person.
A little girl, dressed in her Sunday best, was running as fast as she could, trying not to be late for Sunday School. As she ran she prayed, "Dear Lord, please don't let me be late! Dear Lord, please don't let me be late!” While she was running and praying, she tripped on a curb and fell, getting her clothes dirty and tearing her dress. She got up, brushed herself off, and started running again. As she ran, she once again began to pray, "Dear Lord, please don't let me be late...But please don't shove me either!”
Whether it is literally or metaphorically, what has been handed down to us is not even so much the touch as the heart belonging to the hands. Whether it was the heart of parents wanting children to grow up learning about the ways of God and Christ and the Holy Spirit, or an individual’s own heart’s desire, we are the recipients of a desire and leading of the heart in ways we perhaps don’t even think much about.
The trickle of baptism carries the passing along of morals and lessons and ways of life. Had we not had the particular individuals in our lives and histories, including the forefathers and mothers of this place - even including Christ himself - some of us would not have come to embrace the profoundly simple things like kindness and blessing, honor and sincerity, integrity and that good old sense of right and wrong. Because of those willing to get soaked or sprinkled or crossed before us, we are better able to hold on in the rough patches and soar higher in the good patches.
Even though I said this message was not in anyway about coercing anyone into being baptized, I should also make the invitation clear, that if anyone would so like to be baptized, or baptized again, then do ask me. I’m rusty on reading smoke signals since the advent of emails. I have a feeling that too many people think it’s not a big deal - especially within our Congregational practice. But it is a big deal when it’s a big deal, and none of us should brush off something bigger that God may have for us but for the asking.
Lena’s mother came inside after gardening and found a big hole in the middle of the pie she had made earlier that morning. She found a gooey spoon lying in the sink and crumbs all over the floor. She went to find her daughter. “Lena,” she said, “you promised me dat you vouldn’t touch the pie I made. And I promised you dat if you did touch the pie, I vould spank you.” A look of relief came over Lena. “Now dat I’ve broken my promise,” she said, “I tink it vould be all right for you to break yours, too.”
To remind us that God’s word is not easily broken and is deeply personal, I’m going to ask you all to do something out of some comfort zones this morning. Since we’re here, we might as well take advantage of the heat and lights. So I’d like to ask all of you - if you’re not already - when I say go - to move next to someone else, so that you can touch elbows. Since there are some trying to avoid spreading and others wanting to avoid getting whatever is flying around these days, rather than holding or touching hands, I’d like for you to touch elbows this morning. Even if you have to move, I’ll ask you to indulge for just a few minutes. Go.
Mindful of the links of those who have gone before us, those who are here in spirit but someplace else in body, and even those we don’t know, let us pray. God of ever-lasting to ever-lasting, we thank you for drawing us to follow you. Thank you for sending your Son, who taught us what it means to humbly follow you. Thank you for the hands - the millions and millions and millions of hands from before John the Baptist to our day - that have molded us and fashioned us, sometimes like that of a potter, into the persons we are today. Thank you, too, that each one of us becomes a drop in your stream of life that flows into the future. Help us be aware of those times when we can be a safety line to those in need and a raft of respite for those who are weary. For the gifts with which you bless us, most certainly the personal touch passed onto and through each of us, and your Son, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.