(Preached at Alger First UMC on 1/11/2015)
Scriptures: Genesis 1:1-5, Mark 1:4-11, Acts 19:1-7
In the Beginning. Day 1. We’re at the starting line of time itself. Nothing exists. The universe is unformed and blank, darkness over the surface of the deep. Imagine with me for a minute. Close your eyes and imagine yourself there before the beginning of everything. No wrong has ever been done. No one has ever been hurt. This is before regrets, before resentment, before guilt. All is innocent, all is newer than new. Everything is a completely blank slate. Because this is Day 1, the start of everything. Nothing has come before and everything lies ahead. Doesn’t that sound great?
But we know that we are not alone in this, right? We are not alone. The Spirit of God hovers over the waters. The original Hebrew for the Spirit of God is the word ruach. Can you say that with me? Ruach. It really means breath or wind. God is breathing over the world, the wind of God is blowing throughout the void, and God is thinking of what it could be, thinking of all of the glorious potential that exists there. And I can picture God taking one big breath, one ruach in, and breathing out the first created thing-light. There was light where there had never before been light, the deep unfathomable darkness had been chased away. And the Spirit, the ruach, the wind of God goes dancing through it. The same Spirit who was in the darkness before creation, before Time began, now moves from the darkness into the light. Into the glorious light of the joy and laughter of God at the first created thing. God has pressed the start button on Time Itself. And God sees this light into which the Spirit of God moves and God says “This is good.”
But the Spirit, the ruach, of God didn’t stop there, did it? God the Creator did not stop there. The breath or wind of God kept moving. It was like God had fired the starting pistol at the beginning of the race and all of creation rushes forward. And the Spirit, the ruach, of God, continued to move through it, binding it all together. And the Spirit continued to move through creation until Adam and Eve ate that fruit, until they committed the first Disobedience. From that point, the history of creation has been one of the Spirit, the ruach, the breath of God moving through or in spite of God’s created world. Mostly in spite of.
And human history ground on like that, with the Holy Spirit of God moving throughout the world in spite of humanity’s foolish attempts to stop it or stand in the way, highlighted by those precious few times when someone finally clued in and moved with the Spirit of God. Like the time that Noah understood where the Spirit was moving and built an ark so that God’s creation could survive the flood waters. Like the time that Moses saw where the Wind of God was blowing him and went to pronounce freedom to Israel held as slaves in Egypt and continued to follow the Spirit and lead God’s Chosen People across the waters of the Red Sea as the Breath, the ruach, of God parted the waters.
And the Spirit continued to move throughout all the kings and warriors and prophets we read about in the Old Testament. It continued to move through a man born to a woman who no one thought was going to be able to have children. His name was John the Baptizer. The Breath of God called John out into the desert, gave him camel’s hair to wear and locusts and honey to eat. And the Spirit turned him into a wild-eyed crazy prophet, calling people out into the desert and saying that there was someone coming, someone so great that John wasn’t even worthy to be this guy’s servant, and this person was going to bring the end of all things that we know and the beginning of something amazing. And it would happen by the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God, calling people to Him, calling them all to repentance, and calling them all into this new Kingdom of God.
So Jesus came down to the Jordan to see John the Baptizer, who was baptizing people in the river to prepare them for the coming of Jesus. And John baptized Jesus, the Son of God, our Redeemer, in the muddy waters of the Jordan river.
And immediately, when Jesus came out of the baptismal waters, Heaven was torn open. The sky was ripped apart like a student’s school papers and assignments on the last day of school before they run home to begin summer. And The Spirit, The Breath, The Wind, The Ruach of God, the Holy Spirit appears and descends upon Jesus, sopping wet from the baptismal waters of the Jordan River. The Spirit of God, the same one who’s been in existence forever with God, was there when God pressed the start button on Time Itself, was there when God fired the starting pistol that set Creation off in a race to be created. The same Spirit who protected Noah and his family from the flood, called the Israelites out of Egypt through Moses and parted the Red Sea, the same Spirit that’s always been there but has never been seen, that Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove when Jesus was baptized. And a voice from Heaven that we can only assume is God the Creator says “You are my Child. I love you. I am pleased with you.”
Fast forward a few years. Jesus has lived, died, rose again, and ascended into Heaven. The Holy Spirit, the same one who has been in existence since the beginning of time and the same one that appeared on Jesus like a dove, has come upon the 11 remaining disciples as they were sitting scared, and the Church of Jesus Christ has begun.
The disciples go out in the community of Jerusalem to tell everyone about the gospel of God’s grace. But before too long, the Jewish community gets mad and begins to really persecute and abuse them, forcing them to flee Jerusalem and spread out around the country. Many other leaders in the church are raised up. One of them is Paul, the greatest evangelist ever known. On one of his missionary journeys, he comes across several disciples who have a faulty understanding of something incredibly important to their faith. Can I read this to you, out of Acts 19:1-7?
“While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul took a route through the interior and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2 He asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you came to believe?”
They replied, “We’ve not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
3 Then he said, “What baptism did you receive, then?”
They answered, “John’s baptism.”
4 Paul explained, “John baptized with a baptism by which people showed they were changing their hearts and lives. It was a baptism that told people about the one who was coming after him. This is the one in whom they were to believe. This one is Jesus.” 5 After they listened to Paul, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in other languages and prophesying. 7 Altogether, there were about twelve people.” (Acts 19:1-7, CEB)
The same Holy Spirit who existed before Time Itself began, was present at Creation, and danced through that first light, the same Holy Spirit who was with Noah in the midst of the flood waters, the same Spirit who was with Moses as he led the Israelites between the parted waters of the Red Sea, the same Spirit who called John the Baptizer out into the desert to baptize people in the waters of the Jordan River and descended upon Jesus as he came out of the baptismal waters, that Spirit descended upon these disciples. They received that same Holy Spirit.
The amazing thing about this whole story is that we can receive this same Holy Spirit. We can receive the Spirit, the Breath, the Wind, the ruach of God, like Noah, like Moses, like John, like Jesus. And with it, we receive power, we receive comfort, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we begin the slow transformation process of becoming more and more like Jesus. This Spirit will purify our hearts and our minds. This Spirit will lead us away from guilt and towards forgiveness. This Spirit will bring about our ultimate salvation. If we receive it. Have you received it?