First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Neil H. Wilson, Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720
231-547-9122


Okay, Let’s Try This Again. Only This Time…

Sermon ~ Sunday, January 7, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

 

Okay, Let’s Try This Again.  Only This Time . . .

Genesis 1:1-5   Mark 1:4-11

Yesterday was Epiphany!  Yea!  

I bet you’re tired from all the Epiphany parties last night!

Most people outside church circles and many times within them are not familiar with Epiphany.  We have Christmas, it lasts one day.  Then there is a week to recover before New Year’s Eve.  And then, we if are so inclined, we enter the season of resolutions which lasts usually about as long as our season of Christmas (one day!)

Epiphany is about the “revealing” of Jesus and who he is, or will become. It is marked with the reading from Matthew’s gospel about the visit of the Magi or wise men. In this revealing of Jesus there was in a sense a new beginning, now that Jesus was among them.  And it continues today with the reminder that Jesus is still among us through our baptisms and the presence of the Holy Spirit. 

So I guess in some ways Epiphany and New Year’s resolutions go hand in hand. Epiphany reminds us of new things made possible by Christ’s coming into the world and January marks the new year’s genesis which we often mark by resolving to live new or better lives according to new and improved habits. 

There is a sort of spirit of confession that begins the new year because resolutions are a way of admitting that we have not been the kind of people we want to be.  We confess that we are not as slender, cheerful, thankful, or productive as we would like to be. We admit to our humanness and commit to doing better.  These are ordinary mortal confessions: usually not all that spiritually motivated or spiritually empowered.  They are signs that we would like to do better in turning our lives around.  But when the days speed by and ordinary life is resumed, old habits tend to reassert themselves.  And come next January, the same resolutions are often made anew with plenty of hope, but no better chance for success! 

The baptism of John was similar to our attempts at making resolutions, though it was certainly a more spiritually oriented.  As one who has preached a fair number of times with mixed success, it amazes me is that John preached a message on repentance and was rather successful!  People were drawn to his river side chapel in the wilderness from countryside and city.  At the river he dunked them as a sign of their resolution to turn from their sins and back to the worship and service of God.  But, John knew that there was a tentative quality to his work.  He proclaimed that the One who would come after him would baptize with something greater than water.  The coming One would baptize people with (or in) the Spirit of God.

The Spirit of God represented something far more powerful, more efficacious than any human resolve.  It is the same Spirit that first moved over the waters at creation and brought form to the chaos and gave birth to the universe.  When Jesus rose from the river, this same Spirit descended upon him like a dove.  And in this Spirit, Jesus did the powerful deeds that marked his remarkable ministry. 

For us today, both John’s message of repentance and the empowering work of the Spirit are needed.  Sin is a powerful magnet that draws us ever closer.  Human resolve alone is weak, even with our annual booster shots in January.  Truthfully, repentance is more likely a daily need.

But our resolve to turn around will not do it alone, not very often at least.  Even Paul, the great Apostle, famously struggled with the inability of his humanness to help him do what is good (Rom. 7:15-20.)  Something greater is needed: this something is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  When Paul encountered the followers of John the Baptizer in Ephesus, he told them something similar to what John had taught.  Though baptized by John with water, they were in need of the kind of empowerment that came through Jesus himself, baptism in or presence of the Holy Spirit.  This is the gift of God that makes spiritual repentance something more than a mere resolution. 

As God asks us to turn from our sin, God also provides the means to become new creatures of spiritual resolve. Baptism with water and spirit is the mark of this gift. 

In Jesus’ baptism, he was fully identified with us as human creatures. In our baptism, we become fully identified with him.

His life in God is our new life. 

His capacity to bend to God’s will is our strength to live a godly life. 

His love of all is our charity towards others.  

Note, I am not making a case for a certain mode of baptism.  This is not a sermon on infant vs. adult or which method is better, dunking or “a little dab’l do ya!”  (This will have to wait for another time!)  

As Christians, we understand baptism differently, depending on denominational or theological tradition.  Accordingly there will be ways this message will be preached and heard within various congregations.  Those of the Anabaptist tradition may argue for God’s capacity to inspire people to godly living as they move toward baptism usually as a believer or adult.  More mainline churches like ours emphasize the action of God in baptism more than the human, thus we baptize infants believing that we are symbolizing God’s acceptance of them into the body of Christ the church universal and our acceptance of them into the care of a congregation.  Pentecostals may argue for the separation of the water baptism and the baptism in the Holy Spirit.  Indeed there are passages in Acts that lend biblical credence to such an idea. 

What is clear, regardless of tradition, is that God will do in baptism what God chooses to do.  God is not bound by human interpretation of the means of grace. 

John had it right. 

One who is mightier than any other human person has come to bring forgiveness of sins and new life in the Spirit.  Baptized into this new life, let us daily undertake to live as God’s people.   So okay, let us try this again.  Only this time let us seek the presence of the Holy Spirit and let God determine where we need the resolve to make things anew in our lives!  And God might even surprise us as we shed a few things along with those pounds!

Enjoy the Audio version of Pastor Neil’s Sermon, click the Download File link below and open it on your computer.   HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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