“ARE WE SPIRITED LED?” Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
– Baptism and ordination point to a difficult reality. We are supposed to live by the Holy Spirit, but except for brief moments of Epiphany, the Spirit is invisible. How do we let the Spirit Lead?
Today in our church calendar we celebrate the Baptism of our lord Jesus Christ. And today we are ordaining and installing the elders and deacons that will be leading our congregation over the next few years. Of all the days to install officers, this Sunday is hands down the best one in my opinion.
I think Baptism of the Lord Sunday is the perfect Sunday to install officers because today we are celebrating Jesus own ordination and installation to His ministry on planet earth. It is a Sunday to celebrate new beginnings in ministry. So in our sermon today I want to explore one thing that all of us, especially our officers have in common with Jesus, our Lord, and our model in ministry. That one thing is, as you might have guessed from the title of the sermon: The Holy Spirit.
The invisible Holy Spirit is represented by many different signs. The Holy Spirit was clearly present descending on Jesus as a dove when Jesus was baptized. At Pentecost, the believers in Jerusalem were ordained and installed by flames of fire that came to rest on them. When we were baptized, we were sprinkled or dunked in water to represent the Holy Spirit. When we are ordained into a specific ministry as an elder or a deacon, other elders lay hands on us to represent the Holy Spirit.
It is the invisible Holy Spirit present inside of us that guides us as we minister in this world. So here is the question that I have about this: How do we tap into the power of the Holy Spirit as we attempt to minister to others in our world? This question is not only important for Deacons, Elders, and Pastors. Remember, as believers in Jesus, every single one of us is a minister.
In 1st Peter chapter 2, Peter writes this to all Christians: “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” In other words, we are all ministers of God, even if we don’t have an “official” church job.
Today, I’m going to do my best to explain how we can let the Holy Spirit lead in our lives and our ministries. It is not easy to understand. It is hard to understand, and it can be hard to accomplish. But it is actually super easy to do… in theory. Just like saving money is easy to do… but also so hard to do. In theory, all you have to do is spend less than you make, and deposit the extra money into a bank. And yet, there always seems to be a reason why we have to spend all the money we want to save! Budgets and money and savings are messy things.
Like sticking to a budget, letting the Spirit lead you requires discipline. Being led by the Holy Spirit is messy to live out in life. If being Spirit led is such a mess, what is our motivation to even try to get it? Here is the motivation: The Holy Spirit is instrumental in God’s ministry on earth. Our scripture reading this morning from Luke 3 gives us the motivation… even Jesus, who never sinned, was baptized so that the Holy Spirit could be glorified and revealed to all Christians.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus was baptized? In Matthew’s account of the story, John the Baptist doesn’t even get it himself. John the Baptist tries to stop Jesus from being baptized. But Jesus says, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John let him. So what is going on here?
Jesus, even though He was born without sin because he is God and Man mysteriously combined, submitted to the ritual of baptism. Did Jesus need to get dunked to get the Spirit? The correct answer is no. Jesus was conceived by the Spirit. He already had it.
Among other things, Jesus is showing the importance of ritual in our lives as children of God. No one can change the fact that we were born into a broken world. It isn’t fair, but that is just the way things went down. When Jesus was baptized, Jesus was modelling for us that participating in religion is necessary to be able to be led by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus shows us that we can be led by the Spirit by participating in rituals that point us back to God. This is why when someone says to you, “I believe in Jesus and God, but I don’t need to go to Church regularly to be a good Christian, they are not right.” It is a clever lie. It is clever, because there is a kernel of truth in there, Jesus saves us by no power of our own, we can’t earn the magic by going to church.
Once I converted to Christianity, I had a serious talk with my mother to see what it is she believed. I was raised Jewish, but my mother never converted. She was raised Presbyterian and she still insisted in celebrating Christmas every year although she seldom went to church. So I asked her if she believed in Jesus. She said yes. Then I asked why she very rarely went to church. And she said, “I don’t need to go to church to believe in God. I can worship in my own way on my own.” Or something like that.
The first statement is true. The second is false. My mother, like many people saw the religion of her parents as empty. She did not understand why ritual was important. If you want to be Spirit led, you have to worship God regularly. You need baptism, and Holy Communion. You need to be in a Bible study. Not because you can earn salvation. You can’t. Jesus died on the Cross and was raised up to fix our broken relationship with our creator God. That is free. If you want it, believe in Jesus and it is yours. But righteousness, on the other hand… right living… can and is earned.
That is why I want to see you all at the prayer meeting on Thursday night. That is why I want to see you all participate in a Bible Study. That is why I want to see you all in Church every Sunday you can come. This is also why I want to see each of you serve others in some regular, intentional way.
If you want to be led by the Holy Spirit… build into your lives one way to worship, one way to serve, and one way to learn. Just schedule it in like it is a regular doctor’s appointment or a kid’s soccer practice. That is the secret. It is a simple concept. Just like saving money is a simple concept. You spend less than you make with the help of a budget. But it is so hard to do it.
In theory, you can be a Christian without ever going to church, ever reading scripture, and without ever serving others. But you can’t be a good Christian without doing those things. There is a tension that we must work out in our lives… we can’t earn salvation. We can’t force the Holy Spirit to act the way we want. No amount of praying can force God’s hand. Not unless our prayers are exactly the same as God’s will.
On the other hand, we have to do all we can to build rituals into our lives that connect us back to God. The world is full of lies. Humans are born this way. Unless you are religiously in worship, in a bible study, and serving others in Jesus’ name, the world and your own desires will pull you off course. You will not be able to be led by the spirit, because you will mostly be concerned with what you want for yourself.
That’s the message for us from Luke’s record of Jesus’s own Baptism. Jesus was ritually baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Not because he needed it, but because WE need it, and Jesus leads by example.
So I want you all to come to church… often. I want you all to come to a bible study. I want you all to serve in some way. This congregation of Hillcrest Church, is your vehicle to live out your rituals and religious life. This is especially true for our officers. I want to see you in Bible Study, I want to see you in Prayer Meeting. I want to see you at Carpenter’s sons. Not because I am worried that I will be out of a job, but because I believe it is important for your spiritual health.
Even I go to a bible study that I don’t lead once a week. I am telling you this to show that I try to practice what I preach. But don’t just look to me, because I will surely let you down at some point. Look to Jesus as the example. Why would he be baptized? He didn’t need to do it. But we did. We do. Jesus was in the Synagogues every Sabbath… again, a ritual way to connect with God.
This year, 2016. Hillcrest is offering a bunch of opportunities for each of you to worship, study, and serve. We have a Lenten bible study starting soon. I am starting a weekly bible study during the day, and I am planning to do at least two evening bible study series for those who are working. We have Sunday School for all ages. And we have a fantastic Kids for Christ program for children, and a youth fellowship for teens.
If you don’t like the options that we are presenting for you, because they seem boring, or they are at a bad time for you, come talk to me. Or talk to our CE director, Alice. We will listen to you. We want nothing more than to present meaningful options for you to grow closer to Jesus. Take responsibility for your participation in religious life. That is how to be led by the spirit. You can’t trust in miraculous, mountain top, emotional experiences to move you close to God, you got to dust off your Bible and be present in person for activities and events.
In our sinful world, the Holy Spirit is like an air hose for an astronaut. It is our lifeline. It connects us to Jesus. It enables us to do the will of God. We use rituals of our religion to not only stay connected to God, but also to get the very energy we need to live a life pleasing to God. That is why Jesus submitted to Baptism, and to the rituals given to humans like the Sabbath. Clearly He didn’t have to do it. He even said that He is the Lord of the Sabbath! He makes the rules. But he gave us an example of what to do if we want to be led by the Spirit.
The benefits far outweigh the cost of discipleship!