Reflection Sunday 9 January 2022
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:21-22…and when Jesus also had been baptised and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven,
Acts 8:17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
John tells the people that they will be baptised with the Holy Spirit and Fire.
The coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus was accompanied by words of love. "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." I like to think a window of love was opened in the skies, a portal between heaven and earth, a river of love flowing out into the world, a wind blowing with forgiving love, a fire of love, warming hearts, transforming lives. Unlike a devastating bush fire which destroys all before it, the fire of love enlivens all, it lifts up the broken hearted, it places people on their own two feet, no longer bound in sin, free to be who God created them to be, alive to all God’s goodness. The fire of love heals the sick, raises the dead, transforms the world.
I have always maintained that an experience of the Holy Spirit is an experience of love.
Luke tells us that a very surprising thing happened in Samaria not long after Stephen was stoned as a martyr and Paul began persecuting the church. The followers of Jesus were scattered and everywhere they went they proclaimed the good news. Philip went to a town in Samaria and the people believed what he said about Jesus. People were healed and great joy came to that town in Samaria. When the Apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they got there, they found that the people had not received the Holy Spirit when they had been baptised and so they prayed that the people would receive the Holy Spirit. They laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit, just as the apostles had received the Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
That was a great surprise. Jerusalem had rejected Jesus, but Samaria accepted the message that he was the Messiah, and its people were filled with the Spirit. Centuries of division were broken down with the coming of the Spirit. The fire of love had come to Samaria. It is the fire of love that can cross boundaries and tear down walls of division.
I find it fascinating, puzzling, the Samaritans had believed the message and been baptized in the name of Jesus, yet there was more to come. It is hard to explain what happened, yet it seems to me that we can believe in Jesus, be baptised yet it is when the Spirit comes that something happens. The Spirit it seems fills us with love and sends us out to others in love. No longer is it a matter of private belief or a matter of right and wrong, good and evil, but the Spirit drives us to others in love.
Many times I have spoken of my experience of the Holy Spirit in Ireland. In the 1970s and 1980s there was a movement of the Spirt which brought Catholics and Protestants together. As the fire of love spread, Catholics and Protestants, separated for centuries discovered a love coming upon them, a fire of love within, and a wind of love that sent them across to the other side, where they discovered a strange love for the enemy, where hatred and bitterness was melted away in the heat of God’s love.
Who knows what surprises lie in store for us in 2022. I think that one of the most surprising things in the life of a Christian is the experience of the Holy Spirit. For me the defining mark of the Spirit in our lives is a baptism of love. The Spirit is a fire of love that burns within us. Of course, we are not always loving and kind, but within us, is a fire of love, sometimes waiting for us to stoke it and sometimes it overwhelms us, surprises us, reminds us that God is love.
Pray that you receive the Spirit, the fire of love within your heart. Pray that our congregation would receive the Spirit, the fire of love, consuming all our divisions, all our bitterness and creating here a place of welcome and love for all people.
May you be surprised by the Spirit. May you be baptised in love.
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation