Friday, January 06, 2012

B, Epiphany 1 - Mark 1:8b "Power"

Text: “…he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”(Mark 1:8b ESV)

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendour of holiness. The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. (Psalm 29:1-4 ESV)
 There is so much power around the place.  Power in the readings!  The majesty and power of God as he speaks!  God called light out of darkness and it was!  A power unleashed as Paul laid his hands on men baptised into the name of Jesus Christ!  Heaven torn open as God declares he is well pleased with his Son!
Power is something that can frighten us.  Especially when we misunderstand it!  And even more so when power is viewed from a position of powerlessness! 
As the storm rages its lightning and thunder, flashes and rumbles seemingly threatening its power against a child seized with fear.  There is no way the child can stop the storm.  And they reason by its violent noises and blinding flashes that it’s out to get them!
However, the same storm brings smiles to those who need water.  The power of the storm in its light and sound show announces the coming of the saving soak on a sun scorched earth.
Then there is the power of electricity that comes into our homes.  Perhaps the source of this power stands to some as a sore on the landscape… wind farms, coal or nuclear fuelled power stations!  But from the very same source, the child seized with fear over the power of the storm, flicks a switch, turns on the light, to find comfort and reassurance from the power illuminating the room.
 An even greater confusion and misunderstanding happens when we humans come before the power of God. 
John the Baptist was baptising in the Jordan, preparing the way for the coming of God’s power.  People who knew they had no power were receiving a baptism of repentance, cleansing them of things they had been powerless to do themselves.  It seems here John wielded power as he plunged his parishioners into the Jordan for the forgiveness of their sins.
Yet John proclaimed one was coming whom he had no right to even stoop down and undo the dusty dirty straps of his footwear.  One who was mightier and more powerful than him!  And yet when the powerful Son of God comes to the river, he submits to John’s baptism. 
Why?  Why does Jesus Christ, the almighty Son of God need to submit to a baptism of repentance?  He has no need to repent!  He is God, without sin!  Amazingly here the flow of power, as humanity understands it, is not as we would assume.  And it’s here we can discover the greater depths of God’s power, and the power we have who believe in him for salvation.
 Let’s look at John the Baptist for a moment.  An odd sought of a character by any stretch of the imagination.  He had not real value to the people other than the message he proclaimed.  He ate locusts and wore shabby clothes yet he was caused to appear out of the wilderness and preach someone great was to come. 
At face value John seemed to be void of any intrinsic value.  He seems to be of no profit to anyone!  Befriending him could win no one a better standing in the community… socially, financially, or religiously.  In deed, John had no authority or power in the community.  He appeared to be a lunatic who had come out of the desert.  Nevertheless, this ragged and rough man came proclaiming a very powerful message.
And what can we attribute to Paul?   Not the Paul who was once Saul, the powerful Jewish Pharisee, rounding up the riffraff believers after the crucifixion, dragging dozens off to prison.  No! The Paul after his experience on the road to Damascus!  The man met by Christ, converted, and used as an instrument of the gospel and suffering for Jesus’ name (Acts 9:16). 
This Paul places his hands on the Ephesians, not as a powerful Pharisee, but now as a broken man having been blinded and restored by the risen Christ.  He wielded power but whose power was it?  After all Paul was chased out of towns, shipwrecked, and ultimately martyred for the message he proclaimed.  How does the power of God flow, in Paul, in John the Baptist, in you and in me?
Jesus is our great example.  In him we find the Son of God.  Almighty and powerful!  Yet he put his divinity aside and allowed himself to be made nothing.  He was conceived by the Holy Spirit yet when he was baptised in the Jordan by John the Holy Spirit descended upon him.  Jesus allowed himself to be like us allowing the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of God to flow through him.  Jesus allowed himself to become weak allowing his faithfulness to show trust in his Heavenly Father.  He became weak and helpless so we might identify with him and allow him to be our one true hope.
Yet in our weakness and powerlessness, humanity seeks to adopt a warped understanding of God’s power.  Many of us believe if we are to be beneficial to God we must appear powerful.  That weakness should be discouraged and hidden.  Why do we do this?
Perhaps it’s because we like to put more trust in ourselves than God.  We don’t want to believe the reality of our true selves; that we’re born weak and helpless!  All of us lead the same short troubled life.  That, in fact, we live in the face of death and we need a Saviour!
And that is what we have!  An eternally powerful risen Saviour!  Haven't you been baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit? 
Have you not received the same Holy Spirit as that of Christ, the same power of God that led Christ humbly to the cross?
The same power that caused John the Baptist to proclaim the Kingdom of God and baptise Jesus in the Jordan when he did come! 
The same power that flowed through Paul as he baptised the Ephesians causing them to speak in tongues and prophesy! 
We have received the promise of John.  One more powerful than he has come!  You have been baptised into him. The Spirit now lives in you and seeks to use you.  God is glorified when we acknowledge our helplessness and trust in him for our salvation.
Allow the power of God, the power of love through his Son Jesus Christ to save you!  Be content to be nothing, for that is what we all are!  The power of love leaves us the moment we turn from our reality and claim the power for ourselves without letting the Holy Spirit work… flowing through us, using us, and leading us to Jesus Christ. 
Most of us believe and know of the power of God.  The problem is we are tempted to abuse the power of his love and grab onto the love of power which only leads us back into a helpless plight without the love of God. 
However, we have a Saviour who loves us and continually finds us and rescues us.  This is why we can ascribe or give to the Lord, glory and strength. We can give to the Lord the glory due his name as our Psalm for today so aptly calls us to do! 
Despite our helplessness we still have access to God and we can worship the Lord in the splendour of holiness.  The Holy Spirit dresses us in the splendour of Christ’s holiness despite our unworthiness and we can lay our lives before the Lord.  He loves you and sent his one and only, almighty and powerful Son to receive the baptism of fire that should have been yours and my deadly cross.  
Our help is in the name of the Lord.  Therefore, confess your sins to the Lord!  Tell him about your weaknesses and helplessness… the stuff that turns the power of love into a self-serving love of power.   Trust the power of his love and forgiveness in the activity of the Holy Spirit, who continually reveals Jesus Christ in you.  There is so much power about the place, allow it to take hold of you! 
The kingdom, the power and the glory are his indeed!  Amen.