Sermon: Awash in the Holy Spirit

January 9, 2022

Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

by Eric Anderson

The koa’e kea likes to live clean. During the time that parents tend young chicks in the nest, they’ll do a good amount of care for their nestlings’ feathers. As the chicks get bigger, the role actually starts to reverse a little, with the youngsters preening their parents’ feathers. Once they’re on their own, koa’e kea use their beaks to get grime off their wings and line everything up.

Best of all, though, they are birds who hunt the sea, and when they have a mind, there’s the ocean to bathe in. If you’re in a boat you might see one or more bobbing in the swells, their heads glistening with water from their latest plunge beneath, and their long tails held over them like a flag.

One koa’e kea got very interested in the way other birds cared for themselves after watching a myna taking a bath in a puddle. She was initially very puzzled. How could the myna use water with that much dirt in it and get clean? It seemed to work, though. Certainly the black and white and orange in the myna’s wings and on its head gleamed in the sunlight afterwards.

Plenty of other sea-hunting birds bathed in the ocean like the koa’e kea, and many land birds imitated the myna by bathing in puddles. The ‘apapane enjoyed a shower bath in the rain. The pueo puzzled her with its dustbaths. She didn’t see how that could work at all, but she had to admit that the owls looked more comfortable after their dusty baths than they had before.

The one that truly puzzled her, though, was the honu. They were in the water nearly all the time. Did they bathe? Did they need to?

She landed next to a napping honu on a beach one day and waited politely for her to wake up. “I’m sorry to bother you, honu,” she said, “but I’m curious. I’ve seen lots of creatures bathing, but I don’t know how a honu gets clean. I mean, you’re in the water all the time. Is that all there is to it?”

The honu looked carefully to see if she was being teased, but the koa’e kea’s sincere curiosity was clear. “Let me show you,” she said.

The two of them journeyed a little way out from shore to a part of the reef where tiny fish darted about. A couple of other honu were there along with some larger reef fish. The koa’e kea watched with some amazement as small yellow-and-blue fish nibbled their way along the shells of the turtles and the scales of the fish. Wherever their small mouths went, fish or honu became clean.

When the honu’s shell gleamed again without any mossy covering, she surfaced next to the koa’e kea. “You see?”

“I do,” said the bird. “It’s funny. I get clean in the water that you get dirty in. And the dust that the pueo bathes in gets me dirty.”

“It is funny,” agreed the honu. “And we’ve all found a way to put away yesterday’s dust and come refreshed to tomorrow.”

Jesus’ baptism is one of the distinctive signs of his earthly ministry. It gets celebrated in all four gospels, and it was quickly emulated in the community of disciples following his death and resurrection. That said, it was also something of a problem for the early Christians and their developing understanding of Jesus’ nature and purpose.  I mean: What did Jesus get baptized for?

It was probably not the first time. Baptism to Christians is a big thing, a once-in-a-lifetime occasion, a marker that stands between the time before the time after. But to first century Jews, most baptisms occurred for ritual devotional purposes, and were performed fairly regularly. It wasn’t about sin – about moral wrongdoing – so much as it was about a ritual cleanliness. In general, the way to get clean was to… get clean. In water. Flowing water, by preference.

By the age of thirty, Jesus would very likely have encountered situations that rendered him ritually unclean many times, and he would have washed many times.

John the Baptist, however, was offering something different. He declared that his baptism was one of repentance. This was less about the unavoidable ritual impurities of life and more about the moral direction of that life. In December we heard his directions to those who came to him: Share your clothing and your food. Deal fairly with those you have power over. Do not abuse people for your benefit. Or in other words, change the direction of your life.

What need had Jesus of such a baptism?

Debie Thomas writes at, “Whatever else Jesus’s baptism story is, it is first and foremost a story of the sacred ordinary.  That is, it’s a story of profound humility. The holy child conceived of the Holy Spirit, celebrated by angels, worshiped by shepherds, and feared by Herod, stands in the same muddy water we stand in. The Messiah’s first public act is a declaration of solidarity. God is one of us.”

The baptism of Jesus is another instance of Emmanuel, of God with us. The baptism of Jesus provided the early Church with its first distinctive devotional activity. Baptized, you were one of the People of the Way. Baptized, you became part of the Body of Christ.

It’s said that Martin Luther, in the midst of stress, would remind himself “Baptizatus sum,” “I am baptized.” Mary Luti writes for the UCC Daily Devotional about the students she taught in sacraments class, “And I hoped that whenever things got rough (they always do), they’d call on its grace. I hoped they’d remember that they are in Christ, fully known and loved. I hoped they’d remind their frightened hearts, ’I am baptized.’ I hoped it would make them brave and blow the Devil away.”

It might not be too much to say that Jesus also became part of the Body of Christ in this baptism. As far as we can tell from the very little that the Gospels tell us about his life between his birth and turning thirty – which is basically just that one story from Luke about getting so interested in theological topics that he missed the departure of his family from Jerusalem when he was twelve – but as far as we can tell he had lived a pretty unremarkable life. It would puzzle people later on when he began to preach. “Is this not Joseph’s son?” they asked in Nazareth.

Whatever else may have gone on in Jesus at his baptism, this is true: He changed the direction of his life.

“Perhaps I am mistaken,” writes Melissa Bane Sevier at her blog, “but I like to think that Jesus struggled with his knowledge of self, that he had questions—if not doubts—about what he was to be and do, until he reached this day of some clarity when he stood in line with repentant sinners, knee-deep in the Jordan River, to be baptized, and the signs of dove and voice confirmed his coming mission. I like to think that, because it is the way most of us realize some sense of purpose—not in one moment of striking revelation, but in a growing, sometimes faltering, understanding of a bit of direction.”

That direction came as a result of the devotion that brought him to John and the bank of the Jordan in the first place. That direction came as a result of being raised in a home in which dedication to God was part of the furniture. That direction came as a result of ongoing inquiry and seeking and searching. That direction came as a result of a baptism of the Holy Spirit, a baptism of the heart and soul as well as the body.

In some ways I wish we used more of that older framework for baptism, the one that understands that we don’t wash once, we wash repeatedly. Jesus was rather unusual as a human being, after all, in that he took on that new direction and didn’t change course from there. How often does that happen to the rest of us?

Look at me. I’ve been an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ for thirty-three years – it’s a coincidence that that was Jesus’ age at his baptism; I’m sure it’s a coincidence – but I’ve changed direction several times. There are 5,000 miles between the first church I served and this one. I spent just over half of my ordained career as a communication and technology specialist. There have been so many times in my life that the Holy Spirit has nudged me or beckoned to me or spoken to me or, on occasion, impatiently shoved me to find a new way, a new course, a new goal.

I have to conclude that my life is more typical than Jesus’.

Melissa Bane Sevier goes on to say, “We, too, have voices in our lives. If we want to hear God’s purpose, then we make sure we surround ourselves with people who know us, who know our story. We listen, we observe, we hear the subtle voice of God’s purpose. That voice can be as wild as pointing us toward a new career, or as tame as moving us to take on an act of service, to show compassion to a friend, to make peace with an enemy, to make a phone call, to write a check, to speak out for justice.”

That’s what it means to be awash in the Spirit. It’s about the openness to God’s direction that Jesus displayed by coming to John and the Jordan. It’s about the people gathered about you who can help you discern God’s prompting. It’s about the self-knowledge that says, “It’s time to change.” It’s about the willingness to take a new course. It’s about doing so remembering “Baptizatus sum,” “I am baptized,” embraced and uplifted by God, affirmed as God’s beloved child.

Where is your spirit this day? Is there a new direction ahead? Is there a challenge or a comfort to come? Be awash in the Spirit, my friends, and be blessed.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

The video includes the entire service of Jan. 9, 2022. Clicking “Play” will jump to the beginning of the sermon.

Just think of the differences between the prepared text and the sermon as preached as… inspiration to take a new direction.

The illustration is Depiction of Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, photo by Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada – – I Yesus Church – Axum (Aksum) – Ethiopia, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on January 9, 2022

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