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Month: January 2016

Bible Tuesday for January 24, 2016

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, January 24, 2016

Nehemiah 8:1-10

8all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. 2Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month.3He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. 4The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hash-baddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. 5And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. 6Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 7Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. 8So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

9And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

So frequently I write notes on “exilic texts”, that is, the parts of the Bible written during or about the Israelites in exile in Assyria and Babylon. FINALLY, here is a text written after all the Israelites return from exile to their homes!

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of the Israelites rebuilding the ruins left behind after the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. When Cyrus of Persia defeats Babylon, he allows all captives of Babylon to return to their homes. He goes a step further and finances the rebuilding of various cities, including Jerusalem. Cyrus even funds the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.

The new High Priest of Israel is Ezra and the new, Persian appointed, governor of Israel is Nehemiah. Just as the Israelites were freed by God from Egypt and allowed to return to the Promised Land, so here the Israelites are freed by God through Cyrus to return to the Promised Land.

There is a very important scene in Exodus where all Israel is gathered at the foot of Mt. Horeb/Sinai and Moses returns from being given the Law of God and stands on the side of the mountain and proclaims this law to all the Israelites. So now in the above text, Ezra stands on a wooden platform flanked by twelve men (representing the 12 tribes of Israel) and reads the Law that Moses received from God to all the adults of Israel. Rabbinic teaching is that this platform stood on the Temple mount. These Israelites hear the word of God and weep! So hungry have they been for the way God—so different from the Babylonian religions. So eager are they to please God and put the punishment of defeat and captivity behind them. To show their ascent to the Law of God, the people lift their hands in praise and then lie prostrate on the ground in complete humility before God.

The significance of the above event cannot be overstated. It is commemorated in the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah, that is, The Giving of the Law. This event shapes both Israelite and Christian worship, even to this day. Nehemiah is careful to record that all the men and women stood to receive the word of God as Ezra opened the scroll. To this day, Jews stand for the reading of the Torah, and Christians for the reading of the gospel. In addition, while Ezra reads the Law, the twelve men and the Levites go about and translate the Hebrew into Aramaic and other Babylonian dialects the people now speak, and interpret the Law for the people. This is exactly what preaching is to do, both in synagogues and churches. Preachers are to translate the biblical language into the common vernacular and then interpret the passage for that community.

Psalm 19

1The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

2Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.

3There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;

4yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,

5which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

6Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.

7The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple;

8the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes;

9the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

10More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.

11Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

12But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.

13Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.

14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

The Jewish Study Bible states regarding this psalm, “This psalm is recited as part of the preliminary morning service on Saturday and at festivals. In is divided neatly into three sections: vs 2-7 are a hymn specifically on the sun, vs 8-11are a hymn focusing on Torah, and vs 12-15 are a petition to be saved from sin, and for prayers to be heard. Many scholars believe that either two psalms have been combined, or that a later psalmist who composed vs. 8-15 incorporated the earlier vs 2-7, which have a different topic, style, and poetic structure.”

Verse 15 is a common pre-sermon prayer said by many pastors and priests, sometimes even aloud from the pulpit. The Jewish Study Bible states about this verse, “This verse is reused as part of the conclusion of the “Amidah”, the main daily prayer. In its original context, it is unclear if “the words of my mouth and the prayer of my heart” refer to the immediately preceding verses, asking forgiveness from sins, or if this entire psalm serveds as an introduction to a larger liturgical complex.”

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.14Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,3and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

27Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

As noted last week, the Christian congregation in Corinth faced an awful lot of challenges, one of the biggest being themselves. A close reading of I & II Corinthians finds a congregation deeply divided. First, it is both a Jewish and a Gentile congregation, with both groups arguing superiority. Second, it is a congregation made up of the very wealthy, the very poor, and seemingly some folks in the middle. There also appear to be political and ethnic divisions. All of these divisions manifest themselves in the new life of the church as well. As we read above, folks are actually arguing about who baptized them and therefore who has the better baptism!!! They argue over who has the better spiritual gift!!! But lest we find these arguments ridiculous, certainly our congregational arguments are no more or less so.

Paul’s paragraph on spiritual gifts teaches that the mere fact that the Holy Spirit gave the gift imbues value into that gift; value which should not be snubbed or underappreciated. How difficult it is to set aside thoughts of hierarchy and socio/political importance when entering the church, whether through the door or the font.

Luke 4:14-21

14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

This text immediately follows the temptation of Jesus as recorded in Luke. The devil has departed from Jesus, waiting for a “more opportune time.” But Jesus was filled by the power of the Holy Spirit at his baptism, which seems to have carried him through the fasting and tempting wilderness time right into ministry. But in the gospel of Luke, Jesus hasn’t done any ministry yet. He was born, heralded by angels and gazed upon by shepherds. Jesus wowed scholars at the Temple when he was in junior high. And then there was his baptism where a dove landed on him and a voice was heard from the sky. But from the observer’s eye, Jesus hasn’t done anything up to this point. Yet Luke tells us, “a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.” I wonder what the report said? It must have positively predisposed people to him since his synagogue teaching earned him “praise by everyone.”

Then Jesus went home to Nazareth. He went to synagogue that Saturday morning, recited “The heavens are telling the glory of God…” with the rest of the congregation, and then stood up to read the scroll and the congregation stood up to hear it. Jesus read a well known, well loved passage, and then sat down to preach on it. Jesus then translated and interpreted that passage for the congregation.

The hometown crowd already heard about the dove, so Jesus merely translated the bird from sign (dove) to symbol (God’s power rests on and fills me). Then Jesus interpreted for the congregation what it meant for them that the Holy Spirit actually rests on and burns in Jesus. “All those things that the Holy Scriptures say God will do, I am now doing. Today. Right in front of your very eyes.”

Unfortunately…the sermon wasn’t very well accepted.

Bible Tuesday for January 17, 2015

Bible Tuesday for January 17, 2015

Isaiah 62:1-5

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn,
her salvation like a blazing torch.
2 The nations will see your vindication,
and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
3 You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand,
a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4 No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,[a] and your land Beulah[b];
for the Lord will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.
5 As a young man marries a young woman,
so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you.


Isaiah 62:4 Hephzibah means my delight is in her.

Isaiah 62:4 Beulah means married.

This last section of the prophecy of Isaiah is written after some captives have returned from Babylon, but still others are in bondage and suffering. The prophet does not see his job as completed until all Israelites are free to return and the Temple is restored. The prophet speaks to God saying that good has been done but there is much more than is needed.

The Bible has many stories of people and places being renamed. In our society, names are cultural or family tradition, items of beauty, earned through sponsorship, or considered marketable. In both Hebrew and Christian scriptures, names are statements of physical or emotional state, and can be changed to reflect a new state. Naomi (meaning joyful) returned from a foreign land a widow whose two sons have died. “I am no longer Naomi! Call me Mara” (meaning bitterness). God frequently renames people. Abram and Sarai are renamed Abraham and Sarah by God. God changes Jacob’s name to Israel after a particularly strenuous night. Saul/Paul, Simon/Peter, John/Mark, Thaddeus/Matthais, etc.

In this passage, the prophet calls God to action according to God’s covenant with Israel and then turns to comfort Israel with the promise of new names. No, Israel will no longer be rejected due to her unfaithfulness. No! God will change your name to Hephzibah (my delight is in her) and you will no longer be cast away from God but instead be called Beulah (married).

Psalm 26:5-10

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.

7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

10 O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
and your salvation to the upright of heart!

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, starting in the first chapters of Genesis, God makes covenants with humans and all creation. The covenant is most clearly stated in with Abraham in Genesis 12, but expanded on in the Exodus Mt. Sinai story. Each covenant reiterates God’s dedication to all humanity through Abraham and his descendants. This psalm celebrates those covenants. The Hebrew word translated “steadfast love” is a legal word meaning “complete, selfless fealty”. “Faithfulness” describes God’s activities in keeping the covenant; completely trustworthy. “Righteousness” describes God’s history in these covenants; God has always kept God’s end of the covenants and never strayed or defaulted.

Humans stray from marriages, default on loans, blab though they promise never to tell a soul, throw each other “under the bus”, invent new ways to break covenants every day. But God is flawless, keeping covenants forever, even fulfilling them himself.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Now concerning spiritual gifts,[a] brothers and sisters,[b] I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

Paul’s letters to the churches, aka Epistles, contain both content from Paul, and Paul’s answers to questions from the church addressees. In the above passage, and throughout I Corinthians, scholars surmise that the church in Corinth has asked Paul to clarify/instruct about spiritual gifts, and Paul does at length from several vantage points. The above is one.

The pericope begins with the phrase, “Now concerning pneumatikon, …” This Greek word can be translated two ways and it appears Paul used it for that very purpose. The first translation would be “spiritual things/gifts”. The other would be “spiritual people”. First, let’s explore “spiritual people”. On the one hand, early Christians were “spiritualists” because they exhibited signs of the Holy Spirit when they were baptized into not only Father and Son, but also Holy Spirit. Throughout Paul’s letters and the book of Acts, when folks were baptized into the Holy Spirit, they began to speak in tongues or prophesy, or manifest other unworldly gifts. But on the other hand, there were various religions and cults in Greco Roman culture at that time which taught about “spiritual people”, which were the antithesis of Jesus’ teaching, life, death, and resurrection. As the city of Corinth was a hotbed for these cults, Paul addresses both meanings of “spiritual people” since both appear to be manifest in this congregation.

These Holy Spirit given gifts are lavished upon God’s people to further the kingdom, Paul says. While the receiver might feel proud, even high and mighty, to what end? It is the Holy Spirit who gives the gifts. In this above passage, Paul emphasizes that there is only one spirit through many gifts. One can only imagine the difficulty folks converting from polytheism were having in accepting this teaching.

John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

This story is so rich in symbolism that a fair treatment of it cannot be done by me (save as a PhD thesis) or in this space. So let’s just consider a few aspects here.

In this first sentence of this story, we are told that Jesus’ mother was at this wedding in Cana. As the gospel of John does not have any story of Jesus’ birth, this is the first that the readers hear of Jesus’ family. It is the second sentence in which we are told that not only Jesus, but his disciples are also guests. Why not Jesus’ father? It is because Mary shows up in Jesus’ adult life but Joseph does not that tradition has it that Joseph was an old man when Jesus was born. Surely the man that God chose to father his son did not divorce Mary or act so socially unacceptably as to not accompany Mary to this wedding. Joseph must have been dead by this time. What does it mean that Jesus declines to address the problem Mary poses to him, and she indirectly pushes him into it anyway?

Six stone jars holding 20-30 gallons each for the Jewish rite of purification. The rite of purification was a bathing ritual prescribed after every flow of blood, and after other illnesses or physical issues which would render one ritually unclean. The bath was one of submersion in clear, moving, preferably flowing, water. Slow flowing rivers that were at least four feet deep were ideal but very rare. Bodies of water can also work., but with naturally occurring water, there is the modesty/privacy issue. Man made ritual baths, called mikvahs, were very common in Jewish communities. These mikvahs were pits dug into the ground with steps leading in and out, a drainage system, and a bath house or bath tent erected around them for privacy. These large stone jars were used to fill the mikvahs. By turning this purification water into wine, good wine, Jesus may be replacing the need for old purification with his own death and resurrection. Jesus may be replacing water of the current life under Rome, under the biblical Law, with “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly!”

Why six jars? Of course, it may just be that there were six jars standing there and it doesn’t mean anything. But biblical stories don’t give details unless they want us to have them so why six jars is a valid question to ask. First, six jars holding 20-30 gallons turned into good wine. That is a lot of wine!!! That is a sign of abundant life! Second, the number 6 in Hebrew culture is the number of incompleteness, lacking, even evil. 666 is the number for the anti-Christ in Revelation because 3 is the number of wholeness, balance and the number for God, so three sixes are the symbolic number for the entirety of evil. Six jars could symbolize a lacking: lacking enough wine for the guests, lacking righteousness which could be temporarily relieved by a ritual bath in the mikvah, humans lacking faithfulness to the covenant which needs God to become Word made Flesh.

Bible Tuesday for the Baptism of Our Lord 2016

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, January 10, 2016

This Sunday is the feast day of the Baptism of Jesus. These Bible passages were chosen by the Revised Common Lectionary https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revised_Common_Lectionary

for their mention of water, specifically how God uses water or rescues beings from water, and how water symbolizes God or God’s activity.

Isaiah 43:1-7

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

The context of the book of Isaiah is that the nation of Israel has been divided into two kingdoms along clan lines due to arguments over royal ascension; the Northern Kingdom was most frequently referred to as Israel while the Southern Kingdom was most frequently referred to as Judah. The Northern Kingdom of Israel has been in great part decimated by Assyria. Just over 100 years later, after Babylonia defeated Assyria, Babylonia came after the Southern Kingdom, laid siege to Jerusalem, and in 586BC conquered Judah and hauled the educated royalty and priests into captivity in Babylon, leaving the farmers and tradespeople to continue production to be tribute to Babylonia. The book of Isaiah was written from the time Babylonia threatened Judah, through the siege and fall, through the captivity, the conquering of Babylonia by Cyrus of Persia, and into the return of the exiles to Jerusalem.

In the above passage/pericope, the prophet assures the people of Judah (who are in fact Israelites, that is, descended from Jacob whom God renamed Israel which means, “He who struggles with God” Ishra-man who struggles el-God) that God has not forgotten them in captivity but will most assuredly redeem them and they will go home. Notice the waters in this passage. These references to waters and rivers harken to Israel’s past, when God brought Noah and his family and all the animals through the terrifying flood, when God brought Abraham and Sarah through the Jordan River to the Promised Land, when the Israelites crossed through the Red Sea/Sea of Reeds to escape the Egyptians, and when the Israelites crossed the Jordan led by Joshua to conquer Jericho and to resettle in the Promised Land. The prophet assures the people, just as God kept the peoples of Israel and led them with an outstretched hand and protected them with a mighty arm, so will God care for you, even though you are a conquered, enslaved people confined to foreign soil.

Psalm 29

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters.

The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.

The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.

May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!

At first glance, this psalm is obviously one which praises God for the power and strength visible through nature and the universe. Liturgically, the Israelites used this psalm as a prayer for rain during agrarian festivals such as Sukkot. Due to the geographic locations and sentence structure of parts of this psalm, some scholars believe this to be an ancient hymn to Baal that was adapted by Israel for praise of Yahweh.

Baal was frequently depicted in statuary as riding a golden bull or golden calf, with a lightening bolt clenched in an upraised fist. Baal supposedly controlled water through the chaos of storms. But in this psalm, Yahweh speaks through/over water, and wind, His voice, thundering and crashing. Later in the psalm, God is enthroned over flood waters. In these ways, the psalmist is showing God as more powerful than Baal, since God is not in the water but merely using it as a tool, a voice, and is enthroned not in it but above it.

Acts 8:14-17

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

This pericope from Acts is the only exception to our water themed Bible passages for this week. However, this one does deal with baptism and the giving of the Holy Spirit.

Since baptism, no matter what tradition of Christianity one might consider, is quite uniform throughout Christianity, it is hard to imagine how varied it was in the first centuries of the faith. Contemporary questions regarding Christianity are: dunking or water on head only, infant or “believers” baptism, one baptism for all or rebaptized into a different denomination? But in the early church, in addition to those three questions, also up for discussion was “In whose name do we baptize?” and “Why do we baptize?” and “Where should we baptize since many bodies of water are worshipped as idols?”

This passage of Acts shows the confusion that arose from inconsistencies in baptismal practices. These Samaritans had been baptized but only in the name of God the Father and Jesus. They did not receive the Holy Spirit, nor were they baptized into the Holy Spirit. Note: the remedy for not receiving the Holy Spirit was NOT rebaptism but rather laying on of hands. In the book of Acts, evidence of the Holy Spirit being manifest was frequently speaking in tongues, or in other languages as happened on Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2.

Luke 3:15-22

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized 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, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

In this, the third year of the three year Revised Common Lectionary cycle, we will be spending a lot of time in Luke. Luke, along with Matthew and Mark, tell us through the proclamation of John the Baptist, that Jesus is the conveyer of the Holy Spirit through baptism, which somehow happens on Pentecost. In the gospel of John, the Holy Spirit is given on Easter Sunday evening through Jesus breathing on the disciples. In Luke, as well as Matthew and Mark, Jesus himself is baptized, and appears to be baptized by John. In the gospel of John, Jesus never is baptized.

An important theme in the gospel of Luke is one of hypocrisy. Here the words of John the Baptist foreshadows Jesus’ exposure of hypocrites. “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Hypocrites who rely on their own supposed righteousness and do not receive Jesus’ good news are chaff. Those who welcome Jesus’ good news because they recognize their need for it are the harvested grain.

One question that the gospels answer differently is, “When did Jesus become God?” Mark was the first gospel to be written and Mark begins his gospel with Jesus baptism, during which God declares, “You are my Son, with whom I am well pleased.” This statement is legal language that was common in patronistic adoptions in the Roman world. Mark appears to be saying that Jesus was just a regular guy until God called him through baptism and made Jesus God’s son. Matthew and Luke both used Mark as a source for their gospels which are believed to have been written contemporarily but independently. While they both record the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, and God’s declaration, both Matthew and Luke include stories of Jesus’ conception by Mary through the Holy Spirit and of his infancy; shepherds in Luke, and wise men in Matthew. Both Matthew and Luke appear to be saying that Jesus was God’s son at his miraculous conception. It is only the gospel of John that begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” Christianity has completely embraced John’s teachings on the origin of Jesus, or complete lack thereof. Jesus/God/Holy Spirit are three persons of the one true God, and this teaching is only found in the gospel of John.