2014-06-08 – Rev. Dr. Allan Effa – First Baptist Church Edmonton
The Kiss of God
Texts: Isaiah 44:1-5; Acts 2:1-8; 14-18
The Feast of Pentecost celebrates God’s action to heal our broken and fragmented world. The Spirit came during the Jewish festival of Shavuot – 50 days after Passover – which celebrates the receiving of the Ten Commandments. What I find so striking is that God pays attention to our calendar and does some of his greatest works in tandem with our sense of time. Jesus’ death happened during Passover and the coming of the Holy Spirit coincides with the giving of the Law. Just as Moses ascended the mountain to be with God, Jesus ascended into heaven. Moses came back down with the Law, but Jesus comes back as the Holy Spirit who writes God’s laws on our hearts and comes to take up residence inside us!
I want to frame my thoughts this morning around sacraments. In my younger years I thought that sacraments were strange things that Catholics did and which the Protestant Reformers had delivered us from. They were almost as suspect as the sale of indulgences.
I have come to see that sacraments represent those tangible ways in which God meets us. Because we are physical beings, God comes to us through things he has created, and through these material things touches us and indwells us. I once heard Thomas Collins over at St. Joseph’s Basilica say, “Sacraments are the kiss of God.”
Let’s look at three ways the Holy Spirit brings us the kiss of God.
Today the worldwide church celebrates the coming of the Spirit, descending on the disciples in tongues of fire. Red is the color of Pentecost to remind us of the fire of God. We have all these candles burning up here to remind us that God comes in fire.
For most of us, fire conjures up fear and dread. We look to firefighters to put out fires that, in times past would have wiped out whole cities. We do not immediately associate fire with the experience of the presence of God, except, perhaps at camp, when we stoke it up and get a good Kum-ba-yah going. Even though we live in a northern climate, we seldom give thought to the fact that it is our gas-fired furnaces that keep us alive and comfortable through the frigid winter. The flames that comfort us are neatly hidden from view, behind panels of steel. We do not appreciate the fire until the furnace breaks down and we watch the thermometer on the wall begin a steady decline.
God’s visitation is often accompanied by fire. God sealed a covenant with Abram by showing up as a “smoking fire pot and a flaming torch”, passing between the halves of the sacrifice laid upon the altar (Genesis 15:17). Moses received direction through a burning bush; God camped on a fiery mountain to reveal the law, and offered a comforting presence through a pillar of fire in the wilderness.
Fire burns up that which is useless and makes room for new things to emerge. It was this refining fire that John the Baptist announced about the one who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16). Fire releases new life, opens the way for a new beginning. During a vacation in Jasper National Park a guide told us that the forests were aging and threatened by disease because of the lack of forest fires. Much effort has been made to prevent naturally occurring fires by making firebreaks in the forest and through early fire detection and firefighting equipment. The jack and lodge pole pines produce seeds enclosed in hard cones that can only be opened by the heat of fire. Old forests must burn to make room for new ones to emerge.
Today we enter the long season of Pentecost. What does the Spirit need to burn away so new life can emerge?
Paul told the Thessalonian Christians not to “quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Let the Spirit keep on burning! Have you experienced the fire lately? While listening to the Word read or proclaimed, sitting over a cup of coffee with a spiritual friend, talking about God – and your heart was strangely warmed? You were facing a tough question you did not know how to answer, and then words suddenly came with ease, and wisdom, and piercing truth. Or you found your way to this place, with your heart cast down by cares and troubles and bad news – and new energy, strength and joy flooded your heart because God visited you. The Spirit comes to us like a cleansing, life-giving fire.
For 8 years I lived in a part of Nigeria where every year we experienced a 5 month dry season in which we did not even receive a drop of rain. Dust from the Sahara desert would cover the sky and settle on everything in the house. Water became a precious commodity. I learned, while traveling to some of the most drought-stricken areas, to take a bath with just one glass of water. Finally humidity would build, clouds would form on the horizon and we would experience a downpour that washed the earth and ushered us into rainy season.
Our First Testament reading compares the pouring out of God’s Spirit with life-giving rains on a thirsty ground. The Bible draws many links between the Spirit of God and water. The Spirit of God hovered over the waters in creation and came to rest upon Jesus in the waters of baptism. Jesus likened the promised Holy Spirit to a “spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:14).
Ann Lamott says, “Christianity is about water… it’s about baptism Most of what we do in worldly life is geared toward our staying dry, looking good, not going under. But in baptism, in lakes and rain and tanks and fonts, you agree to do something that’s a little sloppy because at the same time it’s also holy and absurd. It’s about surrender, giving in to all those things we can’t control; it’s a willingness to let go of balance and decorum and get drenched.”
God, the Holy Spirit, comes to us through common water. Jesus told Nicodemus that new life arises when we are born of the water and the Spirit. I appreciate the sacred way we approach baptism here at FBC. We instruct those who are being baptized that they should expect to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We lay hands on and anoint with oil those who are going into the waters. Baptism is an essential step in spiritual formation. Do you want to follow God and know his presence and power at work in your life? Come to the waters! The Spirit comes to us in the waters of baptism. This notion was core to the apostolic preaching. On that first Pentecost, when Peter sought to summarize the Gospel, he said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
The practice of anointing people with oil has a long association with the coming of the Holy Spirit. God gave Moses and Aaron a special recipe for anointing oil that was to be used only for consecrating priests and objects set aside for worship. When Samuel anointed Saul with oil as king, the Holy Spirit came upon him and he prophesied and he was changed into a different person. When David was anointed, “the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward.” (1 Samuel 16:13).
In the Second Testament the oil of anointing became associated with the Spirit’s ministry of healing. We do not have any record that Jesus anointed people with oil, but his disciples used oil to heal the sick and drive out demons as they went from town to town to proclaim the good news (Mark 6:13). This became a practice of the church ever since. It is a tangible, physical reminder that the Spirit of Jesus is present, compassionately touching our feeble bodies.
In the Anglican service of healing the minister anoints the sick and says,
As you are outwardly anointed with this holy oil.
So may our heavenly Father grant you
The inward anointing of the Holy Spirit.
Of his great mercy,
May he forgive you your sins,
Release you from suffering,
And restore you to wholeness and strength.
May he deliver you from all evil,
Preserve you in all goodness,
And bring you to everlasting life;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
On this Pentecost Sunday we come together to seek the transforming fire of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and God’s loving touch to wash us with forgiveness, release from suffering, deliverance from evil.
There is a mystery here. God loves us – yet sometimes he heals and sometimes he doesn’t heal. But he always meets us – sometimes with miraculous breakthroughs, and sometimes with strength to bear the pains and sorrows of life. Our role is to come faithfully before God to receive the “kiss of God” and be open to what God wants to do.
Holy Spirit, making life alive,
Moving in all things, root of all creative being,
Cleansing the cosmos of every impurity,
Effacing guilt, anointing wounds,
You are lustrous and praiseworthy life,
You waken and re-awaken everything that is.
[Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), A Hymn to the Holy Spirit]