Shouting Stones – Prayerful Tuesday

Luke 19:40: He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

Power of 10 Are We Alone in the Universe,
Updated May 3, 2011 by Securityscience

Several years ago someone sent me this video that imagines going out from a 1 meter distance by a power of 10 up to 1020 Km or 10 million light years, then coming back to earth to 1 meter starting point and doing a reverse trip into a leaf by a power of ten to 10-16 meters or 100 Atómeters (that’s 0.0000000000000001 meters).  What has always fascinated me we could have kept going forever if we are traveling away from earth, there is no limit that we know of to the distance we can travel.  However, 10-16 is the smallest we can get if we reverse the trip.  After this point all is mystery.  What lies beyond that limit of 10-16?

While this video imagines going into leave they could just have easily imagined entering an atom of a rock.  You see that place of mystery is found in all things, living or what we call non-living.  Whether rock or human both are made of atoms and that means that this place of mystery is found in rocks, humans, our pets, trees, and air.  What mystery does this place hold? What if our connection to all things created is found within this gigantic, tiny, place. What if, this is where the Divine can be found and how would that idea change the way you think about our planet, our universe.

When George Lucas created the story of Star Wars he consulted with the author Joseph Campbell about mythology and how it explains the unexplainable. From those conversations Lucas developed the concept of the “Force” surrounding and being within all things, not unlike this place of mystery in every atom. So might our search for the unexplainable be present within each of us?

Might it be that developing a relationship with the Creator requires us to look within ourselves, to listen to the inner “voice” that whispers to us at the edge of our consciousness. That is what the mystics tell us we should do.  What if we should recognize the presence of the Creator in more than each other? That we should respect all created things, even rocks because the Creator, or however you name or depict the Divine, will be found there.

This week’s meditation

After you watch this video look at your hand and contemplate how the molecules and atoms that make up your hand resemble the greater universe.  Then contemplate how the place of mystery compares to the limitlessness of space. Where might you find the greatest mystery of life?  Contemplate how we as humans are connected to more than each other. Then ask yourself “what can I do, no matter how small, to help reconnect each of us to the Divine?”

Ruth Jewell, ©December 29, 2015.

Sweet Pea and the Narrow Path

DSCF0427 a

Matthew 14:25-33 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Nearly 40 years ago I went on a camping trip that included riding a horse 20 miles every day.  The horse I rode was a rather smallish black mare with a lot of quarter horse in her background.  She was gentle and quiet and when I learned she didn’t have a name I named her Sweet Pea.

One day we came to place where the trail all but disappeared and developed a tilt of maybe 30 to 40° as it extended across the lip of the canyon.  The distance to the bottom of canyon was maybe 100 to 150 ft down.  I needed to trust that my horse would safely carry me across the steep incline without falling to the bottom of the canyon.  I took a deep breath and started across and promptly halted Sweet Pea and froze about ¼ of the way on the path.  We were in very precarious position, on a steep incline and just inches from the edge of the canyon wall and a drop to the bottom would most likely have killed both of us.  I held Sweet Pea in place until she pulled the reins loose in my hand, turned her head as if to say trust me we can do this and she walked the rest of the way across.  As I look back over the years I have begun to learn this moment with Sweet Pea was a turning point for me. I now realize that it was here on a narrow trail in Mexico that I turned onto the path leading to this place in my life. For that first step to happen I had to let go of my fear and anxiety and trust someone else to take control of my life, it just happened to be that a small black horse was the one I put my trust in.

Peter too takes a step of trust when he steps out of the boat and starts to walk toward Jesus but something happened to him and he started to sink.  Yes Jesus saved him and before they get into the boat tells him he needs faith.  Ah, but what is faith and how does Peter or any of us get more of it? I can’t answer the “how” question because for each of us the way to faith will be different.  But I can explore with you what it means to have faith.

The modern definition of faith is not the definition that was understood in the days of Jesus and Peter.  Today we equate faith with religious belief; if you believe in specific religious doctrines you are said to have faith in it.  But, Marcus Borg in Speaking Christian, says in the 1st century faith was expressed by the Latin words fidelitas, faithfulness, and fiducia, trust.

To have faithfulness meant you were committed to, loyal to, held allegiance to, and were attentive to a relationship, Such as our relationship with God.  Faith as faithfulness does not just mean you are not going to follow other gods, but that you are committed and loyal to your relationship with God, and God known as Jesus, and that you attend to that relationship to keep it strong and healthy.

Faith as trust is more than a commitment; it is also a deep trust in God and Jesus.  That trust is so deep that you are willing to get out of your nice safe boat and walk on water, or, ride your horse across a dangerous trail.  The opposite of faith is not infidelity, but “mistrust”—that is anxiety, and that is what happened to Peter.  One moment Peter was striding above the waves, just as Jesus was, and then his fears build into anxiety and he began to mistrust Jesus, so he started sinking.  Jesus is not telling Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  No, what Jesus was really saying was “Peter, why didn’t you trust me to keep you on the surface of the water, why did you mistrust me?”

Isn’t that what we all do? Don’t we all mistrust God and Jesus to fulfill our needs?  And, don’t our plans all too often sink, just as Peter did?  I know it is true for me.  My first steps out of the safety of my boat into the abyss of trust were with Sweet Pea and I froze.  I wasn’t sure I could trust her to carry me across that narrow path to safety.  But something in her eyes told me all would be well and you know what, 40 years later I’m still here.  Since that horseback camping trip in Mexico I have had many moments when I let my mistrust of Jesus keep me from achieving goals I know I could have achieved if I had had faith, if I had trusted, in the one leading me and I know that there will be more of them in my future.

You see I am human and to mistrust God is part of a being human because I have a strong sense of my own independence which wants to rule the day.  And having independence isn’t bad, nor is saying “No” to God and Jesus.  The choice of following or not following must always be mine.  It is when my independent voice says “Yes” that my trust in God and Jesus is the strongest and deepest for then I know with certainty that I am not alone.  I know then that nothing will shake by commitment to, my faithfulness in, the One All Surrounding Presence.

Have any of you ever read John Ortberg’s book If You Want To Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get out of the Boat?  Well Ortberg is right, you do have to step out of the boat, or onto the narrow path, and trust that everything will be all right.  I often wonder if we, if I, can sustain my trust in God long enough to get out of the boat on that raging sea called life and walk across the water?  More often than not we will set ourselves up for failure by allowing our hearts to mistrust Jesus’ promise that He “is with us always.”

Life can be hard task master and the main reason we don’t succeed is often how we see failure and loss of trust.  Losing our trust, our faith does not have to shape who we, you and me, are; it is the way we respond to that loss that shapes us.  Jesus wasn’t ridiculing Peter when he asked why he failed. Rather he was asking a question of Peter, ‘why did you lose your trust.’  Peter may not have understood the question at the time but following the resurrection he did and he stepped out of his nice safe boat big time.  For Peter, learning to walk on water and being rescued by Jesus was his turning point, his moment that began his trip to his own cross.

We too don’t understand the questions Jesus asks us and I am no different.  Right now I am struggling with so many questions that I don’t know which ones I’m asking and which ones God is asking.  All I know is the answers are not forthcoming.

One of the first lessons in trust happens to be learning to wait on God to guide us in the right direction.  We have to wait for the power to be given to us to walk on water.  We have to wait for Jesus to calm the seas for us.  Only then will we make it across that treacherous path or across the water’s surface.  The problem is all of us are impatient; we want results now, not tomorrow, but yesterday.  We want to move forward in our lives and we don’t care how we do it.  One of my favorite phrases is “Give me patience Lord, but hurry” and for many years that fit me to a “T.”  Slowing down and opening my heart and mind, trusting that Jesus will come is extremely hard.  It is putting myself, in utter vulnerability, into Jesus’ hands. It is letting go of what I want and trusting and having faith that Jesus will bring me what I need.

The idea that any of us are self made individuals is a myth.  We all need others in order to survive and thrive in our world.  We have always needed the other, not just in today’s world where we are globally connected, but in all of time we have been in need of the other in our lives.  That other might be our brothers and sisters, it might be the food we hunt or grow but what and who ever it is we cannot survive alone. We have always needed to choose who to trust, who we would have faith in and be faithful to.  We look for what will guide us in ways that will allow us to flourish and let our children flourish. We look to pass on our understanding of the world in a way that teaches our children to trust in something other than themselves or those who only think like them.  We look to trust someone who will honor our independent yes as much as our independent no.  We want to have faith in someone who will show us how to walk on water and skip across dangerous paths.

Peter lost his trust and began to sink but Jesus was there to lift him up and into the safety of the boat.  I lost my trust for a moment but the Holy Spirit said trust in the guide I have given you and together Sweet Pea and I made it safely across.  It has always amazed me as to the number of different ways the Holy Spirit makes herself known to me.  Sometimes I simply have to go with the flow of energy and trust that what will be is what is supposed to happen. It is all about trust. That is what faith is all about.

Ruth Jewell, ©August 10, 2014
Sermon given at Queen Anne Christian Church
Seattle, WA

a morning prayer

God said "Let  there be light" (ngc4921, NASA)
God said “Let there be light”
(ngc4921, NASA)

May we remember today that we are part of an unfolding story
That calls us to listen to God’s words with intent to action
May we live in the reality of God’s kingdom entering into our lives
May we rejoice in the wonder of God’s eternal presence
May all that we do deepen our awareness of God
May we see in every moment the spark of holiness
And recognize Christ in every encounter
May God’s word burst from the pages of our lives and …
become the life we live
AMEN

Ruth Jewell, ©March 22, 2014

 

Who’s Cross

Who's Cross
Who’s Cross

Mark 8:34 And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

I love the Gospel of Mark, it encourages me to ask questions and this verse in his gospel is one of those that drives me crazy with questions.  The reason is I’m not sure whose cross I’m supposed to carry.  If I take it literally, which is how it is most often interpreted, then I am to bear “my” cross and follow Jesus.  But If I look at this scripture from the way Jesus responded to all of those who did follow him and surrounded him as he taught, then, this verse takes on new meaning for me.

What if, just what if, Jesus is telling us to carry the cross of someone who is suffering and not our own cross.  Yes I know that flies in the face of orthodox interpretation but then I’m not orthodox.  Those in my ecclesial tradition of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) read and interpret scripture and Holy Writings for ourselves.  We do have to defend our interpretation and in that defense we either modify or enlarge our understanding of what scripture has to say.  So here is my defense of my interpretation Mark 8:34 that “the cross Jesus is asking us to pick up is not ours but the cross of my neighbor and both of us then follow Jesus.”

First of all these words of Jesus are recorded in all three of the synoptic Gospels, but not in John.  Now it could be that Matthew and Luke simply copied Mark, after all they used Mark as their blueprint for their own Gospels.  But, the fact that it appears almost word for word in each of three synoptic Gospels leads me to believe this was something Jesus did say or could have said.  Jesus also never said anything that would contradict what he “did” throughout his life of a servant to the disadvantaged, displaced, ill, elderly and disabled. Jesus’ life as it was recorded in the synoptic Gospels was less about what he said and all about what he did.

It is also one of the verses that is almost always misused or misquoted to, or by, those who are having a difficult time.  How often have you heard the words “well that is my (your) cross to bear.”   Something about that phrase has always bothered me.  It’s used to trivialize suffering or difficult times for people and I think that is wrong.  I don’t believe that Jesus would have ever told anyone that and I believe the “traditional” interpretation of this verse of carrying my own cross  may not be what Jesus had in mind when he called to his disciples and the multitude.

Jesus always cared for those who could not care for themselves.  His ministry was to those who had been discarded by society, bringing them back into relationship with their communities and with God.  We often see him tired and totally worn out from giving of himself to those who needed him.  And my question is; is that not carrying the cross of the other long?  In fact we see death in so many ways in the ministry of Jesus, and not just Lazarus (John 11:41-43), a widow’s son (Luke 7:14), or Jairus’ little girl (Matthew 9:25, Mark 5:41, Luke 8:54).  We see those who are dead and buried simply because they don’t fit society’s profile of “normal,” the blind, the infirm, and the mentally disabled and we see them resurrected from their death to life by Jesus who returns them to their communities.  Every story of healing is a story of death and resurrection and it is Jesus who takes the burdens, i.e. their crosses, of those who have died to life restoring them to family and community. Jesus was teaching a Way of Life, and, one in which we as his followers were to emulate.  That means caring for those who have died to society, bringing them back to life by restoring them to God, their families, and their communities.  If we are going to be followers of Jesus then it is not our salvation that we are to be concerned with.  No, it is the resurrection and life of those who have been pushed outside of society and left to die to life.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe the way I reach God is the only way.  I believe there are many paths to God and each person will find their own path in their own good way and time.  But If I am carrying the cross of those who are disadvantaged than I do it in the name of my faith in Jesus and give the space for those who are in my care to find the best way forward in their own way.  To relieve the suffering of others, carrying their cross, is enough for my task. I can’t make the decisions as to how the move forward for them that is their choice.  It could be that they choose to refuse my help and that is OK, they then have chosen to remain where they are in their spiritual lives.

Jesus never forced his pathway on anyone so why should I.  Remember the story of the 10 Lepers (Luke 17:12-19)? Jesus healed ten but only one returned to thank him.  Jesus asks where the other nine were but that’s as far as it goes. He doesn’t take revenge on them by making them lepers again just because they didn’t return to follow him. He let them choose their own path so that is what we are to do as well.  (Here is a side note from this former statistician: actually 10% isn’t a bad response, in most instances you can expect only a 10% to 20% return on anything you put forward.)

So carrying the cross of someone else means opening a door for them, or clearing a pathway that allows them to return to a right relationship with God, no matter what that may look like for any particular individual.  It means walking along side someone supporting their burdens while they sort out their lives and relationship with God no matter how they worship, or name God.  Not an easy task for sure.  We can see the effects on Jesus throughout scripture in his perpetual fatigue.  Yet Jesus never complained and that too is a goal we are to reach for and it too is very difficult.

Now the next question is, if I am carrying someone else’s cross who is carrying mine.  And that’s a tricky question.  Do you remember that during the trip to Golgotha Simon of Cyrene (Matthew 27: 32, Mark 15:21, Luke 23:26) was conscripted into carrying Jesus cross?  This, for means me, Simon supported Jesus’ burdens and Jesus was now the one who was in need of life. Jesus find life in his own resurrection, a resurrection had had given to so many others throughout his lifetime.

My lesson of the scripture is someone else is walking with me and supporting my burdens while I support the burdens of those who are disadvantaged.  The person supporting my burdens is Jesus and I am supporting Jesus’ burdens in my walking in the way He taught.  Now that is a big cross to carry! I am not sure I know how to fulfill this task, but I do know that I’m not alone; in fact I am never alone.  I have others on the same pathway and I always have the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit to hold me up and cheer me on.  I am not perfect at following the teaching of Jesus but grateful that He’s not too picky and forgives me my all too often mistakes and stumbles.  While I strive to be Jesus like I often miss the mark and that means I’m not always helpful.  All I am asked to do is to keep trying and moving forward on the path.  I mean after all he taught those 12 male disciples and they never got it right so I figure I’m in good company.

Life is what I want, for me and for all that I meet.  It’s not my job or task to determine what that life will look like for someone else, I only need to worry about what mine looks like.  That is sufficient unto the day.  All Christ, God, and Holy Spirit want is for me to try, that’s all, and I am forgive my wanderings from the path and am welcomed back when I find it again.  That is all I can do, that is all any of us can do.

May your journey be a joyful one, but if it’s not then I pray that you let someone support you and help you back into life.

©Ruth Jewell, July 3, 2013

Thunder Storm

 

Thunderstorm Picture by NOAA
Thunderstorm Picture by NOAA

A mountain moves toward me
white and gray, filled with rain
suddenly a flash of light
one thousand one
one thousand two
one thousand three
one thousand four
one thousand five, Boom, Crash
five miles,
the storm is five miles away
the air is heavy, the first scent of ozone reaches me

Hurry gather the chickens into their coop
the normally combative rooster runs in first
with clucks and cheeps the hens settle on
their roosts and nests
the now brave rooster hurry’s me out
A flash of light
one thousand one
one thousand two
one thousand three, Boom, Crash
three miles
the storm is moving quickly
the light is fading

Run to the barn and open the gate
to the lounging area
the cows already are waiting to be let in
horses move toward the opening
one recalcitrant pony stands in the middle of the pasture
yelling at the storm, “I command you to stay away”
the wind blows his black main and tail back, the storm moves
closer . . . a flash of light, and the brave soul runs for the barn
hooves flashing, neck stretched out and ears flat
as the first big drops of rain fall on his back he darts into the barn
the other animals look at him
“Didn’t work did it”, a flash of light
one thousand one, Boom, Crash,
one mile
I climb the steps to the hay loft with the dog and cat
and throw biscuits of hay down to the animals, Flash
one thou…. Boom, Crash
the storm is on me,
too late to reach the house

I settle down into the hay loft
dog and cat curl up beside me
rain pounds the tin roof
in a symphony to put Beethoven to shame
lightening and thunder come together now
flashing light and sound through and around the barn
rain rushes and pours off the roof,
the old pine and maple trees bend and sway in the wind and water
rivulets of water run down into the pasture
making ponds and small streams
the smell of wet earth, rain, and ozone fills the troubled air

the horses and cattle mill around down below
the scent of their warm bodies drift up to me
I hear a rustle in the beams of the barn and
Pigeons and sparrows settle in to share my shelter
in a corner, far from the barn owl, who also lives here
a meadow mouse sits and nibbles a bit of grain
sharing my space in companionable silence
many call this barn home, cattle, horses, owls,
pigeons, sparrows, mice and rabbits
it is a sanctuary, a safe place
a place where all live in harmony
at least until they leave its safe walls

The loft is warm, the hay sweetly scented
Using the dog as a pillow I lay down to wait out the storm
I listen to the horses and cattle talk
the pigeons rustle and coo
slowly the rain and thunder lulls me into a place of calm
time stops and I drift into creation

Ruth Jewell ©May 4, 2013

HOME

Ruth 1:16-17

16But Ruth said,
“Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
Where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
17Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!”

John 14:23
23Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

2 Corinthians 5:6-9
6So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— 7for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

Our book group has been reading and discussing Diana Butler Bass’ book, Christianity After Religion, and in Chapter 6 Bass discusses home and identity.  I actually had trouble with this section because I’m not sure what is home for me.  I mean I have a home; I live in a house, with my husband, one dog, 2 parrots and a seminary student so that isn’t the issue.  What is my question is “what does home mean?” 

I grew up in Ohio and moved to a farm when I was 5 years old so for the next 19 years of my life my “home” was this wonderland place chock full of discoveries, and sadness.  When I was 24 I moved from the farm and began a kind of nomadic life.  I moved every couple of years from home to apartment, state to state, city to city, and moving many times within cities.  My latest move was in 2000, when I was married, and moved into the house I am now living.  When I moved into this house I told John, this was my last move and I would be carried out of here feet first because I wasn’t going to pack up all my “stuff” again!  But, given my past history that may be a wish made on sand and someday I will have to, reluctantly, move from this house. 

When we discussed what was home in our book group I realized I was the only one who had no clear sense of home.  In fact I have no sense of a home town, or place of origin at all.  All of the places I have lived are really far in the past and clouded with time. Does that sound strange to you?  It didn’t to me until I began to listen to the stories of home from others.  For instance my husband can identify one spot as his hometown, St. Charles Iowa.  That is where he was born and grew up and despite not living there for 50 some years he still calls it home. 

I can’t do that; there is no one place I would call home.  Heck, there are times when I drive up my own driveway that I have to remind myself this is my “home” and I belong here.  For me where I am is home.  As long as I have my friends, companion critters and now the family I married into I’m home.  I don’t have relatives to speak of.  My parents have passed on; I haven’t seen any of my family of origin in 40 some years.  The family I have is the family I have created around me, a group of individuals, couples, and families I feel strong connections with.  Not one of them is a blood relative and that is fine with me.  Yet I feel closer to this group than I ever did to my blood relations. 

It is not that they all think like I do because they don’t.  In fact, my guess is we have become friends because we think differently.  But they share something with me that my “own family” never did and that is themselves.  If I need a shoulder to cry on I can count on one of them showing up at my door saying, “Ruth, I had a feeling you needed a friend today.”   Even when great distance separates us I can sense when a good friend needs me to call and talk.  The conversation may be nothing important at all but it means something to my friend and me. I can’t say my own family would ever feel that connected to me.

For me home is where I am, right now, in this place, at this time.  It means for me being with God, family, companions, friends, creation in whatever place or time I am in.  If I had to suddenly leave the place I currently shelter in I can do it.  I would grab what is important: my husband, my companion critters, my backpack throw in my bible and a change of clothes (my vanity wouldn’t let me wear the same underwear two days in a row, I’d add soap as well for cleanliness is next to Godliness),and walk out closing the door behind me.  The stuff in the building is just stuff and can be replaced, none of it is important.  As long as I have those that I love (and a change of underwear) I’m good to go.  Were I end up I’d be HOME.

So I guess I am saying I am “home” wherever I am, I don’t need a specific location to call “home” I just need to feel close to what is important and what is important is love and companionship with those who I love and who love me.  God will not abandon me, where I am God is because I experience God in the love I give and receive.  What else is needed?  Someone once said “home is where your heart is” and maybe what that means is my heart is my home, the ultimate shelter, the ultimate place I meet and live with Love.  I am Home.

Ruth Jewell, ©April 12, 2013

It Was In Prayer

Prayer is the KeySermon preached at Queen Anne Christian Church, January 13, 2013

Acts 8:14-17    14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16(for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17Then Peter and John* laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Luke 3:15-22     15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John 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. 17His 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.’

18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19But 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, 20added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and 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.’

As I was reading the many different stories of Jesus’ baptism this past week I was reminded of my own baptism and the story surrounding it.  I was 10 years old when I attended the class that would prepare me, and my entire Sunday school class, for baptism.  While I had attended church all my young life, for me, this baptism was more about how cool it would be to suddenly become “Holy” and have all my sins forgiven. I mean my thoughts were, “Wow all of my sins were going to be forgiven, even the ones mom and dad didn’t know about, how cool was that.”  

I wasn’t disappointed when the sky didn’t open up and I didn’t hear a voice or see a dove, but I was disappointed that I didn’t “feel” any different. I didn’t feel as if I had been forgiven.  However, knowing, at the wise age of 10, that I should feel something I was afraid to say anything because everyone else seemed so darned happy.  It would be another 20 years before I felt I was beginning to understand what baptism meant and felt a tug to renew that commitment and asked to be re-baptized.  This time I knew that something was different; I just didn’t know what it was. It would take another 20 years of trying to live a good life, failing most times, but, sometimes coming close before I experienced what I call an intervention by the Holy Spirit and had a new enlightenment about what it meant to be part of a faith community. 

At the time this happened I was at a very difficult place in my life and my “ah-ha” moment was the most dramatic event to ever happen to me.  It changed how I viewed myself and everyone and everything around me in relation to how I envisioned my life with God, Spirit and Christ.   Now, events like that do not happen every day or for every person. But, I am grateful for what I experienced and feel blessed to have been given something I feel is special and I try to live into the promise given me that day. 

You are probably calculating in your mind “let see 10+20+20=50, she was fifty when baptism finally made sense!”  All I can say is I’m a really slow learner.  But yes, I didn’t I understand what it meant to be baptized until I was well into my adult years. Your own stories may say you understood before, during or right after you entered and exited the waters of baptism.  Every person is different and the Spirit picks the time it will act, we don’t tell the Holy Spirit.  Nor do we pick the moment when all of it comes together.  In my tradition of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Baptism is believer’s baptism by immersion, just as it was for Jesus.  That means we are supposed to know why we do it and for most part I think most of us do, for some of us it just takes a little longer. As Luke tells the story it didn’t come together even for Jesus until after he was baptized and in prayer.

You know we have heard the stories of Jesus’ baptism so often we don’t actually ‘hear’ it when it is read.  It is actually only in Mark and Matthew where we have a retelling of John baptizing Jesus.  How many of you unconsciously substituted Mark’s or Matthew’s story in the above Luke scripture when you read it and missed the focus of Luke’s telling of the story? 

First of all Luke does tell us Jesus was baptized. He doesn’t actually say it was John the Baptist, although most likely it was. But in Verse 3:21, Luke’s story of Jesus’ baptism is almost an afterthought.  Jesus was baptized with all of those who came to the Jordan River.  He was baptized just like any other person seeking repentance and forgiveness.  Nothing special, it was an act of commitment and faith just like every person coming to John at the Jordan River.  What is highlighted is that sometime after the baptism when Jesus was in prayer the Spirit descends upon him “like a dove” and he hears God’s voice say “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  

Luke doesn’t focus much on the commitment, repentance and forgiveness of the act of baptism.  Instead his focus is on the baptism of the Spirit, just as John tells his audience in Verse 16; “… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  Jesus’ baptism is with the Holy Spirit and the Spirit decides when that will happen, and, for Luke prayer plays a huge role in when the Holy Spirit comes. 

In the first scripture reading from Acts we read that a Samaritan Community had been baptized but “the Spirit had not yet come upon … them,”  so Peter and John travel to Samaria pray for the Holy Spirit and lay “their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”  Jesus was in prayer, Peter and John prayed and the Holy Spirit came.    Does this mean that the Spirit will always come in response to prayer … ah … probably not? As I said the Spirit picks the moment when it gives enlightenment, not us.

But Luke’s focus on the act of prayer is the key to our spiritual doors; prayer has a special place in Luke’s Gospel.  The Evangelist tells us Jesus is constantly going away to be in prayer, he prays with his disciples, he prays for the sick, the lame, and the possessed.  Jesus prays in the garden and on the cross. Jesus’ entire life is a model of a life lived in prayer and the relationship with his Abba that prayer fostered.  For Luke the most important thing Jesus taught his disciples was prayer.  The way to talk to and build relationship with God is in prayer.

Luke continues his theme of prayer in his second book, the Acts of the Apostles. Following Jesus’ ascension the disciples returned to Jerusalem and devoted their time to prayer.   They prayed when they replaced Judas with Matthias.  When the Holy Spirit descends on them they were all sitting together, my guess is they were praying, as that would have been their practice.  The first converts were taught by the Apostles to pray and when the community became too great to lead by themselves, they appointed Stephen and Philip to do community management, so they, the Apostles, could devote themselves to teaching, baptizing and prayer. 

I am not saying that Luke ranked baptism as second to prayer, for he doesn’t. Baptism is and will always be the first sacrament. For us Disciples baptism is one of only two sacraments we have, the other being the Lord’s Supper.  However, Luke is explaining to his community of Gentile converts that it takes the two together, baptism plus prayer, to fully understand the commitment made in Christ’s name.  He is also trying to explain to his community that the Holy Spirit does not always come in direct response to baptism.  Sometimes it comes before or after baptism, it is the Spirits choice.  Paul experiences Christ and the Spirit on the road to Damascus and is baptized after that dramatic event.  As Luke describes Paul and as Paul writes in his letters the act of prayer is an important part of being in a Christian Faith Community.  Baptism is the commitment to God and community often in response to prayer.  Baptism plus prayer is the key that opens the door of our heart, into that inner place of the Spirit and shows us the way to live a life that is Christ filled, God filled and Spirit filled. 

One isn’t more important than the other, in fact, we need both for the key to work, but some of us have locks where the Spirit connects with us first and then we are baptized, sometimes it’s the other way around and sometimes it’s all at the same moment.  It is a little like an analogy I picked up from my biologist research days using DNA, RNA and enzymes in comparing how they work in our bodies to how our spiritual DNA, RNA and enzymes might work in our spiritual bodies.

Our Spiritual DNA determines the shape of the RNA and how it will fit together with the enzymes in our bodies.  Each has to be a specific shape in order for both to fit together like a lock and key.  The enzyme only fits one way in each person and when it does the two together create something new and important to keep us living.  I don’t know which of the two, baptism or pray, is the RNA and which the enzyme. I do know that how they fit together in each of us is a specific characteristic for each individual.  Both parts are needed in order for the spiritual life to come awake. 

Luke knows baptism is important; everyone who comes to Christ is baptized.  Everyone who is baptized will have their own experience of Spirit, often whether they recognize it as such or not. The Holy Spirit often speaks so quietly that only a quiet new awareness begins to guide us without our knowing why.  Prayer is the tool used by the Spirit to teach us the meaning of baptism and how to be in relationship with God, Christ and Holy Spirit. 

How we respond to baptism will be an individual act, how the Spirit guides us is the result of prayer.   We can’t have one without the other if we are to live into a Faith Filled Community of God.  Baptism is the recognition of our humanness, our humanity and our commitment to something greater than who we are.  Prayer is the part that leads to our understanding of what our humanity and commitment means.  The two together are the Key that unlocks the door to the Kingdom.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 13, 2013