St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany
January 20, 2019
“I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.”
AS A TEENAGER, I began to question the truth and wisdom of my young Episcopalian faith. Armed with half-baked objections and uninformed theology, I wondered who had arbitrarily set up this religion and why they hadn’t spotted the contradictions that I’d found in it. One such contradiction was that the Church claimed the indwelling of the Holy Spirit came in your baptism, and then they summoned the indwelling of the Holy Spirit again years later when you were confirmed. Which is it? I wondered. Or is this just a made-up exercise, and not very carefully invented?
One thing that was driving my theological doubt emotionally was the apparent doctrine that non-believers all go to hell. If you don’t get baptized and are not confirmed and never receive communion, you have missed heaven and are rejected in God’s judgment. That is a common rendition of the Gospel, and for me it wasn’t good news because I had a lot of Jewish friends. How could God expel them from His sight simply due to an accident of their birth?
But I never asked my questions. I might have gotten wise answers from Fr. Smith, who was a very wise man. I would later learn that God is more merciful than I’d imagined, and that the grace of Christ’s redemption reaches beyond the grave and He speaks to the dead, who may yet receive Him even then if they’d never been given that choice on earth. But, through my ignorance, I remained silently doubting until I ran into a real doubter in the priest I met in Berkeley. Then I was out of there.
It took many years of wandering outside the gates of Christendom to discover a really important fact, a fact far more stark and frightening than my earlier doubts in the veracity of Christ. The fact was, while Christianity may not sound true in the light of worldly logic or scientific analysis, every other worldly philosophy and major religious teaching was harder to accept, crueler, more dangerous, less human, and far uglier. I saw people die that way. I saw people angry and vicious for their various religions. I was scalded and alienated by the world’s vile answers to the questions of God and, when I was led again to the Church, I found myself back home. But now I asked my questions. And I got my answers, praise God.
There is only one baptism. It is for you. You have your sins washed away, sins you committed and even more importantly, the sin of Adam, our original sin. This washes your bodies, minds, spirits, hearts and souls. You are fresh and clean before God. Then His Holy Spirit comes to live in you, and His presence fills you with His light. You are quite a bit smarter for that presence. With Him living here, your own spirits, which were dead before God, are made alive, born again, and hear from Him and you come to know Him. Finally, you are ingrafted into the greater Body of Christ, His Church, and made a living member of the same. All this is for you. His presence ministers to you as you grow from baby Christian to adult. You are sanctified by the pure Spirit’s indwelling.
The words in our Baptismal ceremony speak of these effects on us.
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, heavenly Father, We give thee humble thanks, That thou hast vouchsafed to call us To the knowledge of thy grace, and faith in thee: Increase this knowledge, And confirm this faith in us evermore. Give thy Holy Spirit to this Child, That he may be born again, And be made an heir of everlasting salvation...
WE receive this Child into the congregation of Christ's flock; and do sign him with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ's faithful soldier and servant unto his life's end. Amen.
It is a sign and it is a seal. But it is for us.
Confirmation has an entirely different form. We kneel before the bishop. Words are said that shape the meaning of this second sacrament. It is for people of understanding, while baptism may be for infants. This must be a covenant taken on oneself, while the first may be given and vowed to by others. The bishop prays:
ALMIGHTY and everliving God, who hast vouchsafed to regenerate these thy servants by Water and the Holy Ghost, and hast given unto them forgiveness of all their sins; Strengthen them, we beseech thee, O Lord, with the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, and daily increase in them thy manifold gifts of grace: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, the spirit of knowledge and true godliness; and fill them, O Lord, with the spirit of thy holy fear, now and for ever. Amen.
These new gifts of the Holy Spirit are to be wielded like very sophisticated tools, instruments used to heal, to enlighten, to correct and teach and perceive. These gifts of the Spirit make every one of us contributors to the end of what Christ’s Church’s mission is, to reach a lost world. We become wise, understanding, godly adults. These gifts are for others. The Spirit, the same Spirit given to us in Baptism is now enhanced by these prayers, and in this laying on of hands, He gives His amazing abilities to mature Christians for the sake of others. St. Paul says that “the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” 1 Cor 12:7 This difficult translation may be rendered, “The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others.” CEV
So the second seal of the Spirit releases a new set of graces in order that we become ministers of His grace for others, both within the church and outside it. It is the form this sacrament takes that gives it away. A person kneeling before the bishop who is seated on his cathedra, the bishop laying hands on that person’s head: this is the same form that occurs at ordination. I have had those hands on my head now four times: in confirmation, and in the holy orders of deacon, priest and bishop. So, this second seal has been given the nickname as the ordination of the Laity.
There were two baptisms in Jesus’ day, and for a brief time after. John the Baptist came first, baptizing in the wildlands around the Jordan River. His call was to repentance in preparation for the coming Lord. His divine assignment was to fulfill the office of a voice crying in the wilderness, preparing the way for the Messiah. He knew that. He was waiting for the august person to arrive who was to give the sign by rising from the waters and receiving the Holy Spirit from out of the sky that John would see with his eyes. He waited and baptized until the day his cousin Jesus descended the banks. And the Spirit from on high was given. Thereafter, he would cry out, “Behold the Lamb of God! He that takes away the sins of the world.”
Jesus’ baptism changed baptism. John’s ordinance was only for repentance, like the first feature of our baptism, to wash us from sin. That was all he could do. Its form was probably some kind of address to the God of Israel, the cleansing of sins, and a blessing on the penitent soul. But Christ came to reform this covenant and teach them thereafter to baptize in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. John said, “I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.” And it was so. Baptism was made better by Jesus, and so it has been ever since.
Confirmation, the ordination of the Laity, the second reception of the Spirit’s power, was discovered by accident. The fiery deacon, Phillip, left Jerusalem in early days, traveling north to Samaria. Nobody trusted the Samaritans, and they quickly ran through their villages and had nothing to do with them. Not Phillip. He preached to them, convinced them that Christ was the Lord, and had all of Samaria down to the river and the deacon baptized the town. But something didn’t jive. There was no manifestation of the Holy Spirit. All the baptisms in Judea were done by Apostles, who poured the water and then laid their hands on the adult recipients. This deacon had followed the rules, but something didn’t connect. He sent for Peter and John.
Peter and John came to Samaria, I imagine rather upset that the deacon had taken the Gospel so far from the chosen people, and among a people they’d been raised to disdain. But Jesus had treated them kindly, so why shouldn’t they? The newly baptized Samaritans came to the Apostles and each one had the Apostle’s hands laid on his or her head, with prayers for the indwelling Spirit to manifest. And He did. Gifts of tongues, miracles, healing, wisdom, prophecy and such began to show themselves. These people were in the Kingdom now. And who could doubt that the fulness of the Gospel was given for them as well as the Jews? Notice that the Apostles did not rebaptize them so that this time it would ‘take.’ The baptism wasn’t faulty. There was yet another job to do.
Thereafter, baptism and confirmation have been seen as dual gifts of receiving the Spirit, but not two Spirits, not out of confusion or contradiction. There is only one Baptism. And there is one Confirmation.
So, how are we to manifest these gifts, once we have received them? Paul speaks to this in our Epistle today. In a more modern translation, he says “God in his kindness gave each of us different gifts. If your gift is speaking what God has revealed, make sure what you say agrees with the Christian faith. If your gift is serving, then devote yourself to serving. If it is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. If it is encouraging others, devote yourself to giving encouragement. If it is sharing, be generous. If it is leadership, lead enthusiastically. If it is helping people in need, help them cheerfully.” Rom 12:6-8
I am your minister, in that I wear the signs of office and perform certain operations out of that office. But I don’t carry the church alone. I depend on each of you to take up your office as well. The Laity is a holy order itself. You are blessed with the divine indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit and all the power of the godhead is within you. You have been twice sealed with the power of the Third Person of the Trinity and He wants to give His graces through you. Please let Him.
There were eventually not two baptisms in Israel, rather one grew into the other. The baptism of John ran its course and gave way to the true thing it was meant to become.
There are not two baptisms in Christianity. One baptism only. Then a second gift is given by the laying on of hands, and your divine comforter becomes an indwelling flame who can make you His instrument, His hands, His mouth, His expression of wisdom as you live out your life of service to others in the holy order of a layperson.
I bless you as you live out these gifts.