The Voice of God

First Presbyterian Church - Lafayette, Louisiana
January 8, 2012 - Baptism of the Lord 
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11

Knock, knock! The congregation responds with, “Whose there?” Water. Water, who? Water you waiting for? Open the door already!

That’s how a lot of conversations start in my house these days. Knock, knock jokes show up in lunch box notes, times of silence, or just randomly at dinner time. I have to admit that there are times when I feel a bit stretched to come up with something new. We all have times in our lives when we feel that way - like even the familiar things are hard to make happen because we are just tapped out.

Thirst is probably the best metaphor we can come up with for times like these. Hunger works pretty well, but that seems to be about a more particular need. Perhaps that is because our bodies are mostly water. Some say that our bodies are as much as 60-70% water. In fact, you can live for weeks without food - as long as you have water. Without water you are lucky to make it 2-3 days.

The Hebrew Scriptures begin with water, and with the Spirit of God hovering over the water - speaking creation itself into being. They could not have known that we live on a planet that has 60-70% of its surface covered with water. I may be going out on a limb here, but I think it is no accident that we share that percentage with the earth.

Of course, only 2.5% of the earth’s water is drinkable - and 2/3 of that is bound up in glaciers. Scientists believe that most of that precious 1/3 that is left - and is available to drink - is bound underground in aquifers.

It is no wonder that the majority of deaths in developing and overpopulated regions of our shared space on this tiny rock are due to unclean water. In fact, I once heard it prophesied that the wars of the future will not be over oil so much as they will be over clean water and the technology to provide it.

Of course, this is nothing new. There is nothing new under the sun, and all is a vanity and a chasing after the wind. So-called wars over water rights involving under handed politics and outright attacks on people and property have been going on in California since the early 1900’s.

In fact - when I lived in Dalton, GA in 2008 - the drought was so fierce that the police levied fines on those violating water usage rules and encouraged citizens to turn each other in. Among those fined was the church I served when we forgot to adjust our sprinklers after Day Light Savings began. So, what did others do? The wealthy dug wells and posted signs to demonstrate the fact that their sprinklers were legal. Then there was an attempt to “re-annex a small portion of the Tennessee River based on faulty surveys from 1818” - that did not go so well.

Yes - the world is thirsty, in more ways than one. Just turn on the news and you can see that. Just go shopping for a decent birthday or Christmas card with kids in tow and you will find yourself in the midst of a “teachable moment.”

And in the midst of this we receive these texts that tell us that the voice of God disturbs and destroys creation, and we should be happy about it. The voice of God presides over floods and crumbling mountains while we cry, “Glory!” Then we have this story from Acts about correct and incorrect baptism - not to mention that the correct one includes the Holy Spirit making people do weird things - followed by the story of Jesus getting a baptism of repentance! Of course that ends with the voice of God preceding the Holy Spirit, which descended gently and then ran him out into the wilderness.

Am I the only one who feels a little spent - maybe even a little thirsty - after hearing all of this? Well, let’s start with Jesus. That’s always a good place to start - especially since part of the conflict in Acts is about sharing in his baptism. There are many theories about why Jesus was baptized by John. Baptism was not a highly regulated practice in temple worship at the time. It was more of a ritual cleansing - a symbolic gesture of your intentions to follow someone’s teachings or perhaps a demonstration of your desire to change some habit or pattern. 

John was calling for repentance - a word that means to change your direction or reverse your orientation. John was calling for a change from self interest to dependence on God’s interests. So, it makes sense that the baptism of Jesus would be the “beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.”

So, then, the voice of God speaks God’s approval. Then the Spirit of God descends as a dove, and that same Spirit immediately drives Jesus into the wilderness to be tested and tended to while awaiting the time to demonstrate the new reality that John proclaimed. His proclamation began with prophecy - both the one about him and the one he offered about Jesus when he said, “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

And so it was with the converts that Paul had to straighten out in Ephesus. They had not heard of the Holy Spirit. They wanted this Holy Spirit! They received this Holy Spirit, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied! Now, let me stop right here and say that it is Paul himself who later assures us that not everyone receives these gifts, and - in fact - if you speak in tongues and there is no one there to translate it you'd be better off keeping your mouth shut (1 Corinthians 14:28).

Of course, speaking in tongues can also refer to speaking to another in a language previously unknown to the speaker. I prayed fervently for that gift on French tests in college to no avail! That being said, I think that prophecy is not only more realistic but also the responsibility of all who follow the way of Christ. What? You did not receive your crystal ball when you joined the church?! Don’t tell me that your dreams are more concerned with the bizarre and mundane than a vision of God’s activity?!

That’s OK. I don’t think that is what it means to be prophetic anyway. Being prophetic means being open to what God is doing. Being prophetic means being oriented around the things that break God’s heart. Being prophetic means, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “speaking the truth in love.”

I’ve said this before and I will stand by it. The prophets of old were not fortune tellers - they were truth tellers. Sometimes they simply called it like they saw it - kind of like the way people use the phrase, “Just sayin’.” People sleeping on the street is wrong - just sayin’. Sometimes the prophets told people about the natural consequences of their behavior. Just the other day I heard my kids playing, and I could tell it was about to escalate into not playing. So, I kindly told them that their current course of action was not going to end well, and they chose another game - for the words of the prophet held a consequence they did not want to experience.

Then again, some of the prophets were also written after the fact (such as Mark’s story of John the Baptist) as a way to say, “I told you so.” I don’t mean that they were vindictive - more that they were able to interpret events in light of God’s activity.

And so it is for those of us who believe - we are here in order to interpret events in light of God’s activity. We are here to call the world into accountability and pull the emergency brake on the train before it goes too far! We are here to speak the truth in love with our words and our deeds!

That is the baptism that all who are baptized in the name of Christ have received! We don’t have to wait for it or fear the wilderness that we might be pushed into, because we are already there. For the Holy Spirit of God is constantly pushing us into trials, forcing truth from our lips, and calling us into community.

Why? God has called us together so that we might be a sent people - an Apostolic people sent by Jesus Christ. And God has called us together so that we might demonstrate the promise of living in God’s presence to others.

You know, I recently saw a website for a Christian University that guarantees you access to regular, two-way conversations with God. Call me crazy, but I would rather work to become the prophetic voice of God through my actions and relationships than worry about cornering God for a personal chat. I think people are thirsty out there. And I think that - with God’s help - we can do something about it. And to God be the glory for that - now and always, amen!
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