The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
January 10, 2021
Many of us value our connection with Christ as the best blessing of our life.
If we appreciate the wonderful difference His walking through life with us makes, how could we not want to open up for those we care about a vista of the difference He could make for them? But a lot of us have bumped up against the reality of our limited ability to give others a vision of what Jesus can do.
Francis Chan, as able a communicator about Jesus as there is, bumped up against his inability to move his daughter to fall in love with Jesus. He finally realized that his only hope was that the Holy Spirit would win her heart. So he put all His trust in the Spirit, and then kept praying and waiting on God. And, yes, eventually she underwent baptism with the Holy Spirit, experienced a dramatic change at her core, and embarked on an ongoing adventure of personal growth and inner empowerment. Chan and his wife, who recognize they played but a small part in their daughter’s transformation, happily declare, “We didn’t do it. It was the Holy Spirit!”
John the Baptist was an impressive man. Jesus said, “Among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John.” Yet, John was all about pointing beyond himself to Someone who was “more powerful” than he – Someone so much greater than he that John exclaimed he wasn’t worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals.
When John spoke of Jesus’ surpassing greatness, he spoke about how he only baptized with water but Jesus “baptized with the Holy Spirit”. He could bring people to a point of repentance, but Jesus would bring them to a point of self-transcendence. For Jesus could immerse them in a life beyond their own, the life of God Himself.
To be baptized literally means to be plunged into a liquid and permeated with it. The Bible often likens the Spirit to living water. Hence, to be baptized with the Spirit is to be immersed in and saturated with the flowing life force of God. It is to let the Spirit flood our souls and infuse us with supernatural capabilities.
To enter this higher life, we have to turn from self-dependence to God-dependence. We have to repudiate the illusion that we can on our own do what most needs to be done, and dare to believe that God will – in His crazy, undeserved love – do in us and through us what we never could by ourselves.
Our involvement in our transformation consists of our giving ourselves over to the Spirit and allowing Him to endow us with His grace.
We give ourselves over to Him as we modestly but steadfastly engage in the practices of the Christian life such as weekly worship, daily devotions, regular fellowship and consistent service to neighbors in need. For these practices to set us up for being lifted up by the Spirit, we don’t have to be perfect in doing them; we just have to be faithful to doing them.
After all, our engaging in these practices is mainly meant to remind us of our need for help from outside of ourselves. When, for example, we worship with only a modicum of attentiveness, or pray with only a modicum of faith, we bear in mind that our hope is not in our spiritual competency, but in an unearned intimacy with God despite our inadequacy. The practices don’t display any perfection in us; they just develop a connection for us with the God who changes us for the better.
The practices of the Christian life keep us aware of how God takes us as we are, before we are disentangled from the mess of our brokenness. Accepting the reality of our inadequacy for the true spiritual life is actually the best first step in the true spiritual life, a life the Spirit carries forward, as He overcomes our defects, flaws and weaknesses. The Spirit is an ever present and potent help. He enriches, enables, empowers and employs us for a life beyond our capacities, a life that becomes supernatural because He fills it with His own life.
These distressing days make us face our need for the divine Spirit because they push us past our human limits. Just as we started to hope for the end of the pandemic, it’s gotten worse than it’s ever been. And just as we started to hope for the end of a divisive political season plagued by alienating, reciprocal vilification, we find ourselves appalled and dismayed by the D.C. assault on the due process of our democracy.
For these trying times, many of us are concerned to commend Christ as the best hope there is.
How then do we stay steady, with good-hearted and cheerful spirits, in the self-disciplines and self-sacrifices necessary to keep our neighbors safe from a deadly disease? And how do we advance, with amity and comity, the cause of unity through compromise and collaboration for the sake of the common good?
Were we to rely on our own goodness and strength, our efforts would be in vain. Thus, it’s also our troubled world that needs us to be immersed in the Spirit, saturated with His goodness and strength, and enabled to lead lives surpassing our human possibilities. Only then can we, like John, open for others a vista of what a difference Jesus can make!