A Word to Epiphany
“When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—altogether there were about twelve of them” (Acts 19:6-7).
It may seem a bit odd to be writing about the Spirit as we look toward entering the season of Epiphany. After all, the primary focus of the season of Epiphany is on the revealing of Jesus with each Sunday unwrapping another layer of the identity and mission of the Christ-child born in Bethlehem. Talk of the Spirit seems more appropriate for Pentecost. Yet, as we approach this Baptism of Our Lord Sunday that begins the season of Epiphany, the Spirit is moving all over the place in creative and transforming ways.
In the Old Testament reading from Genesis 1, the wind or breath of God moves over the face of the waters, signaling the Spirit’s activity in the work of creation. In the Gospel reading from Mark 1, as Jesus emerges from the baptismal waters, the Spirit descends like a dove on him. In the second reading from Acts 19, it is the presence of the Holy Spirit that, for Paul, distinguishes someone as a true disciple of Jesus.
Finding some disciples in Ephesus, Paul asks them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” (19:2a). Their response is striking. “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” (19:2b). Paul is shocked at their answer. “Into what then were you baptized?” Paul asks. “Into John’s baptism,” they answer (19:3). Paul sees the missional opportunity in front of him. Paul tells these so-called disciples about Jesus, baptizes them in Jesus’ name, and lays his hands on them. The Holy Spirit comes upon them, and they are filled with the Spirit’s gifts. Luke then notes that there were altogether twelve of them, reminding us to never dismiss the activity of the Spirit in even the smallest of our congregations!
Paul recognizes that there is something lacking in these so-called disciples. Yes, they had been baptized into John’s baptism — a baptism rooted in the human action of repentance. However, they had not yet been baptized into Jesus’ baptism — a baptism rooted in God’s action of transformation, a transformation signaled by the giving of the Spirit. In other words, these disciples had a Spirit-deficiency. Without the transforming power of the Spirit given to them in baptism, it was impossible for them to be the community of disciples Jesus was calling them to be. Luther, of course, says something similar in his explanation to the Third Article.
What is the source of our transformation as followers of Jesus? What is the source of transformation for our congregations, for our synod, for the ELCA, for the whole Christian church around the world? Is it us? Is it our human action or effort? Is it our simply trying harder, working longer, doing more? NO! The source of our transformation is the Spirit — a Spirit that has been freely and fully poured into us through the gift of our baptism into Christ Jesus. Because of our baptism into Christ, we no longer have a Spirit-deficiency. Indeed, through our baptism into Christ, we have been Spirit-fortified. In baptism, we have been fully gifted with everything we need to be the community of Jesus’ disciples in the world!
As we enter this season of Epiphany, may we wait and watch and listen for the Spirit and may we do so with joy-filled hope and expectancy. As the Spirit moved over the face of the earth bringing forth creation, so, through the water and Word of our baptism into Christ, the Spirit now moves in us, bringing forth in us, in our congregations, and in the whole Christian church a new creation. We are being transformed, not by us, but by the Spirit!
Come, Holy Spirit! Come!