Spirit and Fire

First Sunday after the Epiphany
10 January 2010
Epiphany 1C (RCL)

Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Shifting to the RCL has provide some interesting homiletic opportunities. In the BCP lectionary on the First Sunday after the Epiphany, year C, we read Luke 10:34-38; a truly overworked little bit of Acts — Peter’s speech to Cornelius’ household, “Truly, I know that God shows no partiality; rather in every nation whoever fears God and acts righteously is acceptable to God.” A nice piece of scripture, but used any number of times thoughout the lectionary. Now, in the RCL, we have the bit about the apostles in Jerusalem hearing that the Samaritans have accepted the word of God. They have received water baptism, but not baptism with holy spirit (or breath). Peter and John lay hands on them and they receive the spirit. Clearly, for Luke, there is a difference between water baptism and baptism in breath. What is it?

On Pentecost, the spirit falls on the 120 in the upper room, and they begin to proclaim God’s mighty deeds in many languages. The Samaritans hear because of Philip’s proclamation and deeds of power. Simon the magician misunderstands and thinks the power of conferring holy breath can be bought for money, but Peter and John continue through Samaria preaching the good news. So, for Luke, holy breath has something to do with proclaiming Jesus in unfamiliar places and languages. Maybe Luke means that one has to draw holy breath in order to proclaim the holy message.

In the passage from Luke’s Gospel, we read v. 17 in the RCL, which we never did in the BCP lectionary. That’s the verse, “already his winnowing shovel is in his hand to clear the threshing floor. The wheat he will gather into his treasury, but the chaff, he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Typically, we read that as judgment against all those chaff out there (see Psalm 1). What if it applies to us, to our hard outer shell. Luke is the gospel writer who records Jesus sending the 70 to preach in the Samaritan villages, offering peace to every house they enter — peace which was a hard commodity to come by between Jews and Samaritans. Holy breath gives us courage to preach peace where we need it most.

And the Isaiah passage promises us that when we pass through the fire (which burns off the chaff), God will go with us. Whatever we face, we don’t face alone. Even something as traumatic as the Exile — being forced to leave the comfortable places. Hmmm. Maybe we need to hear that.

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