and Baptism of Genevieve Lou
Water and Fire, by Pastor Kinsey
Kim and I used to go camping every year in Teddy Roosevelt National Park, the Bad Lands of North Dakota. For us, it was great get-away. From the business of pastoring two churches, we drove down lonely U.S. 2 for 2 ½ days, the most northern Highway in the country, and ended up in our seemingly private Cottonwood campground. The secret was going in the first week of October, just after the camp grounds had officially closed for the season. But unofficially, you could still go in – that is, if you didn’t mind that the water was turned off to the campsites and bathrooms, and that like here in Chicago last night, temperatures could dip below freezing in your thin skinned tent.
But of course, that’s why it was more or less “private”, and for us, peaceful and rejuvenating. So we roughed it, using our portable solar shower, the year-round pit toilets, and hauling water from the Visitors Center. We hiked all day, taking in all the wild life we could. We saw eagles and elk, prong-horn deer and prairie dogs, antelope, and of course, bison. At nightfall we collapsed by the campfire to cook dinner, alongside the Little Missouri River, babbling by. After dark, the deer walked past to get a drink from the river, while coyotes howled in the distance. Fire light and running river, were signs of wonder and healing balm, enlivening us, like a breath of fresh air, like the wind through the cottonwood trees.
Jesus was baptized by the Jordan River, out on the edge of the wilderness, the campsite John the Baptist went to, to recall how God led the faithful into the Promised Land. 40 years of wandering in the wilderness ended for them, as the Chosen People crossed the River Jordan and entered Canaan, the holy land. And it marked the completion of their liberation from slavery, crossing from death to life; from the great leader Moses, to his protégé, Joshua; from lost to found.
And so Jesus went from Galilee to the banks of the Jordan to be baptized in the water we all are baptized in, and received the gift of the Holy Spirit, like a diving down dove of peace, the same spiritual gift we are given. And when he rose up out of the water, John the Baptist said he would baptize us with this Spirit, and with fire.
Water and fire are basic to our refreshment and renewal, as a people of faith. For Kim and I, the campfire not only cooked our dinner, but kept the coyotes at bay. For Jesus, and for the Israelites before him, fire meant spirit and life.
Even Pentecost – the Greek name for the Jewish festival of Shavu'ot – had the element of fire in its celebration. For Pentecost was not only the early harvest festival, originally, it was the commemoration of the giving of The 10 Commandments on the 50th day after Passover; or, 7 weeks after their liberation from bondage. And the fire of course, is the heavenly fire of God’s holy and creative Spirit on Mt. Sinai, as the people waited down below, looking up to what may have been some kind of volcano, praying for Moses to bring the stone tablets back, safely.
“When the day of Pentecost had come” as Acts describes it, in 33 A.D., 50 days after Easter, and 10 days after Jesus Ascended, “all the disciples were together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind,” as loud as a tornado in Kansas, “and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.”
For me, this recalls the Gospel of John’s story, which compared the Spirit to the blowing of the wind, we know not how or where it comes from, but we know it, by watching the leaves of trees. So was the unpredictability of this wind! Jesus promised it would come. But no one knew when, or how, exactly! And like the Jewish festival of Shavu'ot, the Festival of Weeks, there was fire. But this time, not at a distance, terrifying like a volcano, now it arrived like individual tongues of fire comfortably, if somewhat awkwardly, resting over their foreheads!
And like Jesus’ baptism, it wasn’t just a magic show of miraculous signs, but this loud blowing wind, and controlled campfire flames, empowered the disciples for the very first time to act – and in their case, to speak – as they were given ability, in all the languages of the peoples from all over the world, who attended the Pentecost celebration in Jerusalem – and they were, speaking about God’s deeds of power, amazing everyone!
When we first conceived of our art exhibit, “Celebrating the Creative Spirit,” for The Gallery at Unity, we had in mind the many and various ways that the people of Unity might manifest the gifts God had given them, to be creative, to be artists! And we were overwhelmed with all the talent out there in our humble congregation and Unity community. And now, at this 2nd Annual, ‘Celebrating the Creative Spirit II,” we continue to be impressed. God is good, and moves in wonderful ways! And in our exhibit, I think you’ll find the unpredictable ways that God’s Spirit is filling us up with life, each of our artists risking something, to grow by the creative Spirit they feel within.
Theresa Cho, a Presbyterian Pastor in San Francisco, reminds us that this Spirit is also communal, “that dreams and visions [as Peter conceived of it in Acts 2] are not meant to be dreamt alone but in a diverse community united in the Spirit,” for “we” the people, in the plural. “This task of dreaming involves all of who we are,” she says. “We hear and feel it, ‘like the howling of a fierce wind.’ We see and feel it, like ‘individual flames of fire.’ We speak it in our native language, yet it is understood by foreigners. We are reminded that the Spirit that was present at Pentecost is the same Spirit that is present with us now. Therefore, we are connected to that same call to live out a faithful life in which dreams and visions may soar,” and “our dreams can blossom in others.”
The disciples were inside, in the upper room when the Holy Spirit came. And it pushed them out of their insular little four walls, into the streets of Jerusalem, into the world of pilgrims, come to celebrate Shavu’ot, the Pentecost festival. The Spirit is unpredictable, and blows where it wills, and it pushes the followers of Jesus out into the world, back out into the wilderness, to the Jordan, and beyond, for God wants to renew all of creation.
And here, at this font today, we pray, that the unpredictable, powerfully renewing spirit, will alit upon Genevieve, producing a child of God who is blessed and renewed for a life of wonderful things. She cannot do it alone, as none of us can. But all together, we can teach and encourage her, we can suffer and rejoice with her, and one day, we can, and will, let her go, as the Spirit within her matures. But for now, we can, and do, celebrate her creative spirit everyday already, knowing how she is endowed and sustained by the Holy Spirit, and with fire of Christ Jesus!
May water and the Holy Spirit, fire us all up, for our life of faith!