Rev. Katherine Todd
While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 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.
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
John the Baptist,
He preached repentance for sins and alerted the people to watch for the one more powerful to come – who will baptize them with the Holy Spirit.
Well, that’s what we’re told, and yet here in Ephesus, Apollo finds some believers who did not hear or understand that part of the message – the part about the One to Come and Baptism by the Holy Spirit.
– Doesn’t this sound familiar: part of the message getting lost in translation? –
This is often what we experience in our relationships with one another. We hear some but not all. We remember this, but not that.
And in John’s day, folks weren’t recording his speech by phone or taking notes on their pocket-notebooks or planners. They weren’t documenting events by email or even tablets. His words were to be experienced. The whole experience was one – not to be preserved but to be lived.
And yet, these believers are still doing the hard work. They are doing that work of repentance. And that means they are actively and intentionally making room for Christ in their lives – whether or not they know or foresee Christ’s coming.
Despite missing a significant part of John’s message, they have done what most find hardest: repentance. And for Apollo to be finding them, we know Christ has already been crucified. Time has passed between their hearing John’s message and their hearing Apollo’s: years, most likely. So they have been LIVING John’s teachings…all this time.
Therefore they are in a position of readiness. And when they finally DO hear the good news, when they finally DO learn about Christ and the Holy Spirit, they receive the Spirit fully – receiving the Spirit’s gifts!
This story reminds me that it isn’t about getting everything just right or remembering everything just perfectly. They were seeking God. And God was seeking them!
GOD was seeking them.
And Christ himself taught us, “Seek and you shall find.”
Indeed they find what they are looking for!
The part of the message they had remembered and been practicing was repentance, and repentance is that returning to God.
It is that taking responsibility for our flaws and failures.
And it returns us to the only true and honest relationship we can have with God and one another – a relationship based on humility.
Humility is a seeing ourselves AS WE TRULY ARE.
For if we are not humble, the truth is not in us.
If we think we are without sin, the truth is not in us.
If we think we SEE, then we do not see.
If we think we know, then knowledge is not in us.
And GOD is the TRUTH.
We see, only in part.
We know, only in part.
We do good, only in part.
To have any kind of right relationship with God, AT ALL,
The starting place is to humble ourselves.
And repentance is the beginning of humility…of TRUTH.
We cannot be a cup, open to the rain of heaven, unless we are empty.
We cannot be taught, shaped by truth, unless we are open.
I share with you this poem by Christine Lore Weber: Mother Wisdom Speaks.
Listen for God’s words to you:
Some of you I will hollow out.
I will make you a cave.
I will carve you so deep the stars will shine in your darkness.
You will be a bowl.
You will be the cup in the rock collecting rain.
I will hollow you with knives.
I will not do this to make you clean.
I will not do this to make you pure
You are clean already.
You are pure already.
I will do this because the world needs the hollowness of you.
I will do this for the space that you will be.
I will do this because you must be large.
People will find their way through you.
People will eat from you.
And their hunger will not weaken them to death.
A cup to catch the sacred rain.
My daughter, do not cry.
Do not be afraid.
Nothing you need will be lost.
I am shaping you.
I am making you ready.
Light will flow in your hollowing.
You will be filled with light.
Your bones will shine.
The round open center of you will be radiant.
I will call you brilliant one.
I will call you daughter who is wide.
I will call you transformed.
We do not live for ourselves alone.
We are not saved for ourselves alone.
We are not chosen for privilege but for purpose.
When we return to God in repentance,
humbling ourselves before God,
God does this most holy work in us:
growing our hearts,
teaching our minds,
expanding our capacity,
SO THAT our own mortal being might be shaped, more and more, into God’s divine proportions.
WE will never reflect God wholly in this world.
We will never perceive God wholly in this world.
But when we position ourselves, at the feet of God, in humility
we offer ourselves to be shaped as clay in God, the Potter’s hands.
And Christ shapes us to be vessels of God’s nourishment,
pathways to God’s unending grace, expanses for God’s light.
The more and more we humble ourselves in God’s presence,
the more and more God shapes us to be bright lights in the Kingdom of God.
So fear not, missing a part of the message.
God is not like that.
God is not arbitrary.
God does not expect us to be perfect, to be God.
That isn’t what any of this is about at all.
passing up the chance
to be surrendered truly
into the loving and most skillful
Hands of God.
And so may we, like these Ephesians,
Follow the truth we have received,
Trusting God to reveal more and more truth as we are ready,
Trusting Christ’s words that
when we seek God, we shall find God,
when we seek with all our hearts.
Thanks be to God!!