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Sermon from Sunday, January 11, 2015

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I’ll never forget a conversation I had years ago with a man who called the church office in Danville. He was distraught with grief and despair over the death of a beloved dog. He called a local church and the Preacher told him that dogs do not have souls and therefore they do not go to heaven. In his grief and despair, this was too much to bear! I agreed to meet with him and spent the interim time looking into the meaning of various words. One of the words, found in our Old Testament lesson this morning and alluded to in the others, is the Hebrew word “ruach” which can mean: “wind, breathe or Spirit”. Thus armed with this knowledge, I was able to calm a troubled spirit, assure him that any creature of God’s that has breathe has soul and therefore, he need not to worry about where is faithful companion resided following death. I also found quote from Mark Twain asserting that if there is anything on earth that deserves the rewards of heaven it is certainly dogs, man’s faithful companions who do good and try to please their masters! For these reasons and many more, they are, according to Twain at least, more deserving of heaven than we are! I am reminded of this story this morning as we gather because the implications behind it are important for us as well and not just our animals! This Hebrew word ruach, has many important connotations for us and our faith and belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The same spirit and breathe of God that moved over the waters in creation is the same Spirit that Paul saw come upon the newly baptized into Christ and, this is the same spirit that descended as a dove on Jesus in his baptism. The wind, breathe and Spirit of God has been moving, blowing, calling and shaping us in our lives weather we realize it or not! The Spirit, breathe and wind of God may look or act a little differently now than it did so many years ago in the story from Acts. Most of us I trust did not immediately begin speaking in tongues. In fact, we probably cried, or looked at the pastor as if he or she was crazy for pouring water over our heads. Or, perhaps, if we were a tab bit older, we wonder if we felt any different at all! We are made different in baptism, weather we realize it or not! We are made different because, as Presiding Bishop Eaton wrote in her Lutheran article this month: “In baptism we have already died the only death that really matters. The death of Jesus into which we are buried is the end of death. It is the breaking of the power of sin. It is the beginning of our new life” [The Lutheran, January 2015 article from Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton]. When Jesus met John the Baptist at the river Jordan, it must have been an interesting meeting! John was on record saying: “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thing of his sandals.” The one John proclaimed was to be so much greater than the one who proclaimed him that the menial servant’s job was too great for the messenger to bear. John’s faith and belief in the one who was to come after him is amazing to contemplate and must have come from his faith in the one who sent both of them! Immediately, as Jesus “was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.” In Mark’s gospel it appears that only Jesus sees what happens to him. The heavens are violently and utterly ripped apart as the protective covering that appeared to divide God and God’s creation was ripped asunder and the Holy Spirit comes down as a dove…the ruach again, the Spirit of God descending on Jesus! Interestingly, the only other time this will happen in Mark’s Gospel is at the end, as Jesus was dying on the cross, the Temple curtain, the division between God and God’s people in the holy of holies, was ripped asunder, the same Greek word used! In Mark 15 we read: 38And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” In both cases something is ripped asunder and a voice declares this to be the Son of God. So what are we to do with this on this Sunday when we celebrate the baptism of our Lord? Most resources suggested we do a remembrance of baptism since many churches do not do this on a regular basis. However, as we are in the habit of doing this on the first Sunday of the month in our worship, it seemed frivolous in a way. However, the point is clear, that as we begin this New Year, we are charged with remembering our baptisms, the claim God in Christ has over us, and the power of new life in the midst of all that we face in this world. If nothing else, we know the world is a scary place. Headlines these past few days from France have reinforced the notion that the world is an uncertain place. As we think about the Boston bombings and the primary suspect who is heading to trial, the 9/11 attacks and other terrorist attacks, it is important to remember that fear based responses and striking out blindly play into the hands of those who want us to live in fear. Instead, especially in light of the promises received in baptism and the gifts of grace received in bread and wine, we are able to proclaim that the more confident we live in the light of the gospel, the more powerful our response is against those who want to instill fear, distrust and hatred. Bishop Eaton also quoted theologian Robert Jenson in her article. He wrote in his Christian Dogmatics: “my baptism broke the bond of the past on the future.” Listen to that again: “my baptism broke the bond of the past on the future.” Out baptisms into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has destroyed the power of sin, death and the devil over our lives. This of course does not mean we will stop sinning, allowing the devil to tempt us or dying a physical death; it does however, mean that these moments of our lives will not be the final say on our lives as the children and people of God! God has broken the bonds of the past on our future by making us God’s own children and offering us the gifts of forgiveness, grace and faith in the face of all the doubt, uncertainty and fear we constantly live in. Freed by the power of the gospel, the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection, can we find a way to live into the freedom offered to us? Peace, in the midst of turmoil. Hope in the midst of doubt. Love in the midst of fear. And life in the midst of death. Our baptisms, and Christ’s baptism which we celebrate this day, have broken the power of the past and gifted us a future which we live into knowing we are God’s people, God’s children, now and always.

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1 Sara Di Diego = "The preacher here is quoting Pope Benedict XVI, who said that animals cannot go to heaven since they do not have souls.However this has been recently disputed by Pope Francis, who has gone on record saying "One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God's creatures."  This is in accordance with Pope John Paul II, who said that animals have souls.Work Cited:http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/12/12/pope-francis-dogs-can-go-to-heaven/20296955/"
2 Shawn Bose = ""Ruach" or ruach quodsheka also is the term for "Holy Spirit' as appears in the Old Testament.  It is referenced in Isaiah 63:10-11 "(10) But they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them. (11) Then he remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people, saying, Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? where is he that put his holy Spirit within him?""
3 Enakshi Ganguly = ""Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in."More similar quotes: http://www.dogquotations.com/mark-twain-dog-quotes.html"
4 Sahil Badruddin = "Short explanation of Paul: It is true that Paul never met the physical Jesus during his lifetime; however, Paul claims to have met the Spirit of the Risen "Christ". Thus converting to Jesus' movement and declaring himself an Apostle, or rather the First Apostle who met Jesus in the "womb".Source: Zealot, Reza Alsan"
5 Enakshi Ganguly = ""The dove symbolizes peace between God and human beings, going back to the time when Noah sent a dove out of his ark to see if the water that God had used to flood the Earth (to destroy sinful people) had receded. The dove brought back an olive leaf, showing Noah that dry land suitable for life to flourish again had appeared on Earth. Ever since the dove brought back the good news that God's wrath (expressed through the flood) was giving way to peace between him and sinful humanity, the dove has been a symbol of peace. Here, the Holy Spirit appears as a dove at Jesus' baptism to show that, through Jesus, God would pay the price that justice requires for sin so humanity could enjoy ultimate peace with God."Source: http://angels.about.com/od/Mastering_Nature/a/Miracles-Of-Jesus-The-Holy-Spirit-Appears-As-A-Dove-During-Christs-Baptism.htm"
6 Raymond Huerta = "Speaking in tongues is primarily practiced in Pentecostal Christianity and is considered to be a sacred language. The practice is commonly referred to as "Glossolalia" (See https://www.deily.org/video/speaking-in-tongues-biblical-proof-in-context-gift-of-tongues-devil-wants-to-hide-it)There's five places in the New Testament where speaking in tongues is explicitly referred to.  See:Mark 16:17 (https://www.deily.org/bible/kjv/mark/16)Acts 2 (https://www.deily.org/bible/kjv/acts/2)Acts 10:48 (https://www.deily.org/bible/kjv/acts/10)Acts 19:6 (https://www.deily.org/bible/kjv/acts/19)1 Cor 12-14 (https://www.deily.org/bible/kjv/1-corinthians/12)"
7 Shawn Bose = "More about Bishop Eaton can be read here. "
8 Enakshi Ganguly = "Importance of Baptism"
9 Sara Di Diego = "A dove is usually seen as an innocent animal that has the power wreak havoc, but never chooses to.  The symbolism of a dove carrying an olive branch or reed, is that the dove could snap the branch in half, but instead holds it gently.  Thus the Spirit (or ruach) has the power to maim, but instead chooses to heal people.  Similarly, since it took this form onto Jesus, this shows that Jesus was meant to act as a dove during his first coming.Work Cited:http://www.jesus.org/life-of-jesus/youth-and-baptism/why-did-the-holy-spirit-descend-in-the-form-of-a-dove.html"
10 Sara Di Diego = "Centurions were officers in the Roman army at this time.  To become a centurion, one had to be literate, come from a high family and at least 30 years old.  Thus, this observer of Jesus' death was a smart and well known man who took the evidence before him to mean that Jesus was God's Son.Work Cited:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centurion"
11 Sahil Badruddin = "It is important to note at the time of Jesus Christ, the definition of Son of God was widely used. Augustus was often referred to the Son of God (Latin: Deus Filius) and his title was often etched on roman currency. If considering Jesus' definition of Son of God to be holistically unique, unlike every other person in his time, it is possible for him to be the literal "Son of God"; however, when considering the definition to every single person who probably would have understood in Judea, the Son of God means Jesus was calling himself the King. That is because the Son of God in Judaism means the King; thus, previous "messiahs" like David are often referred to the Son of God in the Hebrew Bible.Source: Zealot, Reza Aslan "
12 Shawn Bose = "Robert Jenson lecture, "Tanakh as Christian Scripture""
13 Sahil Badruddin = "The paragraph invokes elements of the theological doctrine of Original Sin: humanity is born sinful. Jesus Christ, the "savior", had come to earth to die for humanity sin. The origin of the theological doctrine of Original Sin goes back to the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.In the end, the paragraph emphasizes that Jesus has and will continue to bring "peace, in the midst of turmoil. Hope in the midst of doubt. Love in the midst of fear. And life in the midst of death." "