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The Baptism of Christ
January 8, 2012
The Gospel: Mark 1:4-11
Sermon: "Holy Hocus-Pocus!"

The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
The Gospel:

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."

Mark 1:4-11

Holy Hocus-Pocus!

Our society is always looking for a secret weapon, or super powers, or a technological breakthrough to save the day. Even when we aren’t seriously thinking about such things, we are at least fantasizing about them. If you need evidence of this, just look at our movies and TV shows over the years.

Consider the 50’s and 60’s, and 70’s. This was the golden age of secret agents. Think of James Bond, not to mention “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”, “The Avengers”, “The Saint”, and “Mission Impossible.” Nothing soothed our insecurities then better than secret agents and their wonderful, amazing, gravity-defying, usually exploding, arsenal of secret weapons.

Following after them came the age of Super Heroes on the screen: Spiderman, Superman, and Batman, just to name a few; all with multitudinous sequels, and death-defying, impossibly incredible super powers. If anything could help us feel that justice would prevail and the world be saved from the bad guys, (and gals), at least for the time we watched them on screen, it was them.

Given our current decade-long encounter with a boy wizard, a new edition of “Mission Impossible” now in the theaters, “Transformers” just out of them, a brand new restart of “Spiderman” coming up, and “James Bond” and “Catwoman” both on the near horizon, it’s clear that our fascination with secret weapons and super powers still runs strong. They feed our hope that something will be developed or created that will finally end wars, solve the environmental crisis, restore the economy, and just make us all feel safer and better off. 

The fact is, though, it isn’t just us to think this way. It’s been the way of humanity for forever. Centuries ago people looked to magic for their super powers. Amulets and incantations, special potions and rituals all were humanity’s secret weapons against the uncontrollable and uncontainable. A remnant of this magical idea still resides in our language today. Whenever budding magicians wave their plastic wands over cardboard hats and declare “hocus-pocus,” they are actually intoning an ancient sacred “secret weapon.” Hocus-pocus is a phrase derived from the Latin words, now spoken in modern languages in every church today, just before the bread and wine are raised into the air. The Latin phrase was, “Hoc est corpus meum.” (This is my body.) In the Middle Ages these words invoked the height of ecclesiastical alchemy: when matter became spirit; the Holy Spirit was called upon to empower the elements at the altar. The highest drama of the week was ushered in by uttering that secret sacred phrase that, when it reverberated around the massive nooks and crannies of medieval cathedrals, sounded more like “hocus-pocus” than hoc est corpus meum.

There is one very right and true thought that remains with us still from that magical time and thought. It is this: the Holy Spirit, the presence of the resurrected Christ here on earth and in our lives, is the greatest real power a Christian can invoke.

Our Gospel lesson from Mark this morning presents this super power; the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has come to the Jordan River to be baptized by the prophet John. As he comes up out of the water, the heavens open, the voice of God speaks, and the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove. Mark’s message is unmistakable: Jesus is the Son of God, and he comes offering everyone who believes in him baptism in the Holy Spirit.

When we receive Christian baptism, we all can lay claim to the greatest power ever offered to creation; the power of God’s love and grace released in us by the Spirit. God’s love has the power to transform us and change the world. So how can we release it? How can we unleash this power in our lives? 

If we are to let the Spirit’s power take wing in our lives, then we need to exercise it. Just as serious athletes commit a portion of every day to strengthening their endurance, so we are to get into a daily regimen to get this power flowing. Here is a three-step regimen that will keep the wings of the Spirit beating strongly in your soul. 

And the first step of this regimen is this: Daily Alignment. Align yourself with God daily. Sunday morning for one hour a week just isn’t enough. Spirit-powered living requires that we intentionally seek out God every day. The more we seek to encounter God in our daily lives, the more we will know God’s presence and power in our lives. Here are three ways you can get aligned and stay connected with God each day. First, Pray. Prayer is conversation. Nothing connects us more deeply with Christ than just spending time with him in intimate conversation; sharing everything. Second, Study. Reading Jesus’ words, and his disciples’ writings, meditating upon them, thinking about them and applying them to aspects of your life will broaden your abiding connection with Christ. Study will help you know his mind and heart for yourself so that you will be able to know his will for your life. Third, just abide. Make yourself conscious of his presence throughout each day. Focus upon him at every possible moment and in every conceivable place beyond prayer time and study. Through this you will come to be aware of his active presence in your life each day. Do these three things and you will be daily aligned with God. Daily alignment is this regimen’s first step.

Here is the second step of the regimen: Daily self-reflection. Look at yourself, after you look at Christ. Scrutinize the motives and intentions behind all your action and words. Ask yourself, “Why do I want this? Why do I do that? What’s driving me? What’s behind my desire?” But don’t ask for the purpose of condemning yourself. Guilt is not the point; it’s not to be indulged in here. That’s why I say to focus on yourself only after focusing on Christ. When you focus on him first you will be able to remember that your shortcomings are what he died for. You are no longer condemned. Rather his love is with you to transform you. Self-reflection in his light will enable you to let the Spirit of Christ go coursing through you to inform your every move. Gradually you will build confidence in your own reactions and resources, knowing that they are proceeding out of an abiding connection in him. Daily self-reflection, through Christ’s mirror, is the second step. 

Here’s the third step of the regimen for power-living in the Christian life: Daily embodiment. Let the Spirit act through your body. This is Spirit-powered living in action. In athletic terms, Christians are to have both daily practices and daily competitions using what’s been learned. In musical terms, we are to have not just rehearsals, but performances as well. The spirit that God sets free within our souls needs to be set free out in the world. That’s where the strength of the Spirit is witnessed in our character and in our service. In the power of the Spirit we become the body of Christ in the world. 

These are the three steps in the regimen, then, to Spirit-powered living in Christ: Daily alignment, Daily self-reflection, Daily embodiment. Hoc est corpus meum!

Larry LaPrise was a not-well-known composer. But one of his compositions is still very well known today, long after his death. Through it he conveyed, probably unintentionally, in musical form what the “hoc est corpus meum”, “hocus pocus” requires of us. It set off a dance craze in the 1940’s that is still going through periodic revivals. Most of you have danced and sung it too, I suspect. This musician was a better theologian than he knew. Unfortunately, he died before anyone really had the chance to celebrate his theological acumen and savvy. The song he wrote that conveys what the Holy hocus-pocus of the Spirit is all about, is this: 

“You put your right hand in, you put your right hand out, you put your right hand in and you shake it all about. You do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about.” 

The most important verse is the final one. “You put your whole self in, you put your whole self out, you put your whole self in, and you shake it all about. You do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about.”

We are God’s people, touched by the Spirit to:

Think more clearly

Feel more deeply

Speak more truthfully

Love more extravagantly

Serve more creatively

Give more lavishly

Live more fully

We are the Body of Christ. Holy, Hocus-Pocus!

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