Baptism by Fire

Life Notes—January 7, 2010 

“…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”   Luke 3:16b-17 

Following one of my recent forays into the cold, white abyss Kansas has become to battle the snow invading our driveway and sidewalk, I came inside tired and sore and sweaty and sick of the winter wonderland I generally admire for its pure, simple beauty.  I was not in good spirits and was not happy with the prospect of more snow and more cold for the foreseeable future. 

Once inside I took my dirty body and bad mood to the shower for a long, hot cleansing.  Drying off I realized I had not only washed away the sweaty grime of the physical work, but the emotional grime was gone, too.  All rinsed away and flushed back into the earth where it could be recycled into something more useful.  I felt like a new person, reborn and purified, with a much healthier attitude for the remainder of the day. 

Baptism is a rite of purification.  John the Baptist baptized with water, fully immersing people into the Jordan River, symbolically washing away their sins and dirty old selves, leaving a new creation, unencumbered by trespasses of the past.  Many of us received a formal baptism with water as infants or youth. But John said Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Baptism by fire takes this rite of purification by water and elevates it to its ultimate extreme. 

Now, I am no expert on alchemy.  What I recall of readings from years ago is the purification of metals, particularly gold.  Gold was purified by fire, burning off the impurities in temperatures hot enough to vaporize the bad, but not so hot as to damage the good and pure which remained.  The purification of gold is a metaphor for God working in our lives.  Sometimes we are thrown into troubling fires, burning so hot we wonder if we can endure.  But those fires have yet to consume me.  Many, probably all, have changed me in significant ways.  In retrospect, all have revealed the presence of God throughout, faithfully and skillfully controlling the heat. Were these times of Christ wielding his winnowing stick on my life?  Troubling times, even a long cold winter, are more easily endured when we believe there is a purpose and a worthwhile end.  Our earthly experience surely requires the preparation of our soul for eternity. 

Tom’s sermon this Sunday is, “What Should We Do?” utilizing the scripture passage in Luke 3:15-17 and 21-22.  Life service is at 10:45 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship in the sanctuary is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:30. 

Come home to worship this Sunday!  Celebrate the purifying presence with us.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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