Prepared by Carl Schaefer
Church of the Cross
Sunday, January 10, 2010
(Slide#2) The Good News of Epiphany – Christ has come
a. The Angels proclaimed it to the shepherds
b. The Wise Men proclaimed to the World that He had been found.
c. On this His baptismal day, The Father proclaimed (Matthew 3:17) …”This is my Son, who I love…”
We will be celebrating the season of Epiphany until Transfiguration Sunday and cover some key moments in Scriptures that focus on the identity and content of God’s salvation plan.
(Slide#3) Today, the identity of God’s son, Jesus, is confirmed in His baptism – a moment as remarkable as God identifying himself to Moses, and at the same time, a moment that has no precedent as it establishes for us the sacrament of baptism. His baptism – is our baptism into his body – the body of Christ, his coming death as ours into His, and His resurrection into what will be our own resurrection. And all of this, and all these connections, and everything in-between, are made possible by the most powerful force in Scriptures, recorded history, and our lives – the Holy Spirit. There is literally no way we can even begin to experience and/or understand any of these events without the presence of the Holy Spirit. The revelation of Jesus Christ is as much a revelation of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
(Slide#4) We have come to understand the Holy Spirit as both the active power of God at work in all creation, but also the on-going living presence of Jesus Christ. Think of that power of God that connects all the dots – the power that makes a revelation a reality and places it within the realm of reality and understanding. Think of the Holy Spirit as the Burning Bush, the Voice of God, to create with just one word, and power that enabled Moses to free the Hebrews all together in one package.
Well, this is the “Good News” about how God is working in our lives and it is through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Now let us venture for a moment into a couple of secular examples of how God in the Holy Spirit makes the connections.
(Slide#5) Let me first share a story that begins with a little humorous twist: “Sally and the Navajo Indian.”
“Sally was driving home from one of her business trips in Northern Arizona when she saw an elderly Navajo woman walking on the side of the road. As the trip was a long and a quiet one, she stopped the car and asked the Navajo woman if she wanted a ride.
With a word or two of thanks, the Indian woman got into Sally’s car.
After resuming the journey and after a bit of small talk, the Navajo woman noticed a brown bag on the seat next to Sally.
Sally noticed the woman looking down at the brown bag and Sally said, “It’s a bottle of wine. I got it for my husband.
The Navajo woman was silent for a moment, and then speaking with the quiet wisdom of and elder of the tribe, said, “Good trade.”
I will get back to that story in a moment, but first, you have probably been wondering about today’s sermon title: “N.O.R.A.” At the outset, it would not seem to be any kind of biblical abbreviation. Well, I was reading some material about today’s scripture, 1 Corinthians 12: 1-11 and I couldn’t help see the connection.
(Slide#6) SO what is N.O.R.A?
N.O.R.A. is an acronym for “Non-obvious Relationship Awareness.” NORA is indeed a sophisticated data mining software program developed by a high school drop out and self-taught hacker named Jeff Jonas.
Jonas initially created this program for the gaming industry where it was used in casinos to catch cheats by scanning databases to connect the dots in patterns that might not be revealed any other way. For example, NORA might alert security at Las Vegas’s Mandalay casino if its database scans reveal that the guy winning big in blackjack once had the same phone number as the dealer at the table, even if there now seems to be no other link between them. Such information, at the very best, would warrant further investigation.
If you were an employer, you might be interested in NORA because it could possibly reveal employees who share the same address with people you previously fired or who are related to slip-and-fall victims who have sued your company in the past.
But what really boosted NORA’s value was the awful event of 9/11. The FBI, CIA, the National Security Council were all falling over themselves trying to sort through huge mountains of data looking for connections not readily apparent – and to do it in ways that don’t violate privacy laws.
In other words, NORA does all this and is excellent at discerning non-obvious relationships. I have no idea to what use this program is being put today, the days of Homeland Security and the Department of Counter-Terrorism, or if it could have been used to surface the suspected Yemeni Al Qaeda terrorist who tried to blowup Northwest Airlines Flight 253.
(Slide$7) But in a spiritual realm, can you imagine making the connections for billions of people, their thoughts, prayers, pain, conflicts and any other circumstance happening at any particular moment and facilitating how each moment is connected with any historical person who has ever lived and connecting it with any future person and event. Mind boggling? Well imagine then that Scripture adds that God knows every hair on your head and mine and everybody else, every sparrow that falls and has already named each star millions of light years from earth to include those that have already died.
The power of the Holy Spirit is beyond our ability to comprehend and was the visible sign of the presence of God at Jesus’ baptism per Luke 3, 21 “…And as He (Jesus) was praying, heaven opened (23) and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And the voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Not only God incarnated for us to see and touch, but also now his very presence made visible to us as a “dove.” Can you see the amazing complexity of it all and all the possible combinations of revelation that are available to us everyday.
By the way, the reference to Paul’s letter to the Church of Corinth makes the connection to the gifts the Holy Spirit gives each of us as reference in today’s text (I Corinthians 12: 4 that reveals different gifts but the same Spirit. Vs. 8 “to one there is given through the Spirit the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit ---. Vs. 11 says, “All these (gifts) are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” The lesson goes further by saying that the Spirit makes even our confession of faith possible. Vs. 3 began with “Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, Jesus be cursed, and no one can say, Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.
The connections and power implied by these examples are boundless and beyond are ability to comprehend, at least for me.
(Slide#8) Now back to Sally and the Navajo wise, elder woman of the tribe for the rest of the story. Before the end of the journey, the Navajo Indian comes to faith through the way the Holy Spirit put the her and Sally together. Observing the truth of God’s love during the worship service that Sally invited her to during which Sally’s sister was baptized.
And now more about NORA. Who knows how that program is being used today to connect the dots? We also see that no matter how good the system is, it is only as good as the people using it or systems like it. We see that human error, evident in the case of the Yemeni terrorist boarded a Norwest Plane undetected despite what in retrospect looks like a number of “red flags,” and how all our security failed to connect the dots. It is clear that there is no system is a match for the power of the Holy Spirit.
And each of you can look back on your lives and point to countless moments that go beyond any collision of events that could be dismissed as just coincidence. No we could see how God is at work, the work of God in the Holy Spirit, and instead we call them “God-incidences.”
Why have I used these examples in conjunction with Epiphany and Jesus’ baptism? I hope you can see that without the Holy Spirit fully active in our hearts, we would miss what God has in mind for our lives. We can look at the manifestation of Jesus – the incarnation, the birth of Christ, and miss the connection as to how God’s plan for salvation and us are connected. It’s like being in the car with Sally and missing her invitation to attend the worship service at her church the next Sunday, the moment that God had planned to touch the Navajo woman’s heart and change her “elder wisdom” to “Christ-like wisdom.”
And my use of the example of NORA was not to dazzle you with the power of technology, anyone with a cell phone has already appreciated that, but it was to demonstrate how the best of what we know or create to control our lives pales into insignificance with the power that God uses through His Holy Spirit to make our lives unfold like a beautiful flower if we are only open to its working. God has a plan for our lives but the question is whether we are willing to follow it?
One more connection! Does it seem like just a coincidence that God initiated baptism as a way to confirm the identity of His Son – “This is my Son…” No, I don’t believe that anything God did through Jesus was just a coincidence. I believe that baptism was given to us as a gift, not just an item of liturgy in our hymnbook, but a voluntary declaration to whom we belong. It is built upon the historical ritual of cleansing yes, not just for the outside, but also for the inside. It is voluntary moment when we allow the Holy Spirit to adopt us as a child of God giving the Spirit permission to fully change our lives. No, no accident that God can then look down on us and say, “This is my child, in whom I am well pleased….” It is at the moment of adoption when we can answer the three basic questions to which the Holy Spirit (the supernatural NORA of our lives) can make all the connections:
1. Who is God?
2. Who are we?
3. How/Where do we fit into the Kingdom of God?
In conclusion, let me summarize that God, through the Holy Spirit immediately sorts out all we need to know to be a child of God and to live like a child of God through the saving grace of his Son Jesus– if we are open to it.
Like the Navajo Indian, don’t miss an opportunity to accept Sally’s ride, or more correctly the Spirit’s invitation to change our lives, and make the connections to God’s salvation plan. And finally, surrender to the magnificence of how the powerful force of the Spirit can make all the connections of God’s love we need to know to live and be saved. Don’t think we can out-create or out think God, for God’s plan, timing, and ways are perfect. Not us, we fall far short, but only God is the perfect solution for the mess we have made of trying to think we can create, solve, or control our lives. Epiphany is about seeing and believing, acknowledging and surrendering to the power and love of God.