“Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17)
At Jesus’ baptism John the Baptist said that he could only baptize with water, but that the Messiah who would come would baptize with the Spirit. It is this Spiritual baptism that Peter and John were sent to Samaria to accomplish. Sometimes a basic baptism – water baptism – is not enough. The human spirit and soul need more; it needs the baptism of the Spirit.
I do not want you to think, beloved reader, that this baptism of the Spirit only happens in one way. Sometimes it takes the prayers of another, for others they pray for it themselves. It can happen instantaneously or over time. Most times, I think, the effect of the Spirit increases over time. Or thought of in another way, the Holy Spirit of God increases in influence and effect. But it can also decrease in influence and effect; that is, our human will can be at odds with the effect of the Spirit, and because we are human we cannot “stay the course” in living a Christian life. It is not that the influence of the Holy Spirit is weak (no, not by any means) but that our imperfections are at odds with the Perfection that is Spirit.
Now you might say, why doesn’t the Holy Spirit simply override that? Well, we as humans are given free will, the freedom to reject that which is the best for us. You can see with it being so complicated and nuanced that it might take the prayers of another to have the Holy Spirit bestowed and come to rest. And that it is not just “prayers” but teachings as well that bring the Holy Spirit and help the human spirit learn how to decrease so that the Holy Spirit might increase.
These are important issues to have before us as we consider this year’s lectionary theme of confession, penance, and forgiveness. I have wanted to do some study on what penance is, what it means. It is not merely, or only, making amends for sin but wanting and desiring to repent and then mend the places in one’s life where sin has been. It is being contrite, sorry and humbled, by one’s actions. While these can, and often are, facilitated by ministers/priest etc, it is also the action of the Holy Spirit that brings a person to confess, be contrite, and mend the “torn” places in one’s life. Upon this action, forgiveness is given by God’s Holy Spirit. We may be very early in the lectionary year to consider such things, so I will leave it at that.
May God’s Holy Spirit rest on and in you. And may this New Year be a time of seeking the Holy Spirit and allowing it into and further into your life. Selah!