"Baptism" - Year C
Again a distinction between the outward sign (baptism) of an inward grace (spirit). This gives rise to recognition of Christmas and Easter Christians as well as Anonymous Christians. There are additional questions to be raised about being baptized as a group (Samaria) in distinction to baptism as an individual. How public or private can baptism be envisioned? Is it an eternal sign always affirmed and defended or more practically acknowledged in some situations but not others? Arguments about baptism as an expression of faith or a prerequisite of effective evangelism continue.
And so a secondary question about the efficacy of prayer after baptism, as well as that of prayer prior to baptism. How does prayer fit into hearing and accepting? Into spirit reception?
This gives rise to questions about tertiary signs as well, such as the imposition of hands. If a bishop should have their hands blown off by a mine (as so many still do today [mourn mightily]) would the touch of an arm stump allow a similar completion of a circuit from said bishop to prospective ordinand? It is so easy to get side-tracked into formalism and repetition of the past. [Reminder: Peter and John were not bishops and there was a bit of a gap between Bishop John Potter/John Wesley and Francis Asbury - not to mention other unorthodox carryings-on that have been incorporated into the hagiography of our day.]
These four verses paint pictures that spark more questions than they resolve. This is a good thing.
Over and over we come to the question of Holy Spirit and its presence. Does not the Holy Spirit precede belief, guarding one from being outside the possibility of turning around? Does not the Holy Spirit grow folks from glory to glory, guiding us along life's journey.
A distinction that we may be able to make is about our response to and witnessing to the presence of the Holy Spirit, not whether or not it is present. This is a much more difficult way of going than the shorthand sound bites about whether or not we have received the Holy Spirit (we have).
In this context it we can talk about evaluating reception of the Holy Spirit by seeing and hearing whatever witness is made by folks. I have received that which I can give away. I have not yet received that which I hold on to. How's that for counter-intuitive - way to go GOD!
Peter and John go to add to Philip's work, not to upstage him. Without Philip's use of his having received the Holy Spirit the Samaritans would still be the black-sheep of the family. He returned them to the community, a new community made up of all sides of the family heritage. They still need to claim their part in this new community and when that happens (participating with, not just receiving) the Holy Spirit is evidenced.
So, have you received the Holy Spirit? No, not some creedal statement you can say without wincing. No, not some particular such as sound needing interpretation. Yes, using it as your construct for behavior and meaning.
It is like a reverse domino effect. When the Holy Spirit is received it helps the fallen stand and outcasts return.
That silly old Spirit, working away, transforming lives, all very unofficial. Fortunately Peter and John were close at hand and had a couple of days to go on over and clarify the issue.
It must have been impressive because Simon who had believed and seen signs and great miracles noted that this laying on of hands was something else again. It was enough to take him back to his good old days of magic. Just lay the hands on the right way and ipso facto, bibbity-bobbity-boo, abracadabra, shazam, and just plain old hocus-pocus, the baptisms and signs and miracles take on the aura of correctness.
Would the Samaritans have been able to come in without getting the Holy Spirit the right way? Is this the new measuring rod, the new circumcision?
You may be interested in an article from the Christian Century from 1990 [Baptism in the Indian Context] that raises some important questions about baptism and culture, an event of separation or human solidarity. It comes out of a context in India related to Hindus. What do you think?
They had only been born. They had only been born Samaritan. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. This is all we know.
Somewhere along the way that is not enough. It seems nothing is ever enough when it comes to measuring up to someone else's experience they consider normative for everyone - right now. No process or stage of a process is enough. Not even being at a stage a measurer will come to is enough as the measurerer isn't yet there to measure it.
At any rate, a Holy Spirit was deemed necessary. How fortunate that Peter and John were confirmed in their experience by others seemingly, finally, measuring up to it.
We still make up rules and regulations about effective baptism and its deeper meaning when that is not measurable. I can't help but wonder what Jesus would have said about what additional was needed for a baptism in his name to be a baptism in his name. I can't help but wonder how surprised he was to find a dove diving at him as he shakes water from his eyes.
Might a needed Holy Spirit simply be a sense of belovedness, regardless of style or language of baptism? And is that enough, or not?
- - -
unto Samaria and the ends of this earth
we go before there is any evidence
that going will redound glory to us
we identify greatest need and focus there
even if it is only our greatest need projected
we impose meaning wherever we pray
twisting arms and patting backs
we handle the reins of reigning understanding
that we might drive rather than be driven
indeed we handle if not always gently
indeed we pray if not always wisely
indeed we go if not always happily
This dualism of the "word of God" and "Holy Spirit" presents a number of difficulties. It seems more institutional than experiential or helpful.
The same goes for a dry baptism in Jesus' name and a wet baptism of sweaty hands. Apparently baptism is not baptism is not baptism in the reverse of a rose, rose, rose. Again we get distinctions of particulars that will lead to division rather than a unity of integral growth in each life.
A social justice question rises here. Suppose you hear that someone has a new lease on life, a hope of freedom, are you going to go to them to say, "You're deluded about your new perspective on meaning, interpret it according to my experience and you'll be much better off."? Think back to the Civil Rights movement. Folks had a new word to follow and so many wanted them to add on another layer of work through the legislative means to legitimate their view.
Think ahead to the need for clean water in Cambodia. Through Deanna Shimko and others, a word of God had been heard and pumps installed. Can you imagine telling them that they they should hold off on that word and work until flouride can be added to the water?
This need to control experience was, is, and will be deadly, whether it is about G*D or sexual orientation. The Church gets both badly wrong when it operates from a "here's the way it happened to me and so this is the way it should happen to you" mentality.