Genesis 1:1-5

Acts 19:1-7

Jesus’ baptism by John was a new beginning from an old religious form. Clearly, Jesus – at least as we’ve come to think of him – didn’t need this baptism of repentance. But he did what was proper, because this baptism was part of the world Jesus came from. Jesus follows John even though he is greater than John.

Jesus is that “someone greater” John talked about, who will give the Holy Spirit to humans just as he received the Holy Spirit from God here in baptism. That’s how God’s creativity works in Jesus Christ, with a new creation from old forms.

Paul tells the disciples he encounters in Ephesus that they need the Holy Spirit, not just John’s baptism. Their new life of discipleship is not just about repentance, it’s about Christ and the Holy Spirit. Of course, it’s hard to tell the difference between what Paul did here and the original baptism these folks received, but you can sure see the difference in the effect: the gifts of the Holy Spirit showed up, with speaking in tongues and prophecy! The Spirit usually comes among Presbyterians differently, but it still has to be here.

Without the Holy Spirit, our life of faith is just our own repentance, our own attempt to become something new. Repentance is a good and holy act, but it’s not enough by itself to build a life of faith. Repentance is about turning from sin, but what are we turning toward? We turn to put our trust in Christ, who is present with us by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit still leads the church with tongues and prophecy, as we  grow into the future and into new ways of being faithful.

Somehow, within those old forms, the Spirit’s creativity comes out of the baptismal water. As we wash from the old to be ready for the new, the Holy Spirit is in our repentance and in what comes new out of it. The Spirit calls  order out from chaos, just as it did over the unformed void from which God started the whole creation. Baptism remakes us: it reduces us to nothing and lets us begin again in Christ.

So when the world reduces us to nothing, Christ is still with us in the Holy Spirit to lead us into a new future. When the economy crumbles around us because an unsustainable way of life has finally caught up to us, the Spirit is there. When our way of life is hard to recognize because it’s been taken over by change, illness, or loss, the Spirit is ready to make something new. When we’re called into – or out of – ways of investing our time and energy in service to the church, the Spirit is acting in us.

Life is filled with these moments when we start something new and step out into that void. It’s filled with moments when there’s no dotted line on the ground to follow, no ready instruction manual to look up. Moments when we notice that our best efforts just won’t get it done. But the Holy Spirit blows over that water. It calls forth new life and leads us in new directions, again and again. Thanks be to God.