Acts 8:14-17

Samaria had accepted the word of God. Samaria! That was big news, because Samaritans, at that time, were often despised by the Jewish people. But Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus made a point out of creating a story in which a Samaritan was the good person who helped another human being who was injured, while others, who were supposedly good religious people, passed him by. Philip had crossed over boundaries that good Jews didn’t cross by going to Samaria to preach to them. And they had listened to him and been baptized. If Samaritans were accepting the word of God, then anyone might! Yes, anyone might. So Peter and John were sent by the other apostles to go to Samaria. They did, and they prayed that the people there would receive the Holy Spirit, for, we are told, “as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. As if that wasn’t much. Then “Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

So was something wrong with the way Philip baptized people? Did Peter and John have to go down to fix it? The answer is no. Being baptized and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit don’t always come together. While this passage sounds like perhaps they should, other Bible passages show the gift of the Spirit coming before, sometimes during, and sometimes after baptism. But whenever it comes, even the youngest children can feel it. I watched the Spirit pour out of a little baby, the daughter of two clergy people, who was baptized at Annual Conference last year. She was just a baby, but when she felt the water placed upon her, she reached into that water, and then reached out to the congregation. She looked for – all – the – world like she was offering the water to us. She smiled and cooed and generally captivated us all. She had joy in that water and she wanted to share it. I have no doubt that the Spirit was at work in her at a very tender age. But don’t worry if you aren’t sure that you have felt it at work in you yet. Some Bible stories say the Spirit came upon people while the gospel was preached. John Wesley felt it strongly then. God’s ability to grant us the gift of the Spirit is offered through baptism, but not limited to it. Baptism begins what is hopefully a lifetime of growth in the gift of the Spirit. And in the instance of today’s scripture and many others, baptism and the gift of the Spirit were signs that God’s love wasn’t bound by geography or race or gender, but was for all people.

That’s something for us to think about. Where do we put up boundaries on who we love? Who are the people we write off or keep away from because we just don’t like their kind? We hear a lot in the news these days about who should be let into our country and who should be kept out. And usually, when people want to keep others out, it’s due to fear. Fear does terrible things to people. It causes us to put up walls, both physical and emotional, and to do things to others that we would never want done to us. Some amount of fear can cause us to be alert and cautious and serves to protect us. But when we start drawing lines between us and whole other groups of people out of fear, we are not following Christ, who made a point of passing right through Samaria, and talking to a Samaritan woman, who he encouraged to be among the first to go and tell the good news that he was in fact the Messiah. In First John 4:18, we are told that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…whoever fears has not reached perfection in love….Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars, for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen.” This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to like everybody you meet, but it does mean wanting what is good for others, rather than wishing them harm or neglecting them in times of dire need.

We’ve been talking about generosity a little bit each week. It is easy to be generous to people we know, people we love, people we care about. But it’s a lot harder to be generous to someone who scares us, or even to someone we just don’t know. When the fire was burning in Santa Margarita, and people were being evacuated, I asked Kathy, our office manager, if she would like to come and stay in our spare bedroom. She thanked me and told me that she had had at least a dozen similar offers. It’s easy to offer shelter to someone we know and love, but with strangers we feel a need to be careful. And sometimes that is good. But Jesus often threw caution to the wind in order to reach out and love someone who other supposedly good people had deemed unlovable and untouchable.

Last week in our Generosity Moment, you were asked to think about why you loved this church. Your answers are posted out in the narthex. Adult answers are along the inside and outside of the back wall, and children and youth answers are posted on the bulletin board in the narthex. Do you want to know what the top answers were for adults? It was that we are a warm, caring group of people that feels like family. That we are loving and accepting of each other, and welcoming to newcomers who we have not yet come to know. That we have a generous spirit that allows us to reach out in service to the community, dealing with mission and justice issues through ministry in our community and the world. That’s pretty awesome.

The kids had similar answers. They love the Mix, where their friends are here. Surprisingly, a number of them said they love communion, and lighting candles. They love singing, and learning about Jesus and God. And they love the people here. One young person said “church feels like home.”

Wouldn’t it be an amazing thing if we could take that kind of loving, caring, welcoming spirit out into the world and share it with everyone? Sometimes we do, when we serve at ECHO and Loaves and Fishes, and the Salvation Army, and when we send support to people in need all across the world. What if everyone had a place like this? How do we make that happen?

Today we are encouraged to think about the people who have made a difference in our Spiritual Lives. I have no doubt that they were people who were generous with their time, who listened to us, and who cared enough about us to teach us about what they loved about God and Jesus and this place or similar places where we grew in faith. People who walked the walk, and not just talked the talk. How do we grow into being that kind of person for others? By listening and learning, by praying and loving, by surrounding ourselves with a community of others who make this a priority, and by practicing generosity in the way we lead our lives.

When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove, and a voice from above said: “You are my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” As you go out today, you will find the baptismal font in the narthex. I encourage you to take a moment and dip your hand into the water. Place some of it on your forehead, and listen. Listen for the still small voice of God who says: “You are my child and I love you.” Pause for a moment to really feel the water, and see if you might also feel the Spirit assuring you of that love, and sending you out in the world to do God’s will. Amen

THOSE People?!


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