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Posts Tagged ‘cleansing’

Icon: John the Baptist

To wash ceremonially in ancient Jewish times was to participate in a mikveh (or mikvah). For rituals, particularly washing from impurity, required “living” or flowing water such as a river or mikvot (the mikveh place) fed by a natural spring. It constituted the washing away of the old impurities and to mark the beginning of the new.

Matthew 3:1-2,
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” . . .  “I baptize you with [or in] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with [or in] the Holy Spirit and fire.

John the Baptist treated sin as the greatest impurity of all and called everyone who wanted a new start to celebrate a mikveh with him, right there in the desert, in the river Jordan. While priests, via the regulations in the Torah and other rabbinical writings, performed the mikveh for a variety of circumstances (after sexual relations for men, a menstrual cycle for women, after the birth of a child, upon declaring someone healed of a skin disease or leprosy, prior to Yom Kippur, and so forth), this may have been the first time that a mikveh was performed without a traditional priest.

John’s message was clear: prepare the way (prepare yourselves) for the coming Messiah. Release the old and make room for the new.

The water submersion was a ritual meant to mark a moment in time. And yet, John promised another moment, a time that would be marked by something more permanent than water: the Holy Spirit and Fire.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit came after Jesus’s resurrection, the gift was given (and promised) to all believers — the in-dwelling of God [Acts 2]. This in-dwelling changed everything and everyone. We tend to minimize this deeply motivating presence today.

There is so much “Jesus Junk” (Tchotchkes) and pat phrases like “Jesus loves you brother.” But it’s more than that. It’s not just that Jesus loves you; it’s that Jesus is you [Philippians 1:21]. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one. And once Jesus has been invited to occupy us, then the process of true sanctification begins, fusing me and the Christ. And with sanctification, unnecessary elements must, like chaff, be cast away and in some cases, burned away through experience, pain, persistence of motion, and repetition. We are all intended to “get it.”

The occupy movement from Wall Street to Washington, D.C., has nothing on the potential power and change that comes from the occupation of a human being by the Holy Spirit. This is the most authentic change of all.

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Starting over. That’s what rebirth and renewal are all about. Starting over. The trick is getting the right stuff, the right soap, for washing away the crap. Despite all good intentions, there’s only One soap that works: the suds and bubbles of the Holy Spirit.

Titus 3:4-5
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, . . .

I can’t make myself new or clean. I can even take a bath in all the good things of life, but the inner life is cleansed by Spirit and nothing else.

I have always recoiled at the standard Christian phrase, “Have you been born again?” I know it’s in scripture, the phrase was used by Jesus himself to Nicodemus [John 3:6-7]. But, at that time, the phrase wasn’t used to separate the good ones from the really good ones, the saved ones from the really saved ones, and so on.

And yet, I wonder, how different would it be to ask, “Have you Started Over?” Isn’t this what most people really want and need? People who are enmeshed in habits and addictions, abusive relationships, cyclical poverty, dead-end jobs, bottomless grief, or numbing isolation, wouldn’t the offer of starting over and beginning anew, or turning a corner where the past no longer drove actions or decisions, where the weight of mistakes no longer caused slow shuffling steps, wouldn’t that be a cause for hope?

In actuality, with the presence of the Holy Spirit, every day is a new day and a new start. Every day is a beginning. Every day is filled with possibilities.

Wash me today, Lord. Wash me today.

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