Grace to you and peace from God Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Pastor Alan Watt

In the past week, there were some big news stories, one of which had to do with the winter storm affecting much of the U.S. One thing that’s new about it is the name for this phenomenon. What is it? Anyone?...That’s right! It’s a bomb cyclone. Until last week, I had never before heard of this term. Yet it actually isn’t new at all. It was first used by a professor at MIT—back in 1980, in an article written by him and a graduate student:

…we published this paper [because] these explosively developing cyclones

were most [common] during the winter…and the winds…tended to be of

hurricane force. Impacts of these cases were often comparable to those

of hurricanes. But many people would mistakenly let their guard down

once hurricane season was over….Our goal was to help raise awareness

that damaging ocean storms don’t just happen during the summer….

[Such] storms develop explosively and quickly. They can produce

[incredibly strong] winds, coastal flooding and erosion, and, of course,

very heavy precipitation.[i]

Now, listen carefully to these verses in today’s psalm:

            The voice of the LORD…

                        thunders

                …over mighty

                        waters.

            The voice of the LORD breaks the

                …the cedars of Lebanon.

            The voice of the LORD,

            bursts forth in

                        lightning flashes.

            The voice of the LORD shakes the

                        wilderness…

            The voice of the LORD…

strips the forest bare…

Now that description may not sound exactly like a bomb cyclone. Yet it does describe a destructive sea storm, slamming into a coastline and wreaking havoc on everything in its path.

The “voice of the LORD” in this psalm is expressed in the power of wind and water. And, in the Bible, both of those forces often have to do with the work of the Holy Spirit. Not only do we see that in the 29th psalm, but in all of today’s readings.

·        In the words of another version of the Book of Genesis: “the earth was without form and void, with darkness over the face of the abyss,

and a mighty wind that swept over…the waters.”[ii]

·        In the Book of Acts: “[Followers in Ephesus] were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied…”[iii]

While this event may not be nearly as awe-inspiring as powerful acts of creation, nevertheless it’s very impressive. Water, word and the laying on of hands unleashed in those believers the Spirit, by whom they uttered strange sounds and spoke out like prophets of old. This phenomenon occurs even today among a number of Christians, especially in Pentecostal churches, although there have been some, in the last several decades, from more traditional groups—including even some Lutherans.[iv]

In today’s Gospel, though, the Spirit manifests itself in a very different way. Yes, it’s the same in that water is used and the voice of God is heard and the Holy Spirit appears, but in ways that are so different. First of all, it has a very intimate, even private nature about it. While, besides John, there were probably others present, we’re given the impression that only Jesus saw and heard what was happening:“…just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart…”Andthe voice coming from heaven did not address others, saying, “This is my Son,” but rather only Jesus: “You are my Son, the Beloved…”[v]

Second, in this Gospel the manifestation of the Spirit is not at all like a mysterious power brooding over the waters at creation or the mighty wind of a great storm or the sudden, loud utterance of strange, unknown words. Instead, it’s the complete opposite. It appears as a quiet, gentle dove. A symbol of peace.

Our own baptisms are not the same as that of Jesus. For one thing, he had no need to have washed away a sinful nature. Second, our baptisms are usually public—a ritual celebrated in the presence of believers, although, on rare occasions, I have been part of private baptisms. And we do not see the Spirit physically descending on the baptized, but experience it strictly through the laying on of hands.

Yet, in other ways, there are some similarities. For example, the baptism we practice has an orderliness about it and a peacefulness, too, that is, unless it’s for an infant who, for one reason or another, becomes upset in the middle of it all.

One more similarity has to do with our sense of call. Jesus’ baptism was both a manifestation of the Spirit and a commissioning for his ministry. After it—and after his forty days in the wilderness—he called his disciples and began proclaiming the good news in both word and deed.

In our own baptisms, we also receive our call, our commissioning to live out our lives as

followers of Jesus—to “love God with all [our] heart, and with all [our] soul, and with all [our] strength, and with all [our] mind; and [our] neighbor[s] as [ourselves].”

It’s my belief we usually discover the details of our calls in ways that are not loud or spectacular or public—but rather in the everyday places of our lives. In some cases, we may discern it slowly or quickly, but usually not dramatically.

An excellent example comes from the Old Testament, when in fear of the wrath of Queen Jezebel, the prophet Elijah escapes into the wilderness. His life preserved, Elijah finds refuge in a cave. Here is the story of what happens next:

Now there was a great wind, so strong…it was splitting mountains and

breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind;

after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake;

and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after

the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face

in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there

came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered,

“I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”[vi]

Then God commands him to go and anoint one man as king of Aram and another as king of Israel and also anoint a man to become his successor. Reassuring him, the LORD proclaims there are still those in Israel who have not bowed down to false gods and that Elijah will be protected, that he will continue in his call.

Through reading of the scriptures, through prayer, through seeking the insights of brothers and sisters in Christ, and through the quiet and steady inspiration of the Spirit, we will be able to continue discerning new aspects, new details, of the call God has given us through our baptisms.

All of that is not to say we should not recognize and celebrate the power, the suddenness, and the mystery of the Spirit when we experience it in the mighty acts of nature or in the people of God. At times, we should all be like a catechetics student I once had at another church, who once, when we walked outdoors after class, looked up into the sky and immediately exclaimed, “Wow! Look at the size of that cloud!”


[i] Matthew Cappucci, “This Researcher Helped Coin the Term ‘Bomb Cyclone.’ He Did It to Keep People Safe,” The Washington Post, 04 January, 2018. Cappucci’s story is an interview with John R. Gyakum, the graduate student at the time who, with his adviser, Frederick Sanders, authored the article, which was titled, “Synoptic-Dynamic Climatology of the ‘Bomb.’”

 [ii]The New English Bible: The Old Testament (London: Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press, 1970): Genesis 1:2.

 [iii] Acts 19:5-6.

 [iv]For a history of this movement, see www.lutheranrenewal.org.

 [v] See Stephen Hultgren’s and Paul S. Berge’s comments in http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_=215 and http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1119, respectively.

 [vi] 1 Kings: 19:11b-14.