Listening to the Spirit

During his travels, Paul was in Ephesus, and he met a group of disciples who were followers of Jesus, and he asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?”

Now it sounds like one of those questions where even though you have no idea what the person is asking about, you feel the need to give the expected answer, “Well, yes, of course we did!” But they told Paul they had never heard of the Holy Spirit. Paul reached out and plunged them into the waters of baptism yet again, and they received the Spirit of God.

They went on to say that they had received John’s baptism, focused solely on repentance, but Paul knew that beyond repentance is the journey of faith, which is full of calling, courage, and change—all of which are the work of the Spirit of God.

When Jesus was baptized, it says that the Spirit descended on him like a dove, and you could overhear this voice say, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus fully embraced and embarked on this journey, which was full of calling, courage, and change—showing us the way.

Behind this baptism, and behind this journey, is always a great deal of humility. John the Baptist says he was not worthy to wear Jesus’ sandals. Jesus goes out to join this band of outsiders gathering in the wilderness separate from the religious elite. Then Jesus wades into those waters and is baptized by John. We find humility around every single corner of this story, which allows the Spirit of God to show up!

Whether it’s John or Jesus, or this group of disciples that admit they had never heard of the Holy Spirit—wherever there is humility, the Spirit of God is at work. With that kind of humility, we are able to listen for the work of the Spirit.

Listening for the Spirit is different from listening to somebody else in a conversation. In a conversation, our eardrum translates sound waves into brain waves. We can lean in a little bit closer. We can put our hand over our ear to capture more sound. We can use a microphone to amplify it, but listening to the Spirit is different.

In recent studies, scientists have discovered that spiders use their webs to listen. The silk fibers are sensitive to any vibration, which the spider can detect. They use their webs as an extension of themselves. They reach out, create connections, and they listen to and pay attention to everything around them.

We, too, can reach out, creating real, tangible connections with others, to listen for the Spirit of God. Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie warn us not to put too much emphasis on any one sound. As they say,

“We read only a single news source or listen to only one friend before making up our minds. We may think we have considered all the options, but, more and more, we associate with people who are in mental lockstep.”

Since the Spirit of God shows up wherever there is humility, we can reach out, creating real, tangible connections with others, so we can listen widely for the work of the Spirit of God.

The practice of the laying on of hands reminds us to reach out and to make those connections, so we can listen widely and more closely. The laying on of hands is also a humbling experience, feeling the weight of the hands of the priesthood of the believers upon us, the weight of that responsibility, whether it is the laying on of hands of ordination or the laying on of hands when we are plunged into the waters of grace, and called to the ways of Jesus.

It is why we are so thankful for our Deacons, who listen and who lead, and who remind us to do the same.

Amen.

Auburn First Baptist Church