Baptism of Jesus

Honest To God

There is One to come who is mightier than I … He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit
Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

Baptism of Jesus


Several years ago, an Anglican Bishop named Robinson made publishing history with a little book called “Honest to God.” The book has sold hundreds of thousands of copies because the bishop is saying what so many people are feeling. It’s very important for us, in our modern world, to be honest to God, honest with God, honest before God, honest about what we believe. We’re being told that we live in a world come of age, which means come of age intellectually. We’re sophisticated. We’re in the know. It’s a scientific age. It’s an educated age. It’s an age in which sloppy thinking in the area of our Christian belief simply will not do. As the bishop points out, we need to reach down to a deeper level of honesty about our belief in a God “up there” or in a God “out there,” and a lot of other things about God and Christ and the Holy Spirit and life and death and destiny. The bishop has put these things in a little book and it has spoken to many people. And I believe he has put his finger on the pulse of our time. It’s becoming increasingly necessary for us to be honest about what we believe and why we believe it

There is a pastor in Washington, D.C. who has an early morning Bible Study Program on TV. Each Sunday after the program he stops at the hospital to visit sick parishioners. On one such visit, he received an unusually enthusiastic greeting from a man who had been hospitalized for a long time. “You’ll be so glad to know that this week you beat the Cisco Kid by one vote,” the man said excitedly. It seems that the hospital ward had only one TV set, and the programs to be watched were decided by majority vote of the patients. After weeks of lobbying and buying votes with cookies and candy bars and cigarettes, the man finally succeeded: The Bible Study Program won out over its chief rival, the Cisco Kid. Said the pastor, “I thought to myself that when we can beat out the Cisco Kid with a Bible Study Program, we’re on our way at last.”

We are in a time when people are just hungry to straighten out their thinking and to know why they believe what they do. But there is something disturbing about this, too. Without disparaging the importance of clear thinking in the area of what we believe, I think this can be a trap. All this intellectualizing that’s going on can turn into a subtle but highly effective way of escaping confrontation with God down at the deeper levels of our beings. The Biblical writers are concerned about right thinking, it’s true. They have this concern, but there is a deeper honesty that they are even more concerned about. The Biblical writers are concerned that we be honest to God about ourselves; about who we are down at the level where life is pulsing and beating and pulling at us; about our rebelliousness and our hostility; about the way we have hurt other people. And most of all, about the way we cover it and shield it and make excuses for ourselves. The Biblical writers, without disparaging the importance of right thinking, are constantly calling us to a deeper honesty, an honesty about ourselves before God.

You remember, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee was a man who tithed and went to Church. He was basically a good man–a fact which he did not withhold from God in his prayers. But the other man said simply, in deep repentance, “0 God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” And Jesus said it was this man who “went home from the temple justified,” not the proud Pharisee. It was the repentant man, it was the man who was honest about his own interior condition whose prayer was acceptable to God. He was justified in the eyes of God because he had laid it all out, turned it all out, made a clean sweep of it: Honest to God, I am a sinner. Repent! Be honest! It’s a positive thing, a movement toward life. It’s a healing and a good thing, this being honest to God about who we really are.

Alright, now we have a problem. We really do have a problem. Because, in modern times, we do not like to talk about repentance and hear about repentance and you are being very patient right now listening to this. But we just don’t like it and we have a kind of feeling that it’s really old-fashioned. And yet, it seems clear from the Gospels, that the chief obstacle in our becoming what we are created to become, is this unwillingness to repent and be honest. There is in every one of us, without exception a basic rebelliousness that we have to deal with.

When the Supreme Court decision banning prayer in the public schools came down, a teacher decided to use it in order to make a point on this basic rebelliousness of ours. So he prepared a tongue-in-cheek lecture in which he said: “This is the best thing that has happened to religion–this forbidding prayer in the public schools. Just wait until those kids find out it’s illegal to pray in school, they’ll be praying all over the place.” He went on to describe an imaginary scene in which the teacher came into the classroom and saw a bunch of boys huddled together in the back. She said, “What are you doing?” They replied, “We’re telling jokes.” “Oh, that’s good,” she said, “I was afraid that you were praying back there.” Of course it’s absurd, but the point got through. Somebody tells you not to do something and your first instinct is to do it. You put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and you say, “Eat of the fruit of all the trees except one tree,” and that’s the one they eat, and that’s the one we eat. There’s a basic rebelliousness deep inside every one of us. And, because this is true, it’s a short step to those specific things we do and say that begin to hurt and to hinder and to block and to corrupt in the life of every one of us.

I’m afraid it would be a shocking thing, if by some stroke of magic, the interior lives of every one of us should suddenly be brought out into the open here, right now. We would need the love and the support of a community of faith to even stand it. There is the story of a man who picked out six of his friends at random and sent each a telegram that said simply, “All is known, flee at once. Five of them left town immediately. If all could be known about the interior life of any one of us here today, he or she would probably be leaving town in a hurry. We make excuses, we rationalize, we cover-up, and in the process we hurt ourselves and we hurt others too And then the psychologists come along and tell us that it’s unhealthy to be guilty and we go on rationalizing and finding more excuses for ourselves.

When you repent, when you are honest, when you just let the walls, the disguises, the facades, fall away, in that moment of grace you begin to feel the movement of God’s life within you. Almost from the very beginning you can feel it. And you become, as never before, that unique person that you’ve been created to become and that God is longing for you to become. Not only that, but you discover you can relate to people now in a new way. There’s an openness about it and an honesty about it and a cleanness about it. You can look into the eyes of another person whose life perhaps you have violated in some way. You become free for others, as Christ was.

This is what Isaiah meant when he wrote that God would provide the means of bringing out “from the dungeon, those who live in darkness” (Is.42:7). This is what St. Peter meant when he preached that God had anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the “Holy Spirit and power” (Acts 10:38). This is what John the Baptist meant when he said, “There is One to come who is mightier than I… He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit” (Lk.3:16).

Here, right now in God’s presence, open up, let it all out, be honest about who you’ve been and about who you are. For there is no other way of knowing who God made you to be and wants you to be. To be an honest-to-God Christian you must be honest to God. Be honest to God so that Jesus may be your baptizer in the Holy Spirit.”

What are your thoughts?

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