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Unlocking the Birdcage

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Unlocking the Birdcage

“Baptism of the Lord Sunday”

Genesis 8:6-12            Mark 1:9-12

(FUMC, McMinnville, Tn 1-11-2009)

I have been reading a book that someone gave me for Christmas. 

One evening as I was reading I came across a couple of sentences that really put my mind to thinking.  The imagery just sort of took on a life of its own in my mind.  When I got up the next morning it was still there.  I decided to just let my mind go with it and see if God was trying to share something with me.

The setting that the author was writing about was when Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem and saw all the buying and selling and trading that was taking place.  Jesus became upset by what he saw and began to turn over the merchants tables and to set the caged animals free.

Then the author shifted the setting from the Biblical past to the present.  Here is what he wrote: 

Once again the Lamb of God has stormed into His Papa’s house with the zeal of the Lord of Hosts eating him up.  He isn’t content just to turn over our tables of religious pomp and circumstances and man-pleasing programs.  He is moving on to the cages that we’ve constructed with our rigid religion to confine and control the Dove of God, the Holy Spirit!  I can almost hear Him say, “My Dove, men have thought to keep you in a cage, but I am going to rattle this cage once again and send You forth.  For where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

 

I found this to be a powerful image.  The image of a caged Dove.

Do you grasp the power of that image?

Throughout the Bible the dove has represented the presence of God.  The dove has served as a visible sign of the Holy Spirit.

In the Genesis story of Noah and the ark the dove played an important role.  After months of being locked up in a floating “Best Western” hotel built for all sorts of animals, Noah unlocked this huge cage and set a dove free to MapQuest the earth.  When the dove returned with an olive branch in its beak, Noah knew it wouldn’t be long until the door of the ark would swing open and he and all the occupants would go free.  At yet the dove represented more; it reminded Noah of God’s presence and peace.

Today is Baptism of the Lord Sunday.  It is a day when we recall the account of Jesus going to John the Baptist and asking him to baptize him.  You may be wondering what all of this caged dove imagery has to do with the Baptism of Jesus.  When Jesus was coming up out of the water we are told that a dove descended from heaven and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.”  The dove represented the Holy Spirit coming to rest upon Jesus.

The Dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.

I could not get the image of the Caged Dove out of my mind.

Have you ever had a caged pet, in particular a caged bird.  In our family we have had everything from caged hamsters to to….Stephanie.  Stephanie was the easiest pet we have ever had to care for.  By the way Stephanie was named after me and was a tarantula. 

Before Gretchen and I ever met I had a couple of Cockatiels.  Messiest little creatures in the world

We use cages to house our pets.  We want to be able to see our little friend.  We want to be able to touch it, to take it out ever now and then and stroke it.  If we can we want to teach it a few tricks to keep us entertained.  We play with it a while, then we put it back in the cage and at night we might even cover it with a towel.

Some cages are bigger.  We find these cages at the Zoo or at an amusement park.   During a resent trip to Dolly-Wood we saw a caged area for Eagles.

Why do we put these animals in a caged zoo? 

Well we want to be able to take our children and ourselves to a place were we can see something we do not usually see.  We want to say, “Look there sweetheart.  That is an eagle.  That is an elephant.  That is a camel.  You may never see one of those again.  So remember that is what an Eagle looks like.”  After we spend a few moments looking at this particular creature we move on to the next.

A Caged Dove!  What symbolism!

Without realizing it this is what many of us have done with the Holy Spirit.  We have placed the Holy Spirit in a cage and we want to treat him like we would a pet.

We want to take it out every now and then and sort of play with it or pet it.

We may try to teach him a few tricks. 

What he does may inspire us so much we may even raise our hands in amazement.

We spend a little time with him and then put him back in the cage and may even cover him up.

Some of us may prefer going down to the Zoo…. I mean the church,   so that we can point out the Holy Spirit and say to our children, “Hey sweetheart, I know you haven’t seen one of those in real life but that is what the Holy Spirit looks like just in case you ever come upon it.  Now don’t get to close our you might speak in tongues or say Amen or something”

A Caged Dove.  You and I, as well meaning as we maybe are often guilty of caging the Holy Spirit and treating him like an endangered species or a pet.

Today is Baptism of the Lord Sunday.  It is a  occasion for us to recall our baptism and our confirmation and celebrate what it means.  It is not a time to be re-baptized but to recall what baptism represents.

Baptism represents our acceptance of God’s gift of salvation. Baptism is our invitation to be in ministry.

Baptism and confirmation are reminders to us that the Holy Spirit rests upon us.

Today as we remember our baptism we must ask ourselves if we have placed the Holy Spirit in our personal cage.  Have we caged him by limiting who he is and what he can do?  Have we made him our exotic trophy pet or placed him in a caged and covered him up?

Perhaps we need to allow Jesus to do some cage rattling among us.

Think about the story of Noah again.  In a way Noah, his wife and his sons and his sons wives and all those animals were in their own cage: the ark.  They could not be free until the dove was free.

We cannot be truly free, our church cannot be free until we unlock the door of the birdcage and set the Holy Spirit free.

How do we do this? 

Have you ever wonder why Jesus went to John the Baptist and asked him to baptize him?

            He was sinless.

            He was the son of God, he could have baptized himself.

            He could have “told” John to baptize him.

Instead he asked.  Sometimes we just have to ask. 

What is the key that unlocks the cage that sets the Holy Spirit free?

Asking.  Prayer. 

Do you long for the Holy Spirit to move in your life?  Here is the key: pray.

Do you long for the Holy Spirit to ignite a fire in our church?  Here is the key:  pray.

Do you want to see a movement of the Holy Spirit in our country?  Here is the key:  pray.

Do you want to see a revival among our youth?  Do you want to see marriages strengthened?  Do you want to see people converted?  Do you want to experience Pentecost anew?  Unlock the Birdcage.  Here is the key:  pray.  Ask.

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