It took me two days to realize that the very short, very proof-text-ish, New Testament lesson for this Sunday comes from the eighth chapter of Acts. It wasn’t until this morning that I noticed that the RCL had seized this story of Peter and John in Samaria is lifted from the larger story of Simon the Sorcerer. The RCL was very intentional about having this particular portion of Acts 8 read in conjunction with the Baptism of our Lord, and I can’t help but wonder why.
The cynical part of me (the part that is loud and nearly omnipresent) thinks that it is a marketing ploy. Maybe, if baptism is tied not just to water (there being no mention of it in Luke’s account anyway), but also to an honest to goodness baptism of the Spirit, then more denominations would be apt to put some credence in this Lectionary idea. Maybe that sells more Bibles printed by the publishers who backed the whole revision process in the first place. Maybe a disjointed reference to the laying on of hands and the coming if the Holy Spirit will raise profits.
Nah! Not even the RCL mafia is that degenerate. So why? Why is this lesson included for our reading, listening, and inwardly digesting pleasure? What is it about this portion of Acts 8 that is pedagogical over and above the rest of the story?
First, I think the RCL is working hard to protect us from tough texts on a baptism Sunday. As I noted yesterday, I’m not a big fan of this sort of paternalism. I do think, however that the hope is that preachers will note two things: first, doctrinally, the Spirit is not guaranteed in baptism; and second, practically, the Spirit, even in the early days of Acts 8, was available to everyone. Yes, even Samaritans. Perhaps even especially Samaritans.
Peter and John going to Samaria is like Bob Duncan going to Saint Mark’s, Capitol Hill. Nominally, they are both Christians, but in reality, they couldn’t be more different. Yet, an amazing thing happens when different people meet face to face in the name of Jesus. Lives are changed, the Spirit is made manifest, transformation of both parties is possible.
In our hyper-politicized nation, this is good news. The Spirit unites us across divisions that are like the old Miller Lite “tastes great, less filling” debate compared to the ethic, socio-political differences of Israel and Samaria. Come Holy Spirit, come.