But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
    Cush and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
    and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
    nations in exchange for your life.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
    I will bring your children from the east
    and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
    and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
7everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.”

Isaiah 43:1 – 7

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened  and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son,whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Luke 3:15-17, 21 – 22

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 1Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Acts 8:14 – 17

In these readings, we are being encouraged to ask the question who is in and who is out in God’s Kingdom – Isaiah hints at it, Acts wrestles with it and John gives an invitation to join it.

Our passage from Isaiah is a comforting passage where God promises that He will gather His people from the far ends of the earth and protect them – those who feel like outsiders because they are a nation in exile, will be brought back to become insiders – but also, as prophecy, Isaiah’s words have meaning beyond their original hearers to say something to us now and in the future, that we can be part of those brought back in. In the New Testament we see how God goes about this gathering both in Jesus at the start of his ministry as he is baptised and through the work of the Holy Spirit in Acts. He gathers not just His people, Israel, but others and the sign of this inclusion is baptism and the seal of it is the Holy Spirit.

In the gospel we see John the Baptist with a message that someone is coming after him who will baptise with the Holy Spirit. It is a message of good news and bad news. Good news for those who respond to his message but bad news for those who refuse to listen and rely on things other than Jesus. ‘His winnowing fork in his hand to gather the wheat and burn the chaff,’ John says. Some people are like wheat, because they have faith and their faith is shown in their words and deeds. Other people are like chaff, they look like wheat, they are the same colour as wheat, they grow up along with the wheat. But in the end chaff is useless and one needs sorting from the other. This is the work of Jesus to sort out the spiritual chaff and wheat.

We will see as the story of Luke unfolds throughout the year that Jesus’ relationship with those who consider themselves as insiders, the religious authorities and political leaders gets worse and worse and we all know where it ends up.

The question of who is in and who is out is also the theme of the reading in Acts. The early church are finding that the word of God is being accepted by all sorts of people they never expected, including the Samaritans. There was prejudice against Samaria among the Jews

In his baptism, Jesus is inaugurating his ministry and aligning with our humanity demonstrating once and for all so that all those who would believe his message and put their faith and trust in Him can consider themselves in and the message of Isaiah and Acts is that there is no exclusion based on race, gender, culture, power, economic status, immigration status, wealth, colour of your skin, place of residence, job, who you know – the only factor that has any importance is our response to Jesus and acceptance of His Spirit. This is affirmed at Jesus’ baptism, when the heavens are open, the Holy Spirit rests upon Jesus and God speaks ‘You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased’ – before Jesus has done anything, publicly spoken or performed any miracles, His Father declares that he loves Him – love not earned by what He does or who He is but simply because He is God’s child. We can accept this statement for ourselves.

We are no longer outsiders, unknown and unnamed, we are drawn into the Kingdom of God through our faith in Him and baptism is a sign of our

inclusion, the work of the Holy Spirit is a seal of that status. We must be
open daily to the work of the Holy Spirit and cultivate the fruit of the
Spirit.

[remember the story of the Good Samaritan]

– the idea that the
Samaritans had accepted the message and were included in the new
community needed investigating and so Peter and John are summoned.
The sign of their inclusion is baptism and the Holy Spirit.