THE NON-NEGOTIABLES – I BELIEVE…IN THE HOLY SPIRIT
Acts 2:1-21, John 14:25-26
March 26, 2017
We are in the midst of a six-part sermon series on the Apostles’ Creed. This historic confession serves to provide us the big picture of what we believe as Christians, outlining the non-negotiables, the guardrails that help us stay between the ditches of what is vital to our faith. It offers us the essentials of what we are to believe if we are to call ourselves by the unique name Christian.
Last Sunday we explored what it means to affirm we believe in Jesus Christ. Today we turn our attention to unpacking the statement, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit is that third person of the Trinity – the Godhead – who makes God real to us. The Spirit makes faith present tense, bringing the presence of God near to us. Through the Holy Spirit we experience God’s goodness and God’s grace firsthand.
Of all we could affirm about the Holy Spirit this morning, I wish to share with you two major thoughts…
I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT…OUR CATALYST
Let’s go back…way back…2,000 years ago. The disciples were together to celebrate the Jewish harvest festival known as Pentecost. Suddenly, there was a sound like level F-5 tornado. Then, what looked like tongues of fire appeared over the heads of each disciple. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in the distinct languages of the Mediterranean region.
Now, pilgrims from near and far had gathered in Jerusalem for that festival. When the buzz on the street about this unusual phenomenon reached them, they came running to see for themselves. They were amazed and befuddled as they heard the disciples speaking in their own particular native tongue.
Some of them asked, “What does this mean?” Others simply accused the disciples of being winos. Simon Peter was the spokesman for the day. “We’re not drunk,” he said. “After all, it’s only 9:00 am. Rather, this is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel:
‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams….and everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved!’”
Then, Peter linked the Old Testament prophecy with the Good News of Jesus Christ. When he finished, people began pleading, “What shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized!” They did, and they were. About 3,000 of them! But this was only the beginning. When the celebration has subsided, they met together regularly for fellowship, prayer, worship and teaching. “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved!”
What a spine-tingling, electrifying day that must have been! This is how it all began. This is what the great events of the Old Testament and the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ were all leading up to. A new group of people came into being that first Pentecost. The Church of Jesus Christ was born. We would not be here as a fellowship of believers in this year of 2017 if that day had not occurred.
The Holy Spirit is the catalyst that brought the movement of the church into being, providing a place of grace for persons of all generations to encounter God.
Years ago, my son Tyler had a truly unique Spanish class at Fort Defiance High School. When I took a foreign language way back in the dark ages, the only thing I remember about it was the endless conjugating of verbs and having to live down the wussified French name my teacher gave me –the French equivalent of my middle name Michael—Michel! I hated every minute of it.
But my son was pretty excited about his Spanish class—he told us about making enchiladas and refried beans, watching Hispanic movies, taking field trips to Hispanic businesses, becoming immersed in Hispanic culture.
His teacher, Bonnie Ball, maintained that you could not truly know a language without knowing the people who speak it.
And so does God. That day of Pentecost, when all those folk heard the Good News of God preached in their own unique native tongue—that was and is a vivid, dramatic reminder that God knows every language on earth because he knows every person on earth.
He speaks our language, he knows what each of us has gone through and what we are going through right now– our obstacles, our fears, our challenges, our struggles..
Our spouse may not understand our situation. Our children, parents, brothers or sisters may not understand our situation. Our friends and neighbors may not understand our situation. The doctor, the guidance counselor, the lawyer, the co-worker, the preacher may not understand our situation. But, thank God, God does understand, and God cares.
Does the passage in Acts state that “a few of them heard the disciples speaking in his own language?” No! Absolutely not! It says, “each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.” God speaks to each of us in our own native language. Through his Spirit he seeks to make himself known to us daily in dozens of ways unique to our personalities and our lifestyles, if only we open our eyes and hearts to see.
God not only knows us and cares for us, he also, through the Holy Spirit, empowers us to deal with the obstacles, the fears, the challenges, the struggles we face in life.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Power is the ability to achieve purpose.” Yes, on the day of Pentecost, young men saw visions, old men dreamt dreams, and God bestowed upon them the power to fulfill those visions and dreams. And this same God empowers us to achieve such purposes today. His Spirit is the catalyst, the spark, that enables us to get up and get moving.
We do not have to wallow in stagnation. We can make new beginnings; we can reach toward the future with confidence and hope, energized by God’s Spirit to move forward, to live with purpose.
And how does the Holy Spirit accomplish this? The Spirit molds our character and makes us useful with fruit and gifts.
Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians: 22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23 Yes, the Holy Spirit instills these virtues of character within us as we mature in faith.
And the Spirit bestows upon us certain gifts that are to be sacrificially used in carrying out the God’s mission in the world today: gifts such as teaching, administration, helping, mercy and the like. You find these spelled out in Romans 12, I Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4.
God’s Spirit is indeed the vehicle that moves us forward in life and in faith…..
In our hosting Open Doors, I met a very respectful, motivated young man named James. He had served in the Army. Upon returning home, he had made some very bad choices and did some time in prison. While incarcerated, he found God’s transforming grace and his life was changed. He told me about God’s Spirit leading him into a renewed attitude toward life. He was so excited…he’s starting work as a maintenance man for McDonald’s. He awakens at 2:30 am and rides a bike, which we provided, to work by 4 am. He believes God has some good plans for his life, the first being to find a permanent place to live.
I believe in the Holy Spirit….our Catalyst, who leads us forward and upward into godly change!
I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT….OUR COMFORTER
25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
– John 14:25-26
Whenever I read this passage, I think of a group of ladies in our church who spend time every Thursday afternoon knitting Prayer Shawls. These blanket-like creations are then distributed to the RMH Cancer Center and I take them along with me to place around the shoulders of folks who are dealing with illness, pain and suffering. These comforters are tangible, caring and warm reminders of God’s comforting spirit. And again and again I have witnessed a profound peace come over the individuals who have been enveloped by them.
The Greek word parakletos, translated “comforter” in many of our Bibles, is a unique term. It also can mean “advocate” or “helper”–referring to someone who is called in stand in solidarity with us in time of trouble or hurt or need.
Kim Lambert was a dear soul in our church family who fought a long and valiant battle against breast cancer. I remember when Kim Lambert began her tough round of chemotherapy treatments a year ago for breast cancer. Her hair soon fell out. But what gave her much support and strength and laughter was her husband Eddie and other members of their family–they shaved their heads in solidarity with her.
That’s how I picture the work of the Holy Spirit–The Holy Spirit stands alongside us, bringing us God’s courage to cope victoriously with life’s struggles.
And along with this, the Spirit is always teaching us and reminding us of the truth and presence of God in Christ. We are enabled to recall words of our Lord at opportune times. And our consciences are fine-tuned so that we know the right thing to do in daily situations that we face.
Have you ever been in a group of folks when the conversation turned into an assassination of someone’s character–and you felt compelled to say something or to simply walk away? Have you ever been filling out a form and you were putting down a lie, when suddenly you felt the compulsion this was wrong and your erased that lie? Well, that’s the work of the Holy Spirit–keeping us in tune with what is true and right and godly. And we should listen to the Spirit’s voice in all areas of our lives.
Yes, I believe in the Holy Spirit…who is our catalyst and our comforter, making God real to us at every stage of life.
Outside my home office window is a decrepit, old flowering plum tree. I had sharpened my chain saw and was meaning to cut that old tree down last month. It’s not much of a tree anymore. My amateurish attempts at pruning over the years have left it lopsided and disfigured. The bark is peeling off in places, giving woodpeckers a delightful meal of burrowing insects. It’s full of brittle, lifeless limbs. The tree actually blew over in a windstorm 10 years ago—my neighbor Bill and I salvaged it by propping it back up and staking it with wires until it rerooted itself. To be honest, I thought the tree was dead as a doornail.
Yet, I’m glad I didn’t cut it down. There must still be some lifegiving sap flowing somewhere, for lo and behold I looked out the window Friday while composing this sermon and saw that my old flowering plum tree was still flowering. Beautiful blooms were popping out all over. And some robins were visiting this resilient old tree, scouting out suitable places to build a nest!
Yes, I gazed out my window upon that old plum tree, I pondered the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Our life’s journey often leaves us disfigured, scarred, leaning, seemingly lifeless, seemingly hopeless. And yet, the lifegiving sap of God’s Spirit in Jesus Christ is still flowing beneath the surface, filling us with renewed strength, purpose, hope and beauty.
Let this be our prayer today:
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.