John 14:16-18, 25-26
By Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
When the Father laughs at the Son and the Son laughs back at the Father, that laughter gives pleasure, that pleasure gives joy, that joy gives love, and that love is the Holy Spirit.
The Presence & Power of God
The Scripture lesson I just read is probably familiar to most of you. It is the Pentecost story. However, unless you were following along on the screen you might not have understood it. What you heard was the passage being read in English, along with Greek, Chinese, Russian, and Arabic. All mixed together like that it probably was very confusing. That is similar to what the people of Jerusalem experienced on the first Pentecost.
On that first Pentecost the apostles were all in one place and the Holy Spirit came upon them. The Spirit, in the form of tongues of fire, touched each apostle and enabled them to talk in other languages. At least fifteen languages are mentioned. We only had five languages, so it would have been even more confusing and chaotic that what we just heard. Luke also tells us that it was loud. It sounded like “the rush of a violent wind.” The noise of the wind and the apostles speaking in different languages caused the people of Jerusalem to be confused and amazed. They had no idea what was happening. Peter got up and preached his first sermon, explaining what was going on. What I read was the first part of his sermon. Peter quotes the prophet Joel who prophesied about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Peter continued his sermon telling the people about Jesus; his life, death and resurrection.
You probably know the basic story of Pentecost and have heard about the Holy Spirit. I know that we have a few closet Pentecostals but most of us don’t spend much time thinking about or talking about the Holy Spirit. We have what Karl Barth described as “Flat-tire Christianity” - Christianity is like a tire without any air, without the Spirit in it.
I have a cartoon that describes where many of us probably are. In the first frame a preacher is reading the Pentecost story. “First I head a sound like the rush of a mighty wind…” In the second frame the preacher continues, but he looks a little bit agitated. “… then I saw flames of fire coming down out of heaven…” In the third frame he looks miserable. “… suddenly, I heard many voices speaking all at once in strange tongues!” In the fourth frame he still looks terrible and his wife says to him, “I told you not to eat pizza before bedtime, dear!”
Obviously, in a 20 minutes sermon I can’t say everything there is to say about the Holy Spirit. Even with a 45 minute Sunday school class for two weeks we can’t cover everything. This morning I want to share with you two thoughts about the Holy Spirit.
The first thing I want to say about the Holy Spirit comes out of our first Scripture lesson, from John. In this passage Jesus is saying goodbye to the disciples. This is part of his farewell speech. He tells them that he is going away. He is going to leave them, but he promises that they will not be alone. He will send them the Advocate who will be with them.
The word Advocate is sometimes translated as Comforter or Counselor. This is one of the names that refers to the Holy Spirit. The Greek word is “Paraclete.” It means one who is called alongside another. The Holy Spirit is sent by Jesus to come along side us, to teach us and give us peace. The Paraclete helps us keep the commandments. The Advocate is God with us. Through the Holy Spirit God is present in our lives.
Judy Bucknell died in the summer of 1980. She was 38 when she became homicide victim #106 in the city of Miami. Her death would probably not have drawn more attention than a short obituary if not for the fact that she kept a diary which somehow made it into the hands of a reporter for the Miami Herald. The reporter described her life as one of outward success. She was attractive and had a successful career, yet she was tormented by an inward loneliness. She had many acquaintances but few friends, many lovers but little love. In her diary she wrote, “Where are the men with the flowers and the champagne and music? Where are the men who call and ask for a genuine, actual date? Where are the men who would like to share more than my bed, my booze, my food...? Who is going to love Judy Bucknell? I feel so old. Unloved. Unwanted. Abandoned. Used up. I want to cry and sleep forever.... I'm alone and I want to share something with somebody." She never did. Judy Bucknell died from the wounds of a knife. Yet in many ways her heart had died long before, from loneliness.
Judy’s story is by no means unique. Our world is filled with persons who struggle with loneliness, people of all ages. Mother Teresa told the story of visiting a home for senior citizens, a retirement center, a nursing home. If was a beautiful place, with all the extras you could want. There were about forty residents at this home, and Mother Teresa said that most of them never smiled and sat looking at a door. She asked the Sister who was in charge about this and the Sister replied, “They are always waiting for someone to come to visit them. They dream of a son or daughter, some member of the family, or a friend coming through that door to visit them.” Mother Teresa summarized it by saying, “Loneliness was an expression of their poverty, the poverty of seeing themselves abandoned by relatives and friends.”
Of course, it isn’t just old people who are lonely, or people who have no family or friends. We can be surrounded by people and still be lonely. The irony of our modern world is that we have created a variety of ways to communicate with other people – telephones, cell phones, email, Facebook, text messaging – yet so many people struggle with loneliness. Mother Teresa described the problem. “In the developed countries,” like our country, “there is a poverty of intimacy, a poverty of spirit, a loneliness, a lack of love. There is no greater sickness in the world today than that one.”
My friends, some of you probably struggle with loneliness. I have at times as well. The good news for us today is that the Holy Spirit is the presence of God in your life, loving you and giving you life. You are not alone. You are loved. I invite you to take a deep breath. (Inhale) In Greek and Hebrew the word breath is the same as the word for spirit. Breathe in the Spirit (inhale) and know that through the Spirit of Jesus you are loved, and God is present in your life.
There is a second lesson I want to share with you this morning. The Holy Spirit is the power of God for our lives. Let me read to you two verses from Ephesians. It is part of a prayer that Paul prays for the Ephesians. Certainly, he prays that they would accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. But he also wants them to experience and abundant, joyful Christian life. And so he prays:
I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love (Ephesians 3:16-17).
The message is that strength and power for our lives come through the Holy Spirit.
During the depression a man named Mr. Yates owned a sheep ranch in western Texas. Because it was during the depression he barely scraped by. He was in constant danger of losing his ranch, his home and everything he owned. His family lived in poverty, with barely enough money to buy food and clothes. He felt defeated and powerless.
One day a man knocked on his door. It was a man from an oil company who wanted to drill a wildcat well to see if there was any oil under his land. They signed a contract, drilled down into the earth, and at a little more than 1000 feet they found a huge oil reserve. At first it put out about 80,000 barrels a day. 30 years later it was putting out more than 125,000 barrels a day. Mr. Yates owned it all. He was an instant multimillionaire. Yet before he found the oil Mr. Yates and his family lived in poverty. He owned the oil, but didn’t know it was there.
Let me suggest that this story describes how many Christians live out their faith. We have power of the Holy Spirit yet we live in spiritual weakness. The Spirit makes us alive, fills us with the fruits of the Spirit and gives us the gifts of the Spirit, yet we live bland, timid, powerless lives. The Spirit that filled Jesus at his baptism; the Spirit who made it possible for Jesus and the apostles to perform miracles; the Spirit who enabled Peter to preach on Pentecost, after which 3000 people committed their lives to Christ; the Spirit that transformed Paul from a man who persecuted Christians to one who proclaimed the gospel; the Spirit who filled the lives of people throughout church history, Augustine, John Calvin, Fanny Crosby, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa; the Spirit that built this church and has enabled it to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the people of this community for 200 years; that same Spirit is available to every one of us. The Holy Spirit fills our lives and is the power of God working in us and through us.
One of the things I’ve discovered here at Sharon Church is a healthy and wonderful desire to rebuild this church, a desire to strengthen its ministry. That desire points to a wonderful future for Sharon. I’m convinced that God has great plans for this church. However, there is one thing that could derail those plans. It is the belief that we are not capable of doing the ministry that God wants us to do. It is the belief that someone else will do the work. We might even need to hire someone to do the work.
This problem is not unique to this church. Every church I’ve been part of has struggled with this. The problem is that although people know that they are called to serve they don’t really believe that they have the ability to do a good enough job. Therefore, rather than risking failure or looking bad, we sit back and wait for someone else to do the ministry. That may be the ministry of serving as an elder or deacon, or a Sunday school teacher. Maybe that is the ministry of sacrificial giving, actually giving 10% of your income, or even more so that Sharon is not held back by our finances. Maybe that is the ministry of serving on a committee or reaching out to our first-time visitors. God has called everyone to some type of ministry. Yet I would imagine that many people feel inadequate, incapable of doing what God has called us to do.
Friends, the good news is that in spite of the fact that we are inadequate, the Holy Spirit is present in our lives and is working in us and through us, giving us the power and ability to do whatever it is that God is calling us to do. The Holy Spirit is the power of God working in us and through us.
On this Pentecost I encourage you to remember that you are not alone. The Spirit is present in your life, loving you, bringing you peace and joy. I also encourage you to remember that the presence of the Spirit gives you the power you need to live as God’s faithful and obedient children.
Let us pray: Come Holy Spirit of God. Fill us this day. Help us to know that you are with us, that you love us, and that you give us the strength we need to live as your faithful and obedient children. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.