ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH MAY 19, 2013
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES
Joel 2: 28 – 32; Acts 2: 1 – 39; John 14: 8 – 17
Samuel Beckett’s play “Waiting for Godot” is about two men – Vladimir and Estragon – who are waiting for the arrival of a third person name Godot. Neither have ever met Godot but they’ve heard of him by reputation and are eager to connect with him. To occupy their waiting time they philosophize, sleep, argue, sing, exercise, swap hats and even consider suicide. Twice they decide to leave, but don’t. The play ends with the men stuck waiting. Godot never shows up. It has long been thought that Godot was a symbol for God (although Beckett never affirmed that) and the play reflected humanity’s vain hope in a God that never shows up. Last week we left the disciples of Jesus waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit. While they waited they were praying, building up the church, and worshipping. Jesus had promised the Holy Spirit would come to them and so they anticipated the Spirit’s arrival. In the scripture we read today from Acts we see that Jesus was true to his promise – the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples with great power. God did show up. But before we look at that more, I want you to briefly imagine what life would be like if the Holy Spirit had not come. What difference would it make in the lives of believers, in the Church and in the world if the followers of Jesus were still waiting?
We need first to understand who the Holy Spirit is. The Holy Spirit is not an “it” or a “thing”; He is not just a power or force we control or use. While the Spirit was revealed as a flame of fire, a rushing wind and a dove, the Spirit is a person and he calls us into a deeply personal, intimate relationship. This person, Holy Spirit is “someone”; he is God. That is, Holy Spirit is one person within the Trinity – God the Father/Creator, the Son, Jesus Christ our Saviour and the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit is as much a part of God as the Father or the Son. We can’t desire God without wanting Holy Spirit. We can’t claim to know God and ignore the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Triune God, and specifically the Spirit of Christ, alive in the believer’s heart. Jesus said, “This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (John 14: 17) Since Jesus now lives in the presence of the Father, his Spirit has become his living presence here on earth to all Christians, within all Christians and through all Christians. When Jesus was about to die, he told his disciples, “I tell you the truth: it’s to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Holy Spirit will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16: 7) That must have sounded as “wrong” to the disciples as it does to us – how could it be better to lose Jesus and gain the Spirit? In part it has to do with location. While Jesus was on earth, he was bound in a human body and could only walk as a companion to the disciples. As Holy Spirit, Jesus lives within us and acts through every believer. Also while Jesus was on earth he displayed incredible spiritual powers of healing, deliverance, miracles and teaching; the Spirit that allowed him to do those things is now accessible to each one of us. As hard as it is to imagine, because the Holy Spirit is alive within us, we have access to all the spiritual power of Jesus! Jesus himself put it this way, “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works that these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14: 12)
Jesus described the Holy Spirit in a number of ways. He said the Spirit was our Advocate. This word is also translated as Helper and Comforter. As our Advocate, Holy Spirit is on our side. He has our back. He is both the promoter of our work and an activist in it. The Spirit is our Helper, aiding us in all we do. When Spirit comes upon us, we enter into a partnership, we become co-workers serving God together. As our Comforter, Spirit soothes and consoles us in times of doubt, difficulty or darkness and he reassures as we follow Christ; he gladdens our hearts. Holy Spirit also leads us into all truth revealing to us God’s word, reminding us of the grace of Jesus Christ, and helping us to discern God’s will for our lives and for Christ’s church. The Holy Spirit prays on our behalf, refines our souls making us more holy, gives us gifts and empowers us to use them. And among other things, the Spirit is Christ with us. So can you imagine life without the Spirit? We’d face the world alone. We’d be stuck in our lower nature and trying to function in our own strength. We wouldn’t understand God’s Word or know God’s will. We’d go off doing our own thing and so be of little use to God. We wouldn’t reach out in love to people or share the Good News. We’d have nagging doubts. Our faith would dwindle. We’d grow discouraged and desolate and we’d feel deserted. The Holy Spirit is essential to each one of us who follow Jesus Christ.
Holy Spirit is also essential to Christ’s Church. Holy Spirit inspires us with new ideas and goals as he calls us to follow God’s hope for us. Holy Spirit fills the Church with courage, power and boldness. He gives us the words with which to turn people towards Christ. He allows us to live in community, caring for one another before ourselves. By the Holy Spirit we work together. In every aspect of the Church’s life we need speakers and teachers, creative people and administrators, pray-ers, cooks and cleaners. Together we’re gifted to serve. Holy Spirit unites us in love. Holy Spirit convicts our hearts to change us, heal us and help us to forgive one another. The Holy Spirit helps us to pray and sometimes even does miracles through the Church. How weak and ineffective the Church would be without Christ’s Spirit. How divided and petty, dull and dry we are without Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit the Church is oppressive, rule-bound, limiting, critical, boring and without vision. Not a fun place to be! Not a fruitful place to be; in fact we’d be a rather hopeless group.
We only need to look at the Church’s positive role in the world to see the impact of the Holy Spirit. Most of educational institutions in the world were started and funded by the Church. A great deal of the world’s health care is provided through Christian organizations. Many Christian organizations are banding together to cure AIDS, give sight to the blind, bring clean water to villages and provide dental care. The RCC alone is responsible for 26% of the world’s health care. Christian missions throughout the world feed, cloth, house and educate children. Others work to free children and women from horrible, oppressive situations such as human trafficking. They offer care to those who are disenfranchised. The basic values and laws that uphold most Western and democratic societies are founded in the teachings of the Bible. In Canada our health care system, labour laws and other benefits we take for granted stem back to a Baptist Minister named Tommy Douglas. For two thousand years Christians have contributed to art and architecture, music and medicine, spiritual growth and science, volunteer work and visions for the future. Most of all, the gospel has been preached all over the world and hearts have been changed as people accepted the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Remove the Holy Spirit and the world’s left with a huge vacuum.
Thankfully, that’s not how life is. Holy Spirit did come. We call the day the Spirit arrived “Pentecost”. After Jesus ascended to heaven the disciples waited expectantly, nervously and with excitement for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. The disciples weren’t sure what they were waiting for, but they definitely recognized the Spirit when he came. The sound of a strong wind rushed over them, filling the house; divided tongues like fire rested on each one of them. They could feel the Spirit within them and they began to speak in unknown languages. Outside a very international crowd had gathered; each person there heard the disciples speak about God’s deed of power in their own language. The crowd was amazed and weirded out. They assumed the disciples had been drinking cheap wine. Peter came forward to address the crowd. He explained that what they were witnessing had been predicted in the book of the prophet Joel. Then he went on to tell them about the death, resurrection and saving grace of Jesus Christ and invited them to believe and be baptized. Luke tells us, “So those who welcomed his message were baptized and that day about 3000 persons were added.” (Acts 2:41) That day changed the Christian Church and the Church then changed the world. This is what the Church alive and on fire looks like. The source of our fire is the Holy Spirit.
So what about us? The Bible teaches that everyone who has faith in Jesus Christ has the Holy Spirit within them. We have the same power and potential to do in our little corner of the world what the disciples did in theirs. Are we open to the Spirit? Do we have a dynamic, personal relationship with the Spirit within us? Are we expectant and nervous and excited about what the Spirit will do? If the Spirit came here today as he did on Pentecost, how many of you would stand up and welcome him with open arms? How many of you would dive under the pews and hide until he left? In 1 Thessalonians 5:19 we read, “Do not quench the Spirit.” Clearly it’s possible to be filled with the Holy Spirit yet douse the flames. We can do this in both ourselves and others. There are whole congregations where the Spirit is so soggy he may never dry out. Will that be us? Do we really want the Spirit at all? When we pray do we pray that the Spirit will come and work through us? Do we pray that we’ll be swept off our feet by Spirit’s rushing wind, or set on fire by his descending flames? If not, why not? Have we forgotten God’s gift to us and presence with us? Or do we really prefer a life, a Church or a world without him? Christ promised us his Spirit and his Spirit has come. The Spirit is God’s blessing to each of us so that together as the Church we will have the power and ability to bless the world with new life. As Christian people we pray, we do our best to build up the Church, we offer our gift of worship. We are called to do one more thing. Receive the Holy Spirit into our lives. Unlike Godot, the Living God has arrived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Why are you waiting?