Sunday, 31 May 2009

The Season of the Spirit

Pentecost year B 09 Sermon

It’s the season of the Spirit. Totally dependable and utterly… unpredictable…gentle… and wildchallenging and comforting

No one can fully describe or contain…

the Spirit of God…which blows where it will…and can be found… in silence…or the deafening roar of a mighty wind… or in the fury of fire.

How else besides the incarnation of Christ
is God to
communicate… and work…in the dimension of time and space. How else… is the creator of vast galaxies… to live within us. [pause]

The ancient Hebrew people… understood God’s Spirit to be in the fire glowing in the burning bush... and in God’s message…to Moses… that came from it...calling him to lead the people out of slaveryempowering him to challenge the authorities…in the face of oppression and injustice.

Moses allows himself… to get close to that fire…close enough to feel the heat and hear the message…close enough to know he’s in the presence of God.

The ancient Hebrew people would use the word Shekhinah…שכינה which means the dwelling or settling of the presence of God in the created dimension.

The Jewish Talmud reportsthat the Shekhinah of Godis what caused prophets to prophesyThe Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power…and you will prophesy with them; and you’ll be changed…' 1 Samuel 10:5-6

And fifteen hundred years later…that same Spirit…that same fire… falls among Jews…as they celebrate the feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem…when ‘Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them… and a tongue rests on’ the followers of the crucified rabbi…Jesus of Nazareth

Today the bush… that burns yet is not consumed…is our banner…the symbol for the Presbyterian Church wherever it’s found on earth

We hold fast to the understanding that the Holy Spirit is humanity’s …unity with God and the enabling of our communication with God…all made possible by the Word made flesh…in the incarnation of Jesus Christ… and it is the guarantee... that we are God’s children. Paul reminds us

'For you didn’t receive the spirit of bondage to fear…but you received the Spirit of adoption… by whom we cry out…"Abba, Father." [Romans 8:23]

And Paul tells us the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of love. ‘And hope doesn't disappoint us, because God has poured out his love… into our hearts by the Holy Spirit,whom he’s given us.’ [Romans 5:5]

And the one Paul follows the one we followJesus tells us…imperfect as we are…that the Holy Spirit is promised… to everyone who asks. ‘if you, being sinners… know how to give good gifts to your children…how much more will your heavenly Father… give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!’ Luke 11:13

Jesus suggests the only limitation… |to God's Holy Spirit working in us…is us.. is you. ‘For the one God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.’ John 3:3

How close will you allow yourself to get…How close will you let the Spirit come? Oh there are many ways we defend ourselvesin the freedom God’s given us…there are many ways we close ourselves off… to ‘the whisper and the fire’ of God’s Spirit

One way is to refuse to give our consent…I encountered this for real last weekat the South Island Minister’s Conference at East Taieri…I was privileged…to be asked …to provide spiritual direction for anyone who felt the need

One person who came along…after telling me about their stress and anxiety and paranoia and exhaustion… … finally admitted… their biggest problem with God was that they were afraid… to get too close …too close… in their words … ‘to God’s consuming fire.’

This person… was crippled… in body mind and spirit… and ruled… by their fears…among them …the fear of getting too close to God… lest the fire of God consume them.

But hang on a minute…while the ancient Hebrew people did speak of God …from time to time… as a consuming fire…their intention was metaphorical… not literal…they were saying… the presence and working of God’s Spirit… completely fills us…thoroughly changes us …totally consumes us …with the fire…of God’s refining love …remember Paul?

God’s poured out his love…into our hearts by the Holy Spirit…’

And remember Moses’ burning bush… is enveloped in flames… yet is not consumed…

I think… a lack of theological logic… is at the core of this man’s trouble with God. A diabolical lack of logic… caused by fear or perhaps ignorance…

This minister holds on to two… illogical… and biblically unsustainable assumptions about God…

One…that if he allows himself to get too close to God…he will… involuntarily lose control .

And two that it’s actually possible… to move out…of the presence of God.

Remember Psalm 139? ‘Where can I go from your Spirit where can I hide from your presence?’

Love never forces its will… Love honours the beloved… …love is about freedom from control and exploitation …and enslavement. God is love and …

Love is patient, and kind. doesn’t envy, doesn’t boast, isn’t proud…isn’t rude…isn’t self-seeking, isn’t easily angered, and keeps no record of wrongs. Love doesn’t delight in evil… but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres…

Love never fails.

God’s given us freedom God in for God to fill us with the Holy Spirit… we have to consent… not only once…but over and over again…because God’s work in us is a process not an event… a process of sanctification as we are conformed… more and more… to the likeness of the one we follow.

Did you notice the difference… between what happens… on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem… and the work of the Spirit described in Paul’s letter to early church in Rome?

Yes the early Christian’s received the Holy Spirit yes they spoke in tongues… and all those around them understood what they said… but this didn’t mean they were anywhere near their full potential…as followers of the Way of Jesus Christ…why they’d only received …what Paul calls the ‘first fruits’ of the Spirit…

yet this is…the fulfillment of prophesyas God’s Spirit is poured out on all flesh… it’s the birth of the church…a new people for God’s redeeming work …but her members are still fragile…immature seedlings ...unable to bear the full fruit of the Spirit

So Paul explainsthe Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we don’t know how to pray as we ought’

So the Spirit… with our consent…speaks from within us…speaks with the creator of the universe on our behalf … with sighs too deep for words and only ever in harmony with the will of God. [pause]

Paul is warning us… not to get ahead of ourselves…even if we’ve experience the first fruits of the Spirit…God has a great deal of work to do… with our consent and cooperation in …in sanctifying us…in growing us …before we’re fully capable of bearing the full fruits of the Spirit.

That’s why there are so few … whose lives consistently model the way of Christ. The way… of the fruits of the Spirit…The way of love joy peace patience kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness and self-control.

You can tell those in whom the Spirit of God is working… as their thoughts and actions… conform more and more with the anointed one of God.

We see this manifested in some faith communities… like our brothers and sisters who are Quakers…they talk about God's presence or God’s Spirit…within a person, they witness to a direct and personal experience of God.

Quakers believe that God speaks to everyone, yet in order to hear God's voice, it helps to be still and actively listen for it.

They believe… not only individuals can be guided by the Inward Light of the Spirit…but that we can meet together to receive collective guidance from God… by sharing the concerns and insights God gives to individuals.

In a faith community marked by humility people feel free to say what they sense God is saying to them without fear of ridicule.

But these prophetic moments aren’t the goal of their faith…I think it’s safe to say that in the past two hundred years the Quakers have publically born the full gifts of the spirit …in their strong witness is to peace and equality.

In their conscientious objection to war and in giving up their lives to end slavery and oppression.

And I believe that every follower of Jesus…every Christian family…every Christian community… that manifests love and joy and peace with patience kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness and self-control…is witnessing to Christ through the fruits of the spirit.

Oh yes we seek an experience of God’s presence in our lives and in our worship. We long for it…but not so we can turn away from the world… but so we can be Christ’s instruments of reconciliation and peace…in the world…empowered by the Holy Spirit burning within us.

I leave you with this prayer based on our reading from Acts

When the day of Pentecost came there was a noise … like a strong wind blowing.

God bring your wind to blow away the cobwebs that blind us. Freshen our faces and awaken us to the challenges of today. Fill the sails if this faith community and send us on a voyage of spiritual discovery. Blow strongly through your Church and enliven us with your Spirit.

They saw … tongues of fire …

God bring the first of your Spirit to burn away the rubbish in our lives. Your heat to ‘strangely warm’ our hearts.Fire to light a beacon of hope for our community. Blaze away in our Church and set us on fire for the Gospel.

They heard the believers speaking in their own languages.

God help us to speak in a way people can understand. Give us wisdom to speak to real needs,

Courage to speak on real issues, to speak so those we serve will want to listen. Lord, give us the words of the Spirit,speak… to us and through us, that we might witness to your living Word in Jesus.

But others said: ‘These people are drunk!’

Beloved God…Perhaps they were: Drunk on the new wine of your kingdom come. High on the taste of the Holy Spirit –celebrating the birth of your Church.

Holy Spirit of God, inspire and excite us as we consent to your Spirit, celebrate in worship. In Jesus’ name Amen

A time of silence as we consent to the pouring out of the Spirit into our into hearts