Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who with the Holy Spirit are three-in-one,
In Idaho, I had just finished my deacon training when I was asked to help a church get through a very difficult situation. It was faced with its third split in just over 20 years and many in the church were questioning themselves wondering how everything could have gone so wrong. I was there to provide healing and advice because I was very close to this church having served them as a Thrivent representative and once a month lay speaker.
The meeting started as you might expect with every emotion from anger to sorrow. Many of the younger families had left to start their own church and the remnant that was remaining pondered on the future. What are they to do? Where was God taking them and who would lead them?
That’s when the words that would change my life happened. “Dan, you know what? I think you would be an excellent shepherd for this church.” Coming in to provide support, I was now the focus. The leaders of the church immediately jumped on the idea and before I knew it, I was a lay pastor full-time. Deacon Dan. An incredible three year journey followed and, by the grace of God and the work of His Holy Spirit we were able to weather the storm and get the church on good footing.
So, why did all this happen so quickly? Why did I seem, all-of-a-sudden qualified to lead this church? I believe it had everything to do with the Holy Spirit.. In fact, that’s why I introduce my sermon’s a little bit differently, adding the Holy Spirit in because one man in that congregation wondered why, if the Holy Spirit was so important, was He left out of my intro. I couldn’t give him a proper answer, so it’s remained in my introduction as part of God’s greeting ever since.
Today we celebrate Pentecost, called so because it designates the 50th (Pente) day after Passover, which is a Jewish Feast Day. Pentecost is also known as the Feast of Weeks or the Feast of Harvest. It was on this day that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the followers of Christ who were gathered together in Jerusalem. It was on this day that the Church was born.
In our lesson in Acts, we learn that the Church began with tongues of fire. It was born with passion as the Holy Spirit was given to the followers of Christ that day. Lives were forever changed. The Apostles no longer faced doubt, their whole demeanor had changed. The power of the Holy Spirit was palpable as the promise of Christ to provide a helper was received.
That same power is still available today. The Holy Spirit is as alive and well as when He first touched the hearts of the Apostles, but it seems we have relegated Him to the back seat of life. He’s there when you need Him but He’s certainly not riding shotgun.
When I think of the Lutheran church today and its relationship with the Spirit, I sometimes think of the words in Acts 19. Paul is in Ephesus and he asks the people of the church, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” and the church replies, “No, we have not even heard that there was a Holy Spirit.”
Today is the day of the Pentecost substitutes. We whip up our own flames…our own fire, but we lack the warmth and the ultimate power of the real thing. We substitute true faith for shallow feelings that are here today but gone tomorrow. We lack the understanding that the Holy Spirit lives within in us to lead us to those places God has chosen for us from before we were born. We take the easy way, even when we know sometimes that the easy way could easily lead to destruction. We’re excited for the show but we’re afraid of the commitment.
The Holy Spirit is so much more than a source to stir our emotions. He’s so much more than a momentary shot we get when something moves us. He is God in equal shares with the Father and the Son. He is not an ordinary Spirit. He is the Spirit who is God Himself dwelling within us.
In Psalm 139:7-10 King David says, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” God sent His Holy Spirit to guide His children to everlasting life. He has sent us His Word so that the Holy Spirit could work through those means to shape and direct all true believers.
Martin Luther said that without the Spirit all is worthless. He said, “Whatever the Holy Spirit does not perform – however good, just and holy it may appear to be – is flesh. D.L. Moody said, “You might as well try to hear without your ears….or breathe without your lungs,….as to try to live a Christian life without the Holy Spirit in your heart.”
The Holy Spirit is so much more than a momentary shot of adrenaline, He is God in us and vital to our faith. In fact, without Him we could not have the faith we have in Christ. He is indispensable in our Christian walk. He is the helper, the counselor, our God-breathed advocate. He leads us to faith and convicts us of sin. He is God’s seal on His people. He is a down payment on our heavenly inheritance, which Christ has promised us and secured for us at the cross.
I think our calling is to get back to what the church once was, filled with passion and humility, full of trust in the Holy Spirit to guide her, thinking first of others, doing things in the name of Christ for the simple fact that they should be done.
J. B. Phillips writes in the preface to The Young Church in Action, that one cannot spend several months in close study of the book of Acts, “without being profoundly stirred and, to be honest, disturbed. The reader is stirred,” he says, “because he is seeing Christianity, the real thing, in action for the first time in human history…Here we are seeing the Church in its first youth, valiant and unspoiled…a body of ordinary men and women joined in an unconquerable fellowship never before seen on earth.” But the reader is also disturbed, “for surely,” he adds, this “is the Church as it was meant to be. It is vigorous and flexible, for these are the days before it ever became fat and short of breath through prosperity, or muscle-bound by over organization. These men did not make acts of faith, they believed; they did not say their prayers, they prayed. They did not hold conferences on psychosomatic medicine, they simply healed the sick. By modern standards they may have been naïve, but perhaps because of their very simplicity, perhaps because of their readiness simply to believe, to obey, to give, to suffer, and, if necessary, to die, the Spirit of God found that he could work in them and through them, and so they turned the world upside down!
We are blessed to live in an age that the works of the Holy Spirit can be seen in all its glory. There are numerous examples we see of the true power of the Holy Spirit to change lives. In trust people are reaching out with the Word of God so that the Holy Spirit can move them.
With bravery instilled by the Spirit others fight against forces like secularism and Fascism to bring God to those in need. We are privileged to witness God in His power continue to save the lost, feed the hungry, heal the hurting, console the suffering and right the wrong. Many Christians have surrendered to the Holy Spirit’s direction and now find themselves doing incredible things for God’s people, living the life of a servant.
We have that same right to change lives. As God’s children, in fact, we are called to follow their example. No, the real question is not whether, as a Christian, we have the right to the gift of the Holy Spirit working through us, but whether you, yourself, have claimed that right and made yourself available to the promise.
The outpouring of the Spirit is not reserved for a special few or for a certain age. This outpouring is available to us today, at this very moment. Like the examples I have mentioned, we too have the promise of the Holy Spirit within us to do amazing things in the name of Christ. Yet many that have received salvation and have received the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament, are not filled with the Holy Spirit. They ought to be, they are free to be, but they choose not to be.
At Pentecost, the crowd was amazed because of the miracle of Tongues. They were wondering how this could be, they made fun of them saying, “They have had too much wine.” But Peter answered “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is not some intangible Mystical experience we automatically feel when something moves us. Jesus explained it this way in Luke 11:9-13, “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Jesus breathed on His disciples and said receive the Holy Spirit. He said, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water,” His way to describe the work of the Holy Spirit within us. That’s what He wants from all believers, to let the Holy Spirit flow from us to be seen in who we are or what we do.
To “hear” the voice of our Father in Heaven, we must first receive a device implanted within our souls–the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit’s ministry we can not only hear, but truly understand, all that God is saying to us in His Word.
We are people of God with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Isn’t that awesome!! We not only read the Word of God but the Holy Spirit leads us to its understanding. Don’t waste this precious gift, trust in the Holy Spirit and put what He teaches you to good use. And as you do, you will help all believers turn the world upside down. Amen