Friday, May 29, 2015

Fall Afresh on Me (John 14:15-27) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

The well known contemporary author and preacher Dr. Fred Craddock tells about a lecture he was giving when he was speaking at a seminary.   One of the students stood up and said: "Dr. Craddock, before you speak, I need to know if you are Pentecostal."  The room grew silent.  Craddock was taken aback and so he said, "Do you mean do I belong to the Pentecostal Church?"  The student said, "No, I mean are you Pentecostal?" Craddock said, "Are you asking me if I am charismatic?" The student said, "I am asking you if you are Pentecostal."  Craddock said, "Do you want to know if I speak in tongues?"  The student said: "I want to know if you are Pentecostal." Craddock said, "I don't know what your question is." The student said, "Then obviously, you are not Pentecostal."

Yes it's Pentecost Sunday.  Today we celebrate the coming and blessing of  God's Holy Spirit.  Pentecost means 50th day, for it was 50 days after Easter that God sent His Spirit to the disciples.  Pentecost is all about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus' disciples who were gathered in Jerusalem.  The Spirit galvanized them into the Christian church over 2,000 years ago.   On Pentecost the Christian church was born.  Pentecost is the birthday of the church and without the coming of the Spirit there would be no church.  

Christians affirm the trinity, one God in three persons.  God is triune or a tri-unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is always something of a mystery for both adults and children.  A father tells the story of their family gathering for breakfast when he asked his 4 year-old daughter to say the blessing.  She folded her hands, bowed her head and prayed, "Thank you, Father, Son, and Holy toast."

We are not talking about the human spirit, which in new age religion is synonymous with god, nor are we speaking about the Zeitgeist or the spirit of the age, nor are we speaking about team spirit.   We are speaking of the Spirit of God, the third person of God’s being as the triune God.   The Holy Spirit is the Giver and Renewer of Life,  who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified. 

Whenever we speak about the Holy Spirit we enter the world of mysticism.  Have you ever thought of yourself as a mystic?   We are speaking about the experience of ineffable union or communion with ultimate reality, God.  We are speaking about God's Spirit in union with our spirit.  We are speaking about God's Spirit dwelling within us according to the testimony of scripture.  We are speaking about knowledge of God, of God's nature and truth, as something we gain through a subjective spiritual relationship with God through faith.   Mysticism has to do with mystery, awe, wonder, revelation; it means to experience the numinous or the holy.

God is not an impersonal, capricious, neutral force or principle like fate, but a personal being, our father, as Jesus taught us. God is over, above, and beyond us as God our creator.   God is for us in Jesus Christ as God our redeemer and God is with us and in us as God the Holy Spirit or sanctifier.   Affirming that God's Spirit dwells in us is a mystical claim.  Some would exclaim: “Praise God” and others would respond “Really, come on now.” 

Jesus in our passage from John uses the Greek word “paraclete,” a word I want you to add to your Christian vocabulary, when referring to the Holy Spirit.  It is variously translated into English as Advocate, Comforter, Companion, Counselor, Helper, and Holy Spirit.

After Jesus' resurrection and public appearances, knowing that soon he would no longer be physically with the disciples, Jesus makes a promise to his followers:  “I will not leave you orphaned,” Can I get an Amen!   “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Paraclete to be with you forever.  The world cannot receive the Spirit, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  You know him, Jesus says, because he abides with you and he will be in you forever.”  Not temporarily, not occasionally, but forever.  This is the inexplicable language of mysticism and this is something to give praise for.

Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth.  What truth?  When you listen to the news you wonder if anyone tells the truth today?   It is the truth that God exists, that God is real.  The truth that sin and evil are real.  The truth that human beings are sinners who need a savior.  The truth that God is gracious and merciful and has a plan and  purpose for our lives and for the world.  The truth that Jesus is the Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the World, who died in our place and took our sins upon himself on the cross.  The truth that Jesus' sacrificial and loving death restored our relationship with God and brought us sinners back to live by faith in fellowship with God. 

It is the beautiful truth that you and I are from God's perspective worth saving and need saving, but we cannot save ourselves, only God can save us.  The Holy Spirit convinces us that we are sinners in need of salvation. 

The Holy Spirit advocates for Jesus and when you confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior you know the Holy Spirit has been at work in your heart.  The Holy Spirit sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and our neighbor.  The Spirit purifies our hearts and illumines our minds so we can grow in faith and to walk in newness of life. 

The Holy Spirit is the spark who ignites the church with power and energy for worship, fellowship and service.  The Spirit unites guides and leads us in ministry today and into the future.  God's Spirit inspires, empowers and encourages us to share the gospel with others and to engage in ministry with others.

The Holy Spirit encounters us in prayer and in the word of God, the Bible.  The Spirit claims us in baptism, feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation in Communion, imparts to us our abilities, gifts and talents and calls us to share our gifts in Christ’s ministry in the church and world.   If there was no Holy Spirit our would would be spiritually dead.

In times of trouble or fearful times or in the midst of a personal crisis, the paraclete is our comforter.  When we face difficult decisions the paraclete is our counselor.   In lonely times, God's Spirit is our companion.  

Helper is another common translation of the Greek word paraclete, but we sometimes forget this and believe everything depends upon us.   A pastor writes:  When I decided to start a new church in Los Angeles, I found that I was overwhelmed with pressure and stress.  I was working more than seventy hours a week.  My wife would ask me to take a day off and I would say, "I can't." I wasn't sleeping at night and I began to take take sleeping pills. When the church was about a year old, I woke up in the night and had this strange sense that God was laughing at me.   It was the weirdest feeling.  I lay in bed wondering why God is laughing at me?

I finally got an answer. Here's how it happened.  When we moved into our house, I saved the heaviest piece of furniture for last—the desk from my office.   As I was pushing and pulling the desk with all my might, my four-year-old son came over and asked if he could help.  So together we started sliding it slowly across the floor.  He was pushing and grunting as we inched our way along.  After a few minutes, my son stopped, looked up at me, and said, "Dad, you have to push too.”  I realized that he thought he was actually doing all the work, instead of me.  I couldn't help but laugh.  But then a moment of realization struck me.  I knew why God was laughing at me.  I thought I was pushing this new church all alone.  Instead of recognizing God's power and strength, I was thinking it all depended on me.”  Do you recognize the Holy Spirit's presence in your life?

God's Spirit, the paraclete is our advocate when we lose confidence in ourselves and battle with feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.   The Holy Spirit brings a priceless gift, the gift of inner peace.  “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, I do not give as the world gives, do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” 

Is your heart ever troubled?  Are you ever afraid?   One of the great manifestations of the work of the Holy Spirit is the gift of inner peace, courage, serenity, and tranquility.  Have you ever been in a state of anxiety and then suddenly you experience an inner calm?   In discouraging times the Holy Spirit helps us to persevere when we are weak, to find courage when we are afraid, and to find hope when we despair.  The Spirit comforts us in times of grief and mourning.   Jesus said: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  This is the work of the Holy Spirit.

The ultimate test of the Spirit’s presence in your life and mine, according to the scripture, is evident when our lives manifest the fruits of the Spirit.  Do you exhibit some or all of these:  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control.

I close with the lyrics from the contemporary song Fall Afresh by Jeremy Riddle -

Awaken my soul, come awake to hunger, to seek, to thirst,
Awaken first love, come awake, and do as You did at first.
Spirit of the Living God come fall afresh on me, Come wake me from my sleep,
Blow through the caverns of my soul, Pour in me to overflow, to overflow.
Spirit come and fill this place, Let Your glory now invade,
Spirit come and fill this place, Let Your glory now invade.

On this day of Pentecost, may this be our prayer:  “Oh Spirit of God, fall afresh on me, breathe on me breath of God.”  Amen!

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