Friday, June 9, 2017

Spirit of the Living God (Acts 2:1-13) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

The Holy Spirit is always something of a mystery for believers.  A father tells the story of their family gathering for breakfast, he asked his four-year-old daughter to say the blessing.  She folded her hands, bowed her head and prayed, "Thank you, Father, Son, and Holy toast."

Yes, it's Pentecost Sunday.  The color red you see around you is a symbol for fire. In the Old and new Testaments fire and flames denoted a theophany, an appearance of God, the purifying presence of God.   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 the story about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus' disciples who were gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem.  The Holy Spirit bonded them together as one and the Christian church was born.

We Christians affirm the doctrine of the Trinity; we believe that God is one God in three persons.  God is a tri-unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.    We are not talking about the human spirit, nor the spirit of the age, nor about team spirit.   We are speaking of the Spirit of God, the third person of the trinity or the God head.   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.  God the creator is over us or beyond us, God the Son, our savior is for us and God the Holy Spirit and sanctifier is with us and in us.

In the Gospel of John we discover 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, Spirit because the Holy Spirit performs all of these functions.

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.   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.

In times of trouble, in fearful times the Paraclete is our comforter.  When we face confusing decisions the Paraclete is our counselor.   In lonely times, God's Spirit is our companion.   When we are weak, the Paraclete or Holy Spirit is our Helper.

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 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 ever think it all depends upon you, that the weight of it is on your shoulders alone, and fail to see and sense the presence of the Holy Spirit working in partnership with you?  I experience that at times.  God's Spirit brings comfort when we battle feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.   When your heart is discouraged, the Holy Spirit brings a priceless gift, the gift of inner peace. Jesus says: “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.”

Have you ever felt anxious about something and then suddenly you experience an inner calm?  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 consoles us in times of grief.   Jesus said: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  This is the work of the Holy Spirit.  The work of the Holy Spirit is about inspiring, transforming and changing.  Can you identify some part of your mind, heart or soul that is changing?  Trust in Jesus’ promise.  The Holy Spirit is working in your life.

In his book, Against the Flow, Oxford professor John Lennox notes that when God calls us to do something difficult, he gives us the strength when we need it, not before we need it. Lennox illustrates this biblical principle with a story about an encounter he had with a Russian follower of Jesus who spent years in a Siberian labor camp for the crime of teaching his own children about the Bible.

Lennox writes: “This man described to me that he had seen things in labor camps that no man should ever have to see. I listened, thinking how little I really knew about life, and wondering how I would have fared in such inhumane conditions.  As if he had read my thoughts, he suddenly said: ‘You couldn't cope with that, could you?’ Embarrassed, I stumbled out something like: ‘No, I am sure you are right.’ He then grinned and said: ‘Nor could I! I was a man who fainted at the sight of his own blood, let alone that of others. But what I discovered in the camp was this: God does not help us to face theoretical situations but real ones. Like you I couldn't imagine how one could cope in the Gulag. But once there I found that God met me, exactly as Jesus had promised his disciples when he was preparing them for persecution.  The Holy Spirit comes upon us when we need him and not before.’”

The ultimate test of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives, according to the scripture, is when your life and mine manifest the fruits of God’s Spirit as we read in the letter of Galatians.  Do you recognize those times when you are radiating the fruits of the Holy Spirit:  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control.

I have always liked the song “Spirit of the Living God” which we just sang.  It is a song, it is a prayer, it is a plea.  Listen to the words: “Spirit of the Living God, Fall fresh on me, Spirit of the Living God Fall fresh on me, Melt me, mold me, Fill me, use me, Spirit of the Living God Fall fresh on me.”

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

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