Sunday, April 3, 2016

Empowered to Witness (Luke 24:36-49) - God's Spirited Poeople: The gifts of the Holy Spirit in the bible and the Church today (part 1)

One of the things I like about St John’s church in Rotorua, where I worked for six years, is the way they have managed to combine their old stain glassed windows with contemporary stain glass art. Like here, when they built their new building, around the same time as this one was, they bought the stain glass windows from their old church, and made a feature of them but also had three pieces of new stain glass art commissioned. A large floor to ceiling window with the burning bush from exodus crafted into it. When the sun shines through it lights up and glows. The emblem of our church comes alive; it says there is life here.  At the front of the church there are red and blue windows and light comes through them and reflects on the cross above the communion table. Red for the blood of Christ, Jesus the Lamb of God and purple the royal colour, Jesus is our Lord and king. At the top of the worship area is a light well and along the windows in that well are triangles of coloured glass. They are there to represent the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The idea was that light from the upper windows would shine in and through coloured glass and down onto the congregation. It was meant to symbolise the fact that the whole congregation were called to minister not just those up the front, God had poured his holy spirit out on all his people and called them to witness to Jesus Christ and that God had given them gifts to enable them to achieve that. 

While the first two instillations worked really well there was just something not right with the third one, I don’t know what is was, but the light never shone down through those windows and that glass onto the congregation, there was a disconnect with the congregation.  I wonder if that didn’t tell a story… somehow we have become disconnected with what God has for us in the Holy Spirit. We’ve been left in the dark about something vital that we need to be the body of Christ, that we need to minister God’s healing and wholeness to each other that we need as a people to witness to the world around us that Jesus Christ is risen. I’m talking about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. 

Some of you will be sitting there thinking what are these gifts of the Holy Spirit you are talking about Howard? Well relax between now and Pentecost on May 15th we are going to be looking at the passages in the New Testament, in Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Peter 4 that talk about what these gifts are, in each of those passages there is a list of them… We’ll unpack that and how it connects to you.  You know we are more used to relating spiritual activity with the occult in our society than with God’s Spirit that is present in and with us, when they are just counterfeits of what God has for us. We will see that God wants to minister his love, his forgiveness his healing and to speak to and through us to the world he loves. I'm talking about the power and Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Today we are going to start our look at the gifts of the Holy Spirt by looking at the gift of the Holy Spirit. The passage we had read out to us today from Luke’s gospel is the last of three resurrection encounters Luke records. The first focuses on the empty tomb, the second on the road to Emmaus focuses on how Jesus death and resurrection fulfilled the prophecy of the Old Testament. This one focuses on Jesus commissioning his disciples to preach repentance (that’s turning from going our won way to going God’s way) and forgiveness to all the nations and the promise that God would send them power to enable them to witness to all they had seen and heard. 

This encounter forms the link between Luke’s gospel and his account of the early church in the book of Acts. It’s the last scene as you were and just like with so many TV shows which start previous on what God is doing? It is retold at the beginning of acts. It’s the link between Jesus earthly ministry and his ministry through us the church his body here on earth. Just like Jesus ministry was achieved by the power of the Holy Spirit, you’ll remember at the start of his ministry, John sees the spirit come down on Jesus like a dove in his baptism and in the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus says the Spirit of the Lord is upon me and has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.   So Jesus promises to send his Spirit to empower his disciples to continue the task that he has given us. 

Jesus promised his disciples the power to achieve what he has called us to do.  I want to explore that by looking at three e’s. for 'E'ze of memory...

The first is theHoly Spirit energises us. This year I’ve been plagued by trouble with my various computers. They are great when they work but when they don’t I actually feel totally powerless. I have a great IT department in my four children and I get a great deal of help but I still feel powerless when things go wrong. You can have the same feeling when you sit in front of the news and see what is going on in the world as well, or it can feel that way in a struggling parish, where it feels like one step forward one step back year after year, or even when we look at Jesus commission to his disciples. But Jesus says we are not powerless, because God has sent his Holy Spirit to dwell with and within us. What gives us the power to be wholeheartedly about the things of God, is God’s very presence with us. The same Holy Spirit that was in Jesus, the same power, Paul says, that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in us. That is our energy source. 

Secondly the power enables us. In John’s gospel we se w Jesus teaching on the Holy Spirit, that the Holy Spirt was our paraclete, our councillor, that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth, would take the words of Jesus and bring them alive in our lives. Elsewhere it says the Spirit would lead and guide us, give us the words to say when we were dragged into adverse situations where we had to give a defence for our faith, would pray our deepest prayers in groans too deep for words, but not to deep that God does not hear. WE often think that prcolaiming repentance and forgiveness and witnessing means speaking and preaching but in Acts 2 we see that when the Holy Spirit came upon those first believers in Jerusalem at Pentecost, and yes the apostles preached and taught and did miracles but it is backed up shown to be true in the amazing love that was evident in the church in Jerusalem. Who cared for the poor, gave hospitality and set an example for the whole of the city. It was about what they said but also how they lived… how they acted and reacted to injustice and poverty. N T Wright says that to proclaim repentance and forgiveness takes ‘the resolute application of Gospel, under the Lordship of the risen Jesus’: The whole of the gospel to the whole of life.  In Galatians 5 Paul talks of walking with the Holy Spirit, that this ongoing day to day step by step relationship with God will produce fruit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. The Holy Spirit enables us to live out and tell out the gospel. 

The Spirit gives power by equipping us to do what Jesus commissioned us to do. This is where the gifts of the Holy Spirit come in. In the list of the gifts of the Holy Spirit we will see things from prophesy and tongues and healing right through to administration, serving, giving, generosity and mercy. Ways God speaks to and through us to ways God shows his love and kindness. The Holy Spirit wants to equip us to be witnesses to proclaim repentance and forgiveness, in word and deed. 

I spoke before of a disconnect and I think there are many things that have meant we are disconnected from knowing that power in our lives and our church today. I see aspects of all these in my life… so Howard are you listening.

Firstly, in the passage we had today Jesus spent some time showing the disciples that he was not some sort of spirit or ghost. They wrestled with that because he seems to appear and disappear, to arrive in locked rooms. We can think of resurrection in terms of simple resuscitation, but Jesus is in a glorified state, it’s the same but totally different creation and new creation. In  1 Corinthians 15 Paul spends a large amount of time trying to explain it. That Jesus has a body that is free from death and corruption that is just right for eternal life with God. They did and we can struggle with the reality of the resurrection. We often live at the foot of cross, we know forgiveness and we can forget that we are the people of the empty tomb, there is new life where death and sin are defeated. And we miss out on all that God has for us. In CS Lewis’ Narnia series at the last battle the true Narnians are thrown into a stable to supposedly be killed by  a false Aslan, but they the real Aslan and they find themselves in a new Narnia full of wonder, bigger and brighter. All except the dwarves who although they have passed through the door huddle in the corner as if they are in a dark filthy barn and no amount of encouragement from others is going to change their mindset. We live with a risen Savior, we know new life, new creation and power in the Holy Spirit because of a risen savior.

We can also think that we are still in that waiting period: that Easter to Pentecost period. There was that wonderful 1990’s BBC comedy series called ‘Waiting for God ‘ about two rather spirited old age pensioners in a retirement village, literally waiting for God waiting to die… We are no longer waiting Christ has risen we live in a post Pentecost age, we need to change our perspective, we are not waiting to die, God is here with us by his spirit, empowering us. energising, enabling and equipping us. 

I think we can think that it’s only for Jerusalem, but not here… It’s Ok down the road at the Pentecostal church people can go there if they want that stuff but we are God’s chosen frozen…. But historically the Presbyterian Church was founded in the flames of Holy Spirit revival. I saw this wonderful piece of satire during the week. A supposed news story about an ex-marine sniper who had got employment in a conservative Baptist church… they were concerned that people were getting too enthusiastic in their worship , if anyone dared raise their hands and close their eyes well he’d shoot them down. Ouch!  It started in Jerusalem but in spreads and is with and for all God’s people everywhere. All God’s people here…

Lastly, I think we can live in the come to Jesus and not know the power of the Holy Spirit because we are not about the commission of Jesus. I know in my own life that if you are on the couch and watch sport that if you eat high energy foods and it’s not healthy. We don’t need that power that energy  to simply come and consume. There are chemical reactions that actually absorb more energy to keep happening than is produced in the system: They are called endothermic… Simply keeping an institution going is an endothermic process. It will absorb all the energy we have, relational, time, resources and still demand more.  But the amazing thing is that where mission is happening and people are encountering and having lives transformed by encountering Jesus there is energy to spare it exothermic, it produces energy because that is where the Holy Spirit is empowering his people to do what he has called us to do. 

In a coincident that could only be seen as the Holy Spirit Nicky Gumble in my devotions on Friday finished encouragingly with this…

“ we see how much is available to those who follow Jesus wholeheartedly, put their faith and trust in him and offer themselves to do his will. This is what you are called to. AS you do this, Jesus sends you out into the world with power and authority to proclaim the gospel and heal the sick”

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