Sermon transcript, 17 May 2015
Wait for the Holy Spirit by Fr. Dana
Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 47, Ephesians 1:15-23, Mark 16:9-15, 19-20
Now we know what that song was talking about: “Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord”. Jesus told His Apostles to wait. I’m sure they were happy to wait: after Jesus was crucified they gathered in an upper room with the door bolted, shivering and waiting for a knock: “They’re coming to take us away…” He told them to “wait for the Promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4), and that Promise was the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). Why did He do that? He told them to do that because He knew they didn’t have a ghost of a chance to accomplish anything without the Holy Spirit.
Last week we talked about how we immersed by the love of Christ. We aren’t just filled with it: God doesn’t take a compartment of our heart and inject it with a syringe – He fills us up with it, He surrounds us with it, and we walk in it all the time. There is no place where we can go together away from it. That helps us understand that no matter what we do, no matter what Satan tells us, we haven’t stepped outside it. Yes, we’ve sinned and done wrong; yes, we need to confess and repent… but He hasn’t cut off His love, He hasn’t turned the spray off until we get our act together: we are always walking immersed in His love.
But today we see that we are not only immersed in the love of Christ, but we are also immersed – baptized – in the Holy Spirit. And it’s the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, who gives us the power to love the way Jesus loved and the way Jesus loves, and the way that we are called to love.
We are called to be witnesses to the end of the earth
He said, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and then you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem and all Judea, in Samaria” – everywhere that He went – “and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8) – beyond where He went. They will be witnesses – not teachers of doctrine, not, “Here’s the manual, let me teach you the precepts” – they were called to be witnesses.
What is a witness? If you are called into court as a witness, what do you do? You don’t testify to something someone told you, because the judge will throw it out: it’s called hearsay. You testify to what you have seen directly, to what you have experienced personally: not somebody else’s experience, but your experience; and that’s what these disciples were called to do.
And they will indeed reach to the ends of the earth – except these eleven men didn’t: there are places in the earth that they never got to. Was Jesus lying? No – He’s just speaking the big picture. This happened in the Old Testament with Elijah: read I Kings 19:15-16. God gave him specific instructions, which he didn’t fulfil. Elijah didn’t make it to Damascus: as he was going, God took him up – Elisha was with him; he didn’t die, but God took him up – but Elisha received a double portion of his anointing. Elijah didn’t do it, but it still got done: Elijah didn’t anoint Hazael and Jehu, but other prophets did [II Kings 8:13, 9:1-13]. In exactly the same way, the Eleven Apostles don’t make it to the ends of the earth; but the Gospel does, the faith does. He was not saying, “You eleven men are all there are, and you have to go and do the whole thing”; He said, “You go”. When He was praying for them at the Last Supper, He said, “I don’t pray just for you, but also for those who will come after you and follow you” (John 17:20). That’s what He means when He tells the Eleven, “You’re going to go into all the earth”: not you personally, but you and a person who follows you and a person who follows him or her… and on and on…
And so Jesus was telling the truth; and in fact, we are some of those followers. We stand in the line of succession back to those apostles. He’s giving us the same command He gave them. That doesn’t mean we are all supposed to quit our jobs and become missionaries somewhere. Some may be – some of us may be called to England, some may be called to Africa, or the Philippines – who knows? Some may be called to be good parents and raise up faithful children. Some may be called to be honest businessmen and women of integrity and to show forth the love of Christ in the workplace. But we are all called, because today we are still carrying out the commands that Jesus gave to His disciples.
What God wants for us
In our second reading Paul prays for the Ephesians some specific things; but just like Jesus, Paul is not praying only for the Ephesians – in fact all of the letters that Paul sent to various churches, the churches were encouraged to share, to make copies and pass them around, so that everyone could receive the benefit of those letters [see Colossians 4:16]; and not only them, but then handed down to us so that we receive the benefit of those letters. So although in this letter Paul is praying especially for the Ephesians, it also applies to us in the same way as Jesus at the Last Supper says “I do not pray for these alone but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.” So what does Paul pray for the Ephesians? What is he praying for us? What is Jesus praying for us? Because He ascended into heaven and sat down at God’s right hand, and He ever, ever – meaning all the time, 24/7, 365.24 – prays for us, intercedes for us (Hebrews 7:25).
Paul says this: “wisdom and revelation, in the knowledge of [God]” (Ephesians 1:17). Wisdom is not knowledge. Knowledge is facts: I know all these things; wisdom is understanding how they’re put together and how they are applied: How do they apply to my life? How do they apply to this situation in which someone has come to me for prayer? Wisdom is the ability to take facts and revelation and apply them to that situation. And God give us that: Paul is praying that God would give us that. Revelation is understanding that only comes from God: I cannot get revelation by studying. That doesn’t mean that while I’m studying the Bible God can’t give me revelation; but revelation is not understanding what I’m reading – revelation is understanding something that goes beyond what I’m reading; it has to be revealed to me. But all of this comes from the knowledge of God – not from the knowledge of Buddha or Mohamed or anyone else, but the knowledge of God. And so education for the sake of education, by itself, is worthless; that doesn’t make it bad, but it has to have wisdom, the wisdom of God.
Paul also prays that we would have enlightened understanding (Ephesians 1:18). “The Enlightenment” is a name given to a period of history; the period before it is sometimes called the “Dark Ages”. That term as applied by people in the Enlightenment, so there’s a little prejudice there: the “Dark Ages” were not totally dark, and actually had some very faithful people and faithful understanding in them. But “enlightenment” means “to push out the darkness”; it is being freed from ignorance – instead of doing something just because it’s a habit, understanding why you’re doing it and what you’re doing.
Paul prays that we would “know… the hope of His calling” on us. You who are just coming out of college, going to university: could you not apply yourself much more if you knew one hundred percent, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what God has called you to do? If you knew that God had called you to be a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer, a mum, or whatever it is… what hope would that give you? No uncertainty, no fear… Would that not give you more confidence, if you knew exactly where you were supposed to be and exactly what you were supposed to be doing! That’s what Paul prays for us.
He also prays that we would know the riches of Christ’s inheritance in us. I have something of value that has been bequeathed to me because Jesus died: I inherited it. If you knew the riches that are yours because of Christ Jesus – I’m not talking about “I want to be a millionaire”; I’m not saying that He promises that we’ll all be rich or that any of us will be rich; but we have riches, we have something of value, we have the pearl of great price, for which the farmer sold all that he had and bought the land just so that he could have the pearl – if we understood what those riches were – and that’s another whole sermon that I will not preach today – how many of our temporal comforts would we be willing to give up? If we could see what will be ours in heaven, and perhaps even on this earth – maybe not money, but spiritual children – if we could see that and understand the impact we would have, and understand the riches we would have, couldn’t we do without that brand new phone? Do we need a iPhone 7, 8 and 9, and an iPad, and I’m tired, and an ITV, and I’m sick of it? We could do without those.
And most of all, Paul prays that we would “know… the greatness of His power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:19). What is that power? Power to say, “I command you, traffic, to split and for me to get to work on time?” I don’t think that’s what he’s talking about. He’s talking about that same power that raised Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1:20) – there’s no greater power than that – and set Him above every other “principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named” (Ephesians 1:21) – every name: Satan, government, education, art, culture: everything that can be named; there is no dominion that is higher than Christ. And that same power is toward us who believe, not to use to get what we want, but to do what he’s called us to do. If we keep focused in that direction, we can’t lose. If we turn away from that direction, we can’t win. Which would you prefer? I know where I’d rather be.
Signs of faith
That sounds really good. Now we come to the Gospel reading. The first time Jesus met the Eleven after rising from the dead, what did He do? “Way to go, guys, you men of faith and power, I’m proud of you – well done!” He didn’t say that – He rebuked their unbelief (Mark 16:14). “The women told you, and you didn’t believe them. Thomas – the others saw and told you, and you didn’t believe them.” Don’t be too hard on Thomas, or call him “Doubting Thomas”, because he’s also the Thomas who said, when Jesus said “I’m going to Jerusalem to die”, said, “We may as well go with Him” (John 11:7-8, 15-16). But after He rebuked them for not believing, He says, “You – go into the world to preach the Gospel and baptize – that is, make disciples” (Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus, you don’t understand: these guys couldn’t even believe what they were told from people who were witnesses; and now you want them to do what? “Go – but wait. Go, but don’t go yet. Wait!” Because He knew that once the Holy Spirit got hold of them, then they could go, then they could do, then ten out of eleven of them could go and do until they were put to death for the faith. Only John became old; the others met a very untimely and unpleasant end.
And He says when they go that these signs will accompany them (Mark 16:15-18), not so that they could test God – the devil tempted Jesus to do that in the wilderness: “If you’re really God, must make these stones turn into bread”; and Jesus said, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 4:3,7) – but He gave them these signs so that whenever they needed them – you’re in a situation, and the only way out is for this to happen, it will happen – God will do it. They went, and the signs were confirmed (Mark 16:20). They believed Him, they trusted Him: they took His word for it. They didn’t take Mary’s word for it; Thomas didn’t take the other disciples’ word for it, but they took His word for it; and they acted.
Breathing the Holy Spirit
Do you sense the call of God on your life? I don’t mean just in some huge “God wants me to give up everything and go somewhere” – that may be what He’s doing, but He may be doing smaller things that are just as important. Do you sense the call of God on your life? And if so, do you feel inadequate? I can’t do that. Are you crazy? You want me to what? That’s a good place to be – it’s where the disciples were. You are inadequate, and so am I; and it’s OK, because we know the One who is all adequacy, the one who supplies everything. And the good news is He wants you to have the Holy Spirit, not just up here, but in here. He wants to fill your heart and to fill your body; He wants you to breathe the Holy Spirit in and out every time you take a breath. He wants to be that close to you. He created you for that; He created you for relationship. Adam walked “in the cool of the day” with God (Genesis 3:8). How cool is that? In fact, the way God pointed out that Adam had eaten the fruit was that He showed up for the daily appointment. “Adam, where are you?” – “I’m hiding.” “Why are you hiding?” – “I’m naked.” “Who told you that you were naked?” (Genesis 3:9-11) God created us for a personal, walk-by-Him all-the-time relationship. Jesus said we are to be yoked with Christ (Matthew 11:29): that’s a wise, old ox and a young, rambunctious ox yoked together in a single frame so that the young one can pull hard and the old one can say, “We’re doing work here: just keep straight, keep going…” and the two of them can do it together. That’s what Jesus does with us; that’s the relationship, that’s the breathing in and out of the Holy Spirit, and that’s what He wants for us.
Pentecost is when the Holy Spirit fell with tongues of fire on the disciples. That’s what they were instructed to wait for. We celebrate that next Sunday: holy fire. God, don’t just put the fire on my head; start in here. Burn it up, because I know I’ll be like the burning bush that Moses turned aside to see: it’ll burn and burn, but it won’t burn up, because He’s the fuel for the flame. Have you received the Holy Spirit? That’s not just, “Do you speak in tongues?” That’s one sign: it’s not the only sign. There are all kinds of signs: fruit that is born by the Holy Spirit. Is He alive inside you? Is He helping you make decisions: Where are you going to go? What are you going to do? Who are you going to marry? Where are you going to work? If you haven’t received Him, or if you’ve been ignoring Him – it’s possible to do that – then I invite you to think about coming forward during the Prayers of the People or during the Eucharist, or if you need longer to think about it, then next Sunday.
What does God what for you? He wants you to know your calling; He wants you to know the riches that He has for you; He wants you to know the purpose He has for you; He wants you to know the power – not selfish power but selfless power – that He has for you, for you to do what he has called you to do. He wants you to receive that, and we as a church want you to receive that, because that’s how you become everything that you are destined to be. And we pray that you might receive the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ, the eyes of your understanding be enlightened, that you may know the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, what is the exceeding greatness of His power towards you. That’s what He wants, that what we want, and that’s what we’ll pray.