I’ll refer to the passage read later in the sermon.
I believe in the Holy Spirit. It is a one liner in the Apostles’ Creed, but expanded in the Nicene Creed to:
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
The EA basis of faith develops it further:
We believe in…
9. The ministry of God the Holy Spirit, who leads us to repentance, unites us with Christ through new birth; empowers our discipleship and enables our witness.
10.The Church, the body of Christ both local and universal, the priesthood of all believers—given life by the Spirit and endowed with the Spirit’s gifts to worship God and proclaim the gospel, promoting justice and love.
There has been an awful lot written about the HS but then as human beings we often suffer from verbal diarrhoea! Within any church there will be a range of views concerning the HS; but when Jesus promised to send the HS he wasn’t setting up a theological debating point. The HS was coming with a specific purpose which Jesus stated when he was with the disciples:
15 ‘If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever – 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.
The HS was sent and is sent and comes as God the HS to our lives with a very specific purpose: to enable us, to empower us, to be followers of Jesus Christ in our world and to be His witnesses. The HS did not and does not come to divide: that is what we do very effectively as sinful human beings who do not listen to the HS. That is what we do when we want to assert ourselves over each other and claim greater spirituality. If you have declared Jesus as Lord and Saviour, you have done so because the HS has been active in your life. Whether we choose to allow the HS to continue to be active in our lives – to go on being filled with the HS – is down to us. And he doesn’t make clones.
Now in order to think about Pentecost, I’m going to build things around three words: waiting; filled; empowered. Then we will think about that applying to EBC now.
Waiting. I am not very good at waiting and can be very impulsive. There are times when we just need to wait on God, before we are equipped and sent out. We do have some prominent examples:
1. Elijah: he is worn out and depressed and feels totally isolated and God tells him to wait. There are a series of powerful natural events, but God is not in them. Elijah doesn’t jump to conclusions but waits and then God comes to him in the silence, in a still small voice and Elijah covers his face: he knows his unworthiness. God commissions him and sends out.
2. Jesus, after being baptised, goes and waits on his Father in the wilderness. Before the devil comes along, Jesus has been fasting, and the underlying assumption is that he has been in communion with his Father. He waited upon God and then stepped out – straight into confrontation!
3. The disciples are told to wait. They do find it difficult and end up going out fishing. At the beginning of Acts during this waiting period they chose Matthias to replace Judas, but they still wait.
Waiting on God is anathema to our busy 21st Century lives because we are defined by our busyness – even as Christians. If we are not busy, why not? We have been involved in the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ initiative, but I wonder how many of us found it hard to set time aside to pray. How many of us found it difficult to spare ten minutes at lunch time to pray? And if we did manage to do this, will it become part of our routine or just something we did last week?
We want the Holy Spirit to fill us and empower us, but often we want him to do it round our schedule and while we are on the run. The examples we see in the pages of scripture are that people waited on God and from there stepped out. The interesting thing about Elijah is that when Elijah heard the gentle whisper on the mountainside, God sent him back to Israel. God gave him the courage and strength to go back; it was to fulfil a dangerous task – anoint a new King whilst the old one is still reigning!
When Jesus waited on God in the wilderness he met with severe temptation and then rejection by the people of Nazareth.In the power of the Spirit he walked the path of obedience. The disciples experienced the spectacular start to the church, but it wasn’t long before they ran into challenges from society around. Waiting on God for the Holy Spirit can be risky, because the Spirit isn’t given to whoop up our worship services, but to enable us to go out and be part of bringing God’s Kingdom into the lives of the people we meet.
Be filled. Acts 2 tells us that the disciples were filled with the HS. What is the evidence? Not that they were speaking in other languages – although that is exactly what happened – but that they were speaking the praises of God and the wonders of God and others heard and responded. The importance of the sign was in what it achieved – speaking the word of God to people in their own language so that they could respond to God through Jesus Christ. The significance was that the word of God was going out from Jerusalem to the world and all could understand. This was a sign that the fulfilment of the kingdom had commenced; the light was shining out from Jerusalem and people were attracted to it.
There is an outward, missionary focus to the work of the Spirit. It came at a festival period when pilgrims from the known world were in Jerusalem. The knowledge of Christ was not to be kept in Jerusalem, but to go out to all the world and it began with all these pilgrims, some of whom became followers of Jesus and took the message back to their home countries, telling it in their own language so that others could be saved. If you are a follower of Jesus you are one of those people upon whom the Holy Spirit has rested and you are one of those people who go out to prophesy into the world in which you find yourself. You carry God’s word out into the different communities in which you live and work. That is the work of the prophet: to speak God’s word into the everyday situations of the week – to speak in word and deed.
And this takes us to our last word: enabled. The Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to stand up and speak out in the name of Jesus in the place where he had been tried and executed. They spoke other understandable languages, because the Holy Spirit enabled them. Peter and John healed the lame man because the Holy Spirit enabled them. They stood up in the temple courts and before the Sanhedrin and spoke about Jesus because the Holy Spirit enabled them. They worshipped in the face of adversity, because the Holy Spirit enabled them.
You are empowered. We are empowered as the body of Christ. Will you take the risk and let the Holy Spirit work through you? It means being prepared to be challenged personally in our daily lives. It also means being prepared to speak up for a Christian worldview and declare our faith in Jesus Christ as the opportunity arises in the workplace, among friends and with family. It means being prepared to put our faith in action in our town. It is all done in the power of the Spirit. Don’t expect it to be plain sailing: the story of Acts tells us that it wasn’t for those early Christians, but they were not daunted and didn’t give in because they had the Spirit at work in them and they didn’t stifle it.
We are waiting for Pentecost. We have been put into waiting before God will rebirth the church in a new era – post COVID 19. The question posed in the title of the sermon is a serious one for all churches and we need to start taking it seriously at EBC. The temptation is to sit and wait until we are allowed to go back to normal and then just resume what we have always done.
I had the passage from Acts 15 read because it demonstrates how the Holy Spirit of God is active. He doesn’t stand still doing things as they have always been done. There were some in the early church who wanted to keep and defend traditions; to do things in the way they were doing them and had been used to doing them. However, the traditions were and are not essential to the gospel and the church had to change and develop to meet the needs of the changing people who were becoming followers of Jesus, whilst remaining true to Him and his gospel. Acts is the story of the growing, changing and developing church – and it hasn’t stopped.
I don’t think there should be a ‘going back to normal’. If we do it suggests that what we were doing is ok and fits the new season we will be in; it wastes this waiting time in which we can seek God about the purpose for our church; it suggests that as a church we are closing our eyes to what is happening around us and are more concerned with preserving tradition.
The leadership have started this process and our next meeting is being devoted to the question of ‘How do we grow from here?’ This is how the discussion will be framed when we meet in a couple of weeks:
• List everything we were doing before lock down and give it a rating as to how we were doing – very poor to excellent
• Pick out four that you think are key to the mission of EBC. You may want to suggest something new as one of your four – but you also need to be willing to be involved in getting that going.
• Write down one way in which you think the church should be different as we come back together.
Pray for us as we begin this discussion. I also invite you to join in: you can also reflect prayerfully on church using these pointers.
When the Holy Spirit first came on the disciples there was transformation – that was what was key to the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowered and a fearful uncertain group of followers of Jesus burst out of the waiting room. We are in the waiting room at the moment. The past week has been spent in prayer for the coming of God’s Kingdom, allowing for the fact that God will bring it in his way. How are we going to be a part of it? I suggest three ways in which we need to be thinking:
1. We are following a theme focussing on creation and the environment. The constant question is ‘How are we going to change as a church ?’ Not only is this a matter of responsible stewardship for God’s creation, but it is also a missional opportunity. A church that does not take seriously issues related to the environment will not be listened to when it preaches the gospel.
2. How do we move from being buildings focussed to being mission focussed? We need a building, a base, in which to meet and from which to operate, but maintaining the building is not our purpose. We need to keep it in good order. We do need to do something about the side entrance and the old bookroom; but buildings are a tool and not the reason we exist.
3. How will we be different as a worshipping discipleship hub? I do think a key function of being church is to gather in worship and grow in discipleship. However, do we just go back to the well used modes or should there be change?
I suggest that you visit the BU website and follow the link for the new BU president, Yinka Oyejan, and read his address and see his suggestions. Are we going to grasp this opportunity and redeem it? It could be argued that the church went through tremendous growth and change and then spent hundreds of years maintaining the establishment and resisting change until the Reformation. Then there was further growth and change and a new tradition grew in which people have resisted moving forward and spent their energy protecting what was new tradition. We are now at another watershed moment. What will we do with it?
The purpose of the Holy Spirit is clear: to enable the people of God to declare his praises and to call people to repentance and to follow Christ. The message and the need hasn’t changed: people need to be saved from fear, from sin, from helplessness, from hopelessness, from judgement, from death. God pours out his Holy Spirit on us so that we can go and speak his word into a needy world. We are part of bringing in the Kingdom of God. What does that look like for EBC? How do we grow from here?