PENTECOST SERMON

Sunday the 15th of May 2016

John 14: 8-17, 25-27

Today is the day in the church year we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost. Pentecost is often a time where many think about the very powerful way that our Triune God began to work through his disciples and how the church began. The focus of course is on the coming of the Holy Spirit and what he was doing, where he worked in some miraculous ways to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ.

In Lutheran circles, the Holy Spirit is not focused on very much, unlike other Christian denominations, and in some ways we see the Holy Spirit as the ‘shy member of the Trinity’.

When other Christians speak of and focus on the Holy Spirit, it can easily make many of us uncomfortable and sometimes make us feel out of our depth. This morning I am going to preach on the Gospel reading from John chapter 14, as I believe that this can greatly encourage us and help us understand what the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives as Christians.

Jesus begins chapter 14 by saying: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. And he repeats this in verse 27 saying: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”. In verse 18 he says: “ I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you”

Jesus was speaking to his disciples just before he was about walk his journey to that cross. He was speaking to them about what would happen after this; after his ascension to heaven. Jesus was not talking about heaven here; he was talking to them about life here on this earth. Jesus gave his Word of promise, that he would be present with the disciples, just in a different way. He says: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”, that is the He will give them the Holy Spirit.

Now when Jesus says forever here, he does not mean that we will receive him only after we die and go to heaven. No when he says forever it includes life on this earth. The Holy Spirit of truth, our Advocate is here with us in the present, on this earth where we are. Through the Holy Spirit Jesus’ presence is with us here today

If you think about all the different religions in this world, and perhaps voices within all religions, there seems to be and underlying claim that life-with-god can only be achieved by being freed from the bonds of earth and the body. To get closer to god it is like we need to be in some other place, if not an actual location, then in a spiritual trance, an out-of-body experience where we will be closer to god and farther from this earth.

Too many Christians get caught up in this way of thinking focussing only on heaven, giving attention on the other worldly, and when it comes to the Holy Spirit focusing on the gifts that he gives us from heaven, exclusively. Many seem to think that to be filled with the Holy Spirit is to lead a spiritual life, a life that is sometimes seen as being separated from this world. But this is not Jesus Word of promise. In fact he says in 17:15 when praying to his Father he says: “15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” Jesus promise is that the Holy Spirit comes to us in midst of our lives here on earth. In doing this it means that our Triune God will forever be involved and messed up with this body-life of ours here on the earth. This is what he means when Jesus is with us.

Not only do you and I have the promise that Jesus presence is with us through the Holy Spirit, but Jesus also says: “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”

Living life as followers of Jesus was very difficult for those disciples, but it is also very difficult for you and me. Many of us have struggles, hardships, battles with sin, and unanswered questions. This is a fact of living life. Those of us who are part of the church know, all too well that we are not what Jesus called us to be. Take a look at any church community and you will see that: we spend too much and share too little; we judge too many and love too few; we often wait too long and act too late. We have arguments, with each other, we don’t forgive others as we know we should.  Those outside the Christian faith say: “Show me a church where ministers aren’t self-serving, where there is not hypocrisy, where love is genuine, and then I will think about coming to Church.”  The thing is that they will have to wait a long time, because this is never going to happen.  But this is precisely why the Holy Spirit is sent to us in our midst. This is precisely why the Holy Spirit is advocating and helping us, pointing out the truth of our sin against God and our need for Jesus, but also teaching us about how to grow in our Christian lives.  It is in these places of ordinary everyday life that our Lord’s presence is with us through the Holy Spirit.

The fact that we have the Holy Spirit in us, helping us, guiding us, convicting us and comforting us, gives you and me confidence as Christians in journeying through this life; because we have the promise that we are never alone and that we always have help in our times of trouble. As Jesus said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”.

Because many Christians emphasize different things about the Holy Spirit, it can often lead to some being confused. So I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some important things about what scripture says and what we believe. 1 Corinthians 12:3 says:  Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

Luther in the small catechism says: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him; But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel , enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in true faith”

For all of us who believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, this is evidence that we have the Holy Spirit in us, because we cannot believe without his help. This fact should give you confidence, that the Holy Spirit is at work in your life.

This day of Pentecost in the church year is about reflecting on the coming of the Holy Spirit on his disciples, it is about reflecting on the how the Christian Church began grew and is still spreading to day as the Holy Spirit is still working. And yes it is about thinking about the miraculous and mysterious ways that the Holy Spirit convicted people and brought them to faith in Jesus Christ, but it is also about reflecting on how the Holy Spirit is working in everyday ordinary ways through the Word, working in everyday ordinary people, in their everyday ordinary lives here on this earth. Every person who belongs to this congregation, and this parish, is here because the Holy Spirit has called you here. This congregation and parish are being sustained in the faith, not because I am such a great pastor to you all, rather it is because the Holy Spirit is present with us, sustaining us.

As you think about your life as a follower of Jesus, I encourage you to walk in your faith confidently, not matter what trials, or struggles you are facing, because you can know that the Holy Spirit is with you always helping you through this life by pointing you to Jesus.

 

 

 

 

Having Opened Minds

08/05/2016

Luke 24: 44-53

The Christian faith, and those who believe in Jesus Christ, has come under much scrutiny in recent times. There are many unbelievers who have posed serious questions about the Christian faith. And all too often come to the conclusion that Christians are ignorant because, if we are honest, many Christians struggle to answer their questions. This leaves many Christians in a place where they struggle with their belief and faith because all too often they don’t understand things about God and how he works in this world.

When it comes to faith in Jesus have you have you have been in a place where you have struggled to understand. Have you have felt confused about God and what he says in his word? Have you ever been in a situation where you just wish you understood what is happening in your life, why God was or is allowing certain things to happen in your life, and in the world around you.

In today’s Gospel reading Luke tells of how Jesus addressed this issue with his disciples, who were in a place of confusion and did not understand or comprehend what was happening. Jesus appears to the disciples who were gathered together. They of course were frightened. While they were full of joy and amazement, they still struggled with doubt. Jesus showed himself to them physically and he then ate with them.

What Jesus did next is important. He spoke to them about His Word. We have seen this already where Jesus had interpreted the scriptures to two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Now he reminds them of what he had already spoken to them before, concerning what was written in scriptures about him from Moses, the Psalms and Prophets. In other words he was showing them that his life fulfilled what is recorded in the Old Testament. Jesus then did another thing of greater significance. He opened up their minds so they could understand the scriptures. You see the disciples, the very people who were with Jesus in his earthly ministry, were not able to understand, what was occurring, as indeed we are not able on our own. While Jesus was with them, before his resurrection, he spoke plainly about what was to take place, but each time they could not grasp what he was speaking to them about. Jesus the risen Lord is the only one who was able to open their minds to see. Once he had done this, he spoke his word and clearly and gave the gospel message to them that the Christ had to suffer and die and on the third day rise again so that repentance and forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed to all nations beginning at Jerusalem in his name. And they were to be witnesses of this fact.

Now Jesus could have easily left it at that. He has helped his disciples see and understand the scriptures; he has spoken to them the gospel that is to be proclaimed in his name. What more do they need?  Jesus has risen, he is alive they have seen him. Surely this is enough?

However, rather than giving the gospel over to the disciples, leaving them on their own, Jesus tells them that he is sending the promise of his Father upon them. They were to stay put until they were clothed with power from heaven. What is this promise? It is the Holy Spirit.

Have you ever considered why this is so important?  The very gospel that is proclaimed to this day, that because of Christ’s death and resurrection we have forgiveness of sins, simply cannot be grasped by human reason. Rather, the Holy Spirit is given to you and me as gift. In fact the disciples were to be clothed with His power that enables the gospel to be preached and to be heard.

This promise of Father was fulfilled in the book of Acts. And it is closely connected with Jesus and his enthronement at his ascension. When Jesus was taken up to Heaven, he was exalted as King; he is seated in at the right hand of Father, he has complete authority; and he receives from the Father the promised Holy Spirit. Which he then gives out, because of this people are able to hear and receive the gospel. This promise is gift. It is given by our ascended Lord, and it is received. Again it is the risen and enthroned Lord of the church who is the one at work.  And in fact he is still at work as we still have this promise through his Word today.

You see our eyes and minds still need to be opened to the reality of who Jesus is and to see what he has done for us. This goes against the grain of our modern world. Where everything has to be scrutinized, analysed and understood. We place such a high value of the human mind and gaining of knowledge and understanding. But all too often though, we can so easily become proud and over confident in our own reasoning. It is easy to see how we could come to a place where we think we know everything.

Make no mistake this goes for Christians as for anybody else. We’ve read that bible, we know what our Christian faith is about. What more is there for us to learn? Of course knowledge is gift from God and it should be perused. But when it comes to faith in God, we need to have humility. We need to realise that, even in our modern world, we don’t know everything. We are reliant upon having our eyes and understanding opened, just as the disciples were. We are dependent upon receiving the promised Holy Spirit through his Word.

The opening of the disciples minds by Jesus was not a once of event. It is not like Jesus opened up their minds to understand the scriptures and they knew it all! Let me give you some examples: let’s take the apostle Peter he was there at this gathering and his understanding was opened by our Lord. We have Peter at Pentecost with the power of the Holy Spirit proclaiming the Gospel from the Old Testament prophets, with the result that the people respond and the church was started. But does this mean that Peter understood everything? No In Acts we find him resistant to the fact that the Gospel is for the Gentiles. He has to be moved by God through a vision before he actually comes to realise the reality that Gentiles are included in the Gospel promise. Take the Apostle Paul after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. When the scales fell of his eyes did he understand everything? No he did not. He had to spend time with the other disciples learning and growing, having his mind opened through the word. Or finally what about the early church after the apostles. Did the early Christians know and understand everything. No. They wrestled with many false teaching and it was only through the Holy Spirit working through the Word opening their understanding that they were able teach and pass down the teaching of the Christian faith.

Here today we are in the same position, we cannot grasp the truth about Jesus by our own effort, but rather we have the promised Holy Spirit who comes to us through the word and opens our understanding. If you are in a place where you are struggling with confusion or overwhelmed by things that you do not understand about God and His word, In encourage you to hold on to this promise:  that our risen and ascended Lord has given the Holy Spirit through his word to help you grasp the reality of who he is. He is present with you in his word. He is at work revealing who he is and what he has done. He is revealing the Gospel that your sins are truly forgiven. Jesus is the one who enables preaching of the Gospel, but at the same time he is the one who enables us to hear and understand this promise. We are in Jesus hands.

In today’s reading we have Jesus lifting his hands and giving the disciples a priestly blessing before being taken from them. And what is their response to his being taken? They were worshiping Jesus and were filled with joy. These disciples, who had been with Jesus throughout his earthly ministry, now for the first time, with their understanding of the word opened by Jesus, finally are able to see Jesus in all his fullness and glory: Fully God and Fully man. Notice that the doubting and disbelieving seen earlier is now gone, but they are now worshipping the Lord with joy and they continue until Pentecost to praise and worship Jesus at the temple.

Our Lord Jesus who has been lifted up and is seated at the right hand of Father, is interceding for you. He has been given all authority, and is continuing to send you the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit through his word and sacrament. Our risen and ascended Lord is not distant, but intimately connected with you doing what you cannot do.

During those times where you struggle to see and understand what God is doing or what he is saying through his Word. I encourage you to ask the Holy Spirit to help you, and he will do this, as this is the promise Jesus gives you.

May he continue to open your eyes and minds to see him for who he truly is.

 

 

 

What happens when God intervenes in your life?

Sunday 1/05/2016

Acts 16: 9-15

I wonder if there have been times in your life, where as a Christian, you have had reason to pray to God and ask him: ‘Is this where you want me to be God?’ or maybe you may have asked: ‘is this what you want me to do?’ In this life here on earth there are many decisions that we make and many circumstances that happen to us that sometimes lead us to ask these questions. Of course it is not just individuals who ask these questions. Over the last 15 or so years I have noticed that more and more the leaders of the LCA have been asking the churches to question where God wants them and what God wants them to do to as a community of believers, particularly as numbers have been declining and many seem to be walking away from the faith.

In the epistle reading from Acts chapter 16 I get the sense the apostle Paul may well have been asking the same question: ‘is this where God wants me to be’ because he ended up at a place that he originally wasn’t planning to be. Paul and his companions, Silas and Timothy, were traveling through what we now know as Turkey. The reason they were doing this was to visit the churches which Paul had planted in a previous journey, check on them, strengthen them, and share with them the decision of the Jerusalem council (15:36, 16:1), which was the Jewish Christians had accepted the Gentiles. Paul had made a start by revisiting the churches in Derbe and Lystra. But then, all of the sudden, God redirects his plans.

Acts 16:6–7 says: “And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” We don’t know how the Spirit stopped them, whether it was through a vision or prophetic voice, or simply by circumstantial events. The point is, however this happened, that where God sent them is not where they expected, or necessarily wanted to go.

Where God was leading them was not where they had planned. They had expected to go to Asia and Bithynia, but the Holy Spirit said no. What they wanted was overridden by what God wanted. And so the Spirit sent them to a place which they had never expected to go—to Macedonia.

How often is it that we have our plans of what we think should happen to us. Whether it is as individuals on our journey with our Lord, or whether it is as a wider Church. We have our designs and plans on what we think should happen in our lives. Now don’t get me wrong, it is okay for people to ask God for things, to have a vision for the future, to have desires about what could happen in life. The problem is, however, when people expect to have all their these things to be met! In other words, God has to conform to our will and do what we want him to.

It is a reality that we all have to live with the fact that although we have plans about our lives, life so often does not go as we plan it. God’s plan and his designs upon our lives are often not what we want or hope for. I have heard a saying that goes: ‘Man proposes, but God disposes.’ What you and I propose to be our path in life may not be what God disposes to happen to us

When God intervenes in our plans for life, as he often does, it causes us a problem. It forces us to wrestle with this question: what do we do when God takes us along another road upon which we had not planned to travel, or perhaps don’t want to go down? To be honest many have the tendency to become resentful and bitter. We may think to ourselves: “How could this have happened? How could my hopes be so shattered? We even become angry with and resentful of God, though not many would admit to this. We may resent that he hasn’t given us our heart’s desire, particularly if we have been faithful Christians and tried to do the right thing. Too often Christians get themselves stirred up because God is not complying with their design for their lives.

The truth is that God is not our social secretary, arranging the circumstances of our lives as we direct him to. As much as we would like to you and I can’t just dictate to him our future and expect him to do what we want. To do this is nothing less than idolatry! It is putting ourselves above him. And if we are going to be really honest, this presumption by us deserves on the judgment from God, because it is breaking the first commandment.

The reality is that God does his will upon us even when it conflicts with our will. But it is here that the good news, needs to be heard by us. God’s will, unlike ours, is good and gracious.  God pours upon us his goodness. God lavishes upon us his grace! This grace comes, first of all, as forgiveness to those who repent of their sinful idolatry. This grace comes to us because of the one who in the garden prayed, ‘not my will, but your will be done.” This grace comes to you and me because of the Servant of the Lord who submitted to the will of the Lord to crush him. Indeed, he was crushed by the weight of the judgment upon our rebellious idolatry. He went to the place where we should go, to hell itself.  But it is from here that Jesus Christ also declared his victory over sin and death, a victory which he now shares with us, as we celebrate this Easter season, and will celebrate forever!

But this is not the only way that God gives us his grace. He does so by blessing us wherever he sends us, even if it is to where we don’t wish to go. This is precisely what happened to Paul in today’s reading. God closed doors in Asia and opened up another. Paul instead of going to Asia went to Philippi in Macedonia. There the Holy Spirit used Paul as a messenger to bring the Gospel to people who had never heard it before. First Lydia was converted, then her household, then a jailer in Philippi. And from this action, over centuries, much of the continent of Europe was came to believe in Jesus Christ! And from Europe the Gospel mission spread throughout the world, including to us here today in Australia. It all happened because Paul went not to where he wanted to go, but to where God sent him.

God gives us his grace to bless us wherever he leads us in life and also to use us to bring his blessing to others. Time and time again throughout the history, God has been redirecting the paths of his people, sending them where they had not planned to go, and using them greatly in these unintended places, and through unintended circumstances in their lives. For example, William Carey sought to go to Polynesia to bring the Gospel message, but God redirected his path to India. David Livingstone intended to do mission work in China, but God redirected him to Africa.

These are two examples of many. In each of these cases, God used these them to carry out his will in powerful ways, bringing the life-giving Gospel to myriads of people. But this happened in places and among people these they initially did not expect to visit or intend to live among. But his is not just about missionaries. The fact is that God gives his grace to each of us and works through each of us wherever we are, wherever he has placed us. And he works his grace in and through us through whatever circumstances we are in.

As you think about where you are in your life with God, I encourage you to remember that it is God’s will to be good and gracious to you. Wherever you are and whatever is happening in your life, his grace will sustain you and his grace will strengthen you and also be delivered through you. He is at work in your life, so you can trust his grace.