Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Fire of God Unleashed



Pentecost +C      15, May 2016     The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Shavu´ot

Today is Pentecost!  It is 50 days since Easter.  It is the Jewish Feast of Weeks (or Shavu´ot)Cseven weeks of seven days since Passover.  50 days after the first-fruits ceremony.  On this day the Jews celebrated the first fruits of their cropsBthe giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses (Torah)Cand on this day the Church of Jesus Christ as we know it today was born.  St. Luke even places it in the same sequence as the birth of IHS in his Gospel so that the birth of the Church in the Book of Acts parallels the birth of IHS in Luke.

Pentecost is the resurrection poured out on, shared with, infused into the life of the Church. Why did IHS go through all of thisCincarnation, teaching, suffering, dying, and resurrection anyway? Have you ever really wondered why? The answer isCto pour out the Holy Spirit upon the Church. To give us that joy, that peace, that ability to persevere. The Holy Spirit!  That wonderful, wonderful, the fearful, the often seemingly elusive, often forgotten or ignored member of the Holy Trinity! In Genesis 1 CAthe Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters@. 

The prophet Isaiah (32:15) promised that the Spirit would be poured out from on high 700 years previously! The prophet Joel (2:28-29)  saidCAafterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people, your sons and daughters will prophecy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.@  RememberCJoel lived 800 years before this happened!  Why?  Why all of this fuss?

Remember David=s prayer in Psalm 51?  ATake not thy Holy Spirit from me!@ In ancient times, before Christ, the Spirit would come for special purposes to a person and then leave. He would stay with anointed leaders as long as they stayed in God=s willCPerhaps you remember that the Holy  Spirit left King Saul. On this day after IHS had previously Aordained@Cgiven authority of the Spirit to the disciples (today=s Gospel readings)Cthey are waiting for Athe power from on high@. They were like cars without gasolineClight bulbs with no electricityCThey were believers but unable to do anything until God gave the Holy Spirit 

What was this Coming of the Holy Spirit like?  It was dramatic!  - First there was a sound of windCThe same breath that saidCALet there be@ and the world came into being.  The powerful creative breath of the Spirit of God that IHS saidCAgoes where it wills and you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.@ 

Then there was a flame of fire.  It divides and takes the shape of tonguesCone resting on each person in that Upper Room. God sharing the fire of His Spirit with them and usCto make us preachers of His wordCto share with othersCand tell of IHSBX.   For the disciples, IHS who they had known as a person was suddenly living inside of their souls.  He was really with them. As the old protestant hymn saysCAyou ask me how I know He lives?  He lives within my heart.@

To experience the Holy Spirit is the purpose, power, and realization of what it means to be a Christian.  The covenant made with each of us at Baptism and Confirmation is about the HS!  In fact no sacrament exists without the Holy Spirit!  One writer said we have it backwards. 

We think Father, Son, and Holy SpiritCAbut of the three the Spirit is the most discernible member@.  We experience the Holy Spirit!  You can feel the Spirit=s presence in a company of real believers.  It is the Holy Spirit that opens the Gospel to us!. Long before theologies of IHS or the Trinity were constructed the Holy Spirit made the Church alive!

You can see the effects of the Holy Spirit. The fire of the Holy spirit burns away all that is in us that is not IHS!  The Spirit is  like a refining fire that leaves gold behind in the crucible of God.  Sometimes that fire is the trials and difficulties we experience.  Sometimes it is the fire that sets us free to be the loving, giving, images of Jesus Christ that  is God=s purpose for every Christian. The most undeniable test that we have been baptized in the Spirit=s fire is a deepened capacity to loveC that is THE TEST PAR EXCEL LANCE!  Ever noticed how many times IHS said to love our enemies?  When the Spirit is in control when we are relying on God and not our own control, then love flows from us, IHS= love, God=s love becomes our love. Sometimes tragically, in the Church, even in this Church, there are those who are closed to the Holy Spirit, who will not respond to his prompting, who will not allow Jesus Christ to live out through them or perhaps have never received him. 

How is this evidenced?  Their lack of joy.  Their lack of obedience to the Word of God.  Their critical attitudes toward others, their need to be in control  and an unrelenting self focus.  In other words, these people who call themselves Christians are cut off from Christ and the joy of the Lord which is our strength! No wonder they don=t Aget@ what the hullabaloo is all about!  In other words, for the Christian, it is not how much of the Holy Spirit do you have, but how much of you does the Holy Spirit have? A pastor said: A you believe as much of the Bible as you live.@.  

Today is the day that God made the Church, that institution that I Timothy 3:15 says is Athe church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.@  The Church is a spiritual organism: it is not the Lions= Club, a private social club or our own little show.  We are about business much more important than those things.  We are about business much more important than our wants, our possessions or even the myriad of things our culture tells us are THE THING for us to be killing ourselves to be involved in. 

That is why it is so tragic when the Church behaves just like the world.  When Christians shut out the Holy Spirit. I think sometimes people think I=m just being difficult or crazy when I tell them to do things like, Aspeak the truth in love@ or not to gossip or be critical of people, when I tell them to forgive people 70 times 7 as Jesus commands. Why do I do this?  Because not to do such  is a DEATH SENTENCE on the Church and quite frankly on your life with God.  When we behave in these ways, we keep people from finding Christ, and we damn both ourselves and them!   You don=t have to believe me, believe God!  I promise you!  For Churches who give into the Devil and allow him to strangle the Holy Spirit to death, God will write a death sentence over those Churches. The US is covered with them. Yes, Churches DIE and CLOSE forever!

This is a wonderful Church full of many, many wonderful people.  God loves you and I love you, but this challenge to us strikes to the core. Will we allow Jesus Christ to live through us by the Holy Spirit?  Do we care? Or is this just an exercise in religious activity to make us somehow feel good about ourselves?  If we will,  the potential for our growth, our enthusiasm, our revenues and our future is as positive as is our God.  If we will not, if we go our own way of pettiness, then  God will write over us that word we read in the book of  first Samuel AIcabod@ the glory is departed.
There is no substitute for the true Spirit of God.  This morning if you have never asked to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit, you may do so simply by saying, ACome Holy Spirit, baptize me in your fire, fill me with your presence and take control of my life.@  You may pray to receive the Seven Gifts: Awisdom, understanding, counsel and knowledge, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord@  or the fruits: the fruit of the Spirit: A love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self‑control@  (Galatians 5:22) Ask, and you will receive.  Or perhaps you should once again invite Jesus Christ to come into your life as Savior and Lord.  I close with these words from the book of Hebrews describing the Church and our part in it:

ABut you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly,   to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect,  to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.   See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? ...Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,  for our "God is a consuming fire."  Hebrews 12:22-29.

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