Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Know God - Our Invisible Friend

Preached on Pentecost Sunday, May 14, 2015

Scripture readings: John 15:26-16:15; Acts 2:1-37

After worship a pastor was greeting his people, and one of the members shook his hand and she told him, “Pastor that was a very good sermon.” And he told her, “For that I will have to give the credit to the Holy Spirit.” And she said, “Well it wasn’t that good.”
But that is exactly how it works.
White Bluffs on the Columbia River
Near Hanford Reservation, WA
April 2015
The friends of Jesus were filled with grief because Jesus told them that he was going away (John 16:5-6), and they were afraid because they read, between the lines, a message they didn’t want to be true. Jesus was going away by dying on the cross and he was leaving them in charge of the mission of the kingdom of God. Their job would be to represent Jesus and to win the world for Jesus as the King of the world.
This filled them with grief. No matter how much time Jesus had spent with them, showing them who he was and teaching them what he wanted them to do and to be, Jesus was always better at everything than they were. They were only eager to represent Jesus when Jesus was right there with them (to represent himself).
But that was going to change; or that is what they thought. They didn’t understand what Jesus was saying about the Holy Spirit making Jesus present in the world in a new way; especially through them.
But they didn’t understand most things. They didn’t understand the connection Jesus was making between his going away and his purpose of dying and rising from the dead. They didn’t understand how Jesus dying and rising from the dead could be connected with him being king.
The Holy Spirit could enable them to understand Jesus, and the Spirit could empower them as the friends of Jesus. But the Spirit could only do that if Jesus actually did go away in some sense. The Spirit could only help them understand if Jesus actually died and rose from the dead.
Jesus’ dying and rising from the dead was necessary to make them into a new creation; to make it possible for them to be born into a new life from God. Jesus had to complete his mission in order to give the Holy Spirit the necessary material to build their new lives. Jesus had to complete his mission in order to give his friends everything that was his to give them.
The friends of Jesus needed to die and rise from their old life, So Jesus needed to do it first, so that they could catch it from him.
The old saying was never true. The old saying is, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” In anything that matters, this has never been true. In teaching, you can only give what is truly yours to give.
When Jesus gave his death and his resurrection to the Holy Spirit, then the Spirit could give it to the friends of Jesus, and they would have it in them. They would be able both to do and to teach
There are those powerful words about God’s motivation and purpose that we can read in the third chapter of John. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
There is a special way that God came down to live in such a world as ours. We belong to a world where it is typical not to believe him and not to receive him. This is as true now as it was when God came down in Jesus.
In Jesus we see this special way that God lived among us; and because Jesus has died for our sins, and because he has risen from the dead, we receive a new life like his. We receive his special way to live. We can love a loveless world. We can be faithful in an unfaithful world.
We can give evidence for Jesus, because the Holy Spirit enables us. The Holy Spirit takes everything that belongs to the Father and to the Son and makes it known to us.
So we can live the ways of Jesus. We can love each other, and that is the secret of success.
You know what this means. If we can truly love each other as Jesus loves us, then we can love anybody. That’s a tall order. Think of it. If we can truly love each other as Jesus loves us, then we can love anybody; and we can give evidence for Jesus, because the Holy Spirit has hovered over the creation of a whole new way of life in us.
In a way, the Father is God ruling, the Son is God serving, and the Holy Spirit is God sharing. When various translations of the Bible translate the very strange word that Jesus used to describe the Holy Spirit, it comes out as Comforter, Counselor, Advocate, Helper, and Friend. The word means “one called alongside”. Who can you call to be all these things in your time of need: Comforter, Counselor, Advocate, Helper? A true friend can be all of this.
A friend will also speak up for you. The Spirit is the friend who speaks up for Jesus. We are friends of Jesus and speaking up for him is part of that.
Jesus said that the Spirit would, “testify about me.” (John 26) The Holy Spirit is the speaking part of God who speaks invisibly and inaudibly to the heart and to the conscience.
The Holy Spirit testifies, but this testimony is more than a statement. Testimony, here, means to give evidence. The word translated as “testify” can also mean to be a martyr. In fact our word “martyr” has its root in that word.
“Testifying” means “giving evidence”. It even means “being the evidence”, no matter what.
The crowd in Jerusalem (on the day of Pentecost) was focused on the behavior of the disciples more than they were on the message (even though the disciples were full of the Holy Spirit). Peter (inspired by the Holy Spirit) made the case for their strange behavior being the evidence of Jesus. “This Jesus…has poured out what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:32-33)
Ever since those days, some of the greatest work of Jesus is what others see and hear in us through the work of the Holy Spirit. We called to be the evidence that “God so loves the world”.
“Those who can, do.” The Holy Spirit shares the fullness of Jesus with us; so, if we are Jesus’ friends, his fullness is always lurking somewhere in us. It’s true that Jesus always does it better, but that doesn’t matter. The fact that we are obviously not up to the quality of Jesus, but that we are people who are seeking to live the life of Jesus, anyway, may actually be very good evidence. We are learning to be what we are not, instead of pretending to be what we are not.
That is what makes a difference. That will testify.
The Holy Spirit speaks to the world on behalf of Jesus. The Spirit shows the beauty of Jesus. The Spirit asks the inner consciences of the people of this world how it can possibly be that they are able to reject such beauty. The Spirit asks the world why it doesn’t prefer the kingdom of the cross when that kingdom shows up the world, as it is, every time.
Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would convict the world of guilt in regard to sin….because men do not believe in me.” (John 16:8-9) We don’t have to say much about guilt and sin in order to give the right testimony about Jesus. We can give the right testimony by talking about what we love about goodness, because we learn about goodness from Jesus.
He has taught us about goodness by dying for us to give us his goodness. If we live the goodness of Jesus and if we are not afraid to talk about it, the Holy Spirit will convict the world of guilt and sin.
Jesus mostly talked about sin to the people who thought they had it all together: the people who thought they were better than others. When Jesus told the woman who was caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more,” it was only after he had saved her life, and told her that he didn’t condemn her.
Essentially Jesus testified about sin by forgiving it. This is what made people mad. This is what made people hate Jesus. The people who knew they were sinners didn’t hate Jesus or his testimony. I want to give that kind of evidence. I want my testimony to be like Jesus.
Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of guilt with regard to righteousness….because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer.” (John 16:8, 10) The words, “I am going to the Father” refer to his crucifixion and resurrection. These give us righteousness as grace, as forgiveness, and as a gift. If we live our lives as a response to grace, and forgiveness; and if we live our lives as if they were the gift of God (God-centered and not self-righteous); then the Holy Spirit will give evidence alongside us about the right kind of righteousness.
Jesus said that the Holy Spirit “will convict the world of guilt… in regard to judgment….because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” The cross and the resurrection condemned the Devil and his influence on the selfishness and power-seeking of this world.
The cross and the resurrection judge this world because they are stronger than this world. This world and the prince of this world have never been able to overcome the cross and the resurrection, or the people whose lives have been changed by Jesus.
The people of the kingdom of Christ keep going on and on and they keep giving evidence; if they don’t lose heart or go astray. The Holy Spirit drives this home to the consciences of the people who have not seen it before.
One of the ways that the Holy Spirit speaks to us (in a way that keeps us from getting the message wrong) is through the Bible: the Scriptures. Jesus said, “The Counselor, 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.” (John 14:26) The Holy Spirit guarded the memories and the thoughts of the disciples and those who listened to them. The Spirit guarded their hearts and minds so that they could record what Jesus said, and what Jesus did, and the reasons behind it.
When we read the Scriptures we read inspired messages from long ago. But the Holy Spirit keeps on working. The Spirit is with us forever, and the Spirit speaks alongside the Scriptures, and within the Scriptures, so that the message goes into our hearts, and our consciences. When the Spirit reminds us of something it becomes like a voice that we cannot ignore except at our own peril.
Most of all the Holy Spirit reminds us that the message is not about a lot of things. The message is not really about information; and it isn’t about techniques, and methods. The message is always about Jesus, and what Jesus said and did. The center of the message is the life, and the death, and the resurrection of Jesus, and the life that comes from him.
Jesus once called the Holy Spirit “Another Counselor”. He said, “I will ask the Father, and he will send you another Counselor to be with you forever.” (John 14:16)
Jesus was the first Counselor the disciples had known. Jesus would die and rise to send another Counselor, the Holy Spirit. The word for Counselor could be translated as “friend”.
In all his bloody and resurrected majesty, Jesus is our friend. The Holy Spirit is also our friend. Friends comfort, and counsel, and help. Friends change us.
Jesus is our servant-Lord who changes us and we become new people. The Holy Spirit is our sharing-Lord. The Holy Spirit may seem like a power that we can learn to harness: a blessing machine. But even though the Holy Spirit is called “the power from on high” (Luke 24:49) the Holy Spirit is not a power, but a person.
The Holy Spirit is a friend, and we never use our friends. We listen to them. We team up with them, but we never use them, and we never study methods to get more out of them. Maybe we could study methods to give more to them. Our friends are our partners.
This partner Spirit is a friend of Jesus: such a good friend that he never gives us anything except to serve as a living connection with Jesus. Jesus (and all that he is, and all that he has done) is present with us through the friendship of the Holy Spirit.

That is how we know God. That is how the world can know God through us.

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