Why did the Holy Spirit come?

Today we celebrate Pentecost, that ancient Jewish festival, 50 days after Passover, when the people of God celebrate that God keeps His promises, that His covenant is true, and that He does provide all that we need. 

And, as Christians, today we celebrate one very particular Feast of Pentecost, one that followed one very particular Passover.  50 days after Jesus – the true Lamb of God, that once true, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice was slain once and for all for the sin of the world, on that Great Passover we call Easter, we then had the Great Pentecost. 

Going back to the time of Moses, Passover was about salvation and Pentecost was about God’s faithfulness. And that’s still true today for all who put their faith in Jesus Christ: God does keep His promises; His covenant is true; and yes, God really does and will provide all that we need.

And how does He show that?  By sending God the Holy Spirit, not just to a select few, not just to the chosen and anointed king or the prophets like under the Old Covenant.  No, by doing just as he promised in Jeremiah 31, pouring out His Spirit on all who are willing to be His people, and allow Him to truly be their God.

This day, Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, the beginning of the spread of the Gospel to all peoples, tribes, languages, and nations, is all about God keeping His promises, as God becomes present in the every believer by the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit is Essential

Belief in the Holy Spirit is essential to what it means to be a Christian.

…But, I think it’s also fair to say that, for many of us, we’re not sure who God the Holy Spirit is, or what He’s all about. 

We know there are spiritual gifts, we know sometimes there are great revivals when all the people in a place sense the Holy Spirit in their presence, we know some people pray in tongues or feel God’s special anointing as they pray to know God’s will; we also know some false teachers in the Church today try to lead people astray with clever-sounding lines like “the Spirit is doing a new thing”, as though God’s plan wasn’t established from before the foundation of the world..

…so many good sermons in there, but they are all sermons for another day.

Because the fundamental question that you and I need to be able to answer as apprentices and ambassadors of Christ is this: why did the Holy Spirit come?

So let me ask you – because you arethe witnesses that Christ Himself has called to go and bring the good news to your friends and your neighbour and that co-worker who really drives you nuts, because you’re the one with that calling on your life, right?  Amen?

So why did the Holy Spirit come? 
Do we ourselves know the story well enough that we can tell it to another?

Well, for those of us who need a refresher, the good news is that, scripture and the life of Jesus make the answers clear.

The Holy Spirit does many things in our lives, He gives gifts, He calls, He guides and directs, He strengthens, He rebukes, He comforts, He empowers, but each and every one of these can be summarized in this one simple truth: The Holy Spirit makes us truly alive in Jesus.

Not that the Holy Spirit makes us alive in the bodily sense – no, there are plenty of people who are living and breathing without the Holy Spirit, and all of us will breath our last as the wages of live in a sinful world are paid and we stand before the judgement seat.

But as we know from scripture, a person can be living and breathing, and yet they find themselves dead in their sin, powerless to earn forgiveness, powerless on their own to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. 

But, my friends, the message of Pentecost is this: the Holy Spirit makes us truly alive in Jesus.

Sometimes we need to think about “How”

Our church calendar is organized to help us recognize this fact: after all, Pentecost is an ancient Jewish feast, always on that 50th day after Passover.  That’s on purpose, because the sending of the Holy Spirit is directly connected to the events of Holy Week. 

Why did the Holy Spirit come?  To make us truly alive.
But how?  By applying the work of Christ on Good Friday and Easter to our lives today.  That’s how!

Have you thought about that before?  How does the work of one man on a cross two thousand years ago actually make a difference in your life here and now?  How does the victory of one man over the grave at Easter get applied to you and lead you to eternal life?

It’s a thing that many life-long Christians take for granted and never pause to think about, but if you start doing your God-given work of sharing your faith with your neighbours, you’ll find that it’s only logical that people want to know how

And the answer, of course, is Pentecost: that, after we call on Christ as Lord, the Holy Spirit comes into each of us who are willing, and when our body and soul become infused with the Holy Spirit of God, then we become truly alive.  That’s how we share in the risen life of Jesus.  That’s how it’s no longer about “me”, but “Christ in me”.

Let’s walk through that, shall we?

Let’s pretend your neighbour comes to your house.  They’ve been watching and wondering for years.  They know there’s something different about you, that you go to church, and you have a hope and a faith that sustains you through the hardest of times.  And unbeknownst to you, the Holy Spirit has been knocking on the door of their heart, and now here they are, knocking on your door (knock, knock, knock).  They come in, you pour up a cup of tea, and here they are, out of the blue asking you “you know, your faith seems so much more real than the religion I learned back in school.  I was going to go to church, but you know, I just can’t get past the cruelty of an innocent man dying such a horrendous death.  I just don’t get it”.

Now, if this were me, this is where my stomach flips and I wish I could hide away… because, you might not know this, but I’m actually incredibly shy and nervous about speaking to anyone about anything (yes, I’m the sort of guy who sits and stares at the phone for 15 minutes to get the courage to pick it up and dial a number).

But, also for me, this is when I’ve learned to feel – actually feel – the Holy Spirit.  This is when I physically feel a tingle on my neck, a tingle that tells me: ‘you have an opportunity.  Now, are you going to be faithful?’ 

It can happen to you, too, a tingle, or a feeling in your gut, where God is saying “will you be faithful”.

So, imagine with me, your friend is there, sitting at your table with a cup of tea, and they brought up faith all out of nowhere.  They’ve been thinking about Christianity, but like they said “I just don’t get it”.

Now, you have a choice, don’t you. 

Option A: You can say, yes, well, it’s all hard to understand, you should call the minister.  What do you think about that? (I wish I had a buzzer for the wrong answer sound)

Option B: You can say, “yes my dear, it’s hard to understand, but it’s all ok, just think positive and be true to yourself because all paths lead to God”.  (anyone got that buzzer?)

Or, Option C: You can, very simply, use the events of Jesus’ life, from Holy Week to Pentecost, to explain how it is that the events of long ago change lives from then until now.

It might go like this:

(and for me, this is when I feel that tingle again, a sort of ‘push in the right direction’ from the Holy Spirit within).

Start with Good Friday: The crucifixion was a terrible thing, and the world was a violent place, the Romans crucified tens of thousands of people.  But the reason Jesus had to die is so He could do what we could never do for ourselves. 

A guilty person can’t undo their guilt.  No amount of money or time or making amends can undo the guilt.  No human could make themselves right with God, it takes God coming and doing that for us.

Then look to Easter:  It’s only because Jesus was an innocent man and fully God that his death wasn’t a defeat, it was a victory!  Death wanted to hold him down, but he’s alive forevermore.  He gives us hope for life beyond the grave.  The Bible calls him the “second Adam”, meaning he gives humanity a fresh start, he shows us humanity as it was originally intended, thriving with abundant life, not weighed down by death and decay.

Then look to the Ascension: My faith is not just a spiritual thing.  Positive thinking only gets us so far, as do other religions, because we’re not just souls stuck in a body.  Our bodies are who we are, we are physical.  We can’t just escape into our minds.  I have hope because, as ridiculous as it sounds, Jesus returned to heaven with his risen body to prepare a place for me, and I don’t fully understand all of that, but I know God will restore all things and make them new, and that means there is life beyond the grave.

And then Pentecost holds it all together: But for here and now, as you know, life can be a mess.  My life hasn’t been all rosy, I’ve messed up, I’ve got struggles and habits I can’t break, and life gets me down: people are sick, and we’re tired and exhausted, and sometimes the world looks like it’s going to hell in a handbasket.  But, I just trust that God says I don’t need to fix it myself.  The whole point of Good Friday is that Jesus did what I can’t do for myself.  A little bandage or a few good deeds can’t fix what’s wrong with us, we need new life, a fresh start.  I don’t know how it all works, but what I do know is that my life changed when it stopped being about me, my trying to be strong, my hiding from things, my body dealing with sickness, my soul and mind trying to process what happened in my life, when it stopped being about me, me, me, and instead, when it started to be about “we”.  God, and me, and all the other people in my church family – what a crazy bunch, and some you’d never expect to be hanging around with in a million years! – but everything changed when it stopped being about me, and when I let God come in and make it about “we” instead.  When bad things happen, I know it’s out of my control, so I bring it to God and to my church family, and I know that if Jesus can overcome death and make all things new, then whatever the mess my life is, it’s no match for him. 

The Holy Spirit at work in you… even today!

And my friends, if this is you at your dining room table, and your friend knocked on your door and brought this up on their own, you have a choice. 

Did Jesus do on the cross what you could never do for yourself?

Have your sins been forgiven? 

Did Jesus conquer death and the grave and rise to eternal life?

Is Jesus gone to prepare a place for you?

Is the Holy Spirit at work in you, to make you fully alive,
to let you share in that new life of Jesus?

Well, my friends, the best way you can grow into that new life, and take it from me, is to take a deep breath, get over that fear or shyness, and when you have an opportunity, when you feel that tingle, when you experience that weird thing that you now know is the Holy Spirit pushing you… go for it

Don’t take option A and leave it to the minister.  Don’t take option B, denying your faith and following the ways of the world.  No, if God can conquer the grave and forgive your sin, and make all things new, don’t you think He can give you the words to say to your neighbour over a cup of tea?  Of course he can!  …God can, but will you let him?

The Holy Spirit’s Gifts: Awareness, Attunement, Ability

Come, Holy Ghost, who inspires our souls with your celestial brightness; teach us to know the Father and transform us into the image of the Son, in whose name we pray. Amen.

As Christians, as those faithful people of the New Covenant living after Pentecost, we believe and we know that God the Holy Spirit is with us and in us.  We believe and we know that the Holy Spirit is – as Jesus promised – our “Helper”.

That’s part of our core doctrine, one of those things we all agree to believe if we want to call ourselves Christians. 

But what does it mean to say that the Holy Spirit is your helper

If someone who was curious about the faith asked you, maybe someone whose parents never brought them to Sunday School, or someone who showed up at GriefShare or Alpha and started to explore these things for the first time, how would you explain what it means to have the Holy Spirit as your helper?

And, if it’s true that the Holy Spirit is not just with, but is actually in you – right now – could it be that you actually have access to more divine help than you realize?

What does it means to say that the Holy Spirit is your helper?

I want to suggest three ways, three words that all start with the letter ‘A’ to help us remember exactly how the Holy Spirit is at work inside of you, even here this morning.

And those words are Awareness, Attunement, and Ability


Throughout scripture, the biggest work of the Holy Spirit is making God’s people aware of their situation.  Whether it’s the Spirit inspiring prophets to open people’s eyes to the path they’re on, whether it’s the Spirit enlightening kings to accomplish what God has in store for his people, or whether it’s the Spirit at work in the Apostles to give them the words to say to bring the message of hope and healing and forgiveness in Jesus to many different peoples and nations and cultures, the constant thing the Holy Spirit is doing in you is making you aware of your situation, from God’s perspective.

You know, the human mind is a wonderful thing.  As the Bible says, we really are fearfully and wonderfully made: we have incredible power to shape the world around us, but the same hands and the same tongue that can create and build something beautiful can also be used to tear down and destroy.

But even the sharpest human mind can never be fully aware of our surroundings or the effects of our actions.  Our mind is dependent on our senses, and that’s where we are limited.  I only have one set of eyes – I can’t see all sides of a situation; and like it or not, my senses are often clouded.  Relationships, desires, passions, hurts, past failures, scars, lessons “learned the hard way” are like lenses that block our senses.  It’s like coming inside with your sunglasses still on and instinctively reaching over to turn on the lights.  Our minds are only as good as the information coming in, but the shields and scars and coping strategies that we put on to make our way through the world really do prevent us from seeing things as they really are.

This is where the Holy Spirit helps us – but only if we’re willing to listen.

We believe that, right here, right now, the Holy Spirit is in us, making us aware of the bigger picture; making us aware of how things really are from God’s perspective.

…ok, so that all sounds nice, but how does this “Awareness” actually help us? 

The Holy Spirit is at work in you when you have a great plan to put someone in their place, when you have a great plan (at least from your perspective) to show how you’re right and someone else is wrong… and then you get that feeling in your gut.  That feeling that makes you say “darn” (or perhaps something more colourful), that feeling that puts you in your place; that feeling that doesn’t come from your mind, and more often than not is the furthest thing from what your mind wants; that feeling that says, “hold on now, there’s more to the story.  Yeah, what they did was wrong, yes you’re right – at least partially.  But there’s a broken person behind that action, a person that God wants to build up, a person that enough people have already tried to tear down.  …So shut your mouth and say your prayers”.

That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.  To bring that awareness, and that stinging, frustrating gut feeling that you need to open your eyes, shut your mouth, get over yourself, and say your prayers. 

Have you ever thought about the work of the Holy Spirit in those terms?  You know, speaking in tongues might be pretty flashy, or having a tongue of fire appear over your head would be pretty cool, but I’m thankful for the Holy Spirit dwelling within me to say “…shut up, Alex.  There’s more to the story.  See things from God’s perspective.  See the brokenness in that person’s action… and see the brokenness in your reaction, so now get over yourself and trust in God.”  That’s the help of the Holy Spirit – the gift of Awareness of how things really are.


The next way the Holy Spirit helps us is what I call “Attunement”.

Now if you know anything at all about music, you know the importance of being in tune.  You can be a star musician, you can have the best technique, the best instrument, the greatest skill, but if the strings aren’t in tune, it’s never going to turn out the way it was supposed to.

But, beyond that, an engineer would tell you that poor tuning is actually destructive.  If you build a bridge and you don’t take the vibration of the cables into account, what’s going to happen when a strong wind blows?  Same thing with a skyscraper or designing a car or anything else. 

All the beautiful sounds on earth are created by vibrations – but when things aren’t well-tuned, vibrations can bring down a building or a bridge, they become not just destructive, but self-destructive.

So how does the Holy Spirit help us with being attuned to God?

Well, remember as we read through the Old Testament, and even as we read through the Gospels, all the countless, countless times when people are heading in the wrong direction, missing the point, headed for their own destruction, making their bad situation worse than it was before, and we shake our heads and say “why are they so stubborn?”. 

…and then, maybe, we look at our own lives and wonder the same thing.

A big part of the Holy Spirit’s work is to be, more or less, a sort of built-in tuner.  As we gain awareness of how things really are, from God’s perspective, He also calls us to tune in to His will.  It’s that voice of God within that says “trust me to work all things together for good; come and be part of it, don’t get in my way”. 

And that’s a tall order.  God’s ways are not our ways, and when we look back and see God’s wisdom at work, it’s rarely the way any rational human would have guessed – I mean really, it’s Pentecost; we’re here today because God sent out some Galilean fishermen to change the world!  Not a great plan by human standards.  And, like it or not, God wants to use a couple of dozen, mostly grey-haired people in this room to bring hope and healing to Fort Smith.  Again, not a great plan by human standards.  But, if we allow the Holy Spirit within us to tune us in, when the wind of God blows, we’ll work together to create the most beautiful harmony.

That’s the attunement that the Holy Spirit provides, dwelling within us to point us and call us to tune in to God’s will, to align our own wills with His, so that rather than making a dangerous or destructive dissonance, we’re working with God to create something beyond what we can ask or imagine.

And when that happens, when we have Awareness and Attunement with God’s will, the Holy Spirit brings…


I’ve known people who’ve been really frustrated.  They want the fruit of the Spirit, they pray for the fruit of the Spirit, asking God for joy and peace, for love and kindness and gentleness and self-control.  I’ve known people who have earnestly offered themselves to be pastors and teachers and evangelists… but they hadn’t opened their eyes to that awareness that the Holy Spirit brings, and their own will wasn’t attuned to God’s, so of course a loving God wouldn’t say yes to their prayers, since they’d only end up worse off than they were before.

But when we’re aware and attuned with God, that’s when he gives us the ability to rise to the occasion.  And sometimes it’s dramatic – there are those in this room who have seen real miracles in their lives.  But often it’s much more mundane.  It’s me, having a terrible speech impediment, stuttering and being too shy to speak, to the point where half of my teachers going through school never heard my voice. 

I was a musical kid, but ask my mother, how many times did I enter the music festival or be set to play in a year-end recital, only to be crippled by fear and an upset stomach.  But when I stepped up to lead the church in singing, when I became aware of a real need and tuned myself in to God’s will, even as a child of 12, that fear went away.  God gave the ability. 

I would actually skip school when there was public speaking to be done.  But when God, through the Church, said ‘I’m calling you to ordained ministry’, and I tuned in and said ‘I don’t know about this, but if it’s God’s will, then ok’, suddenly the fear was gone.

…And you know what?  In just the three years I’ve been here, there are at least a half a dozen others in this room who have had the same experience.  When we’re aware, when we’re attuned, God will give the ability to do more than we asked or imagined, and all for his glory.

So on this feast of Pentecost, store away those three “A”s.  If you’ve been baptized and have faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit is already in you… let him make you aware of how things are from God’s perspective; let him tune you in to God’s will; and then don’t be surprised when God gives the ability to do the work you’ve been given to do. 

To God be the glory, now and forevermore.  Amen.

Life in the Spirit: “They must be drunk!”

Read Acts 2.

Do you remember the first time the Bible really made you think?

The first time you were sitting in church, following along, and then something in the reading really catches you off-guard, makes you say “huh, what’s that about?”, and you go home thinking about it, or looking it up, or texting your priest to say “what’s up with that reading today?” (and, seriously, I don’t know any priest who doesn’t get excited by that kind of call or text!).

I remember the first time that happened to me.

I was 10.  Me and my best friend from school, Adam, were the servers at communion, sitting up at the front of the church in our white robes, doing our best to sit still and look like we were paying attention so that our moms wouldn’t give us a hard time after church. 

And it was Pentecost, like it is today.  And the reading, like today, was from Acts 2.  I remember it so clearly: we were sitting there, following along with the lesson printed in the bulletin, since one of us had to get the cross ready for the procession at the Gospel before the lesson was over.  And then we got to those most remarkable Bible verses: Acts 2, verse 13: “And some people made fun of them and said, “they have had too much wine”. 

For us 10-year-old boys, that verse caught our attention.  Eyes open wide, glancing at each other like “did you hear that?”.  They’re talking about having too much wine – in church!  With that wonderfully immature humour that little boys have, it struck us as pretty funny.  Sure, you know, our parents drink wine on Friday night when they’re playing cards and we’re watching Star Wars and playing Lego downstairs… but that’s not something they talk about on Sunday morning! 

And then, with all of that racing through our minds, it was followed with that amazing (but rarely quoted) verse of scripture, Acts 2:15: St. Peter stands up and says, “these people aren’t drunk, it’s only nine in the morning!”.

That one struck Adam as funny as he let out a little “ha!” and the woman reading – one of the, let’s say, more experienced and more stern Sunday School teachers – swivelled around to look at him; and let’s just say that I was the sort of 10-year-old who might be described as giggly, as her spinning around like an owl made me burst out in laughter.

Needless to say, we both got a good talking-to from our moms that morning.

But those verses stuck with me, nearly two and a half decades later.

The story of Pentecost is the day when God does something in the lives of the followers of Jesus that causes the rest of the world to look at them and say “you’re drunk!”, there’s no other explanation.  To which Peter, always one who had a certain way with words, responds, “we’re not drunk… it’s only 9am!”.

Now of course, while scripture affirms that wine and beer are gifts from God to make the heart glad, we’ll also agree with scripture that drunkenness – putting aside wisdom and sober-mindedness and making yourself powerless to worldly passions – is a problem, particularly when it becomes a tool used by pain and hurt and shame to wear in an easy path to destruction.  That’s certainly another topic, one we’ll talk about another day.

But today, I want to think about that reaction: when the whole world looks at the followers of Jesus and simply can’t figure it out; they look at what God is doing in the lives of his people and say, “what’s going on here?  This makes no sense.  Who would live like this?  Who would act like this?  They must be drunk!”.

Just imagine a church where the way of life that God inspired in us was so remarkably different than the ways of the world that people looked at us, at the way we live, and at the way we love and serve one another and are simply astonished, scratching their heads, and saying “what’s going on here!?”, “why are these people acting this way?”.

The Work of the Spirit.

As we read in today’s Gospel, before Jesus’ crucifixion, he explains to them that, just as He and the Father are one and the Father sent the Son, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, and the Son sends the Spirit to enlighten and guide those who follow Jesus on the path of life.[1]

The Spirit, translated in English as our Advocate and our Helper, is called a word in New Testament Greek that essentially means “lawyer”, one who stands alongside the person making a defense.  Our Lord sent the Holy Spirit to be our legal counsel – to encourage us when the right course of action is to admit our faults and ask for mercy, and to strengthen us to stand firm when we are being faithful.  As Jesus says, “it’s to our advantage” – we’re better off – to have the Spirit with us, making us aware of sin, righteousness, and judgment”; it wasn’t God’s plan to leave us with and the endless and perfect counsels of God to figure out on our own, no, it’s far better, Jesus says, that God gives us the Spirit of truth to guide us into the truth, glorifying our Lord as that truth comes to light.[2]

But what’s the result?  What does that look like, to have the Spirit of God guiding us?

Well, frankly, straight from the pages of scripture, a Spirit-filled life is one that catches the world off-guard, one which defies all worldly logic or explanation, to the point that the world looked at the disciples and said “you’re speaking nonsense, you’re drunk!”.

And really, if we lived the way God intended, I think we’d get the same reaction:

When the Holy Spirit comes into your life, when the Holy Spirit becomes your defense attorney, standing beside you through life, telling you in each situation whether you need to plead guilty and ask for mercy or whether you need to stand firm and do what is right, I can guarantee – I know from experience – that your life will not make sense by worldly standards.

The Holy Spirit will guide you to love God and neighbour, and convict you that loving your own life – putting yourself first – will cause you to lose what little life you have.  Living for God and others rather than yourself?  “What foolishness”, the world says, “listen to yourself, what’s wrong with you?”.

The Holy Spirit will guide you to carry the burdens of those who sit beside you here, and then go out and extend a hand to lift the burden from those you don’t even know.  The world says “nobody’s got time or energy for that, you gotta look out for #1”.  We ask for a yoke to be put around our neck, knowing that, in the long run, it’s better to share a load than to haul it yourself.

The Holy Spirit, standing beside us, will teach us not to cling to things, but to share what we have since everything, including the health and strength we have to work and the family and country we were born into are not our own doing.  The world tells us to store up for tomorrow, the Holy Spirit tells us to trust God and open our storehouses, barns, and bank accounts, for whatever we store up today is going to lose value tomorrow, and wealth is a harsh master.  The Holy Spirit says, “if someone takes your coat, let them take your shirt too” – don’t get worked up, don’t worry about it, don’t get your heart set on revenge; “no”, the Holy Spirit says, “pray for your enemy”. 

The World says “you’re nuts.  Listen to yourself!  Are you drunk?”

The Holy Spirit says “all my hope is in Christ alone”, I will not trust in gifts or strength or wisdom or power or might.  The Holy Spirit says, if you think you’ve got your faith and the future figured out, that’s not faith: faithfulness is putting your trust in God, not because you can chart out the pros and cons of why it makes sense, but simply because He’s God and we’re not.

The world says, “we don’t need God.  Religion served a purpose before we knew how everything works.  Look at all the bad that hypocrites have done in God’s name; trust in yourself, find your identity in yourself, be proud of who you are, rest easy, eat, drink, and be merry, for you only live once.”

The Holy Spirit says, “trust in God, for you were created by one greater for yourself for a purpose bigger than yourself; there’s more to life than what we see, there’s more to love or grief than a chemical in the brain, there’s more to pain and shame than social expectations and bad memories, there’s more to the pain passed from generation to generation than social work and a helping hand can fix”.  The Holy Spirit says, “you’re longing for more because you were created for more, but you can never spread yourself thin enough or stare at the emptiness within long enough to fill that void; the piece that fills that God-given hole is outside of yourself, just waiting to be invited in”.

The world says, “no, shoot for the stars, make a name for yourself; work harder, put your best foot forward, pull yourself up from your bootstraps, do what makes you happy, take your time off, live your best life, you deserve better, just keep going, ignore the pain, post the happy moments to your timeline, take that extra loan, cut those people loose, be the person you want to be, life is passing you by”. 

But the Spirit cries out “your young people will have visions of God’s faithfulness even though the world is set on exhaustion and decay; the old will dream dreams, trusting in God to do what they now know they can never do for themselves.  There is a way that leads to life and wholeness, all you have to do is look up and live, follow rather than stubbornly trying to lead, admit your weakness, admit your failures, and instead of wearing yourself out, plug yourself in to a source of unending power.”

…And the world says, “that’s insane.  These people must be drunk.”.

You are my witnesses.

And Jesus said, “The Spirit… will bear witness about me.  And you also will bear witness.”.

You see, the world will notice.

The wisdom of God is foolishness to those who are perishing.  The wise of the world have become futile in the darkness of their minds.

If we allow the Spirit to guide us in this absolutely ridiculous way of life, yes, the world might think we’re nuts.  But they will notice what God has done.

Friday night, Kristina and I went to the legion for a burger.  Someone who works for the Town was there, someone very involved with the evacuees from Fort Simpson.  This person mentioned how all of the staff were worn out from the work, how there’s so much overtime to get sorted out.  Then they paused.  “You must be wiped out”, this person said, “it seemed like you were coming and going all week”.  “Yeah, it was a long week, but I’m glad we had the opportunity to help”.  “Yes, but the staff were being paid, this is their job.”  “It’s my job too, we’re supposed to carry each others burdens and help those in need”.  On the way back to the table, she said, “I’ve never thought about it like that.  Thanks for all the church is doing in the community”. 

Always be ready to give an answer.

My friends, this is all foolishness in the world’s eyes.  And it will stay that way until they see for themselves what it is for ordinary people like you and me to choose not to live for ourselves, not to collect up flowery thank-you posts on Facebook, but to simply, quietly, constantly, and faithfully live for God’s glory. 

And then, like good old St. Peter, when they say we’re nuts, we too have the opportunity to say, “no, we’re not drunk”, we’re not crazy, God is faithful – and I’m putting my trust in him. 

Let’s be a church that’s so faithful, so out there, that people stop and stare, and then, by grace alone, when they realize that doing the same thing will only produce the same result, that trusting in themselves to somehow do better than they did yesterday will only end in stubborn frustration, we’ll be here with open arms, living as the Spirit leads us on.

To God be the glory, now and forevermore.  Amen.

[1] John 15:26-27

[2] Acts 2: 4b-15

The Problem of Positive Thinking

Paul writes: I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want to do; instead, I do the things that I hate.  Romans 7:15

Have you ever found yourself thinking the same thing?  You make a decision, you say “I’m going to change my life for the better”, you say “that’s it’, I’m going to take charge; I’m going to start exercising, I’m going to watch what I’m putting into my body.  I’m going to take control of my attitude, I’m going to let go of the anger over things I can’t control, I’m going to stop reacting to those around me and start making my own decisions”.

…Or maybe it’s much more basic than that: we repent from our sins, we ask for forgiveness and decide to follow Jesus – no turning back, no turning back.  But then, a little ways down the road, we find ourselves right back where we were.

This is exactly what St. Paul is speaking about in his letter to the Romans.  Much like ourselves, the citizens of Rome considered themselves to be educated, sophisticated people.  When Paul was writing, there were a number of very popular philosophies, particularly among those who viewed themselves as up-and-coming, enlightened people.

Some taught and believed that true happiness could only be found in gaining control over your emotions, in learning to overcome your gut reactions and your own desires, and instead being guided by pure reason and rationality.[1]  Others taught that it wasn’t our actions towards others, it wasn’t right or wrong that mattered, but whether we had gathered up the right knowledge: knowledge is power, so the goal of life is to find the right teacher and gather up as much knowledge as possible, and then you’ll be in control of your destiny.[2]

And, honestly, we find ourselves in much the same situation today.  Those claiming to be the spiritual guides, teachers, and counsellors of our own day offer much the same as Paul found in his day.  Some live by “the power of positive thinking”, or what mental health workers now call “toxic positivity”: the idea that we should repress our actual feelings and our real-life situations, and just be positive instead of calling it like it is.  (Thankfully, the health care community is now speaking out about just how dangerous this positive thinking can be!).

On the other hand, plenty today would choose to reject their emotions altogether and instead live by knowledge, science, and reason alone – and it only takes a visit to the bedside of a dying person to show that, yes, knowledge indeed looks like power when you’re strong, when life is going your way, and when you seem to be in control.  But when faced with things that you can’t change, when faced with situations that you didn’t choose, and circumstances beyond your control – when faced with the harsh realities of real life – all the knowledge in the world only serves to remind you how very powerless you are to change anything that really matters.

There are all sorts of would-be spiritual guides or teachers of the right knowledge all competing for our attention, all competing to gather us as followers.  But, as attractive as an idea might be on the surface, anything that’s lasting, anything that’s good, true, or beautiful shouldn’t just sound nice in our ears today – it should bear fruit.

…and at the end of the day, how many of those resolutions, those decisions to take charge and change your life have actually stuck?

A Sin-Sick Soul

Paul’s message is an unpopular one, precisely because it’s true – uncomfortably true for each and every one of us.  At the end of the day, I cannot carry out the decisions I make.  I know what is right, I know what I want to do, I decide how I want to live, but time and time again, I look back and I see myself doing the very things I hate, the very things I detest in other people, the very things I declared I would give up.

Paul’s message – and the message of the Gospel – is that there’s more to us than just our mind.  As one theologian famously put it, humans are not just a brain on a stick.[3]  It’s not like we can just jam our minds full of the “right stuff” and then be set for life, in spite of all the self-help books or YouTube documentaries we might turn to for knowledge.

We’re more complex than that: we are spiritual beings.  Alongside our knowledge of right and wrong, of good and bad, of what is healthy and what leads to destruction, we find ourselves face to face with passions and desires and emotions that seem to run entirely against what we want for ourselves.  

The Christian faith confronts this head-on.  No, we don’t choose what we know is right – and it’s not because of a lack of knowledge or opportunity.  It’s because, deep down, my soul – that part of me that gives me emotions rather than instincts, that part of me that lets me love, and hope, and dream, that part of me that is made in the image of God – is sick.  My soul, your soul, is sick with sin.  Some of it is our own doing – like an upset stomach is our fault when we sit down and eat a family size bag of chips by ourselves, even though we know it’s not a great decision.  (Not that I’m speaking from experience…)

And some of that sin-sickness isn’t our fault, but inherited from our parents, like a family history of poor digestion; and some of it is caused by our environment, like allergies that crop up in response to the pollen in the air.

Some of this “sin-sickness” is our own doing, and some of it isn’t, but either way, it’s there.  And, we read in Romans, the reason I cannot carry out what I decide to do, the reason I keep on doing the things that I hate in others and the things I know are bad for me is because my passions, my emotions, my desires, the things my soul loves are working against me – and no amount of knowledge or positive thinking in my rational mind can change that fundamental problem.

Our problem isn’t a lack of knowledge.  We know it’s wrong.  We know smoking, or drinking that half case of beer, or going back for that second slice of cake, or taking that second or third glance at that person who caught your eye, or obsessing about your bank account, or holding that grudge, or pretending we know all that’s going on in another person’s life are all destructive behaviours.  But we persist against our own will precisely because it’s not our mind, but our soul that is sick.

A Spiritual Problem needs a Spiritual Remedy

That’s half the battle – you’ve got to know the illness before you can find the remedy.

If I break my leg, the remedy isn’t positive thinking: it’s a cast. 
If I have cancer in my body, none of the theories about the big bang and evolution are doing to fix it: I need to cut it out.

The truth of the Gospel is that Christ entered into that frustration shared by all humanity, that sin-sickness that wars against our mind and our body, not just so that we can calm ourselves by knowing he has shared our weakness.  The solution isn’t knowledge: it’s a transplant!  The truth of the Gospel is that Christ wants us to accept a transfusion, to allow God’s own Spirit to heal our sin-sick soul.  It’s a process.  Sure, it might seem faster if he could just swap our sick one for his own, but just as a doctor must carefully give us the right dosage of our medicine over time, God’s will is that the ongoing indwelling of the Holy Spirit would, over a lifetime, begin that process of healing our desires, our emotions, our passions, our longings, until that day when we share in Christ’s likeness, and are no longer torn between what we know is right and what our bodies desire; until that day that we are fully known, that the effects of our own sin, as well as the sin of the world around us are done away, and we can be as we were intended: fully alive, and united with one another in the presence of God himself.

So, the next time you find yourself kicking yourself because you just don’t understand why you did the thing you hate, first, remember you’re in good company.

Then, more importantly, acknowledge that you’re not a brain on a stick.  It’s not that you don’t know right from wrong; it’s that your soul, our souls, my soul is still sick.  And as we repent and return to Christ, as we resolve to follow Him, pray not just for more understanding, but pray for a transfusion of the Holy Spirit.  Positive thinking or all the knowledge in the world can only get us so far: a spiritual illness needs a spiritual remedy, and Christ the Great Physician offers it to all of us… We just need to follow the doctor’s orders.

[1] Yes, this is a gross over-simplification of Stoicism.

[2] A sloppy but apt description of the mindset behind gnostic movements.

[3] James K.A. Smith in Desiring the Kingdom, and the popular adaptation You are what you love.

Endless, free power: flip the switch!

“Peace be with you; as the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

On this Day of Pentecost, we don’t just remember that strange and awesome day long ago when the Holy Spirit came upon the followers of Jesus.  No, today, as the followers of Jesus, we don’t just remember, but celebrate that Jesus has kept his promise; that Jesus has sent us the Holy Spirit of truth and power that we, ordinary people going about our business, could be used as part of God’s plan.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that talking about the Holy Spirit is unfamiliar, perhaps even uncomfortable ground for a lot of us.  We understand our loving Father, who created us and loved us so much that he would send his Son to save us.  We understand our Lord Jesus Christ, who shared our pains and struggles, who overcame the grave, and is preparing a place for us until he comes again in glory.  But my bet is that most of us have a much foggier view of the Holy Spirit.  And, if we’re being honest – and church is the perfect place for honesty – some of us probably know people who speak about the Spirit in such dramatic and, frankly, strange ways that our reaction is a lot like the crowd in our lesson from Acts: this sounds crazy!  Remember, Pentecost is the day our Lord’s apostles were acting so unexpectedly that they were accused of being drunk at nine in the morning, so let me tell you that it’s okay if it takes us, too, a bit of time to figure out what the Holy Spirit is doing.

The Power of God.

As people grounded in the scriptures, the first thing for us to remember is that, while God is definitely doing something new at Pentecost, this is not the first time we see the Holy Spirit at work: He is eternal, and has been active since the very beginning.

It was the Spirit of God that breathed as a rushing wind over the waters of creation, driving away chaos and bringing order to the created world.  The Holy Spirit is that breath of God that was breathed into humankind at creation, giving our souls the ability to think and to reason, empowering us to interact with the living God, and giving us the potential to share in his eternal life.[1]

And, when our disobedience and the effects of sin in our lives, when that messiness and disorder meant our bodies could no longer be temples of the Holy Spirit as we were driven from God’s presence, it was then that God sent his Spirit to his appointed prophets, priests, and kings to guide his people in the way they should go; it was the Holy Spirit at work in those leaders who urged people to repent, and who invited ordinary people to participate, to play a role in God’s great plan to save and restore our fallen world.

In short, the Holy Spirit is the Power and Presence of God at work in the world.  God works by the Holy Spirit; throughout the scriptures, the example used time and time again is the wind: we can’t see it, we can’t see where it comes from or where it goes, but we know it’s there – we see it’s effects, whether a gentle, cooling breeze or a mighty hurricane, and though we can’t see it, or capture it, or put it in a box, we can feel the Holy Spirit when it blows over us.

And the good news of Pentecost, the wonder of Pentecost, is that, now that the problem of our sin has been fixed by the offering of Christ upon the Cross; now that the separation between us and God has been fixed by Christ’s ascension into Heaven, God the Holy Spirit is no longer reserved for God’s chosen leaders.  Now that those problems are fixed, the Holy Spirit can now dwell within every one of us who has been forgiven and made new in the work of Jesus on the Cross.  Pentecost is a first step towards putting things back as God intended.  Like the breath breathed into our nostrils at creation, Christ breathed that breath of God on his disciples, saying “Receive the Holy Spirit”.  And he did so with a reason: the work of God is no longer just for prophets, priests, and kings.  There’s work to be done; there are sins to be forgiven; there are deep, hurtful lies that must be confronted with truth; there are disciples to be made: and, “as the Father has sent me”, Jesus said, “now I send you”.[2]

…And, just like that, the temple of God is no longer a stone building on a mountain surrounded by guards and thick walls, waiting to be found by those who come in.

Just like that, the temple of God, the dwelling place of the Presence and Power of God is in you.  Not a temple waiting for people to come in, but millions of temples, temples with feet, and hands, and voices to bring that presence of God into every corner of the world.

Is the Holy Spirit in me?

Every one of us who calls Jesus our Lord has the opportunity to become the dwelling place of the Power of the Spirit of God.  In baptism – in that action of being included in Jesus’ work on the cross, and being made new – our God, who is faithful, wires us in to this ‘power grid’, this network, this invisible body joined together throughout the world.

But then the question remains: if we’re connected up, why do so many faithful members of the Church not feel this power of God, or at least see it’s effects like wind blowing through our lives?

Where is the power of God in our lives?  It’s a good question; but if we’re having a problem with power, then perhaps we should look to the Power Corporation for our answer…

An Analogy

Imagine: you move into a house, a house built to be a home.  A house that was well designed, where the architect and master builder have planned for there to be lights to light up every dark corner, all the comforts we crave – heat in winter and air conditioning in summer, and outlets exactly where we need them.

You’ve been given a perfectly designed house.  But all the light fixtures on the ceiling and all the outlets on the walls aren’t going to help you unless that house is connected to the power grid.

It’s in baptism that connection is made.  And, unlike the Power Corp., every time someone asks to be wired up, every time someone asks to be joined in, that work is done on time, and it’s done right.

But this is where even faithful church people get lost.  God wires us in.  Just like that, we have unlimited, endless power – more than we could ever need – right there, ready to flow in.  The Power Corporation connects you up; but it’s not their job to go it each room every evening and flick on the lights… that part’s on you.

We’re connected to – we have access to – endless power.  But whether or not we receive it is up to us.  Though the house was built to have this energy flowing through it, we’re free to leave it turned off.  If we want, in spite of unlimited, endless, and completely free power at our fingertips, we can say, “no thanks, it’s okay, I’ll manage on my own”, as we wander about in the shadows with an old flashlight, stubbing our toes and tripping over things instead of turning on the light.[3]

A lot of us live that way.  Though we’ve been wired up, though we were built to be empowered by God, for any number of reasons we say “I’ll manage”, and stay in the dark.

But God wants us to take advantage of the opportunity he’s given us.  And as he has always called and nudged his chosen people to follow his Will, God still gives us nudges to let the Spirit’s power work through us.

Now, some people claim great and miraculous things done through them by the Spirit.  I can say that I’ve never experienced something like the dramatic events of Pentecost.  But, I have felt the Breath of God; for me, sometimes it’s like the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, and that’s the nudge inviting me to ‘turn on the switch’ and let the Power of God work through me: sometimes it’s that urge out of the blue to pick up the phone and call someone, only to find that they’re in need of someone to talk to; sometimes it’s that desire to do something completely out of the ordinary that ends up giving a glimmer of hope to someone feeling lost.[4]

Yes, faith like a mustard seed could move a mountain; but our work isn’t to move mountains.  As the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus sends us to share in his work of seeking out, raising up, and drawing in those who are lost.

God’s Presence is not bound up in a stone temple; you are a temple of the Holy Spirit.

So this week – and I’m sure there will be an opportunity this week – when you feel that little nudge, that nudge, go out on a limb: this time, flip the switch.  Say, “okay, God”, and let him work through you.  You probably won’t move a mountain, there probably won’t be a flame like fire on your head, but I guarantee: even the smallest action led by the Holy Spirit can accomplish more than we could ever ask or imagine, and usually more than we’ll ever know.  To God be the glory.  Amen.

[1] I follow Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on John here.  A great summary is available here.

[2] John 20:19-23

[3] I remember this analogy being worked out by Fr. Darrell Critch and Richard Donnan when the youth of the parish (myself one of them) were hanging out casually discussing Baptismal Regeneration at the rector’s apartment one Sunday evening around 2005.  Yes, that happened.

[4] Compare “turning on the switch” to the various times the apostles and first deacons were “filled with the holy spirit” in the first 8 chapters of Acts.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is not a one-time occurrence, but the faithful are “filled” for the God-given task at hand.  I’m not suggesting we can control when God wills work through us, only that we must cooperate rather than being ‘possessed’ in any way.  Admittedly, this is where the analogy breaks down: we can turn on lights when we like, but we cannot say “the Holy Spirit will work through me Tuesday at 7, come and bring a friend.”