Sermon: More than Spectators
05.15.2016 Preaching Text: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the world that I do and, in the end, will do greater works than these…” (John 14:12)
From Eugene Peterson’s The Message, in his forward to the Book of Acts, he writes: “Because the story of Jesus is so impressive…there is a danger that we will be impressed, but only be impressed.”
There’s the danger, in other words, of becoming, as he puts it, “enthusiastic spectators,” of being mere “admirers of Jesus” who are but “generous with our oohs and ahs.”
Today we celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit to the faithful in Jerusalem two millennia ago. It is understood that this single “act” changes everything. It is the life-force that takes us out of the stands and onto the playing field amid the ongoing struggle between godliness and that which either ignores or rejects God.
The Book of Acts, as you know, is also known as the Acts of the Apostles, and has been referred to as the Acts of the Holy Spirit. From its beginnings in Jerusalem on that first Day of Pentecost, the church (the apostles) is sent forth into the world by means of one thing – the Holy Spirit.
Over the last few weeks we’ve discussed the cosmic implications of biblical faith. We talked about how the Bible is divided into three parts: Paradise Given, Paradise Lost, and Paradise Restored. It is the last, Paradise Restored, that is the essence of God’s Promise given first to Abraham and then, later, fulfilled in Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, to be completed on his expected return.
I’m always telling the Bible Study that in order to read the Bible profitably, we must take the time to understand what its authors intend to say. This requires some knowledge of the theological beliefs of their day.
For instance, in order to understand the movement of the Holy Spirit (by means of the church) one first must understand why the biblical writers considered this important.
For one thing, God’s Promise of Paradise Restored was based on the singular belief that only God could accomplish this. No other force was thought capable. Human problems, after all, are spiritual in nature and thus require, logically, a spiritual solution.
The Promise is that God will intervene in history to right all that is wrong, to reverse the life-negating effects of sin, of Paradise Lost. And, significantly, as we know, the early church thought this would happen at any moment.
The task of the church, then, and the sole reason the Holy Spirit is given to the church, is so that it can alert the world in preparation for Christ’s return. This was to be accomplished during the “in-between” time, the time between Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and his final return at the end of time.
The church’s “job,” then, was to tell the world in both word and deed the “Good News” of Christ’s return, meaning the salvation of the world.
Time, therefore, was of the essence. Newly equipped with the power of the Holy Spirit, with its manifold gifts and potent dynamism, the church is given all the necessary tools to proclaim and witness to the imminent fulfillment of God’s ancient Promise of Paradise Restored.
Among other things, this meant that the church was to play an active role in this, God’s plan. It was not possible, as Peterson reminds us, to remain neutral or uninvolved. It meant that everyone gifted by the Holy Spirit was to play a role in preparing the world to meet its Maker.
The theme of the Book of Revelation, therefore, is not unique to biblical thinking. Its cosmic message accurately reflected the widespread Christian beliefs of the day.
But because this is not the way we modern tend to think, and because Revelation was written in hard-to-understand metaphorical images (as the author seeks to describe the indescribable) we may too easily dismiss its central message.
But, as I say, to do so risks missing something essential to the biblical witness, which has the effect of confusing the church’s whole reason for being, its very mission. Is it still, for instance, the role of the church today to announce the kingdom of God to the world?
We Congregationalists base our understanding of the gospel on personal discernment. Unlike the “high church” traditions from which Congregationalism emerged, each church member, not, say, the pope or priest, is charged with making his or her own judgments. One’s conscience is rendered supreme.
While this isn’t entirely wrong, it does require that we take an active role in defining our beliefs. Such requires thought, study, and prayer. But perhaps most especially, it requires attending to the Holy Spirit who lives within.
Biblically, it is essential to note, the Holy Spirit comes from beyond us, from God. It is cosmic and heavenly in origin. It is not something we can discover by studying ourselves or the world around us. It is not found in nature, nor is it discoverable by means of scientific or rational inquiry.
From the biblical point of view, it comes from beyond Creation as the very source of Creation. It is this same Spirit that once roamed freely in Paradise Given, in the Garden of Eden.
But because of the Fall (Paradise Lost), our sense of the divine is, if not totally lost, then at the very least clouded and obscured. Thus, with diminished spiritual alertness and insight, we futility attempt to discover and live out our “natural” reason for being.
Only by means of the Holy Spirit are we given a glimpse of that which once was. Yet, more importantly, it is also a foretaste of the glory to come, when all of life is again found and recaptured in Paradise Restored.
It is this force alone which connects the lost image of God within us to its proper source, our Creator God. From this connection we are granted a whole new way of seeing and understanding life.
In spiritual revelation, the past, present, and future are reintegrated and infused with light. The world around us, including the natural order, is similarly filled with light. Miracles and wonders abound, as our worldview undergoes a complete overhaul. The familiar is bathed in mystical power.
It is this that the church is tasked with showing the world. It is not the pride of moral and spiritual achievement, but the simple, humble awareness of God’s ineffable mercy and grace, all of which comes to us by means of the Holy Spirit.
In and through the Holy Spirit is revealed the one thing our world was created to know, and live: pure, divine love. Amen.