Sermon May 28, 2017
“ Spirit Prep” by Rev. June Fothergill Scriptures: Acts 1: 1-14
One time when I was in High School as friend of mine moved away. I missed her very much. In her new home she got involved in a charismatic church which taught that to receive the Holy Spirit was to speak in tongues. She sent me a very earnest letter explaining all this and how important it was. She gave me a prayer and Bible reading process that was supposed to open me to this gift of the Spirit. I was very curious and trusted my friend and her faith, so I went somewhere by myself to pray about it as she had suggested. I prayed the right prayers and did what she suggested but nothing happened. I did not receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The experience left me confused and a little sad. I had really wanted it to “ work.”
Since then I have learned and experienced that God pours out the gifts of the Holy Spirit in many different ways. There is not just one gift of the Holy Spirit but many. One college town pastor helped me identify that for me a gift of the Spirit can be an unexpected insight into a problem or concern. The Spirit helps me reframe the situation and see God’s possibilities in a new way. I have also known some people who have the gift of healing touch. Others had a gift for compassion for others or for discerning wisdom or speaking truth. The Holy Spirit is the work of God’s presence and power in our lives in so many ways. How do we open ourselves to its presence and power? Can we get ready for the Holy Spirit? Do Spirit Prep?
Well , I think the first answer is no. We do not control God’s Holy Spirit, so we cannot say or do a formula that will bring it down to us. That was the trouble with my friend’s letter. The Holy Spirit is not a force we control or can manipulate with our formulas or prayers. The Holy Spirit is the powerful, free presence of God. It’s not about our control of it but our openness to it. That is why the disciples were asked by Jesus to wait and pray. That is why he warned them that only God knows the timing of the Kingdom of God. And I think that is why he reassures them over and over of the promise of the Spirit and its power.
So why even be concerned about it. If God will pour out the Holy Spirit who and how God wants. What is there for us to do?
Well, Jesus also told his first disciples to stay together in Jerusalem. And they did. They did not go back to Galilee and their lives there. They did not scatter around the countryside. They obeyed Jesus. This seems to me to be a starting place for us. We do not control the work of the Spirit but we can seek to obey Jesus. We can learn together from the scriptures what Jesus wants his followers to do and be. We can take the steps we are able to do and be those things.
We take it for granted that gathering of 12 disciples, the women, and Jesus family. Later in Acts, Luke tells us there was a crowd of about 120 believers. Now I don’t know about you but this does not sound to me like the easiest thing to do – for them all to stay together in Jerusalem! There’s the practicalities of a place to stay and food and drink. There’s all the differing personalities. Who would lead them now? How would they know when the Spirit comes? What prayers do we say? Who’s gonna cook and shop? Staying in Jerusalem had it troubles, I have no doubt, but they did it. They were obedient to Christ.
Now today, I don’t suggest that we all head on the next plane to Jerusalem. Rather, I suggest that we look for where we are seeking to be obedient to Christ’s word and continue that work together. What does it mean for us to stay in Jerusalem? Right now our Jerusalem is feeding people in body and spirit. Being a place and community of hospitality for all no matter what their social status. This means working out our conflicts together in respectful ways. It means bringing and sharing food . It means taking the time to prepare meaningful worship and music. It means learning each day of our lives how to best love one another.
Jesus asked his disciples to stay in Jerusalem. They did so. The other thing they chose to do was to pray. Prayer was the center of their life together. Prayer was the main work they chose to stay open to the promised gift of the Holy Spirit and power. Jesus had said that when they received the Holy spirit’s power they would become witnesses to him to all the world. So they waited to do this mission work. Instead they spent time in prayer together. This is the act of waiting which is so hard for me- maybe for you? I like to do things and make plans. This is why this story in Acts is important for people like me.
Saturating our lives and our community in prayer keeps us open to the coming of the Holy Spirit. Without it we are unfocused and distracted by the things of the world. We can get wrapped up in other things that are not God’s best wishes for us or our community. Evangelist R.A, Torrey said of the church of his day in late 19th and early 20th century- “ We are too busy to pray, and so we are too busy to have power. We have a great deal of activity but we accomplish little, many services but few conversions, much machinery but few results.” p. 112 1001 Quotes, Illustrations and Humerous stories. Ed. Edward K. Rowell. Baker Books 2008.
So I am encouraged by the amount of prayer I observe happening here at Ebbert. Each small group that meets spends time in prayer. Prayer is central to our worship. We hold one another in prayer in our prayer chain and newsletter. Prayer is an important part of our Wednesday night meal. Are there more ways we can be in prayer together, especially prayer for God to empower with the Holy Spirit our witness? I invite each small group and family to consider making prayer for the Holy Spirit to empower our witness as a congregation part of your prayer time. Imagine us in that Upper room praying and waiting and trusting in Jesus promise- I will baptize you with the Holy Spirit to be my witnesses to all the earth.
So, the Spirit Prep is being obedient to Christ and Praying for the empowerment of the promised Holy Spirit. In Act 1, after their 40 days of being with the Risen Christ and learning from Him about the Kingdom of God, the disciples were eager for the Kingdom. Their last question for Jesus was “ So is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” As we seek to be obedient, as we pray for the Holy Spirit to empower our witness, we are tempted like those first disciples to anticipate what God will do and when. We want God to endorse our 5year plan or good ideas. Our “ restore the kingdom to Israel longings” But Jesus says clearly- the time for the kingdom, for the final outcome of God’s will is in God’s hands alone. But I assure you- The Holy Spirit will give you power to be my witnesses-not just to Israel- not just to box of your own plans and ideas but to all the world!
As we seek to obey Christ and pray for the empowerment or the Holy Spirit, we are invited by Jesus to be ready to do more than we might expect, to let the Spirit lead us to areas of service and witness we cannot anticipate today. To all the world.
So here is what we can do to prep for the coming of the Holy Spirit in power . Obey Jesus. Pray together. And let the adventure of the Holy Spirit begin!
I posted on our church facebook page a story about a church in South Carolina which is a new church start that reflects the work of the Holy Spirit. The head line says, “ South Main ministers to the homeless alongside affluent, crafting a space dedicated to authentic Christian love. “ This value was lived out in several ways. Karen Knowles tells how she found South Main UMC after years of being lost from the Lord. But the love she has found at the church coupled with the support they have given her in her struggles turned her life around. Her witness is, “ When I first came I had an alcohol problem. One day at a time, this church allowed me to share delight in the Lord and see people in a different light.” Her husband was going through cancer at the time and has since passed away. Now she is sober and helps chair recovery meetings and she cannot get enough of the tangible presence of the Holy spirit which she said seeps into every crack of the place and fills her and others with a sense of peace and serenity in the Lord. “ Because of this church and all the people who rallied around me, I was able to get through this trying time. Now I help reach out to other people . It’s a gift from the Lord- life outside myself.”
We are not in South Carolina but unchurched Oregon. We are 150 years old not a new church. When I asked folks at our meals what they loved about Ebbert one wrote, “ Very best place where peace is always, never turn anyone down. People are doing God’s work caring, giving people at 6th and C.” A women who used to come to our meals and is now in recovery has decided to pledge to our church. Some fellows from the meal helped weed around the building. Our Monday bible study welcomes all sorts of interesting folks and we learn together what Jesus wants- sometimes from someone who calls himself Jesus. Our choir not only inspires on Sunday mornings but supports one another in laughter and prayer. Some folks pick up others and make sure they can come to worship. New people and partnerships are entering our doors with new opportunities for witness and relationships. So! My prayer is,” Come Holy Spirit! Come and increase our compassion and empower our witness. We’re ready! Amen”