Sunday, May 26, 2013

One Big Mess??? Living with the Tension Of The Church As Grace Fiilled Spiritual Creation and Fault Filled Human Institution (1 Coritnhians 1:1-17) ... One: the road to Christian Unity in 1 Corinthinas (part 1)

We are starting a new series today looking at the book of 1 Corinthians, and I always find it hard to know how to start a new sermon series.  

1 Corinthians is known as a hot potato book it deals with some challenging issues that are just as hot for us today. Issues that cause division and derision amongst Christians: Sexual ethics, thought I throw that in first and catch your attention; how do we deal with different understanding of what is and isn’t right in the church… financial ethics, how can rich and poor get along in the kingdom of God, social ethics, just how do we interact with the secular society around us; do we simply conform to our culture or how are we to differentiate ourselves, what constitutes spiritual maturity? Is it about spiritual gifts and wisdom or how we treat each other and how we act?  Have we made it or are we just on the journey with a long way to go.

At its core for us in our multi-cultural pluralistic society is the question of how can a group of people gathered from across a diverse range of cultures, socio-economic groupings, theological understandings and backgrounds come together and be one body in Christ? How can we live together with different understandings of life and faith and different ethical standards, different styles and ways of doing things, different living standards and expectations? How can we do this without resorting to simply adhering to the lowest common denominator, or a strict enforced uniformity, a cookie cutter Christianity.  Because when we come to Christ we are called to be the new people of God, we are called to be an expression of God’s love and hope for all humanity by loving one another. We live in a city that is wrestling with some of these issues as well. WE are split between million dollar suburbs, and places where those who can't afford to live In Auckland struggle to keep going. We have white suburbs and brown suburbs and in the midst of that we need to be a Church where we can live together with justice and peace.

At its heart we as the church are a spiritual creation, a spiritual being, but we are also a human institution with all the faults and foibles. What makes the book of 1 Corinthians so useful to us today is that it is written to a church that is wrestling with those same kinds of issues.

I may have trouble starting sermon series, but the good thing is that Paul has no trouble in starting his letter to the church at Corinth. So as a way of introduction to this series we are going to look at Paul’s introduction to his letter. We had it read out to us this morning, and in doing that we will start to explore what was happening at the Church at Corinth and in Paul’s response to that what this book has to say to us.

Paul has no problem introducing his letter because he follows the basic formula of a letter in his culture and time. It starts with five basic conventions; you may recognise some of them because we still use them today.

Sender… who is the letter from

Recipient… who is the letter for


Thanksgiving… a kind word about the person you are writing to

The body of the letter… getting down to what you are writing about, what is the issue.


In the first four parts of this letter Paul focuses on the Church as a spiritual being.


Paul identifies himself as the sender, along with a member of the church in Corinth Sosthenes, and that he writing to the church in Corinth. But in both instances he crafts those identities in relationship to Christ.

The book of Acts tells us much of Paul's story. His conversion to being a follower of Christ, his call to take the gospel to the gentiles, which is amazing as before his conversion Paul in his own words is a Jew amongst the Jews a Pharisee among the Pharisees, but Christ changes all that. We read of his mission trips, where he established churches throughout Asia Minor and into Europe. In Acts 18 it tells us the story of Paul coming to the city of Corinth and starting the church there.  Paul will have to defend his apostleship to the church later in this letter, he is writing as one who is called to proclaim the gospel and establish communities of believers, a role that he has been called to by Christ. Apostle means ‘One who is sent’.

The recipient is the church in Corinth.

Corinth is a very interesting city, it sits on the isthmus in Greece. It was an important Greek city which had been destroyed and then rebuilt by the Romans and was important for trade as it was accessible by sea from both the east and the west. It was a cosmopolitan city, with people from all over the Roman Empire. As a trade centre it was a place where people came to make money, as a port city it had a reputation for promiscuity, which was exacerbated by the temple there dedicated to Aphrodite and the temple prostitution that went with it.  It was famous for its games which were second only to the Olympic Games in Athens, and for its entertainments. Craig Bloomberg says it was like the New York, Los Angeles and Los Vegas of the roman world all rolled into one. And as we look further into the book we will see all these thing contribute to the troubles that this church was having.


But for Paul the focus was the church of God in Corinth. The word for Church Paul uses here is ekklesia which has the meaning of being the body politic, a new people a new community. Paul’s addressing of the Church in Corinth points to the fact that it’s the church because of what Christ has done. We have been made right with God because of Jesus Christ, Jesus is calling us to be holy, which the NIV translates as saints, a people set aside for God. The church you and I as well as those believers in Corinth are a people set aside for the glory of God. There were problems in the church at Corinth, much of it stemming from a false sense of pride in who they were as a church, they thought they had made it, and Paul reminds them and us that we are who we are by the grace of God. He reminds them and us that also that we are one with all those in every place who call on the name of Jesus. There is no room for division and thinking ourselves better than any other grouping of Believers.


‘Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” incorporates the greeting from the two dominant cultures Paul is from the roman greeting of grace and the Hebrew one of Peace, but he does not stop there he shows us that for the new people of God, those two things grace, undeserved benevolence and peace, shalom, wholeness and right relationships come from God through the person of Jesus Christ and what he has done for us.


Paul then goes on to give thanks for the church at Corinth. It’s interesting as he is going to be dealing with some dire issues within the church which seem to stem from a spiritual pride and sense within the community that they have made it and are full of wisdom that Paul would thank God for those very things.  

But Paul gives thanks for the fact that all those things come from Christ. It is Christ who has called the church in the past. It is Christ who has given the church every spiritual gift to enable them to live and witness to him in the present and it is Christ who can be trusted to bring that work to completion in the future. They and we cannot take credit for any of that because it is Christ who has done it. It is Christ who is doing it in our midst and it is Christ who will finish the work he has started within us. The Corinthians thought they had made it but Paul points out no it’s Christ.


I shared on what this passage has to say for Christian leaders at the parish council on Wednesday.  I pointed out the key role that prayer has for Christian leaders, to pray for the Church. To give thanks for what God is doing in our midst. I also pointed out it is good to remember that when we come into conflict with people, and Paul is about to butt heads with the church at Corinth, that  the person or people we are in conflict with are loved by Christ and called by Christ to be his people with us, and that Christ is at work in them, and us, to bring us to maturity. Also that giving thanks for the positives we see is a good place to start as it focuses us on Christ’s work in those people. These apply to all Christian relationships not just leadership.


So now as Paul moves to the body of his letter, we see that he moves to deal with the brokenness and faults and foibles in the church. He had received a report from Chloe’s people about the squabbling in the church and about divisions that were based on the various Christian leaders. Paul, Apollo, who had come to Corinth after Paul and was known as a great orator, and Cephas or Peter, and while we have no record him visiting Corinth he has a lot of influence mainly amongst the more Jewish Christian circles., Corinth valued wisdom and as a trade centre would be a place where many people would come with new ideas and philosophies and share them in the market place, and people would become disciples of these various people and argue between themselves which one was best. Paul sees this happening in the Church… it’s almost like Christian Idol. 


There are those that don’t want to get involved in this and simply say I’m of Jesus, and while I would want to say Amen to that. There is a sense here that they are doing that not out of a humble admission of being one in Christ, but as an assertion of their spiritual pride. Paul’s answer is well is Christ divided is there a Christ faction within the body of Christ?


In our own time and place there are many things that cause division and derision in the body of Christ. We all have come to Christ through different me and God has used different people to bring his word to us. We come from different traditions, denominations. People often ask me well why the Presbyterian Church and my short answer is well it’s a matter of European history and geography.  Over the past few decades the church has been going through what has been called culture wars and worship styles and music has been a source of division and derision. Formal religion verses informal worship. How we interpret the scriptures is a huge one, a rift between liberal and conservative understandings. The influence of this leader and that movement, and I could go on.  Underlying that just maybe the same need for maturity that Corinth had, the same human tendency to have pride in the way we do things and how we’ve got there.


Paul then begins to teach the church at Corinth about unity in Christ, and we are going to look at that over the next few weeks. But at the end of our reading today Paul begins to focus us back on what is the centre of our faith, the core of our unity. The cross of Jesus Christ, Christ crucified. It is easy to get caught up in all these other things but at the heart of who we are and how we are called to live is Christ and the cross. It is God’s loving sacrifice and servant hood. It is grace and invitation. It is mercy and forgiveness.  

Monday, May 20, 2013

Holy Spirit Come: Jesus Teaching on the Holy Spirit in John and Acts... an Index.

Over the past month at St Peter's Presbyterian Church I've been preaching a series of messages on the Holy Spirit.

There is, I believe, a lot of teaching on the Holy Spirit that is not helpful, and they come in two extremes... seeing the Holy Spirit as being the forgotten member of the trinity, and all the things that the Spirit did in the scriptures as being for way back then... not for now. There is an over emphasis on the manifestations of the Spirit and an associating the Spirit with a certain style of worship and type of Church. Both these extremes can hinder people from understanding the role the Spirit plays in the life of the believer and the fact that by the Spirit God comes and dwells within and enables and empowers every believer to live and witness to Christ.

So in this series I wanted to go back to the source and look at what Jesus had to say about the Spirit and how those first disciples received the Spirit, to help us understand who the Holy Spirit is and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Yes I come from a charismatic background and that is evident in the messages I preached. At the heart of the passages I preached on in what's known as Jesus farewell discourse  I rediscovered the wonderful word Paraclete (paracletos). A word that literally means the one who comes alongside. The amazing reality that Jesus chose to think of himself and the Holy Spirit as the one who came alongside us. We often use the word 'advocate to translate it but in Greek thought it had more the idea of a trusted friend who came alongside to give sound legal advise rather than the paid professional or the court appointed official. one of the things that I really found helpful in understanding the word Paraclete was the idea of 'Mission Dei'  that the Spirit is at work in the world and our role as Christians is to see where the Spirit is moving and what the Spirit is doing and go and join Him there. The Paraclete comes alongside us and calls us to come alongside Him to witness to Christ in word and deed, in sacrificial service and in power.

Anyway here is an index and link to those messages and my prayer is always when I preach  that people may grow in their understanding of the Word of God and encounter Jesus, by the Spirit, in way that will bring life and transformation. Feel free to use these in anyway you find useful. If you comment or have questions I am open to feedback and happy to respond.

Originally this was going to be a six week series but sadly I ended up in hospital and so there is no message on John 16:12-15 The Spirit of Truth...

Holy Spirit Come  (an introduction and a theme song)

John 14:12-21  Not as Orphans... Who is the Holy Spirit?
John 14:22-31 Spirit of Truth: The Paraclete as Teacher
John 15:26-16:11 The Paraclete as Witness
John 20:19-23, Acts 1:1-11  Receive the Holy Spirit
John 20:19-23, Acts 2:1-14, 40-47  You Will Receive Power And Be My Witnesses.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

You Will Receive Power and be My Witnesses (Acts 2:1-14,40-47)... Holy Spirit Come (part 5)

Let me wish you all a Happy Birthday and can I say that none of you look a day over two thousand years old. Why am I wishing you Happy Birthday? Well  today is Pentecost Sunday, it is the day when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit in power on those first disciples fifty days after Passover and Jesus death and resurrection. It has been called the birthday celebration of the Church. At its core the church is a spiritual being, yes it’s very human institution with all its foibles and faults. But it is also that we are God’s spirited people called to live in a new way, and it came into being with the coming of the Holy Spir
We’ve been working our way through Jesus teaching on the Holy Spirit and last week and this week we are finishing that off by looking at the first disciple’s experience of receiving the Holy Spirit. Jesus had said that after he had gone back to the father he would send another Paraclete to be with and within his followers. The Paraclete: A trusted friend who would come alongside and advise…One like Jesus, the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Trinity… the spirit of truththat would teach us and bring to mind all that Jesus had said… The spirit whowould witness to Jesus, convict the world of their need for God, and enable usto be witnesses as wellthe breath of God, that would bring new life as Godcomes and dwells within us… now in the Pentecost story we see that become a reality.

Luke’s account of Pentecost is in three sections, the first is a narrative of what happened, of the coming of the Holy Spirit, which focuses on the physical signs that accompanied this event. The second is Peter’s speech, in which Peter explains to the crowd what is happening and why , he does that it terms of God’s promise from the Hebrew scriptures, in particular the prophecy we had read out from Joel chapter 2 and also focuses on what God has done through the life, passion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. It marks the beginning of the Church being witnesses to Jesus alongside the Holy Spirit. The last section of the narrative tells of the impact of the Spirit’s presence on those first believers. Today we are going to focus on the first and last section of Acts Chapter 2, the coming of the Spirit and what a spirit filled community looks like. It’s not that the middle section isn’t important and we’ll look at it in passing,  but we’ve focused a lot on what’s in there in this series already.

Out of all the Gospel writers Luke would fit best into our modern day setting. Hollywood would love him because he has written a sequel to his account of Jesus life and mission. In his introduction to what we call Acts, Luke tells his intended audience that in his first book he had written all that Jesus had begun to do and we are to see what is going to happen in the life of the church now as being what Jesus continues to do through his disciples by the Holy Spirit. Both the gospel and Acts, give an account of the Holy Spirit coming and enabling the ministry and mission of Jesus to happen. In the gospel, in Luke chapter 3, the Holy Spirit comes on Jesus at his baptism, That coming is accompanied by physical manifestations, a dove and a voice from heaven saying ‘this is my son in whom I am pleased’. Luke chapter four then starts by saying ‘Jesus filled with the Holy Spirit’ and we get an account of the beginning of his mission. In Acts we see the Holy Spirit again descend on the disciples all gathered together in one place, its accompanied by signs, a noise like a wind, tongues of fire alighting on each of the believers gathered there and  those believers speaking in the different languages of the known world. And we are told that the believers are filled with the Holy Spirit. They then begin their ministry and mission.

Pentecost is a festival to celebrate the wheat harvest, but had also had religious significance placed with it as celebrating the giving of the law to Moses on Mt Sinai. In Israel’s thinking At Passover they celebrated God’s saving acts in bring Israel out of Egypt and with the coming of the law we have Israel being constituted as God’s people. So with Jesus death and resurrection being God’s saving action for us over sin and death with the coming of the spirit we have God constituting his new people,  A people that would be draw together from all the different people of the world.

Fire and wind are symbols from the Old testament of theophany, times when God shows up in power:  Like the fiery pillar at night with the people of Israel as they came out of Egypt and travelled through the wilderness. Like Elijah and the prophets of Baal Mt Camel, with the fire from heaven. Like  Elijah encountering God at Mt Sinai, after being depressed and feeling so alone encounters God in a violent storm and then the reality of God in a small still voice.  

The difference here with the fire is that in the Old Testament it is God’s presence with his people corporately and in Acts the fire lights on each individual believer. In the Old testament God was present with his people and specific leaders were said to be filled with the Holy Spirit to achieve specific tasks; like making the tabernacle, prophecy, but now every believe is filled and baptised by the Spirit. AS peter will say it is for you and your children and your children’s children.

The other difference in the Pentecost story is the phenomenon of speaking in different languages, and this is the one that Luke focuses on. We are told that the as the spirit filled the believers they were enabled to speak in languages they had not learned.   That those who had come to Jerusalem from round the whole of the known world, were amazed because they heard these Galileans, thought of as uneducated local yokels, speaking in their native languages. In the scriptures such manifestations of the Spirit are called signs and the disciples speaking in these different languages is a sign of the universality of the Gospel, the scope of the mission Jesus was calling this new people to of being witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

 Speaking in tongues is mentioned as a gift of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12 and like in the church in Corinth it is a rather controversial gift. Some say this was a one off experience for the church, others have said that you have not received the Holy Spirit unless you speak in tongues. Both of which, I believe are wrong. AS you read through the New Testament you see that there are many times when it talks of God sending his spirit to fill people and it is not always accompanied by speaking in tongues. God gives the gifts that you and I need for the setting we find ourselves in.  It’s more correct to say that being filled with the Holy Spirit enables us to witness to Christ and to speak God’s words and tongues is a specific manifestation of that.

I have no problem believing that the gift of tongues is for the church today because my experience of that is kid if like the Pentecost experience.

I first encountered it in a very Presbyterian way, At the Presbyterian church I grew up in, we had one of our elders say at the end of a worship time. I believe God wants me to give a message in tongues, which he gave. Another elder on the other side of the church them gave what you might call a prophetic message or a word of encouragement in English. The minister asked if the elder who had spoken in tongues though that was the interpretation. Then the wife of another elder stood up and said that she had been a teacher in Tonga for many years and although the language wasn’t Tongan she understood some of the words in the message in tongues, and they appeared where she would expect them to in the translations.

In my own experience at a healing meeting I was asked by a man to pray for him, he was going into hospital to have an operation on his veracious veins. I didn’t know what to pray so I asked if he minded if I prayed for him in tongues. He said that was fine and so I did. When I finished he turned to me and said ‘ Do you know what you’ve just done’. I was a bit worried as he was Maori and maybe I’d just done something culturally inappropriate. So is aid with trepidation “no”. Well You just prayed for me in fluent Maori and I understood every word you just said. I don’t speak Maori by the way. So I thought I’d better ask him what I had said and he replied, just in case it was simply a new recipe for watercress and pork bones. He told me I had been giving praise to God and praying against powers and principalities. I don’t know id the man was healed or not, but isn’t it God to want to speak to someone who was concerned and  worried about an operation in his own mother language, letting him know that God was in control.  

It happens occasionally, one time I was praying for a Cook Island man and again I didn’t know what to prayer for him only that God wanted me to pray for him in tongues, so I did. Afterwards he told me he didn’t know his own language that much but had understood enough to hear God say ‘I know you by name”. He went on to tell me that he was studying theology and where he was studying he felt he was being forced into the mould of being a beige Pakeha (Maori name for people of European ethnicity) and his Cook Island culture was being ignored. The thing that really irked him was the way that people butchered his name, so it was liberating and healing to here God say “I know you by name”.

It is easy to miss amidst the physical manifestations in the Pentecost narrative the central and important truth that the Holy Spirit came and dwelt on all who believed. We don’t always need the special affects the reality is that God gives his spirit to his people. It tells us that all who were gathered there were filled with the spirit. And as Peter explains it was a result of God’s desire to dwell with his people. A sign of the new age that Jesus life, death and resurrection has heralded.

It has been interesting that with the renewal of the charismatic and Pentecostal movement there has been a growing interest and emphasis on the manifestations of the spirit whereas Acts finishes its account of Pentecost with the manifesto of the Spirit, how the Spirit presence impacted the lives of that first church and what I feel we can see as the marks of a genuine moving of the Holy Spirit today.

Firstly it results in a renewal of worship. It tells us that the disciples were full of joy and giving thanks to God. It tells us that there was a heightened sense of awe and wonder at what God was doing.

Secondly there was genuine repentance. In response to peter’s sermon the crowd asked ‘what must we do to be saved’, they turned to God. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is a response to the movement of the Holy Spirit as Jesus had said one of the roles of the Spirit was to convict the world of their need for God.

There was a growing desire to learn more form the word of God. The first church devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles.  Again this is a response to the movement and presence of the Spirit of truth.

The spirit was preforming signs and wonders in and through the worshipping community.

There was a desire for Christian unity and love.  The believers meet regularly and practised hospitality. They focused on breaking bread together. They held everything in common.

There was a heightened concern for the poor which resulted in compassionate action.  The believers sold what they had and gave the money to those in need.

There was an increased emphasis on prayer.

There was an emphasis on evangelism, proclaiming the good news about Jesus and demonstrating that through how they lived. God was adding to their number daily those who were being saved. 

It’s easy to think of these things as something extra ordinary. And any revival or new move of the spirit should be tested by seeing these things reproduced in the body of believers. But essentially they are the hallmarks of being God’s Spirit filled people all the time. As we’ll see as we move on to look at the church in Corinth the church is always dealing with the reality of being a very human institution as well. But it is also why to see our vision of being an authentic vibrant sustainable community, growing as followers of Jesus and inspiring others to join us on the journey” that we need to open our lives up more and more to the filling, presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives individually, all those who believe and corporately.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pentecost Call to Worship and Prayer

This Sunday is Pentecost and over the past month I've been preaching  a series entitled Holy Spirit Come, which will culminate this Sunday. AS a call to worship I will be using some of the bible passages that we have used in our series working through Jesus teaching on the Holy Spirit in John's gospel. It is trying to draw people into worship for the day focusing on what we have been looking at and a journey through the scriptures.

Holy Spirit Come

                 God says I will pour out my spirit on all People

Holy Spirit Come

              "how much more will the Father Give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him"

Holy Spirit Come

              " and I will ask the Father and he will give you another advocate and he will help you and be with you forever."

Holy Spirit Come

             "   But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit Comes on you;
                                               and you will be my witnesses
                                                             in Jerusalem,
                                                  and in all Judea and Samaria,
                                                 and to the ends of the earth"

I will also be using James K Baxter's 'Holy Spirit Song" as a prayer in the service, this is a very new Zealand home-grown resource.

Lord, Holy Spirit,

You blow like the wind in a thousand paddocks,

Inside and outside the fences,

You blow where you wish to blow.

Lord, Holy Spirit,

You are the sun who shines on the little plant,

You warm him gently, you give him life,

You raise him up to become a tree with many leaves.

Lord, Holy Spirit,

You are the mother eagle with her young,

Holding them in peace under your feathers.

On the highest mountain you have built your nest,

Above the valley, above the storms of the world,

Where no hunter ever comes.

Lord, Holy Spirit,

You are the bright cloud in whom we hide,

In whom we know already that the battle has been won.

You bring us to our Brother Jesus

To rest our heads upon his shoulder.

Lord, Holy Spirit,

You are the kind fire who does not cease to burn,

Consuming us with flames of love and peace,

Driving us out like sparks to set the world on fire.

Lord, Holy Spirit,

In the love of friends you are building a new house,

Heaven is with us when you are with us.

You are singing your songs in the hearts of the poor

Guide us, wound us, heal us. Bring us to the Father
– James K. Baxter, ‘Song to the Holy Spirit’, in Collected Poems (ed. John Edward Weir;
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 572.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:19-23, Luke 11:9-13 & Acts 1:1-10)... Holy Spirt Come Part 4

For the past month, with a break last week due to my face exploding on me,  (which sounds dramatic I know, but it’s better than saying because of a nick while shaving or an ingrown hair resulted in an infected boil that landed me in hospital ) we’ve been working our way through Jesus teaching on the Holy Spirit in John’s gospel. We’ve been focusing on what’s known as the farewell discourse, Jesus teaching on the night he was betrayed at that last supper with his disciples. In which he prepares them for his death and resurrection and life and mission after Jesus returns to his Father. The teaching on the Holy Spirit revolves around the word ‘paraclete’, the friend who comes alongside to give trusted advice.   

We’ve been looking at it for two reasons. Firstly, for many people lack of emphasis and good teaching on the Holy Spirit or an over emphasis of the Spirit and associating it with a particular worship and church style have meant that we don’t experience the fullness of what the Holy Spirit has for us.

Secondly and most importantly, AS a church we have a vision… “we are called to be an authentic, vibrant, sustainable community, growing as followers of Jesus and inspiring others to join us on that journey” and while we can work to make that a reality it is in reality as we allow the Holy Spirit to work alongside us and we work alongside the Holy Spirit that we will see that be a reality. My hope is that we may be renewed as we open ourselves up in new ways to the Holy Spirit.

This week and next week  we are moving on to look at how the disciples received Jesus promise of another paraclete like himself, how they received the Holy Spirit. I want to do this as a way of looking at how we can know more of the spirit’s presence and power in our lives.

In the readings from John and acts this morning, you can see that the various gospel accounts differ as to how the disciples received the Holy Spirit. John has Jesus breathing on his disciples on the night of his resurrection whereas in Luke’s account Jesus tells them to wait in Jerusalem and they will receive power. This has led to various interpretations from various scholars. I found Leon Morris’ comment on this matter very helpful he says… “it is false to the New Testament and Christian experience to say that there is one gift of the Holy Spirit. Rather the Spirit is constantly manifesting himself in new ways.” The two accounts are consistent in tying the coming of the Holy Spirit to Jesus promise and being part of Jesus call on his disciples to mission. We are going to focus this week on the John Narrative and next week on the Luke narrative.

John’s narrative is a post resurrection encounter between Jesus and ten of his disciples. It is on the evening of that first day, that resurrection Sunday. The disciples are gathered together in a room with the doors locked. The disciples are afraid, they are concerned about what the religious authorities will do to them.  Jesus appears amidst them. We are not told how he does it but we are to understand that no locked door is a barrier to the risen Jesus. Jesus show them his hands and his side. Luke’s account of this appearance says it because the disciples thought he was a ghost, but in John’s account we are not told why he did it except that the disciples are now overjoyed because it is Jesus and he is alive. Just as with Thomas in the next section of this narrative they realise that shows that Jesus is who he said he was.

When John tells us this was on the that first day, it could easily simply be giving us the time of Jesus appearance, but as we saw at Easter with Jesus encounter with Mary, on the first day in the garden, that this is infused with meaning that is helpful for us in understanding Jesus breathing on the disciples and saying receive the Holy Spirit. You remember we talked about the creation thread that flows through John’s gospel.  It starts with Jesus eternal existence with God and his part in the creation of the world and with the resurrection there is the sense of a new creation happening> here again in this passage we see that parallel happening. In the creation narrative God forms the human out of the earth and does what?... He breathes life into the clay form. Our life comes from the very breath of God.  Here now on the first day Jesus again breaths on humanity and imparts new life not just physical life, but life that comes from the very presence of God by the Holy Spirit within.

All through John’s gospel the life that Jesus brings to us is equated with the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist, says that Jesus is the one who will baptise not with water but with the Holy Spirit. In that amazing dialogue with Nicodemus Jesus says that we must be born again, not that we go back into our mother’s womb, but that we must be born of the water and the spirit. Here is that new life being breathed into the disciples. The Christian life is new and eternal because it is life that comes from the very presence in our lives of the breath of God the Holy Spirit. When we come to believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, God imparts his life to us by the Spirit.

The second thing that I draw your attention to in this passage is the greeting that Jesus brings his disciples. “Peace be with you”… It is on one level just the typical Jewish greeting of that time… Shalom.  But in the narrative Jesus says it twice and so we are to pick up that there is something important going on here.  The word shalom, peace does not mean simply calmness or a lack of conflict, but rather for the Hebrews it had the meaning of right relationship, wholeness. Peace is having the right relationship with God, with each other, both those who we belong with and those outside that sphere,  with the created order and with our possessions.  AS Jesus had taught about the Paraclete he had told his disciples that he would leave his peace with them, not like the world gives. Here Jesus is imparting that peace to his disciples. He has just died on the cross and taken all the things that would stop us from knowing God and his love fully in our lives to the grave and been raised to life again. He has enabled us to have that right relationship with God again, so God can come and dwell with and with us by the Holy Spirit. We receive the spirit because of the peace that Jesus had made for us.  We receive the Holy Spirit because God desires to dwell with his people.

Jesus presence and peace may not be stopped by a locked door but it does not allow us to remain locked up in our fear rather it calls us out into the world. Jesus calls his disciples who have received his peace to be part of what he has come to do in the world. Just as the father has sent me he says so I am sending you… The disciples are called to continue the work that Jesus had done, they called to go and share the love God has for the world. Luke calls it to be my witnesses, but John expresses it more in terms of a ministry of reconciliation that just as we have been forgive so we are to go and spread that forgiveness and wholeness that is found in Christ with others.

I had the privilege of hearing my good friend Malcolm Gordon speak yesterday at a presbytery Youth training event I helped organise and Malcolm was sharing about all that we do comes out of a response to all that God has done for us. He said that it was what he called a cycle of gratitude, we are forgiven and loved and made whole because of what Jesus had done for us and out of gratitude for that we share it with others. The Holy Spirit, the paraclete, the one who comes alongside us enables us and empowers us to do that. Again it is the graciousness of God that the Spirit invites us to come alongside what the Spirit is doing in the world.

My son James is involved in the Auckland grammar, Epsom grammar combined production of “Jesus Christ super star” You won’t see him singing or dancing on stage, he’s not even playing in the band. What he’s doing is a great illustration of what you and I are called to do . James is a follow spot operator. He allows us to see Jesus on the stage by following him with a spot light. Paul Metzger’s  theatrical metaphor of the work of the Holy Spirit was when the spirit takes centre stage  it does it to keep the spot light on Jesus, you and I are invited to be on the follow spot.

How do we receive the Holy Spirit?

Firstly, it is a gracious gift of God. Out of the goodness and love of God, God has chosen to dwell with and within us and give us new life through his Spirit. We are invited to share in intimate fellowship with the God who loves us. Jesus has made that possible.

Secondly, we receive the Holy Spirit, because of what God has done for us. It is a gracious gift.  We do not earn it it is not for the spiritual elite, the holy rollers. In fact it is because we know that we are spiritually poor, remember from the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel. Blessed are the poor of Spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Thirdly, we receive the Holy Spirit because God knows how to give good gifts to his children. In the ask seek knock passage that we had read from Luke 11, it tells us that if we know how to give good gifts to our children then how much more will the Father who is righteous  give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. 

The Holy Spirit is at work in us drawing us to know God’s love and our need for God. When we turn to Jesus and accept his love, the Spirit comes and dwells in us and makes us new, gives us new eternal life, and as we ask for the Spirit the father sends the Spirit more and more to be with us. As Jesus sends us out into the world he sends the Spirit to give us the power to witness to the reality of the risen Jesus.

People have often asked the question when do we receive the Holy Spirit, at salvation or is it a second experience. People often point to the experience of John Wesley, who although he’d been a Christian all his life, found his heart strangely warmed as an example of this second sort of experience. With the rediscovery of presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the charismatic and Pentecostal movement there was a move to see people be prayed for to be baptised in the Spirit. Sadly it has the effect of sort of making those who hadn’t had that sort of experience seem like second class citizens in the kingdom of God. I by the way came into a new experience of God’s presence in my life and received the gist of tongues when I group of friends prayed for me a few months after I’d become a Christian.  I want to finish today by saying that the spirit lives within and gives new life to all believers, and as we are willing to open ourselves more and more to the Spirit of God the spirit we find ourselves more and more aware of the spirit’s presence and filling in our lives. When we ask for more of the spirits presence in our life, again becuas eit is the gift of a gracious and loving God, God sends his spirit In new ways. Maybe we don’t experience the fullness of the spirit because we don’t ask.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Paraclete as Witness: The Work of the Holy Spirit in the World (John 15:26-16:11)... Holy Spirit Come (Part 3)

AS a church “We are called to be a vibrant, authentic, sustainable community, growing as followers of Christ, and inspiring others to join us on that journey” and it is as we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, make us more like Christ, and witness to Christ alongside us that we will see that become more and more who we are. 

To help us understand who the Holy Spirit is and what he does in our  midst we are working our way through Jesus teaching about the Holy Spirit in John’s gospel. Specifically in Jesus farewell discourse…at that last supper… on the night he was betrayed. Where Jesus was preparing his disciples for what was to come; his death, resurrection and their on-going journey as followers of and witnesses to Jesus. Jesus teaching about the Spirit, in this discourse, revolves round the Greek word Paracletos,   one who comes alongside to offer legal advice, which in the NIV is translated advocate.

Two weeks ago, as we looked at Jesus promise that he wouldask the father to send another paraclete to be with and within us, we looked at who is the Holy Spirit, this Paraclete is and we saw that the Paraclete is the third person of the trinity.

Last week we started looking at the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that the Paraclete would teach us all things and bring to mind allthat Jesus had said. This week we are going to continue looking at the work of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus tells us that the Paraclete was sent to testify about him. To use the theatrical metaphor, the Spirit takes centre stage to make sure the spotlight remains on Jesus.

 The portion of the discourse that we had read out to us today is unique in Jesus teaching about the Paraclete, because it talks not of the spirits work in the lives of believers but in the world. In keeping with the legal context of the Paraclete it says in the world the Spirit is called to testify about Christ and because of what Christ has done to convict the world about sin, righteousness and judgment. Sadly much Teaching about the Holy Spirit has been inward looking what the Spirit does in me and us but we must realise that the spirit cals us to look outward and to share what we have found in Christ with the world around us.

In between  last week’s reading in John 14 and this weeks… Jesus had told the disciples that hewas the true vine and that they would find life as they remained in him, and had gone on to prepare them for what was to come by talking about the fact that because the world hated him the world would also hate the disciples, that they would suffer persecution… and it is in that context that he again speaks of the coming of the paraclete.

 In Verse 26 in a very Trinitarian formula Jesus says when the Paraclete comes it will testify about me. It is a verse  that has been at the heart of a historical controversy around the Nicene Creed, centred on how does the trinity actually work…is it a hierarchy… how dos each member fit in?  Does the Spirit proceed from the Father and the Son or just the Father?  While I don’t want to trivialise that Leon Morris is quick to point out that “this passage relates to the Work of the Holy Spirit. Not the eternal mutual relationships of the person of the Holy Spirit” and that it shows that ‘the spirit is connected in the most intimate way with the Father and the Son’ and the sending of the Spirit concerns them all.’

I love one of the words that the early church used to describe the trinity, perichoresis, which is a circle dance… that rather than a hierarchy the trinity are in perfect step with each other. in his book generous orthodoxy Brian McLaren says ‘the trinity was an eternal dance of the father, Son and Spirit sharing mutual love, honour, happiness, joy and respect and God’s act of creation is inviting more and more beings into that eternal dance of joy’.

So how does the Holy Spirit testify to Jesus?

The key thing here is that the Holy Spirit does not do this on his own. Remember the Paraclete is one who comes alongside, so Jesus says here in verse 27 that the apostles also are called to testify to Christ because they were there right at the beginning. The Spirit alongside the apostle’s witness to the same Christ, they witness to the same salvation.  Later the commission goes out to all who believe to witness to the hope they have found in Jesus. 

The second thing is that while the Apostles and we witness to Christ it is the Spirit who alone can bring home into the hearts of human beings the significance of who Christ is and what he has done for us. Jesus goes on in this passage to say it the Spirit that convicts the world about sin; it is the spirit that shows people the truth about righteousness and judgment. It is the Spirit that reveals our need for God and how Christ is able to fulfil that need.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t help reading and hearing the words sin, righteousness and judgement without seeing at least partially through the lens of fire and brimstone preaching which can distort things…  but we need to see the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth and as teacher of truth. That the spirit is not Dr Guilt Trip trying to make us feel bad nor is he Dr Phil and making us feel Ok about ourselves rather as Paul Metzger puts it, ‘the Spirit as counsellor (legal not therapeutic) convicts us of our unbelief and autonomy- not to demean us or push us away, but to draw us close to Jesus in whom we find meaning and purpose and life.”

The Spirit brings us to a right understanding of Sin, righteousness and judgment. The two most common wrong approaches to sin and brokenness are first to deny it… in 1 John 1 it says that if we do this we call God a liar and the truth is not in us. The second is to be trapped by it… that we feel condemned.  The Spirit does not condemn us… In Romans 9 Paul joyful tells us that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…nor does the Spirit simply help us get in touch with our inner self and accept our failings… it turns us to Jesus who can bring new life. Again I like the way Paul Metzger puts it... In Jesus I find my eternal destiny and in whom I find redemption from both self-condemnation and self-commendation’. 

So how does the Spirit testify to Jesus?

As we saw last week in a special role the Spirit came alongside the Apostles and those close to them and inspired them to write the Gospels and Epistles and other material we have in the scriptures. These give us what we know about Jesus life and ministry and allow us to have insight into what it means to be the new people of God.  The spirit also witnesses to Christ through enabling us to interpret and apply Jesus words.

Jesus said that they will know you are my disciples if you have… love one another as I have loved you. The reading that we had from Galatians 5 today gives a list of the Christ like characteristics or fruit that grows within us individually and as a community as we walk with the Spirit. The Spirit enables us to reflect Christ like love through the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit empowers us to be bold. In a few weeks it will be Pentecost and we are going to be looking at what happened on that first Pentecost after Christ, where Luke records the coming of the Holy Spirit in power on the disciples. One of the things it did was giving them boldness to proclaim what they knew about Jesus. Up to this point they’d either run away or confined their activity to an upper room now they stood in front of a crowd of well over three thousand.

The Spirit also calls us alongside what he is doing in the world to speak up and bring justice and Christ’s love into places of darkness and sorrow.  An example of this is a young nun travelling by  train through India and hearing the voice of Christ, by the spirit, asking her if she will dedicate herself to caring for the poorest of the poor, the resulting mission and ministry we know is that of mother Theresa and the sisters of mercy. There are many other examples of this.

The spirit also gives gifts like the list in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 that empower us to witness to Christ. My good friend Jim Wallace talks of going to a party one night and meeting a man who said he had no need for Christ, his life was all wonderful, and Jim felt the Spirit prompt him to ask the man why he slept with a gun under his pillow… it was a word of knowledge… the man turned pale and wondered how Jim knew and started talking about what was really going on in his life and later became a follower of Christ.

In John’s gospel miracles are called signs and wonders, they witness to who Jesus is, and it is the Holy Spirit that descended on Jesus at his baptism that enabled him to do these things, it’s the same spirit that dwells with and within us.  And while Jesus saying you will do the same things I have done, meant sacrificial love it also meant signs and wonders.

I often bump into the most amazing people in the car park here and this week I bumped into an Indian lady who was bringing her grandson to play group, which wasn’t on because of the school holidays. She began telling me about being a Christian and sharing her faith with her Hindu friends  and she said that that witness took the form of asking them questions and teaching them the basics about Jesus, you can imagine the Spirit being part of that because the Spirit is the one who reveals all things. She also told me that for many Hindu people their faith in Jesus came as they called out to him in times of need and he miraculously answers, then they became followers.
In our own life we have experienced God's miraculous healing. My wife Kris and I met at Bible College out at Henderson. Kris was suffering from acute asthma and living in the damp environment out west it kept getting worse. She was thinking she would have to go back home to Tauranga. We were just friends at that stage and went along one Sunday night to a meeting at the local Presbyterian Church where a little Old Presbyterian Lady from the states was speaking... Delores Winders. At the end of her message she called people up to be prayed for, She then said that she believed God wanted to heal someone there tonight  of asthma. Kris didn't respond. a little while later she said it again and said the person was seated on the side of the church we were sitting on. Kris thought it was great that God wanted to heal someone of asthma, but didn't connect it to her. A third time Delores said God wanted to heal someone of asthma and they were sitting down the back over there, and pointed to where we were sitting. Kris decided that maybe God was wanting to help her so she went forward... Delores prayed Kris hasn't had asthma since that time.    

Lastly, the way the Spirit witnesses to Jesus with us is by his abiding presence. We often see that as a promise and a call to stay in a comfortable religious buffer zone but Jesus promise of his continual presence at the end of Matthew’s gospel is linked to the call to go and make disciples of all nations. Whether we are aware of that or not, the spirit takes what we say and do and can use it to turn the spotlight on Jesus. Let me just finish with an extreme example form my own life.

WE used to run an outreach coffee bar up in Titirangi on a Friday night.. One night these two guys walked into the cafĂ© bar and said they believed that Christianity was false… they used a rather diferent word of course… and they could prove it… They said that they would just start abusing us and eventually we’d be just like anyone else get mad  and kick them out. Now I’m not always the most patient person, but I said Ok guys give it your best shot, over the next hour or so they called us names and ranted about all that was bad about Christianity. As they kept going, I sensed more and more the presence and the peace of God with us. I began smiling. It was rather a profound experience… It started to affect the two guys as well because after  an hour they stopped and sadly they swore and said man there is something real about this Christianity stuff let’s get out of here. I don’t know what happened to them after that but we can only trust that the spirit was moving in their lives.

That’s possibly a bit of an extreme case, but when I share my faith with non-Christian’s I know that the spirit is involved and I am alongside the Spirit as it does it work of witnessing to Christ. The Paraclete is called to witness to Christ and does that as it comes alongside us and we come alongside the Spirit.