Sunday, May 11, 2014

Witnessing In The Power Of The Holy Spirit (it's a lot more ordinary than you might think) Acts 3... Fire and Wind: encoutering the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts and In Everyday Life (part 3)

We do tend to have a caricature of Evangelism and Witnessing that puts people off the idea, both those outside the church and those inside. WE tend to see it as being  done by people who are somewhere between smarmy slick used car salesmen, or brain washed robots who simply spout a well-worn piece of plastic platter, like a broken record, to anyone who will listen.  TV Evangelists have added to the problem giving us a stereotype of miracles for profit, send us your money and God will bless you.

You might think that’s a bit harsh and cynical but it is what a lot of people think… right?  And It’s a problem because as the church we have been commissioned by our Lord to be a people who will witness to the reality of the risen Jesus Christ. We are God’s spirited people who have been enabled and empowered by God’s presence to do this task.

We are working our way through the book of Acts looking at the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those first believers so we can encounter the power of the Spirit in our own lives today. Last week we looked at how the believers lived in response to the coming of the Promised Spirit. This week we have a memorable example of witnessing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The narrative we had read to us today follows similar miracle stories in Luke’s gospel. It’s in two parts, firstly in verse 1-10 we have the event; out of compassion meeting the real need of someone in the community, the healing of the man born lame, then in the rest of the chapter we have the explanation of what has happened, John and Peter preach to the crowd that had gathered because of the healing.

Let’s have a look at the event. Peter and John are on their way to the temple. Luke tells us that this was a daily routine for the apostles and the new faith community. They had devoted themselves to the prayers and they were on their way to the afternoon prayer at the temple. Along the way they encounter a beggar, a man born lame. Alms giving was an important part of the religious life of Jewish people. They were to share the generosity of what God had provided for them with those in need. It also acted like the Jewish social welfare system. We saw last week that the early church also practised this, they held things in common and sold property and gave to those had a need.  

Peter and John as apostles didn’t have a regular income; they had left their livelihood as commercial fishermen to follow Jesus and lived a rather austere lifestyle. They don’t have money to share with this man but they want to share with him out of the generosity of what God has done for them.  So they speak those amazing words “gold and Silver have I none, but in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth Walk.” And the man is healed instantly, it tells us his ankles were made strong and he is able to walk; More than that he gets up and jumps and runs about praising God. He’s healed.

I think we can look at this event and kind of get caught up like the crowd round Peter and John who are amazed at what they’ve seen, and just think it’s beyond our experience…right!  We’d never have the faith to haul someone sitting in a wheel chair we’ve just met  and say in Jesus name walk… I’m not discounting the fact that God works miracles and heals today. I believe in it strongly! I love John Wimber’s comment “ I’ve seen more people healed since I believe in it and started praying for them, than when I did not believe and so didn’t pray.”  But I want to draw our attention to some of the power of the Holy Spirit we may miss in the wonder of the healing, which seems a lot more ordinary and everyday but is equally God at work in his people.

Firstly, the thing that sticks out to me is the words and Peter looked straight at him, Peter and John were going about their daily routine their regular daily spiritual disciplines and in the midst of that the Holy Spirit drew their attention to a need around them. They would have been used to the beggars on the way up to the temple, maybe they were used to robotically checking their pockets for spare change. Maybe they’d been warned to watch out some of these people were making a good living off begging, it was stopping them getting a real job.  But it tells us that Peter looked intently at the man. In many of the miracle stories in the gospel I am struck by how Jesus notices a person or people who are shunned by society and in need and acts out of compassion: The man at the pool of Salome, blind Bartimeaus, the women who touched his garment, Zacchaeus up the tree. The same Holy Spirit that was with Jesus is with Peter and John and with us and invites us to see with the compassion of Jesus.  Jim Wallace, the minister at St Enoch's in Tauranga  was up here this week and was talking about one of his spiritual disciples… “loitering with intent”, simply going out in the street round his church and praying and  starting up conversations with the people he meets, seeing them as divine appointments, it was great to hear the stories of the way God used those conversation to bring new life to people.

The second thing is that the Holy Spirit prompted them to act in a way that met the man’s need. It’s easy to think that we can solve problems by throwing money at them, there is a place for meeting financial need, again we saw that was what the early church was noted for, they help all things in common, but the Holy Spirit invited Peter and John to go beyond that to the root of the issue: To get involved to take a risk, to exercise their faith and as they did that God moved in power. 

Recently I’ve had the privilege of meeting Steve Farelly, Steve is known for starting breakfast clubs in decile one schools here in New Zealand, in Manurewa and in Glen Innes. He saw some media reports about child poverty in New Zealand and he will tell you he simply felt he needed to  get involved. He went to a school and asked what can I do to help, and informed the school he didn’t just want to scratch the surface but wanted to look at ways of getting to the root causes in the community. He was invited to start a breakfast club and since that time God has used him and his helpers to make significant changes. Steve will tell you, hes a Christian he goes to st Columba’ s Botany  of the miraculous provision of God, both as he has gone and asked business people to help and as he is told of someone’s need, like a family without a fridge, he is continually surprised how he will receive a call from someone else that very day offering to meet that very need. It’s the Spirit at Work, as we are willing to be lead.

The other mark of the Holy Spirit’s involvement in meet this man's need is that he is restored in a holistic way.  We may not pick it up, but as a cripple he would not have been permitted into the temple precinct, he would have been on the edge of his community, assumed by many to have sinned and be a sinner, not only is he healed but also restored to his community and to God. This healing is a sign of the new life that is available to us in Jesus Christ.  As the spirit empowers us to meet the needs in our community it is with the desire for a holistic outcome, the need being meet, communities reconciled and peoples relationship with God restored as well, and that is a good point to draw us to the second part of this narrative.

Peter and John enter the temple and we are told that as people recognise who it is who is leaping about and praising God that a crowd gather. Peter and John take the opportunity to speak to them about the meaning of this miracle. Remember such events in scripture are signs, signs of the risen Jesus Christ, that Jesus is alive and still at work.  Again you and I may find it a bit beyond our experience to stand up in front of a group like this and preach, I’ve done some street preaching, but I find it really hard. Again it’s good for us to see the Holy Spirit at work in this situation, because it works in us in the same ways.

Firstly, Peter and John, and please note in scripture we always see that witnessing and ministry is a team event, even though Peter takes the lead John is with him and involved, peter and John deflect the attention away from themselves to focus on God. The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to glorify God, to draw people to him. We can often want to have the limelight, but it’s important that in our actions and our words we point to Jesus- In individual conversations or in front of groups. I actually think this is a sign of a genuine move of the Spirit, that the people involved are always willing to step aside and point to Jesus, the Spirit enables us to do that.

Biblical Scholars say this sermon is one of the most Christologically complete speeches we have recorded in the scriptures, it shows how the early church had quickly began to understand who Jesus was in light of the Old Testament scriptures: it’s displayed in all the various titles for Jesus that are used, and the reflection on Jesus as the suffering servant from Isaiah 53. As they had been studying the scriptures the Holy Spirit had been leading them into the truth about Jesus, just as John told us Jesus had said it would. Witnessing in the power of the Holy Spirit is allowing the Spirit to open the scriptures up to us so we can share with people what we know of Jesus both from experience and from the word and challenges us to respond to that truth. I wonder if our ability to share our faith isn’t impacted by the amount of time we actually take in opening ourselves up to our source documents. I find more and more that the words people are looking for in ministry are not mine but words from the Word, Jesus told us that the spirit would bring the words to say to mind, but the spirit doesn’t work in a vacuum.

The third thing about this message is that Peter and John knew their context; they were able to connect with where their listeners were at and how the gospel connected to it.  The passage in Joel two which Peter quoted at Pentecost, said that when the spirit was poured out on people, they would prophecy, and we often think that has to do with foretelling, having divine insight into the future. But the word actually means to ‘tell forth’ and prophecy in the Christian understanding is to make the timeless word of God timely, connecting it to the here and now, the situation we are in, so it can bring life and transformation.  The Spirit enables John and Peter to share the message about Jesus in a way that impacts on the Jewish audience they are preaching to. Paul at the acropolis using the statue to the unknown God is another  great example of this in Acts. The night I became a Christian they had shown the movie the peace child, where a tribal custom for making peace between two people by giving the chiefs son as a peace offering was the way a missionary had been able to share the gospel in a meaningful way. Jim Wallace shared some questions he uses to talk with people in their sixties and older inviting them to reflect on their childhood experiences of Sunday school and bible class and says that as he does this the Spirit Opens up opportunities to talk deeply about faith

We often equate witnessing in the Power of the Holy Spirit with big dramatic things, and in the passage we had read we have them, but we also need to remember that the Lord was adding to their number daily those who were being saved, that that witness to Christ in the Power of the Holy Spirit was happening in everyday life as well as the memorable big events and moments. remember Jesus promise was that he would be with us to the end of the age. More people come to Christ because a friend of family member loved them and shared it with them than through mass evangelism… we need the Holy spirit empowered acts of love in meeting people’s needs and the gospel words in our everyday lives.

Our vision as a church is… to be an authentic vibrant sustainable community, growing as followers of Jesus and inspiring others to join us on that journey”  Darryll Bock tells us both spirit inspired  word and deed are essential  essential in witnessing to Jesus, that inspiring others bit. “To say God loves you without showing it leaves the words empty. To Minister but never point to God leaves the one ministered to without a clue to what has motivated that love.”

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