Empowered by the Spirit

May 21, 2017

Empowered by the Spirit

In recent years, my children have become very interested in various super heroes. One of those super heroes came to mind as I wrote this sermon. The story of this particular hero starts with a scrawny, blond man. All super heroes start out as weak or deficient in some serious way. His name was Steve Rogers. He repeatedly signed up for military duty but had been rejected for his small stature and weak constitution.  He didn’t have a physique that made women swoon or a personality that made him the most popular guy on the block.  He was what a lot of people would call a loser. Yet, he was chosen by the military to be the sole test subject of their experimental “Super Soldier Serum” because of his extreme patriotism, intelligence and good character. He had a good heart. So they thought he could handle the power that would be imparted by the serum, if it worked.  The doctor in charge treated him with the questionable therapy and was then killed. When he died, all information having to do with the serum died as well, leaving Steve Rogers, now Captain America, the only super soldier to ever exist. He went on to save battalions, vanquish enemies, dodge bullets behind enemy lines and stand up for what was right all because he was a good guy that could be trusted with awesome power. This made me think of those who love Jesus and are blessed with the awesome power of the Holy Spirit.

In our reading today, as in the readings from the last few Sundays, Jesus is at the last supper, preparing His disciples for the rapidly approaching fulfillment of His destiny. He is getting them ready to carry on his work and to share His message without His presence at their sides. He tells them that those who love Him will obey His commandments. We know the two greatest of His commandments were these: love the Lord your God with all of your heart, your mind and your soul and to love your neighbor as yourself. Why should He want us to obey? Was it simply to show that we know who’s boss? I don’t think so. Just as we raise our children to obey what we say: look both ways before you cross the street, brush your teeth, eat your vegetables, always tell the truth, because the rules we give them to obey will keep them safe and happy, Jesus wants us to obey His commandments because He wants what is best for us. He wants His children to live lives that will prepare them for and build God’s kingdom. As it says in Jeremiah 29:” For I know the plans I have for you, “says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days, when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you.”  Jesus loves us as a parent loves their child and knows that, for the greatest good, in this life and the next, we MUST keep those commandments. We must obey.

How can we be strong enough to obey when we live in a society riddled with those who don’t even know the commandments, much less obey them? How can we live our lives as beacons of the light of God’s love as Jesus did when we are surrounded by so much darkness and doubt? We can’t easily walk around with the Bible to refer to all of the time at work or school or anywhere in everyday life. We don’t have Jesus reminding us of what’s most important over dinner with friends or performing miracles in crowded cities. We can do it the same way Jesus told the disciples that they would be able to do it. He has sent the Holy Spirit to fill every person who loves Him.

At the very end of our reading today, Jesus tells the disciples that if we love Jesus, God will love us, Jesus will also love us and reveal Himself to us.  “You fathers-- if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion” Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”

If we obey His commands, if we seek Him, we demonstrate our love for Him, God will bless us with the knowledge of the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. That doesn’t sound as impressive as it is unless you really look at what it means. It means that we will know that God through our love of Jesus Christ has lodged the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, in our very souls.

As the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians:

 “Brothers and sisters, I want you to know about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. 2 You know that at one time you were unbelievers. You were somehow drawn away to worship statues of gods that couldn’t even speak. 3 So I want you to know that no one who is speaking with the help of God’s Spirit says, “May Jesus be cursed.” And without the help of the Holy Spirit no one can say, “Jesus is Lord.”

4 There are different kinds of gifts. But they are all given to believers by the same Spirit. 5 There are different ways to serve. But they all come from the same Lord. 6 There are different ways the Spirit works. But the same God is working in all these ways and in all people.

7 The Holy Spirit is given to each of us in a special way. That is for the good of all. 8 To some people the Spirit gives a message of wisdom. To others the same Spirit gives a message of knowledge. 9 To others the same Spirit gives faith. To others that one Spirit gives gifts of healing. 10 To others he gives the power to do miracles. To others he gives the ability to prophesy. To others he gives the ability to tell the spirits apart. To others he gives the ability to speak in different kinds of languages they had not known before. And to still others he gives the ability to explain what was said in those languages. 11 All the gifts are produced by one and the same Spirit. He gives gifts to each person, just as he decides.”

The Holy Spirit is what makes us do the things that Jesus would do if He were physically here. It’s what makes us bring food to a shut in, call a friend because we think they might need to hear a friendly voice, care for someone in need, feed the hungry, show mercy to someone even if it’s someone who’s wronged us, pray for those who hate us. The Spirit lets us forgive, show care. It is what fuels our love for our neighbors.  A lot of people do philanthropic or charitable things. If they don’t recognize that their actions are motivated by the Holy Spirit, they may be tempted to claim that they’re just trying to be nice people. It’s their duty as compassionate, responsible friends or citizens. It could be tempting to feel pretty proud of yourself for being such a good person. Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA and founder on In Touch Ministries has said:God will never direct us to be prideful, arrogant and unforgiving, immoral or slothful or full of fear. We step into these things because we are insensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit within us.”

If we give credit where credit is due—to the Holy Spirit, the companion sent to each of us by Jesus Christ--we will give Him the credit for giving us the gifts we have to share, driving our actions and motivating our lives. Not only will He will be exalted through our actions but we will be blessed with the knowledge that we live for a divine purpose assigned to us individually by our Lord.

If we believe that we, as people who love Jesus, are animated and empowered by the Holy Spirit, how much love can we share every day? Something as simple as saying “Good morning” can turn from a relatively meaningless salutation said in passing to a meaningful expression of love and care from a servant of God. It’s all in how we do it, how we show our love. Can you feel the love of neighbor and let it be seen through your actions, through your smile, through your eyes? Can you make something as simple as saying, “Good morning” a warm caring greeting that says, not just hello, but “Good morning, I hope you are well and happy and have a great day”? Because we have good hearts, like a trustworthy potential super hero, filled with love for Jesus, God will bless us with the Holy Spirit.  What if we let that Holy Spirit fuel all of our actions? It’s in you. It’s in all who love Jesus. As Christian disciples, let us pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us in all we do and give us strength to let Him work through us. Let us listen to His direction and follow where He will lead us for the good of all, the Glory of His name and the Kingdom of God.

This prayer is a work in progress!!!

Let’s Pray:

As Saint Augustine said, “Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there Thy cheerful beams.”

God of love and of life, let us take time to look deep within ourselves and discover the gifts you have blessed us with. May we take the time to direct our lives in a way that best uses our own unique combination of gifts. May our education help us discover where our strengths and interests lie. May our faith guide us in realizing our gifts. May we always be open to the direction of the Spirit and never forget the love you have for each of us. Give us, O Lord, the perception we need to look within ourselves and discover the beauty and gifts we possess. Give us the courage to show others the talents they have. Help us serve others in the community and in so doing build up your kingdom. We ask this through Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

Norma Goff