Friday, May 21, 2010

Sermon for Sunday May 16th

Sermon May 16, 2010 St. Margaret’s Anglican Church

May the words of my mouth, and the thoughts of all our hearts be now and always acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my Strength and my Redeemer.

I remember hearing Rev. Harold Percy give a sermon at St. Timothy’s many years ago.

It was on the Sunday morning of a week-end Synod, and the thing he said that I remember most clearly, was that after the first two minutes of most sermons, the listeners tuned out and started indulging in fantasies of various kinds, including sexual fantasies!

Honest, that’s what I remember he said!

I do also remember staying the course and listening to the whole sermon, which lasted some fifteen minutes.

His point, I think, was to make the sermon short and sweet - and then he proceeded to make it long….and interesting!

Rev. Percy may have been laying a guilt trip on his listeners so that they’d pay attention to the whole sermon.

You can be assured that this is NOT my intention in mentioning that incident!

In this sermon, I’ll try to come in under the Anglican time limit, which is about 12 minutes, I think. Right, Tim? (If you’re timing me subtract the time for my intro. And remember, I speak more deliberately than Tim.

Today is celebrated as Ascension Sunday, so, not surprisingly, the Gospel reading and the reading from Acts refer directly to the ascension of Jesus.

They both also refer to waiting for the Spirit’s coming - in Acts 1:8, and Luke 24:47-48.

{(It was only after I began to prepare this message that it occurred to me that next week is Pentecost, and that Tim might also be basing his message on the coming of the Holy Spirit. My immediate response to that thought was - “Sorry, Tim, I got here first!” The next thought which came hard on the heels of the first one, was that Tim was a far more experienced preacher than I was, so that would be no problem.

Following quickly after that thought - and sent by the Holy Spirit, I’m sure, was the revelation that the Word of God can be mined extensively by different people on the same subject, without exhausting what it has to say.

So….I press on.

The Acts of the Apostles, which was written by Luke, might more properly be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit thro’ the apostles - specifically Paul and his companions, and Peter and John.

Mention is also made of Philip and James, but Acts is largely an account of the work of the Spirit through Peter and Paul especially, in spreading the message of the Gospel to the Gentiles.

In Acts 1:8, Jesus tells his disciples just before he leaves them to ascend into Heaven “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.”

In Luke 24;49, he tells them “Stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

The juxta-position of receiving power, and witnessing in Jerusalem and “all the ends of the earth, ”is no co-incidence.

It is clear that what Jesus is saying, is that they could only be reliable, confident witnesses after the power of the Holy Spirit had come upon them.

As the Book of Acts tells the story, they certainly were!

The evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit in the witness of the apostles immediately brought a question to my mind - Why isn’t the power of the Holy Spirit compelling in our western world?

Could it be that the Spirit has lost his ability to galvanize us into action? He certainly seems to be visibly active in the so-called developing world where tales of miracles and mass conversions are frequently told.

No, more likely, I thought, is that we are ‘quenching the Spirit’s fire’, in the words of 1 Th.5:19.

Maybe we have embraced a mechanical attitude towards worship that inhibits the type of enthusiasm and commitment that would impel us to be witnesses to Jesus Christ in our lives and in our words.

This reflection led me to remember a story I heard about a man who attended church at Easter. On his way out after the service, as he was shaking the pastor’s hand, the pastor pulled him aside and said “You need to join the Lord’s army!” In no way perturbed, he replied, “I am in the army of the Lord!” “So how come I only see you at Christmas and Easter?” Lowering his voice, he replied “I’m in the Secret Service!”

We need to be in the Public Service not the Secret Service as we witness for Jesus Christ.

The apostles were spurred into action after they received the Spirit at Pentecost. They were eager and excited to be witnesses for Christ as the Spirit filled them to overflowing.

Now, whereas they had to wait in Jerusalem to receive the Holy Spirit, we don’t have to wait - the Holy Spirit became our permanent possession the moment we believed in Christ and put our trust in Him.

Salvation, says Acts 4:12, comes to the world thro’ Christ alone. Romans 10:13,14 says “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?………..”

We have all been sent. The injunction to the Apostles to be Jesus’ witnesses ‘to all the ends of the earth applies equally to us.

Is it then, because we’re not filled with the Spirit why we’re not fired up to witness to the power and love of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Being filled with the Spirit, according to the N.I.V. Study Bible, is to be under God’s control. When St. Paul says in Eph. 5:18 “Do not get drunk, instead be filled with the Spirit” he is contrasting the destructive influence of the intoxicating effect of wine, with the enabling, life-giving and fruit-bearing power of the Holy Spirit.

The fruit-bearing Spirit that produces in us love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, patience, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control, is the same Spirit that empowers us as we witness to Jesus Christ’s saving grace. (If you’re like me, you probably prefer to be filled with love, joy, peace etc. than to be galvanized into action by the Spirit who descends like a mighty rushing wind. But this is the same Spirit, and if we’re filled with Him, ALL these aspects will be evident in our behaviour.)

We have the same power that filled the apostles at Pentecost - we may not feel like it , but we do!

Oswald Chambers, the respected English Bible expositor says “The moment we recognize our complete weakness and our total dependence on Him will be the very moment when the Spirit of God will exhibit His power.

As Eph.1:13 reminds us - “…when you heard the word of truth, the Gospel of salvation, having believed him, you were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit..” And 2 Tim.1:7 says “…..the Spirit that God gave us is no craven Spirit, but one to inspire strength, love and self-discipline..” This is the Spirit that dwells in all of us believers. As Paul tells us in Eph.4:4 “there is one Body and one Spirit.”

Furthermore, Jesus told his disciples in Mark 13:9-11 “…..on account of me, you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the Gospel must first be preached to all nations… Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry before-hand of what to say. Just say whatever is given to you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit….”.

Those wonderful words of assurance by God in Is.55:10-11 tell us …‘as the rain and the snow come down from Heaven,

and do not return to it without watering the earth

and making it bud and flourish……….

so is my word …….it will accomplish what I desire……..’

What all these quotations (and many others) are telling us is that we have the Holy Spirit to guide us, empower us, and inspire us in our witness, so we can witness to ‘all the world’ without fear or reluctance.

Let us pray, that as we study the Word of God, as we pray to Him, assemble with fellow-believers, and dedicate our lives to God’s service i.e as we die to self and live for Jesus; the Spirit, which God gave to us as a seal of salvation, -( Eph.1:13)- the Spirit, which is not a Spirit of fear but a Spirit of power and love,-( 2Tim.1:7) - this same Spirit who fell on the disciples at Pentecost, will fill us to overflowing, so that, like those apostles, we will be witnesses to the sustaining love and the enabling power of our Lord Jesus Christ.

AMEN.

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