Message for Sunday 4 June 2017–“Spirit Empowerment”

Brace yourself for a potential jolt. Celebrated as Pentecost in Acts 2:1-21, today is therefore a very special Sunday. We’re recognizing nothing less than the core of Spirit, God’s very essence and the root of God’s Being. God is spirit, and since we are created in God’s image we also are spiritual beings and we can claim connection to God, spirit-to-Spirit.

Jesus promised that shortly after his departure he would send the energetic, marvelous Holy Spirit. Jesus did this in part because he didn’t want his followers to be left as powerless orphans in a fledgling new religion. A basic biblical message about God’s Spirit is that this aspect of God’s presence comforts, guides and empowers believers. The Holy Spirit is God’s truest and most basic form, activated through our faith.

Strange things happened on that original Pentecost: Flames of fire appeared above the assembled disciples. People spoke foreign languages without prior knowledge, and the astonished new believers were gathered together in a wonderful awakening. Peter, Jesus’ closest friend, stood up and explained that even greater things would happen, such as prophecies and diverse signs and wonders. What a scene! Do we dare even consider that something similar can happen today?

Are you confused and perplexed about all the spirit talk and miraculous claims? If so, then you’re not alone. There is much controversy over the nature, role and presence of the Holy Spirit. Christians are divided more than ever about these issues. Some argue that we can and should expect the same miracles as described in Acts. In this perspective, God’s Spirit is ready and able to do the same types of miracles in today’s church as what happened almost two-thousand years ago.

An opposing view about the Holy Spirit and miracles suggests that the age of God acting this way is long over, and that God uses other, often more subtle or rational means to equip believers. The claim here is that conditions were “special” long ago and God doesn’t need miracles or what some dismiss as parlor tricks to energize the church. The danger in this latter position is that it ignores or diminishes the Holy Spirit. On the other side, placing too much emphasis on the literal, specific miracles in Acts can generate distractions.

It’s unlikely that we’ll find a way to demonstrate which side of the spirit debate is absolutely, totally correct. As usual, it’s likely not an either/or because there are insights in each position. A larger problem concerns how each side in the controversy perceives only what they want; contrary evidence is either ignored or dismissed. The same process of people trying to create their own facts has been occurring with increasing frequency outside the church, such as the minefield of secular politics. A lesson is that we are each entitled to our own opinion, but not to our own facts.

Unfortunately, controversy is commonplace for most of what Christians claim they believe. How does anyone emerge intact from this mess without undermining God’s love, which we’re supposed to be sharing with the world? There may be a balance somewhere between extremist positions about the role of the Holy Spirit. It is worth the effort to discover a way to take the Spirit seriously without becoming hysterical or delusional. Embracing God’s Spirit doesn’t mean that we speak contrived nonsense but it does mean that we embrace love for God and for one another, the absolute core of Jesus’ gospel.

It helps to accept the basic premise that God’s Spirit is within us. It’s then worth exploring the wondrous things that can happen when we open ourselves to spiritual power. We must widen the gaze of our understanding and consider that we run a risk of defying God if we ignore our responsibility and privilege to access spiritual power. A lively experience of spiritual power is not aligned with some folks’ style of worship or personality. In this case, God may be challenging hold-outs to change how they think, feel and act. When invited to try a more dynamic spiritual life some people squeal as if you’ve asked them to sever a limb! What a waste when closed hearts and minds render people resistant to how God wants to bless them. It’s worth asking ourselves if some people are leaving unclaimed a variety of spiritual gifts that God wants to provide.

A larger relevant issue is that we can’t allow how we were raised and indoctrinated into Christianity to function as the final word about who we are and what we’re willing to become. God is greater than familiarity, comfort, tradition and theology. To realize our potential as God’s children we are mandated to heed the prophetic voice and to grow and stretch ourselves in new directions. Are you ready? Are you in a process of becoming or are you so set in your ways that you are not open to the transformation to which God calls you?

As awakened Christians, we must choose to let God accomplish great works in us and through us. The challenge is to advance and keep our faith alive by claiming God’s promises (rather than relegating them to ancient fiction). Our spirits can progress as we embrace the promise that God’s Holy Spirit will empower our efforts. We should never give-up on moving-up. We’re invited to set goals that promote God’s kingdom and that challenge us to become stronger and more loving. Otherwise, what’s the point of going through the motions of an impoverished, withering religion that goes nowhere?

The world is watching us, and so is God. Better that we do whatever we can to demonstrate that God is alive in us and through us, even if we need a spiritual makeover to help us become more receptive. Celebrate Pentecost by yearning for and embracing God’s Holy Spirit. Great power and joy await your positive decision. –Reverend Larry Hoxey