June 4, 2017

He Said This About the Spirit

Passage: Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:24-35, 1 Corinthians 12:3-13, John 7:37-39
Service Type:

Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

In March of 2016 Britain’s Channel 4 sent 23 volunteers to a remote corner of the Scottish Highlands. It was to be the launch of a survival TV series titled Eden: one in which "two dozen daring young strangers bid farewell to the modern world as we know it, bearing their hunting equipment and their wiles into the remote Scottish highlands with the aims of creating a new community from scratch." A year later viewers are wondering what exactly happened to them.

Four episodes were aired last summer, but since then, "the wider world hasn't had a glimpse of what's been happening in their 600-acre patch of would-be paradise." In addition to the lack of new episodes, nothing has been posted to the show's social media accounts (aside from a reply to a commenter that the series would "come back on Channel 4 later [in 2017]"). The Aberdeen Press and Journal provides an explanation: Almost everyone in the original group bailed out.

1. The Evangelist Luke tells is that on the day of Pentecost there were about 120 followers of Jesus gathered together in one place. To be sure, it may not have been the rugged landscape of the Scottish Highlands. Still, is in not a miracle that this group stayed together? Lots of groups begin with high hope and common purpose around worthy objective. But staying power is not easy to come by. Especially when you consider the opposition these followers soon attracted.

It is a marvel that the church exists today. These 120 followers have grown to a world wide body of people that down through the centuries numbers in the millions upon millions. Is it possible that its existence is merely the genius of human imagination; the craftiness of marketing or the power of financial resources; the human need to be religious or the desire to matter? On that day in the temple during the festival of booths Jesus cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” John then tells us that Jesus said this “about the Spirit of God.” That the church exists is our Lord’s doing enacted by the Spirit of God. The witness of Luke in his Book of Acts is that apart from the Spirit of God these 120 believers are still in the upper room. It is the Spirit who sends them out.

I read New Testament scholars who in the course of their work compare the New Testament stories with others stories known in their era. It in an attempt, I believe, to help us understand how a person in the first century might hears the stories of Jesus. Take the story in John’s gospel of Jesus walking on the water (John 6:16-21). One scholar noted that “educated Greek readers, and Christians converted from Hellenism, might well recall tales of heroes like Euphemos, the companion of Jason, who walked on water without even wetting his feet, and of ships which miraculously sped their way under divine guidance.” (Ruth Edwards, Discovering John, 2014, p. 66) Even so, are there organizations today that meet weekly and read the stories of Greek heroes? Is the churches’ practice of reading gospel each week at worship because the stories of Jesus are better written or more compelling than stories of the various Greek heroes? Is the church a glorified book club? And if so why this book and these stories? And if we were a book club would we choose this book?

There is more going on here, is there not? Think about all the opposition to the church; dictators and rulers and governance regimes throughout history and today that oppose and even try to eliminate the church from existence. Consider universities that began as seminaries to prepare clergy for Christian ministry that today want nothing to do with the seminary except to turn it into a department of religion. Our public education that studiously avoids any mention of the name Jesus. This opposition along with the inner turmoil within the church often “shooting ourselves in the foot” it is a wonder the church exists at all.

I want to be clear that I am not saying that the wonder of the existence of the church is proof that God is at work by his Spirit. God needs no proving. I am pointing out that Jesus spoke about this river that quenches human thirst flowing out of the believer’s heart into the world as the activity of the Spirit of God. There is more going here that humans with like values gathering to cheer each other on.

2. The story of Jesus and church in one story. In our age where we champion individualism we tend to lose sight of our connectedness to all that has gone before and what will follow. We read the stories of Jesus and seemingly think we can bypass the events of the book of Acts. It is as if we think we can skip over all the journeys of Paul stuff as “interesting read” but not “mission critical.” The point I make with you is that we would not know of Jesus except through the Apostles and there are no Apostles without Jesus. These go together as one story and we here at Central United are also part of that one story. The world knows Jesus through the church but there is no church without Jesus.

Think about the connectedness of life. You walk into a convenience store to purchase a small container of cream. It seems an isolated event between you and the person behind the counter. But there are all those people and their companies that produced the many products in the shelf along with those who work in logistics organizations that deliver the item there. And there is the bank and all its connections that stands behind the debit card machine you use as you purchase. And what about the government services like the road you drove on to get to the store that are supported by the tax added to the cost of the item. And then there is the person behind the counter who perhaps came recently from another part of the world and all their connections and then all the connections that you have because you are taking this cream home to bake something for a family gathering. It looks isolated but it isn’t

The witness of the Acts of the Apostles is that the 120 in the upper room wouldn’t have hit the streets where people heard them speaking of God’s deeds of power in their own language except by a move of the Spirit of God. But they still had to hit the streets. It is through people that this word came. And we are connected to those 120. The same Spirit who empowered them empowered the church throughout history until this word came to you. And now through you to others.

Compared to Christmas and Easter the celebration of Pentecost hardly raises and eyebrow in much of the church. Yet except for Pentecost we would not be celebrating Christmas or Easter. This is the one story of Jesus and his church. And every believer is a part of that one story.

While the world regards the church as either stillborn or impotent (“How many troops does the pope have?”, Stalin had jested), it is precisely the church which the rightful ruler of the universe appoints to be his hands and feet. Henceforth it does that work which he will crown one day as he brings to perfection his work of cosmic restoration. Admittedly, the church has prostituted itself repeatedly, yet the bestowal of the Spirit ensures that it will ever be the bride of Christ. Admittedly, the church has often compromised itself inexcusably; deformed at times to the point of being grotesque, the church lives by the promise of one day standing forth resplendent, without spot or blemish..

3. C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity wrote, "Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably, earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing."

Let us return for a moment to that day at the temple when Jesus cried out “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.” John tells is that this was on the last day in the Festival of Booths, the great day—it is likely the 7th day of this harvest festival.

At the Temple each day during the festival the religious rite of water drawing was celebrated. You can appreciate the significance of this rite as thanksgiving to God in a dry climate. It was a joyous rite for the pilgrims who came. At the break of day the Priests processed from the Temple to the pool of Siloam. There they filled a golden pitcher with water and bore it back to the temple. On approaching the water gate on the south side of the inner court the trumpet was sounded 3 times – joyous blasts explicitly repeated. They are thinking of Isaiah 12:3 “with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” The Priests then process around the altar. Oon the 7th day they process around the altar 7 times hence John’s reference as the great day of the feast, the pilgrims watching in anticipation, the temple choir is singing. Other Biblical images read during this festival would be the story of the water from the rock given to the Israelites in the desert.

Then the water is offered to God in connection with the daily drink-offering of wine. A chosen priest mounts the altar on which stands two silver bowls, one for the reception of the drink-offering and the other for the water. The priest pours the wine into one bowl and the water into the other and then takes the two bowls and pours them out as an offering to God on the altar. The crowd then calls out, “Lift up you hand.” The demand was made as a sign the rite was properly fulfilled, the priest would then raise his hand aloft to show the empty bowls. It is at that moment, we believe, that Jesus standing near the altar cries out - "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'"

Friends, Jesus Christ is water for a thirsty world—the only water that can satisfy the longing of the human heart. Further, our Lord said, it is “out of the believer’s heart there shall flow a river of living water,” It is through the church that Jesus ordained this water would flow. I wonder if we believe we are bearers of water for a thirsty world?

Taffy Brodesser-Akner, a writer and a non-practicing Jew, wrote a lengthy article for GQ magazine about Pastor Carl Lentz from Hillsong Church in New York City. As if still surprised by her encounter with a Christian pastor she actually liked, she wrote:
“And here I have to say out loud how much I like Carl … I like him even though he is ideologically opposed to things that are important to me … He is so worried for my soul, and this should annoy me, but instead it touches me, because maybe I'm worried about my soul, too, and Carl wants so badly for me to enjoy heaven with him. How can I fault someone who is more sincere about this one thing than I have ever been about anything in my life.”

After attending worship services at Hillsong for a number of weeks, Taffy Brodesser-Akner explained that she didn't go to church but instead:
“I went to soccer games with my children and ordered a pizza, and at the end of the evening I cleaned the kitchen and I bent down to place dinner plates into the dishwasher, and as I did I hummed Hillsong's music to myself, and then I straightened up suddenly, and I looked out the window into the dark nothing and I realized that I missed them all very much.”

‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” Now he said this about the Spirit …”