Monday, June 9, 2014

Sermon – “Pour Out Your Spirit” (Acts 2:17; 2:4 & John 7:37,38)


If I were to have a favorite prayer in our Book of Common Prayer, I think it would have to be the one that follows a baptism. The candidates have just been baptized. The water is still trickling down their foreheads, when we pray, “Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and”—here’s the bit I especially like—“the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.”

“The gift of joy and wonder in all your works…” Over a century ago G.K. Chesterton wrote about the wonder that characterizes childhood.

When we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales—because they find them romantic. In fact, a baby is about the only person, I should think, to whom a modern realistic novel could be read without boring him.

He then went on to lament the tragedy of the loss of that sense of wonder that happens to all of us.

We have all read … the story of the man who has forgotten his name. This man walks about the streets and can see and appreciate everything; only he cannot remember who he is. Well, every man is that man in the story. Every man has forgotten who he is. One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star… We are all under the same mental calamity; we have all forgotten our names. We have all forgotten what we really are. All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of our life we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstasy only means that for one awful instant we remember that we forget.[1]

In his book Dangerous Wonder, Mike Yaconelli uttered a similar lament:

Most of us cannot say when it happened, we only know that it happened. When we became aware of the absence of God’s voice, there were a thousand deaths within us. Idealism and innocence died first. And across the scarred terrain of our souls, one could see the withered remains of dreams, spontaneity, poetry, passion, and ourselves—our real selves, the persons we were made to be.

What happened? What happened to our aliveness? …

The death of the soul is never quick. It is a slow dying, a succession of little deaths that continues until we wake up one day on the edge of God’s voice, on the fringe of God’s belovedness, beyond the adventure of God’s claim on our lives.[2]

Jesus’ followers lived at a time when a relationship with God had been reduced to a matter of following prescribed rules and regulations. The wonder of the Red Sea parting to allow their ancestors to cross or of the smoke and thunder atop Mount Sinai were but a shadowy memory. The same might easily have happened to Jesus’ followers as well. The feeding of the five thousand, the stilling of the storm on Lake Galilee, the healing of the demoniac at Gerasa and the hundred and one other staggering events that they had witnessed over the course of those three years—not to mention the resurrection itself—might easily have become just memories, were it not for one thing: Pentecost.

I can’t imagine that they had any idea what was happening to them at first: the roar of a violent windstorm filling the house; what seemed to be tongues of fire settling on each of them; and then, perhaps eeriest of all, speaking in languages that they had never known. I can only think that initially at least they were as mystified as the crowd that began to gather outside. “What is going on?”

Pouring


It was Peter who was the first to begin to figure it out: “This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.’ ” Joel had not been the only one to prophesy what was happening. We read it in Isaiah and Ezekiel as well.

I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring. (Isaiah 44:3)

I will restore the fortunes of Jacob, and have mercy on the whole house of Israel… Then they shall know that I am the Lord their God … and I will never again hide my face from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord God. (Ezekiel 39:25, 28, 29)

I took a moment to look up the word “pour” in a thesaurus. Here are some of the synonyms I came up with: teem, drench, gush, stream, surge, cascade, spill. So when God pours out his Holy Spirit, it is not as though he does it with an eyedropper. What we are talking about is Niagara Falls.

Ezekiel gives us an amazing picture of this in the second-last chapter of his prophecy. He has a vision of himself standing at the entrance to the Temple. He looks down and at his feet he sees a tiny trickle of water seeping out from beneath the threshold. He walks a distance of five hundred yards and the water is now ankle-deep. Another five hundred and it is knee-deep. Another and it is up to his waist. Finally it is so deep and so wide that he cannot even swim across it. This is the water that brings freshness and life, healing and vitality to the world.[3]  

That is the way of the Holy Spirit. We’d be far more comfortable if we could have him in little doses. It would make life so much simpler—especially for us Episcopalians, who prefer our religion to be genteel, restrained. But that is not how God works. Our heavenly Father is lavish. He pours out his Holy Spirit on us. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). “This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:7). It’s like drinking from a fire hose.

Filling


Luke tells us in verse 4 of this morning’s reading from Acts that the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? The first thing that comes to my mind is that the Holy Spirit wants all of us. We are so accustomed to compartmentalizing our lives. It could be into work and family and leisure activities—or the physical versus the intellectual versus the spiritual. Perhaps we have some other way of dividing things up. However we do it, the end result is more often than not the same. There is a spiritual component, or a God component, that frequently ends up occupying the tiniest portion of who we are.

But that is not how God sees us. God sees us as whole beings. He has created us in such a way that body, mind and spirit are inseparably and indivisibly intertwined. This is something that modern science is increasingly recognizing. We are indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made”. So it is that the Bible calls upon us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. Why? Because this is our spiritual worship. What’s more, it calls us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The Holy Spirit yearns to fill all of us: body, mind and spirit.

Thus Paul prays for his fellow believers in Ephesus, that they “may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18,19). Later in the same letter he tells them to “be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:18-20).

Robert Boyd Munger wrote very helpfully about this in his little booklet, My Heart—Christ’s Home. It is about what it means to invite Jesus into our lives—not just to leave him in the entryway, but to invite him into the library: the books I read, the magazines I browse and perhaps nowadays the internet sites I visit. He then moves into the dining room, the place of my appetites and desires, and then the living room, the workroom, the rec room—and by now you get the picture. So it is with the Holy Spirit. He desires to fill every area of our lives with his life-giving, renewing presence. And in my experience, that is a life-long project.

Flowing


We have thought about God’s pouring out of the Holy Spirit into our lives and of our being filled with the Spirit. However, if you look at our Gospel reading, you will notice that Jesus speaks not about filling up but about flowing out. “Let any who are thirsty come to me,” Jesus said, “and let any who believe in me drink. As the Scripture has said, ‘Out of their hearts shall flow rivers of living water.’ ”

What Jesus is expressing here is a principle that is embedded deep within the Scriptures. That is that we are blessed in order that we may be a blessing to others. It was true of Abraham and his descendants in the Old Testament. Paul enunciates it in the New Testament when he writes about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would come upon them so that they could be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.

God does not give us his Spirit so that we can enjoy some esoteric experience. He fills us with his Spirit in order that we may serve others. The Spirit flows into us in order that he may flow out from us. We are not meant to be bottles, but channels. Perhaps you are familiar with the parable of the Dead Sea:

Israel has two lakes. The one in the north is Lake Kinneret—the Sea of Galilee. Most of the water in Israel comes from this lake. As they did in New Testament times, people still catch fish there for a living, and its redbelly tilapia are considered a delicacy.

The second of Israel’s lakes is the Dead Sea and it is an area of desolation. Even though the fresh waters of the Jordan wind their way over 156 miles and down 700 feet into it from the Sea of Galilee, no plants grow along its banks and no fish swim in its salt-laden waters. The mineral content is so great that it burns the eyes and any open wound. After being in the water, bathers must wash to cleanse themselves from its residue.

Lake Galilee remains fresh and life-supporting because water flows both into and out of it. When water reaches the Dead Sea there is no way out except to evaporate. So too, God graciously fills us with his Holy Spirit in order that his blessings may flow through us and out to others, bringing life and peace, kindness and joy. There is no limit to the Holy Spirit’s supply. He will keep filling us and filling us and filling us.

May we know that filling today—and as we do may we see the blessings of the Holy Spirit spilling out into the lives of others as well as he moves us to love and to serve them in Jesus’ name.




[1]     Orthodoxy, Ch. 4, “The Ethics of Elfland”, 52,53
[2]     Dangerous Wonder, 14,15
[3]     Ezekiel 47:1-12

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