sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 05/04/2014
video available at www.sundaystreams.com/go/MilanVineyard
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Sometimes the resurrection can get us thinking about life after death. But Jesus seemed more interested in getting his followers engaged in a new kind of life, a new era in human history. Life after Easter. Because God is alive among us in a new way. Or, at least, we're coming awake to his living presence in a new way. And he's breathing new life into us, too. So we can live energized by his life. Cooperating with his living presence.
Because Christianity isn’t a religion, not at first. At first, it’s about an encounter with a living God, a God who is alive in all the ways we think about being fully alive, and more, and his response to us, and our response to him. It’s personal, in other words. A relationship. A relationship that wakes us up to all the life around us, that brings us to life, that gives us a new way to live and a new purpose for living.
Today, we’re launching a new sermon series called "Alive // Life After Easter." It's mostly about the Holy Spirit, really. What (or who) it is. What the Spirit does. How we hear and respond to and experience the Spirit. Because almost every interaction and experience we with have with the living God is an encounter with God’s Spirit, alive and active in the world, in our lives. And because a life of faith without any interaction with God’s holy Spirit is like being God’s Facebook friend. You can see each other’s status updates, and maybe comment on each other’s wall, but even those can get buried in a deluge of Farmville requests. Or maybe it’s like a marriage on paper only. It’s all well and good that you signed the paperwork and had the ceremony, but what was that all about? Tax benefits? Health insurance?
Life After Easter is about Jesus showing up, Alive, right where we live, and breathing his Holy Spirit on us and sending us out to be part of the most important thing happening on planet earth. It’s about God being with us, powerfully, every step of the way, bringing us and the world to life with the kind of life that the tomb couldn’t keep down.
At first, we'll just be trying to understand and get up close and personal with the mystery of God's Spirit ourselves. But, along the way, we'll also be talking about nudging others to notice and respond to the Living God in their own lives. Because God's alive, everywhere, all the time, with life for everyone.
turn to Acts 13:1-12
The basic outline is straightforward; it’s a story that wouldn’t be out of place today.
A couple of Jewish guys living in Turkey – one of them a sharp, fiery go-getter, and the other the guy you want in your corner, the guy you know has your back - get an idea for a business venture, a brand new franchise that just might change the world. So they decide to pick up and move out.
They figure they’ll set up shop at first in the one guy’s home country, an island called Cyprus, where he’s still got relatives and a network of relationships that might help them get a foot in the door.
Plus, it’s got great beaches.
Once they arrive at their destination and get to work, some drama develops. It all starts when a local bigwig and a really sharp guy, catches wind of these Johnny-Come-Latelys. He gets interested in what they’re doing, what their angle on the business is. So the bigwig invites them to his place on the beach to make their pitch.
Meanwhile, the big-wig’s assistant, who’s been getting his funding from this bigwig, realizes Mr. Deep Pockets could decide to get behind these new guys instead of him. This would be really bad news for him and his cash flow, so he starts underhandedly trying to sabotage the new entrepreneurs.
A big showdown ensues. A face-off between the fiery go-getter and the big-wig’s assistant. Whoever wins gets the big-wig behind their business venture. That’s when things get a little bit Hollywood. I won’t tell you what happens – we’ll read it in a moment.
The basics, as I said, are straightforward. But as has also been said, the devil’s in the details. And so, it seems, is the Holy Spirit.
[Acts 13:1-12 (watch video here)]
That’s a lot of characters for such a short story, isn’t it? We’re going to zoom in on just one of those characters today. The one that seems to be the main player in this story. No, not Paul, not Barnabas, not Elymas, not Sergius Paulus the proconsul.
The main player in this story, the main player in each of our stories, if we have eyes to see and a heart to respond, the main player in all the best stories after the resurrection of Jesus, is the Holy Spirit. This whole story is the Holy Spirit’s show, isn’t it?
2 While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, who said…?
4 The two of them, sent on their way by whom…?
9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with what…?
What does that really mean, that the Holy Spirit said…?
What does that really mean, that they were sent on their way by the Holy Spirit…?
What does that really mean, that Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit…?
Many of us have a bit a problem when it comes to the Holy Spirit. We have a sort of a vague, religious idea about the Holy Spirit; to us he’s just the third person of the Trinitarian Godhead. But because our ideas about the Holy Spirit are either so religious or so vague, many of us may have a hard time really picturing what might have been going on in this passage. So we leave it in the category of “stuff that happens with the super-spiritual types who are really tuned in to spiritual things” and we pass right over stuff that’s really all about our everyday lives.
And that’s a modern day shame. What if, for all of us, all the time, Jesus desires to speak to us through his Holy Spirit and send us on our way through the Holy Spirit and fill us with his Holy Spirit? What if, because of the fluffiness of our notions of the Holy Spirit, or the religious categories in which we’ve got him locked away, we aren’t even aware of it? (So many of my meetings with people are all about paying attention to that reality...)
Today, with this passage in the background, we’re going to attempt to begin understanding some of the what and who and how of the Holy Spirit – not to demystify Him, because that’s not really possible; the Spirit’s mystery only becomes more profound the closer you draw to him – but simply to be able to recognize and receive and respond and cooperate with him.
Let’s start by, for a moment, setting aside religious or biblical terminology and imagine how we might try to help someone understand the idea of spirit generally, someone who’d never read the Bible or seen a Pentecostal preacher on TV. And once we understand the idea of “spirit”, from there try to think about the Holy Spirit.
[Bring up a volunteer…use them to demonstrate for the following illustration…]
The idea of “spirit” is a little bit foreign to our understanding of the world, it feels a little bit primitive, because our scientific understanding of biological life has crowded it out of our imagination. We understand that expanding and contracting our diaphragms brings air into our lungs, air that contains 20% O2, which is extracted in our lungs and combined with red blood cells, which deliver it to every other cell in our body, allowing it to facilitate a series of metabolic reactions, converting biochemical energy from nutrients into adenosine triphosphates and waste products like water and carbon dioxide…and on and on, energizing and animating our bodies.
However, imagine that you are one of the ancients, and you know none of this. You just know this person, full of energy and personality, vim and vigor, laughter and love, anger and enthusiasm. And then, one day, a coconut falls out of a tree and lands on his head. He falls to the ground, motionless. He looks exactly the same, nothing has changed about him at all. He looks exactly like he’s sleeping. Except. Except that he isn’t breathing anymore. And now that his breath has stopped, you’ve come to understand that his energy and personality, his vim and vigor, his laughter and love, anger and enthusiasm are all gone as well.
It’s out of this kind of experience that our ancestors developed the intuitive awareness that our physical breath seems to be connected to a deeper force that gives us life. Whatever the it is that makes us really alive. Whatever the it is that we call our “spirit.”
Which is why the words for breath in the ancient languages of the Bible – ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek – are also the words for spirit. When the one is present, the other is present… And vice-versa. When the one is gone, the other is gone... And vice-versa.
[interestingly, the same intuitive process can be applied to understanding the animating energy of the natural world – wind seems to be the same kind of invisible, mysterious force that animates the natural world…as a result, ruach and pneuma are also used for wind, in addition to breath and spirit]
There is some kind of animating energy source that we call spirit.
Something non-material, but just as real.
Something that goes beyond our 5 senses that we can nonetheless sense, and by which our sensory centers may be variously affected.
Because even though we know what breath is now –that it’s just a natural, biological phenomenon, there does seem to be something beyond breath at the heart of everything, something transcendent, or maybe subcendent, from which springs the “alive” part of life itself.
Internal and external. [notre dame]
Individual and communal. [team spirit, group vibe, spirit of a city]
Creative and destructive. [something came over me, I got caught up in something…]
Now let’s return to our passage, with more widely open eyes.
When Luke says “the Holy Spirit”, he’s not talking about your spirit, or my spirit, or the spirit of the dance. He’s talking about God’s spirit. The Holy Spirit – by which the Bible simply means the Spirit of God.
The personal animating energy source at the center of the universe, the Spirit that hovered over the void at creation, the breath of God that when it is present, God is present, and when it is not present, God is not present, and when God is present, it is present, and when God is not present, it is not present.
Luke’s talking about someone that is non-material, but is as real as real ever has been, or is, or ever will be. A personal presence that is the foundation of all reality – “God is spirit” Jesus says at one point. Someone that goes beyond what our 5 senses can apprehend, but whom we can nonetheless sense, and by whom our sensory centers may be variously affected. [voice thundering in John’s gospel, people’s experience of non-physical presence]
Luke’s talking about someone that can be present within us, right at the center of who we are, or as close to that center as we’ll allow him to come, and someone that can come to us from outside of us and speak to us or move us or guide us.
Luke’s talking about someone who may be present within an individual and also present within a group of people, observable in their relationships and corporate activities and even shared spaces.
Luke’s talking about divine creativity and divine order and divine wholeness and divine favor and divine goodness present not in the form of an idea, but in the form of a personal presence with will and intention and desire and emotion and personality – someone you can get to know, someone who can have an impact on you through personal relationship with you.
In this one story, we’ve got these three encounters/experiences/accounts of the Holy Spirit’s activity, his observable, experience-able presence.
2 While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down…
9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked…and said…
Here’s my plan.
Next week, Mother’s Day, we’re going to explore that first one in some depth: what it means to be aware of the Spirit communicating something, giving some leading, calling, instruction.
How does that happen?
What’s it look like?
How can you tell if he’s talking to you?
That sort of thing, which, as it so happens, has something to do with women, generally, and mothers, specifically.
Later in May we’ll explore being “sent” and “filled” and what that means in connection to the Holy Spirit.
In the meantime, today, we have a very simple question before us. Do you want the Holy Spirit? If Jesus is alive in the world, today, after Easter, through his Spirit, do you want him animating your life – your emotional, physical, spiritual, social life? Energizing it? Speaking to you? Sending you? Involved in your relational groups – your friendships, work relationships, neighborhood, marriage, family? Do you want to get caught up in the creative work he is doing?
Because the Spirit of Jesus does not come uninvited into our lives. He’s not like what the scriptures call “evil” or “bad” spirits, spirits that sneak in dark cracks while we’re not looking, or that fool us, or manipulate us, or insinuate themselves into our lives. No, he comes freely to us when our will is joined with God’s will. A process that begins, as Jesus teaches us, when we ask, and wait.
“How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:13)
That’s why the disciples were told to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came after Jesus’ ascended into heaven. Waiting is part of asking. It’s part of joining our will to God’s will. Our desires to his. He wants to give. Do we want to receive? Do we really?
Remember, God loves to bless anyone who will depend on him, who will ask him, who will take a leap of faith on him. It’s where he gets his glory. The most satisfied customers in human history are those who ask for the Holy Spirit, and who wait.
Ask. Wait. Listen. (repeat as necessary.) Go. Do.
This is our pattern for life after Easter. Ask. Wait. Listen. Go. Do. We’ll talk more about that another time. Now is the time for asking, if in fact you desire the Spirit of the resurrected Jesus. If you desire the energetically animating, non-material, foundationally real, sensually transcendent personal presence who is full of divine creativity, divine order, divine wholeness, divine favor, divine love, and divine goodness. The Holy Spirit. The defense counselor. The come-alongsider. The Spirit by whom we cry “Abba, Father.” The one who blows where he pleases and whom it pleases to come among us with personal intentions and new creation purpose and who desires to speak to us, to send us on our way, and to fill us.
1. Ask early and often. Everytime you become aware of your breath or the wind, pray “Come, Holy Spirit.” I don’t know what will happen, exactly. That’s the beauty and the terror of inviting another person into your life. Try it as a discipline for a week, an experiment with God and asking. A leap of faith. See what happens. We’ll talk more next Sunday.