sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 06/15/2014
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For some of us, that’s a happy thought. You have, or had, a great dad, one that’s easy to celebrate and honor, one you’re thankful for. Or perhaps being a dad is rewarding and a source of life for you.
If that’s you, may you experience great joy and blessing today.
Others of us have conflicted or negative feelings about Father’s day. Your dad was distant, or absent, or abusive. It’s no easy task to celebrate and honor and be thankful for your dad. Or perhaps if you are a dad yourself, things aren’t good between you and your kids for some reason; there is pain around the subject of fathering for you. Or maybe you want to be a dad, but aren’t, or can’t be, for some reason.
If that’s you, may you experience comfort and hope today.
I want to focus on something else this Father’s day, however. I want to talk about the gift that Jesus’ Father loves to give, maybe more than he loves to give anything else. The gift of the Spirit. The Spirit we’ve described as the energetically animating, non-material, profoundly personal presence who is part of the three-in-one God revealed in the scriptures. So that this Father’s day, we can all have something to celebrate and be thankful for.
Listen to what Jesus says:
“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
I remember hearing this passage the first time and thinking this is classic religious lameness. Like, if I were God, I could think of all kinds of cooler gifts than that. Not that the Holy Spirit isn’t cool and all, but it just seemed, at least to me, then, to be so religious. So spiritual. Like, I know the Spirit is spiritual, duh; that’s the definition, after all. But I mean, we’ve got lots of real, concrete needs. And the Spirit, well, when it comes to gifts, the Spirit seems like a birthday card with nice words, but no cold hard cash in the envelope.
That’s not what I think now.
I think the Spirit is what we need to actually have really good life. To set us free from anxiety, from shame, from fear. I think the Spirit solves problems that all the cold hard cash in the universe can’t make a dent in. I think the Spirit can put an end to violence, oppression, slavery, hatred, racism, sexism, and all the other isms. I think the Spirit is the only hope we have of seeing reality clearly, ourselves clearly, one another clearly. I think the Spirit can make peace possible at the deepest level of the human being, and at the deepest levels of human relationships. I think the Spirit is the difference between misery and joy on planet earth.
We talked last week about Pentecost. About the event that began in the upper room in Jerusalem, 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection when his followers experienced the beginning of the Holy Spirit’s invasion of the cosmos. I call it an invasion, because the way Jesus talked about it, our world has been under the authority of what he called “The prince of this world.” The way Jesus painted the picture, the Father sending his Spirit would displace the prince of this world, and open the door to a whole new world, a world ruled by the Father, with Jesus seated at his right hand, his Spirit blowing everywhere, dwelling in the hearts of each person under his authority. Everyone set free, in other words, from this “Prince.”
The way Jesus told it in John’s gospel at one point goes like this:
7But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment… because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
Here’s the 50,000 foot view. The world we know has been, for most all of recorded human history, been under the grip of fear. That’s the way the prince of this world has ruled.
In a world ruled by fear, here’s the experience and the ground rules:
1. We are on our own.
When the prince of the world has his way in this world, this is the thing we feel to be true most profoundly. We are on our own. Maybe that’s not even the right way to say it. Not “we.” I. I am on my own. You. You are on your own.
2. There is not enough for everyone.
Scarcity is our experience of reality in a world ruled by fear. Some will get plenty, but only because some are getting little or nothing.
3. Scarcity means we need to fight for our own survival.
Love and generosity are beautiful ideas, but at the end of the day, they have their limits. At the end of the day, you’ll need to make sure you do what it takes to get what you need. Even if that means someone else doesn’t. And if you really want to play it safe, you don’t wait for the end of the day; you get started at the crack of dawn.
4. Belonging with others is the key to successfully surviving.
As a species, we know this deep in our bones. Together we are stronger than we are on our own, so it’s important to forge deep bonds with others – family, tribe, company, nation – for sake of surviving and thriving. On our own we are easy pickings for predators, the likely victims of natural disasters. At the very least, on our own we are likely to get less than those who are favored members of the successful communities.
5. We are therefore careful to win the approval of others, and deeply afraid of negative judgments which threaten our belonging, and therefore our survival.
It’s this dynamic that makes it so difficult to be the same person, everywhere, all the time, because what wins approval and what subjects us to judgment is different in every social group. We are constantly doing the approval/avoidance of judgment dance – exhausting and dis-integrating our selves.
6. We are vulnerable to not belonging, to being excluded by the negative judgments of others because of our flaws; vulnerability itself is therefore terrifying.
Our flaws are numerous, starting with the basic fact that we are mortal. We are vulnerable to death, and so every weakness or biological reality that reminds us of that is potentially something others will not approve of, and therefore exclude us from belonging. Add to that our own unique flawed mortality – our personal brokenness and sin – and we’ve got a massive vulnerability problem. We’ve got to hide it all. We may even try to hide it from ourselves.
7. We feel this viscerally as anxiety and shame.
This is how we know we live in a world under the grip of fear. Anxiety and shame all around. We only aren’t aware of it when we are at the center of the best surviving groups that the prince of this world has herded us into. The powerful. Or the rich. But you can only really stay at the center if you keep acting in such a way as to keep anxiety and shame at bay. In such a way as to maintain the approval and avoid the judgment of that group.
If you’re not in one of those groups, though, you’re probably all too aware of your anxiety and shame. Unless you’ve numbed yourself one or another as a coping mechanism. Busyness. Substance abuse. Adrenaline. Lustful pursuits. Etc.
8. Violence is at the center of a world ruled by fear.
No matter how well intentioned we may be, we find ourselves trapped in systems of violence in a world ruled by fear. Maybe we become comfortable with violence, and adopt it as a strategy to fend of scarcity. Or we have so much violence done to us that we use it to defend ourselves or get revenge. Or maybe we participate in violent systems because non-violent systems are so few and far between it seems impossible to survive and not participate. Or maybe we only use violence soberly, somberly, and with grief that it has come to this, in order to defend the defenseless. We can be a victim or a victimizer. But there is no escaping the central role that violence plays in the world under the authority of its prince.
I mentioned the book “A Long Way Gone” by Ishmael Beah last week. I’d like to read you a section to illustrate the reality we all live in, because his experiences show it in great relief. Ishmael was 12 when he fled attacking rebels in his home country of Sierra Leon. A gentle boy at heart, he was conscripted into the government army at the age of 13. He became a warrior, a soldier, capable of terrible acts of violence. He and his friends were given cocaine and other drugs to numb them to the trauma of war and hype them up for fighting. Eventually, he and some of his child squadmates were released into a UNICEF rehabilitation center. He was so confused as they drove him away from his military commanders, wondering how he had failed as a soldier to make them reject him. He was so distressed he looked for opportunities to steal the guns of the civilian guards who drove him to the rehabilitation center, kill them, and make his escape back to the army.
[read cafeteria fight scene from “A Long Way Gone”…]
I don’t think it’s an accident that Jesus calls the ruler of the world under the grip of fear a “prince.” It suggests a world in which no Father is around. Those boys in a Long Way Gone were fatherless too. They’d had to make their own way in a horrible world, and they couldn’t understand that there might be another way to be, that there might be another world.
A world where fear wasn’t in charge. A world where Love is in charge.
The Holy Spirit’s entrance signals the end of the reign of the prince of this world. It signals the beginning of a world where the Father is giving good gifts to his kids. A world where Jesus, the beloved son, who knows no fear, and only Love, is in charge.
[read Poppay’s story from “A Long Way Gone”…]
How could Poppay suffer their blows, and then return with a smile, seeing everything clearly, no concern for belonging, no value in violent strength, free to be vulnerable?
The Holy Spirit is how. Poppay lived in a world ruled not by the prince, but by Love.
Here’s the experience and the ground rules in a world ruled by Love:
1. We are not on our own.
The Holy Spirit is with us in the most profound way. We have the experience of not being alone, not just the announcement.
2. Enough is true; scarcity is an illusion.
Remember, one of the primary functions of the Spirit is to help us see. It is one thing to believe the promise that God will provide, it is another to look at the world around you and see that what God has been showing you is his faithful provision, day after day. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.
3. Because there is enough, trust (expressed in waiting) is what we need to successfully survive.
How often do parents say to anxious kids – hold your horses, there’s plenty, relax, wait, I’ll bring it to you when it’s ready. The Holy Spirit is God himself with us, waiting for the time to be right for his provision. The Spirit within us waits, his timing impeccable, teaching us to trust.
4. Belonging matters still, but it starts with God, and God alone.
The human being filled with the Holy Spirit has a profound awareness of the sufficiency of God alone. I know of no other way to describe this, except to invite you to ask God to experience it in a way that is true for you. It is a profoundly freeing experience.
5. God has forgiven our flaws, so our belonging is secure.
Exile is always the opposite of forgiveness in the scriptures. The presence of God within us through the Spirit is the truest evidence of forgiveness. Again this is a security that can be believed through trusting, but is more potent when it is an experienced reality.
6. Our shared vulnerability connects us to each other and is the context in which we experience provision from God; Vulnerability is therefore embraced.
Jesus told his students to not leave Jerusalem until they had been “clothed with power from on high.” The gift of the Holy Spirit is God’s response to our vulnerability. He meets us in our nakedness and weakness and clothes us with his Spirit, with himself. He clothes us with an invisible Spirit that is power from on high. It’s God’s way of bonding us to himself and to each other in our nakedness, robbing nakedness of shame and robbing vulnerability of weakness. Vulnerability is therefore made beautiful and holy.
7. Therefore we have nothing about which to be anxious or ashamed.
The Holy Spirit is described by Jesus as a comforter and as a defense counselor. Comfort is what we need to be healed of our anxiety, and a defense counselor is what we need to be healed of our shame. The Father knows what he’s doing in the sending of his Spirit. He’s not a rookie at rehabilitation like the UNICEF team might have been for Ishmael Beah.
8. Shalom (Peace4) is at the center of this world. Peace with God, peace with ourselves, peace with others, peace with all of creation.
This is why Jesus enters that locked room after his resurrection and says to the disciples, twice, “Peace be with you.” And then breathes on them and said, “Receive my Holy Spirit.”
The prince of this world creates disruption in every relationship – with God, with our selves, with others, with creation itself. A disruption that always leads to violence.
But the Son of the Father, the newly anointed King, brings peace. The Spirit says It’s Ok from the God whom you just murdered. Says it’s Ok about you who see only your flaws. Says it’s Ok about others who threaten you. Says it’s OK about a creation that seems wild and scary on the one hand and unwilling to give up its provision unless you take it forcibly on the other. A peace mediated through the Holy Spirit, through his breath breathed on them, through a fresh wind blowing through a new creation.
This is what Alive – Life After Easter is all about. The Spirit of God poured out on us so we can say, as brothers and sisters of Jesus, the beloved Son, “Abba, Father.”
14For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
So let us ask, wait, listen, go and do. Filled by the Spirit. Led by the Spirit. Born again into a new world where Love is in charge, displacing and making new a world previously in the grip of fear. Let us see reality as it really is, as the Spirit helps us see, and let us awaken one another to the activity of God’s Spirit, everywhere, all the time, in everyone.
1. Receive a Father’s day present from the Father.
Invite the Spirit into your anxiety and/or shame. Very specifically, tell God what you are anxious about or feel ashamed about, and ask him for the gift of the Spirit. Do this today, at the end of the day, before you go to sleep, as a way to celebrate Father’s day.
2. Secure your kids’ belonging.
(for parents of children): tell your kids before the day is over that they are a great son or daughter. Regardless of their behavior or affections towards you. As a way of imaging the Father who breathes his Holy Spirit on us; as a way of imitating Jesus who announces peace to us. Consider making it a regular habit.