Sunday, 4 June 2006

The Holy Spirit

JOHN 16:5-15

Good to be together

You are a gathering of astonishing people with a remarkable range of gifts and passions.

And in many ways, this is when we are most church. It is good that we have services that are of different styles, and they can be most effective when we are reaching out to new people, but there is also a danger that we create me-centred religion: I choose the service that most suits me, that I feel most at ease in - and I am uncomfortable if things are different or if people worship in a different way.

But it is gatherings like this that remind us that the church of God is bigger than our own congregation, that we need each other, that we are actually part of one body, we are members one of another.

So it is not insignificant that it was while the first followers of Jesus "were all together in one place" (Acts 2:1), that the Holy Spirit came.

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He comes from the Father and yet has always been with the Father and with the Son. The Holy Spirit can be described as the divine go-between: the one who brings Jesus to us, and the one who takes us to Jesus.

When the Holy Spirit comes, two things happen

1. There is external transformation: that is what we often focus on. People become believers, society is transformed, churches grow. In the Welsh revival, at the end of the 19th century, the police spent most of their time in choir rehearsal preparing for the next gathering because the crime rate dropped to virtually zero.

And when revival comes those places where people try to find themselves, or lose themselves, in drink or drugs will become places where community is discovered and built, where people can meet and be real and support and encourage and listen to and grow each other. And when revival comes, people will serve sacrificially, they will work at relationships (whether with parents or colleagues or children or husbands and wives), and they will show gentleness and mercy, and they will offer forgiveness, and they will keep their word, and they will open their homes and their lives to each other - even when it gets difficult - because they choose to do so out of love for and obedience to God.

In the past much of Christian morality was required by law. It is the Old Testament model. And so couples stayed together because they were told to, because the consequences of adultery or divorce were severe. People did not engage in homosexual activity because they could be imprisoned. People even had to go to church or else they could face fines or other penalties. I would not wish to go back to those days: where morality is required by law. I also do not think that it is the way of Jesus or of the New Testament. I would that we come to church, that we honour marriage and work through difficulties, that we live sexually chaste lives outside of marriage - because we choose to do so out of obedience to Christ.

But for that to happen, we need the second thing that happens when the Holy Spirit comes.

2.He brings internal transformation

And that is what our passage in John talks about:
The HS "will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgement" (v8).  

The HS will show us where we have not believed in Jesus (v9)
We may say 'yes' to religion, to the 'trimmings' of Christianity, even to the label of Christianity - but in reality we say 'no' to Jesus

Jesus offers us life and love.

And yet, I forget Jesus when things are going well. The Psalmist writes, "When I felt secure, I said, 'I shall never be shaken'. (Ps 30:6). I am like the young man who is one of the computer whizzkids in one of the James Bond films. He cracks the code of the nuclear missile: and he stands up and declares, "I am invincible".
And when things are going OK we think that we don't need Jesus

And perhaps we need things to go pearshaped to remind us that are human, we need Jesus.

The Holy Spirit, when he comes, will show us - day by day - the different areas in our lives where we are saying 'no' to Jesus - where we do not seek Jesus or obey Jesus or trust Jesus: and that is true for our business, our family, our attitudes to others, how we handle our sexuality and sex life, our language, our possessions, our compulsions, obsessions and temptations.

And the HS will show us what righteousness is (v10).
When Jesus was on earth, people saw what righteousness was. They saw it in the person of Jesus: the Son of God who left the glory of heaven and came to earth and who went to the cross out of love for us. The smart word for it is incarnation: God becoming a human being.

Righteousness is when someone strips off the dinner jacket and puts on the boiler suit. It is when someone rolls up their sleeves and plunges their hand down into the filthy sewer in order to clean it: no, more than that, it is when they jump into it themselves.

Today we can't see the Son of God with rolled up sleeves - but the Spirit brings righteousness to us. He writes the law of God on our hearts: so that we begin to love self-sacrificially: to so identify ourselves with others that we weep when they weep, and rejoice when they rejoice.

And the HS shows us that the prince of this world stands condemned (v11)
The prince of this world offers us this world. Chantelle, one of the participants in the last celebrity Big Brother, said that as she turned up, people started to chant her name. And she said, "I felt like I'd come home. It was what I had always dreamed of. It felt right".
Celebrity is a heady drug. It is, along with power and wealth and the satisfaction of our desires, it is one of the prizes on the conveyor belt of the prince of this world. He does offer us heaven on earth

But he only offers it to us, so that he can use it to destroy us.

When the Holy Spirit comes, he shows us that the prince of this world stands condemned.
It is the cross of Jesus - which is the opposite of what the prince of this world offers - that is ultimate.
The cross shows us the values that really matter: love, self-sacrifice, obedience, generosity, mercy, holiness, forgiveness
The cross shows us the power that really matters: Jesus overcomes everything that the prince of this world offers him or throws at him: flattery, the will to power, the will to possession, the will to save oneself from pain or death.

If I start thinking that I am successful, that I have made it, that I am someone; if I start getting puffed up, I look to the cross. The cross is the measure of success.

The Spirit shows us that the prince of this world stands condemned.

So there is no point living for him, or believing his lies.
We can hold on to a world that is so much bigger than this visible world.
That is why obedience and abstinence and giving are such essential Christian disciplines in our world - they are a radical renunciation of the things that the prince of this world offers.
That is why, 1700 years ago, at a time when the church was starting to grow sleek and fat, under Constantine and later, many made the journey into the desert - renouncing the honours and the power and the wealth that was offered to them.
And yes, obedience and abstinence and giving are costly. They might mean that we can't afford that holiday or the new kitchen or car or garden shed; it might mean that we are celibate all our lives; it might mean that we work at a difficult marriage in order to bring love into it.

But the Spirit who comes to us and shows us sin, righteousness and judgement, also brings us the words of Jesus, the comfort of Jesus, the joy of Jesus and reveals the glory of Jesus to us and in us.

And we see through the cross to the resurrection, to that new world, that other world, the world that really matters: the world that - in Jesus - we can begin to glimpse and feel and taste now - that is here but is so much more than here.

I pray for the external transformation that the Spirit will bring to our society and to our world.

But for that to happen, we need to pray for the internal transformation, as we invite the Holy Spirit to come and work in our lives.

We invite him to come like wind: to blow through our lives. We invite him to come like water: to wash us and drown us in his life and love. We invite him to come like fire: to burn up all that is not pure, all that is rubbish in us - and to leave behind the gold.

On Wednesday I was at a meeting of pastors to pray for revival here in Bury St Edmunds. Jonathan Ford was speaking. And he reminded us of that part in The Magicians Nephew (CS Lewis) where Aslan - having created the animals - calls out their names. And those that heard his call and responded, came forward with great fear, and meekly allowed him to touch their nose with his. And in so doing, they received the greater gift: the gift of being speaking animals.

The Spirit is here. If we allow Him, He would take us to Jesus the Son of God. I don't think we will rub noses! But Jesus offers us love and life; he offers us intimacy with God, his Father and our Father. It is an intimacy that will transform our lives and transform the life of our society.


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