John 15:26-27; 16:4b-11
A New Spirit
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John 15:26-27; 16:4b-11
A New Spirit
By The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel
Once upon a time there was a spring of cool, clear and refreshing water found on an open hillside. People would come from miles around to drink from the water and they would go away satisfied. The water was so good that they would tell their friends and neighbors to come and drink. More and more people came and soon there was always a crowd around the fountain. Some people began to complain that they would get sunstroke waiting on hot days or soaked on rainy ones. So a canopy was erected over the fountain. Then some people found it inconvenient to bend over to lift up the water to drink so the fountain spring was encased in stone and drinking faucets provided. More and more people came and the canopy no longer allowed them all in so a permanent building was erected with enough room for as many people as would come and more besides. People began putting pictures on the walls. Others spent much money beautifying the stone building and drinking fountain with gold and jewels. Those who had given much started to demand special rights and privileges to the water and decided to charge others to drink from the fountain. Special guardians and keepers of the fountain with special garments and insignia were called to keep the people orderly and obedient…and soon the focus shifted from the water to the gathering place. People began to forget that there was a fountain at all in the hustle and bustle of the assembly. Then the fountain went dry.
I heard this story at a youth convention and the meaning is obvious for us in the Christian Church. We come together because we have been offered “living water.” Yet often in our church life it seems we get something else—politics and factions, emphasis on building or program or personnel, budget maintenance, a self-centered focus rather than outreach, caring for those in need, welcoming those without ability to pay.
This is Pentecost when we remember the outpouring of the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus. John writes, “When the Counselor has come, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will testify about me. You will also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27 WEB). The Spirit of God bears witness to Jesus. The Spirit is sent to bring all things to remembrance—so that we may remember Jesus, see and know Jesus and be empowered to witness to Jesus. Our Lord is the living spring of water around which the Church is built. We come together to meet Jesus and receive Jesus. Jesus is the one and only reason we gather.
Someone recently told me not to be so concerned about the programs of the congregation but rather about the spiritual condition of the people in the congregation, to be a shepherd of souls rather than a manager of money and or director of activities. I am convinced that if the spiritual attitude and climate is right, then finances and programs will take care of themselves. When we drift away from the most important things to peripheral, to the social issues of the day or political agendas or time-fillers of fun and games, then the Church declines. Christianity withers and fades. You do not need your preacher to read you the newspaper with her or his own commentary on current events. You certainly do not need to have your congregation provide you activities to fill your day. As the theologian Carl Braaten has noted, “Without the primitive Spirit of Pentecost we are way down in the valley of dry bones and the breath we use to chant the liturgy or preach the sermon will not have the power to make those dry bones live again.” Where the Spirit is, there is life and growth; where the Spirit is not, our fellowships are boring, burned-out, hollow, wind-swept, dry and lifeless.
Without the living Spirit, we cling to outside authorities. We sometimes try to hide behind the Bible. We tell ourselves we are Bible-believers and may make strong statements about biblical authority. In the Lutheran Church some want to state that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, not just the religious passages but also the scientific and historical. Others affirm with the confessors that everything we need to know for our salvation is contained in the Bible, the book of faith. Some of these people do not read the Bible very much. If it is a means of grace, then the Spirit works through the ancient words preached or read to make them living within us today. The Holy Spirit makes the words printed on the page come alive to us in our own situations and we pull out for ourselves treasures old and new.
Some people hide behind church structures and I must say in my denomination that as the structure has become more bureaucratic and less flexible, the church body has lost millions of members and continues in rapid decline. Yes order is important but we can so emphasis the training of our pastors and their expertise in biblical languages and theology that we do ask why is there so little outreach? Our bishops and leaders are more concerned with maintaining what has been then openness to what could be—and this does not mean going with the fad de jour but being clear about witness to Christ.
Or we may realize that this may be a difficult time to confess our faith in Christ as the Son of God and Savior. I do not doubt that it is a difficult time for bishops and church officials, ministers and lay leaders in a culture rapidly desacralizing and dechurching. It is much easier to focus on actions approved of a secular, agnostic environment—build homes for the poor, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, work on approved social causes of the right or left. At our last regional assembly, I do not remember Jesus being mentioned in all the talk of global warming, dangers of fracking, Israeli oppression of Palestinians, organizing to support gay marriage. These may be very good and important things and perhaps the Church may in the past been silent on issues of social and political involvement, but they are also easier than being witnesses to the power of Jesus Christ.
A SUBSCRIBER SAYS: “Hi Dick, Just a little feedback for you.
“As I prepare the message from week to week, I use a few commentaries after I
have read through the passage first and written down my own thoughts. But
one exegesis which I never leave out is yours. It is so helpful reflecting
on the details you have in your exegesis and on your personal thoughts which
I find so often enhance the passage and what God may be saying to us today
“So I just wanted to encourage you in your work. I for one am blessed by your efforts and I know my church is too.”
A thousand sparks to inspire you — and your congregation!
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How do you know if you alive in God’s Spirit? How do we know we have found the water of life? First we acknowledge that God has found us in Jesus Christ. We do not need to go seeking what is freely given. God has come to you with forgiveness of sins and life everlasting because of Jesus’ death on a cross and resurrection. Christ comes to you through means, not your own thoughts or understanding, not through will-power or obedience to structures, but through the words of the Gospel. God comes to you through God’s Word, proclaimed and studied and read. God comes to you through baptism often before you even knew about God, God found you and made you God’s child. It was God’s grace that came to you in baptism. God’s grace comes to you in the Lord’s Supper, received by believing the words “for you.” God comes in Bread and Wine, the Body and Blood of Christ, for you. The Spirit is given to you through these means.
But then, Jesus gives us the answer to the question of whether or not we are living out our lives in the Holy Spirit? Jesus says, the Spirit will witness to him and the Spirit will empower us to witness to him. The Spirit does not call us out of our communities but more deeply into the Church to witness to others, support and challenge others…to work. There is an old German story about a young preacher who bragged that he never prepared his sermons. Instead he trusted the Holy Spirit to put the right words into his mouth. An older man, a veteran preacher, volunteered that the Holy Spirit had only spoken to him once in the pulpit. Once, in the midst of delivering a bad sermon, he heard these words: “Heinrich you are lazy!”
The Spirit does not make us lazy or complacent, but gives us power and energy to do God’s work. Jesus said to his followers, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). Being a follower of Christ, being alive in the Holy Spirit, is not a burden but a joy. Look to Jesus, the center of our faith. G.K. Chesterton once said, “We’ve asked all the question, now it’s time we started giving some answers.” The answer is Jesus. He is the fountain of living water offered to all through faith. Jesus is the answer to our boredom and malaise, to our lagging in zeal and reluctance to witness. “Come Holy Ghost our Souls Inspire,” we sing. Come Holy Spirit. Come Lord Jesus. Amen.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2014, James D. Kegel. Used by permission