Gift of the Holy Spirit

“Gift of the Holy Spirit” – May 15, 2016

Acts 2-38 repent, be baptized

Acts 2:38

What does it mean to know someone?  Can you know a sports star? Know all of his or her stats, his earned run average, how many sacks he got last season, how many assists she had to her credit in the last game?

We can know a lot about some really famous people, and yet not know them personally. I suspect you’re all familiar with the movie star Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones, Han Solo in the Star Wars movies, Jack Ryan in a couple of Tom Clancy movies). I know just a few things about him. He is a very private person, and a licensed helicopter pilot; he started in Hollywood years ago as a carpenter until he got his first movie role. I know things about Harrison Ford, But I have no illusions about being close to Harrison Ford.

What about Jesus? Do we know things about Jesus? Can we describe things about His life, His ministry, or the things He said? What about the last week He was alive? His passion?  His trials, crucifixion, and death on the cross? Do we know about all that?

Peter did. Peter knew all those things intimately. Peter was also one of the disciples who had a very close relationship with the Rabbi Jesus throughout the three years of His ministry. We know that, through the Gospel accounts. But now, now is the morning of the Pentecost festival. A whole host of Jews from all over the region have gathered together in Jerusalem for one of the important feasts, one of the celebrations on the Jewish calendar. Peter had quite a crowd for his impromptu sermon. For—that was what he delivered. A sermon.

But, a sermon on what? Why did he feel like he had to speak out?

For that, we need to go back to our Scripture passage for the morning. I am reading from Acts chapter 2: “When the day of Pentecost came, they [the disciples and followers of Jesus] were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.”

What happened to the disciples? The Holy Spirit happened, that’s what! The Holy Spirit blew into that house, buffeting all inside with a violent wind. Then, on top of that, tongues of fire appeared over each one’s head. The Holy Spirit came and dwelt within each one of them—with each believer in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. These tangible and visible signs of the Holy Spirit were genuine proof that the Holy Spirit was real. This coming was huge. And, this arrival was life-changing.

After such a momentous event inside the house, the newly-filled, newly-energized believers spilled out into the street. Can you see their excited faces? Can you hear them as they share about this amazing experience that had just happened?

I can just imagine a roving reporter, reporting on the noisy crowd in the streets of Jerusalem that day. “Here on the streets of Jerusalem are God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. I understand that a strange sound was just heard. You all can see the crowd coming together in bewilderment. Each person is hearing their own language spoken. Everyone here is utterly amazed! “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in many different tongues! I keep hearing again and again from these eye-witnesses, “What does this mean?” The minority opinion is, however, less flattering. Some are making fun of theses Galileans and saying, “They have had too much wine.”

You can see how brash, outspoken Peter couldn’t help himself. Energized by the Holy Spirit, he began to tell people what happened. Why all of the disciples were so energized, so filled with the Holy Spirit. And—about Jesus Christ, Jesus the Jewish Messiah, crucified, died and resurrected from the dead.

Listen to the words of Peter: “But God raised Jesus from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.”

Does everyone here understand? Peter finally gets it! So many times previously, Peter and the other disciples just didn’t understand the words of Jesus. They miss His message completely, and Jesus needed to patiently backtrack, go over the same information again and again. Except—not now. The disciples—and Peter—finally understand! The Holy Spirit is now indwelling them, and Peter lets everyone in the crowd know that this Jesus, this Messiah, has come for them, too.

This Jesus, this Messiah, is the long-promised Messiah, foretold by Moses and the prophets.

Many people in the crowd had heard something about the Rabbi Jesus, who had been put to death just a few short weeks ago. Yes, and some even knew a lot about this Jesus, this supposed Messiah, long-promised and foretold by the Hebrew Scriptures. But, the words of Peter, energized by the Holy Spirit, went straight to the hearts of those who listened that day.

Listen to the words of our scripture passage today: “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Wait a second. What is Peter talking about? Believing, and immediately getting baptized?

That is exactly what he means. Baptism was an established practice in the first century. Not done by everyone, but practiced by a number of people. To show cleansing, and repentance, and renewal of life. Jesus elevates this Jewish practice to what we call a sacrament.

As in the rest of believers’ lives, so also in the receiving of the sacraments, it is God who takes the initiative in approaching the believer. It is then the believers’ turn to respond joyfully to God, as a result of God’s sovereign gift of grace. Baptism is our response to God’s gracious gift of salvation, grace, and forgiveness of sins.

Let me explain in another way. Out on the cattle ranches of the West the unbranded calves that roam at large are known as “mavericks.” Theses calves are claimed by the rancher who is first to get his brand on them at the annual round up. A little girl from a Western state had been baptized one Sunday by the Methodist minister of the town. Her friends at school questioned her the next day as to the meaning of the ceremony. “Well,” she said, “I will just tell you. I was a little maverick out on the prairie. That pastor put the Jesus mark on my forehead so that when He sees me He will know that I am one of His children.”

That Jesus mark was what so many new believers received, that morning of Pentecost. That Holy Spirit gift was what we received when each of us was baptized. Before we knew the Lord, each of us was a maverick calf, wandering on the prairie. Whether we are baptized as adults, young people, or babies like Christine, baptism is a joyful, outward expression of God’s love toward us. And, we know that Jesus will know that each one is His child.

Do you know things intellectually about Jesus? Or, do you have a close relationship with Jesus? Like the other believers on that Pentecost morning, has the Holy Spirit blown through your life and heart? I invite you all into a close relationship with Jesus, today.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)

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Pierced by Love

“Pierced by Love”

Crucifixion woodcut

Isaiah 53:5 – John 19:37 – March 25, 2016

This service tonight is brought to you—to me—to all of us—by the word “LOVE.” All through Lent we have been following Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, following Him as He expressed that love to all He met, in various ways.

On the first Sunday in Lent, Valentine’s Day, we looked at Jesus as He was tempted in the wilderness. While He was here on earth, Jesus made sure His heart was given to His Heavenly Father, And, He advised us on where our hearts ought to be, too. Loving God.

This giant Valentine heart I’m holding is a conversation heart. Can we think of it as a Valentine from Jesus? On one side, it says “Be mine.” On the other, it says “I’m yours.”

Who—or what—do we give our hearts to?

            We heard Jesus compare Himself to a mother hen. Jesus welcomes us into His embrace, into His community of love and caring. Just as a lost little chick who finally finds the way home into the nest, into his or her mother hen’s warm feathery embrace, so we can find our way into a community of caring, love, nourishing and belonging. I hope our church community extends that caring and loving welcome to everyone. Jesus wants us to know that we are welcome with Him, loved by Him, always.

We followed the thread of covenant love given to King David. Are we sharing God’s covenant love with those who need to hear? Many are hiding in loneliness and desperation thinking that no one loves them. We can introduce them to our Lord Jesus. We can tell them of the love of God that we have received through Christ. With our Lord Jesus we can find acceptance and security, and most importantly, love. The thread of covenant love, traced down to today. God is offering that love to us, today. Can you feel it?

Then, the parable of the Prodigal. Jesus gives hope to all those who make bad choices and run away to a far country.(Including us.) God the heavenly Father—the heavenly Parent—is actively looking for us when we make bad choices. When we come to our senses and return to God for forgiveness, God comes running to meet us, from a long way off. If that isn’t love, what is?

We come to Mary of Bethany, anointing Jesus with a whole bottle of unbelievably expensive perfume. She intended this gift as a token of her extravagant love for Jesus. We know Jesus had given real expressions of His love to her and her family, in the raising of Lazarus.

Can you believe, spending a whole year’s wages on a small bottle of perfume? Astronomically expensive. Do you understand why I called Mary’s expression a gift of extravagant love?

I think Mary understood the warnings Jesus had been giving, about very soon entering Jerusalem. About the path He must travel—to the cross. Passover was coming! The Gospel tells us so. She is not only showing her extravagant love, but preparing Jesus for whatever it is that He will face—very soon.

Now, today, Good Friday, Jesus is facing that ultimate gift of love.

When I was in my twenties, recently graduated from a Christian college, it was this time of year. Holy Week. I had connections to several different churches around Chicago, in different denominations. I took the opportunity to attend a service each day at this time, at each place of worship. Thursday night, Maundy Thursday, I attended a Lutheran church. The night our Lord Jesus instituted the Eucharist. We celebrated the Lord’s Supper that night. Good Friday, I went to church at an evangelical church. The church celebrated communion that night. On Saturday at that time, I was in the habit of occasionally attending a Messianic synagogue. I attended that Saturday, and they celebrated that commemoration of the Passover dinner where Messiah Yeshua instituted the Lord’s Supper. And on Sunday morning, Easter morning, I went to a Presbyterian church, where we celebrated Easter communion.

Four very different services at four diverse places of worship. Four separate occasions where I had the opportunity to partake in the Lord’s Supper. With each renewed reminder of the Words of Institution, where we remembered that on the night in which He was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread and took the cup at supper. Said, “This is My body, this is My blood, broken and shed for all of you.” And St. Paul in 1 Corinthians reminds us when we eat this bread and drink this cup, we remember the death of our Lord until He comes again.

As each service washed over me, my consciousness of my sinfulness and how unworthy I was also washed over me. I love this reading from the prophet, Isaiah chapter 53. This chapter of Isaiah keeps breaking my heart. It broke my heart in my twenties, and still continues to break my heart today. I bow my head in grief as I read about our Lord Jesus, despised and rejected of humanity. A man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Acquainted with grief.

On that Holy Week in my twenties, with the repeated communion services, my sin was repeatedly put before me. Extreme grief and sorrow came over me each time as I repeatedly considered my sins, my transgressions, and these words from the prophet Isaiah.

Jesus was, indeed, pierced for my transgressions. Through His death on the cross, through those wounds He received, I was healed. Healed from all iniquity!

These words of the prophet are not just words on a page. They became vividly real to me some years ago. Just as they are still vividly real, today. Real for me, for you, for everyone. Jesus was pierced for all of our transgressions. Jesus was crushed for all of our iniquities.

“On Thursday—yesterday, Jesus ate with His disciples.  He knew it would be His last meal with them.  When no one washed the disciples’ feet, Jesus did the job.  He even washed the feet of Judas who would turn Him in to the soldiers and Peter who would pretend he did not even know Jesus later that night. That is love!

“On Friday, Jesus endured whipping and being nailed to a cross.  He forgave the soldiers who did the job.  He endured the crowds who mocked him as He died and forgave them.  He watched His mother watch Him die on the cross, and even asked his friend John to take care of her.  That is love!

“By the time he died on Friday, His heart was broken by his enemies, by the crowds, and even by His friends.  But Jesus kept on loving them all.  That is love – God’s love!” (from Worshiping with Children, Palm/Passion Sunday, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.)

Yes, our Lord Jesus did die on the cross. He took upon Himself the sins of humanity, willingly. Lovingly. He was pierced, because of love. The best news of all? Jesus did it because He loved us with God’s love. Boundless, abundant, transforming. Jesus loves without limits.

We have been forgiven. Just as the prophet says, through His wounds we are truly healed.  That is indeed something for which we all can thank God.

That is not the end of the story. No! Jesus may have died that Good Friday afternoon, but He did not stay dead. He rose from the dead! Sunday is coming! However, it is not here yet.

Yes, we sorrow with the women and with John, there at the Cross. Yes, we bow our heads in anguish and shame, guilt and grief.

When someone asks us, “How much did Jesus love people?” We can say, “Jesus loved us this much.” (holding up outstretched arms)

 

(Thanks to Carolyn Brown, for her excellent ideas for a Lenten series on Love! I borrowed freely from  Worshiping with Children, Palm/Passion Sunday, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/01/year-c-palm-passion-sunday-march-20-2016.html )

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!

Reconciled to God

“Reconciled to God”

2 Cor 5-19 God reconciles the world

2 Corinthians 5:17-20 –September 13, 2015

Last Friday was a typical day, in many ways. People had a normal day of work. Since it was the second Friday in September, for most school children it was a normal day of school. Except—it wasn’t quite a normal day here in the United States after all. Friday was September 11th. 9/11. A day that will remain in the forefront of many people’s memories.

I wanted to depart from the Sermon Series on Acts I’ve been preaching to bring a message about this serious and sobering day of remembrance. Yes, we remember the fateful day, fourteen years ago. The horrific happenings in Manhattan, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. And, we will remember the bravery of so many who served so selflessly, and gave so willingly.

As I prayed about this service and what bible passage I ought to preach on, I thought of several Scripture verses. Yes, I could focus on the past, and preach for those thousands of people who died on September 11, and who since have died as a result of injuries or challenges they experienced on that day and in the aftermath. We can remember. We ought to remember.

However, I also want to hold up a vision of hope. I try to keep my personal outlook on life and living firmly on hope and hopefulness. Even when looking at terribly sad events, even horrible situations, I earnestly try to see where God might have a place. Even in the worst situations, God is there. Hope is there. Somewhere.

That’s the situation we all find ourselves in. We all sin. Some sins are worse than others, and more visible. Some people sin a lot! Some people have particularly hard hearts, and they walk all over others. Hurt them, and do even more callous things to them. Did you know that Jesus came into the world for them, too? Jesus died on the cross for the people in and out of jail who have committed three, four, five and more felonies, just as much as Jesus died on the cross for the people who have not been to jail.

I’m getting ahead of myself. We need to take a closer look at this paragraph from the second letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in the town of Corinth. In verse 18 of chapter 5, Paul tells us that God was reconciling us to Himself. Wait a minute! That sounds like making peace and harmony. Reconcile? That is not a term for a mean, angry God, one who just wants to smite anyone who gets in the way!

Do you know a bookkeeper? Has anyone here ever reconciled accounts, or financial statements? I mean, taken two separate and different lists of numbers, and make them compatible? See that both are in agreement? That’s another way of thinking about reconciliation. Our accounts, the deeds that we’ve done, the words spoken, the thoughts that go through our heads? The long lists of those things on our accounts are reconciled to God’s accounts.

I want to be up front and clear. I am a sinner. I freely admit that. I am stained with the dark stain of sin. But God—but God removes that stain. Through the provision of God’s love, through the coming of Christ into the world, through His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, the stain of sin has been taken away. And, I am reconciled to God. Do you hear? The sins, the awful things I have done, have been cleansed, and taken away.

That’s not only me, but it’s you, too. All of you. All of us!

I am going to talk now about some disturbing things. If anyone wishes to leave, I will not be offended at all. I wanted to let you all know before I spoke about it. It is terribly upsetting.

I’d like to take a detour, and tell you about a woman. Eva Mozes Kor. Eva and her twin sister Miriam—born in 1934, and their family were from a small village in Romania. They were the only Jewish family in their village. Shortly after the Nazis took over that area of the country, Eva, Miriam and the rest of their family were taken to a Jewish ghetto in a larger town and they lived there several years.

In 1944, their family was shipped to the Auschwitz death camp. The twins’ parents and older sisters were immediately killed. Since Eva and Miriam were identical twins, Dr. Josef Mengele wanted them as human guinea pigs for horrific medical and genetic experiments. He and his team abused approximately 1500 twins; that’s 3000 children and young people.

Eva and Miriam were among about 200 children liberated from the camp by the Soviet Army in January 1945. Almost all of these were twins abused by Mengele.[1]

Eva spent years working through her deep-seated feelings and emotions about being in the death camp. She finally came to the place where she made a decision to forgive those who had harmed her, because she needed to take this critical step for her own, personal mental health and well-being.

It did not happen overnight. It took a long while. But now, she has forgiven those who harmed her, her family, and those she loved.

What I am wondering: does God need to do deep thinking before God forgives people? When I sin against God, and knowingly do things displeasing to Him, how does God feel? Now let’s multiply that times all of the people in the state of Illinois. Make that all the people in the United States. No, let’s up that to all of the people alive today. Does God need to do deep thinking, working through deep-seated feelings and emotions, before God forgives the world?

Consider verse 19: “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” God satisfies God’s anger, enmity and displeasure through Jesus Christ. Jesus and His mediation—He steps in between and takes the burden of sin for us. Jesus restores the world—that’s all of us—to God’s love, nurture, caring, and favor.

In the original language of Greek, the word “reconcile” has the meaning “obtain the good favor of” or “lay aside enmity.” That is exactly what God does for us. But God justly ought to be filled with righteous anger at us. At all of us! We sin. We go against the things we know very well that God wants us to do or to think or to say. Or, we go out of our way to do or say or think things that out and out displease God very much! But God forgives us. God reconciles us to Himself through Jesus and His death on the Cross.

Eva Kor and her forgiveness of those who hurt her and her sister as well as those who killed her family and others she knew is one way for us to begin to understand the huge amount of forgiveness and reconciliation that God has accomplished on our behalf. That’s all of us! On all of our behalfs.

Eva Kor not only is “a Holocaust survivor and a forgiveness advocate, and public speaker. Powered by a never-give-up attitude, Eva has emerged from a trauma-filled childhood as a brilliant example of the human spirit’s power to overcome. She is a community leader, champion of human rights, and tireless educator.” [2] She has founded a Holocaust museum in Terra Haute, Indiana, and my friend Josh Thomas who started and maintains the Episcopal website www.dailyoffice.org had Eva as their Daily Office retreat speaker several weeks ago. She has a brilliant and straight-forward definition of forgiveness. “Forgiveness is a way of healing oneself from pain, trauma and/or tragedy.” I’m including her further explanation on the hand-out in your bulletins.

But what does Eva and her words about forgiveness have to do with me? Or with you? Great question! I’ll read verse 19 one more time: “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And God has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” Did you hear? Paul says this in a little different way in verse 18: “God reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”

So, God’s forgiven me! Amen! God’s forgiven you, too! Amen, again! But wait—there’s more! God has also given us—that’s you and me, and all of us—the message of reconciliation. The ministry of reconciliation.

What a wonderful way to show people the power of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. We can show people love, caring, nurture, and forgiveness. Each of us can reconcile ourselves to one another whenever we go astray. Or whenever anyone says a mean word, or does something unkind. Is there any way more powerful to show God’s love and care? I don’t think so.

Yes, this is really hard, sometimes almost impossible. It is so difficult to show love and caring for those who have hurt us, and have been mean to us. And have been uncaring, unkind, even cruel and heartless. Like Eva forgiving those in the death camps. Or, for those who have been enemies in war. Or even for murderers or terrorists. That’s why we can go to God. We can ask for help to show God’s love. God’s forgiveness. God’s reconciliation.

So, help us, God. Amen.

[1] From the website http://www.candlesholocaustmuseum.org/about/eva-kor.htm

[2] From the website http://www.candlesholocaustmuseum.org/about/eva-kor.htm

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!