The Act of the Holy Spirit, Sermon 1: The Living Church

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Acts is a book filled with the miraculous transformative power of the Holy Spirit. We see people who are working beyond human explanation. For example, Peter, who was once scolded by Jesus for not keeping his eyes on the things of God, is shown to be filled with the things of God and proclaiming with great authority the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As the disciples are gathered together following the resurrection of Jesus, we see the first three movements of the Holy Spirit. These movements show us how the Holy Spirit gathers together the Living Church of Christ and empowers it to be witnesses of Jesus Christ to the world.

Movement 1: The Promise of the Holy Spirit
In John 14 and 16, when Jesus is talking with his disciples, he promises them that he will send a comforter. This promised comforter is the Holy Spirit. The first movement of the Holy Spirit is God’s promise to be in our lives. God never forsakes his promises to his people. God is trustworthy. What he says, he will fulfill. When Jesus promises the Holy Spirit to us, it is God assuring us that he will always be with us. When we confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, this is a sign of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:3 tells us that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. So, as you live your life, know that if you confess that Jesus is the Lord of your life, that the Holy Spirit has empowered you to do so and, therefore, you have had the promise of the Holy Spirit active in your life. The Holy Spirit is with you and is God present in your life.

Acts 1:1-5 demonstrates to us how we are to abide in the Holy Spirit. In every way, we are commanded to wait upon the Lord. God’s timing is not our timing. Our lives ought not be dictated by our plans and our aspirations. We await God. We await his will to be done. As we await, may we remember his promise for us. But we do not do nothing while we await. We pray. We serve. We welcome. We faithfully live to the glory of God. May we know that he is with us. May we not be distracted by the things of this world, but instead, may we see ourselves as God’s disciples and faithfully prepare ourselves for the work Christ has in store for us.

Movement 2: The Mission of the Holy Spirit
In Acts 1:6-11 we see Jesus proclaim to us that the work of the Holy Spirit is different than we expect. In our lives, we have to fight our urges to always be in control. We have to fight our urges to know every detail worked out in front of us prior to us demonstrating faithfulness to God. The disciples ask Jesus a question about the ultimate fulfillment of God’s plan for his people. Instead of giving them the specific answer about when the restoration of God’s Kingdom will occur, Jesus responds with the ultimate “Don’t worry about it!” God the Father has fixed the time and season for his restoration of the Kingdom, but we do not need to be concerned with that information. Why would Jesus respond this way? Well, certainly Jesus wants us to trust God and know that it is his mission that we are on, but I can’t help but think about what those disciples would have done with that information. I was thinking the other day about this very point and wondering what I would do if I knew the exact time when Jesus will return. In a much more less important example, every year Cindy and I talk about how we need to be better prepared for Christmas. We talk about doing shopping early so we don’t run out of time, but every year we find ourselves running around on December 23 looking for presents for someone. We put off the work we said we should be doing and instead use the deadline of Christmas as a comfort. We say that we will have time to do it later. I asked myself, “If I knew when Jesus was going to return, would I put off what I should be doing? Would I procrastinate?” Jesus, in his words to his disciples, tells them and us to be about the work we’ve been given to do. The only thing we need to worry about as followers of Jesus is being a witness to Jesus Christ in the “Jerusalems, Judeas, and Samarias” in which we live. That is our task and vision.

A final statement on the second movement of the Holy Spirit–notice how the disciples have to be prompted to get busy with the mission of God. As the disciples watch Jesus ascend into heaven they stand amazed. I imagine that they are taking in everything about that moment. They didn’t want to miss a thing. But they stood amazed a bit too long. Notice in verse 11 how two angels had to ask them, “Why are you standing here? GET TO WORK!” We cannot allow the past glory that we have witnessed to prevent us from faithfully following Jesus where he leads us. We can become very comfortable with where we’ve been. We can take a great deal of pride in what God has done in our lives. And if we aren’t careful, this can distract us from what God is calling us to do now. God, have mercy on us when we allow the glory days of our past to cause us to live lazily in the present. May we be present in the mission of the Holy Spirit every day.

Movement 3: The Strengthening by the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit strengthens the disciples in Acts 1:12-26. The troubling actions of Judas Iscariot undoubtedly scarred the fellowship of disciples. Jesus selected twelve disciples to train for the purposes of living the mission of God. We know that Jesus had sent the disciples out two-by-two to preach in various cities in Israel. The void left by Judas was not ignored or over-looked. As the disciples were abiding together, they were consumed in prayer awaiting the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit. As these disciples prayed together, the Holy Spirit strengthens them by filling the vacancy left by the death of Judas.*

The community of God is a community knit together by God. God brings his people together and equips them to do the ministry he has given them. Many times we can think that we decide to go to church. We often times forget that God has brought us together as a church. Perhaps my favorite understanding of the church is that it is a community of people who never would have ordinarily come together if it were not for the action of Jesus. The relationships I have with the people at Homewood CPC have no other foundation than the foundation of Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus, I serve Homewood CPC. Because of Jesus, our session works together. Because of Jesus, we exist on Columbiana Road. Our being as a church is grounded in the foundation of Jesus Christ. Which makes the selection of Matthias as the twelfth disciple so important. The Holy Spirit strengthens the community of disciples by stitching together the family of faith. Matthias has always been there in the midst of the disciples, but now, it’s time for him to work.

We as a church have to always be ready to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit. God strengthens his church by bringing his people together. It is by the work of the Holy Spirit that God’s church grows. This leads us to understand that anyone who enters the church of God has a place in the mission of God. How welcoming are we toward our new neighbors and those who have found their way into our church each week? Do we see these lives as the Holy Spirit strengthening his people, or do we reject the strengthening of the Holy Spirit and neglect those God sends into his house? May we enlarge our understanding of who we are as a church and know that without God and his Holy Spirit, we are just another social club with no authority or purpose.

These movements of the Holy Spirit are important for us to see as they should drive us to prayer. Notice that in 1:14 that the disciples had devoted themselves prayer together as they were obediently awaiting the Holy Spirit. How do we fill our time during the “unexciting” times of life? Prayer is terribly absent in our current Christendom in America. I am not saying we don’t pray, but I am saying that the devotion to prayer in the church is severely lacking. Prayer is the language of faith. It is the understanding that we are not the final word or authority for what happens to us. It is the appeal and dependence on the God of the universe, who moves within his people in mighty ways. As Jesus taught us, may we ever be in prayer, seeking not our will for our lives or our will for what we think the church should be, but that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. May we be faithful to God as he moves within his church. Amen.

*(Not to spend too much time discussing the details given in Acts about Judas’s death, but we must understand that there was nothing honorable about Judas’s actions in betraying Jesus nor in his death. In recent years, much attention has been given to the discovery of “The Gospel of Judas” and the message within it that implies that Judas was only being faithful to Jesus in his betrayal. One thing is clear in this recounting of Judas’s fate, it is that his actions, both betraying Jesus and in his taking of his life, are not honorable nor are they admirable.)

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