Trinity Sunday, Year B

Life through the Spirit

Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday in many liturgical churches around the world. The third person of the Trinity is perhaps the most controversial if not the most neglected person of the Godhead. We have sermons and teachings on God the Father and God the Son almost every week. How much do we hear about the Holy Spirit of God?

If we were to boil down the importance of the Holy Spirit to one phrase we might say that the Holy Spirit is the “life-giver.” From Genesis we read:

The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.  (Genesis 2:7)

The Holy Spirit is thought to be the breath of God. Without his breath we cannot live. The Apostle Paul wrote: “The Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6)

When Nicodemus visits Jesus at night, unlike many other Jewish leaders, he acknowledged that Jesus must have come from God  Jesus responded to him in a curious way:

“Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”   (John 3:3-8)

Jesus was saying that the Spirit gives life. He is talking about a new life sustained by the Holy Spirit. This life comes as a gift from God above, yet it is a life that must be received and lived in. This life has a force of its own, like the wind, and must be allowed to chart a new course and direction for those who embrace it.

How we cooperate with the Holy Spirit is all important. The Gospel of John speaks powerful about the Holy Spirit and the writings of Paul add much-needed theological commentary. As Christians, we cannot ignore the importance of the Holy Spirit.

Some may think: “I have Jesus and the cross. That is enough for me.” Yes, it is, provided that we understand that the cross of Christ is also our cross. Paul writes:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.   (Romans 8:1-4)

Jesus fulfilled the just requirements of the law of God by his death on the cross, because the wages of sin is death. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, he washes us clean from all our sin. We need to no longer live under the penalty of what might be called the old law of God or the law of sin and death. But what do we now live under?

The Apostle Paul tells us that the law of the Spirit has replaced the law of sin and death. We are no longer subject to this old law. Paul writes:

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.   (Galatians 5:18-25)

This law of the Spirit is a higher law under which we can live by through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Paul goes on to say that we must choose this new law:

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ– if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.   (Romans 8:12-17)

In other words, we must choose to allow the Holy Spirit of God to govern our lives. To choose not to live by the Spirit is to choose death over life. Jesus said that he came to “give us life and life more abundantly.” The Apostle Paul wrote: “If you live according to the flesh, you will die.” The flesh only leads to death and decay. Satan wants to steal our lives from us by having us concentrate on the flesh, or worldly passions. Our minds and hearts need to be on the Spirit.

However, it will cost us to live by the Spirit. We will experience persecution. We will have our own cross to take up daily. Does this sound like the Christian faith we have been taught? Perhaps it is time for us to grow up and become the children of God and not the children of this world. This world is passing away. Those who live by the Spirit are being renewed day by day.

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Day of Pentecost, Year B

Send Forth Your Spirit

The Day of Pentecost is traditionally a celebration of the birth of the Church. Perhaps the church in America needs more of a rebirth than a birthday celebration.

The nation of Israel needed a rebirth. It had fallen so low that it appeared Israel would never recover. The people were in exile with little hope of ever returning to their homeland. What was sad for them is that they remembered their homeland and how wonderful it was when they were under the protection and blessing of God. But they moved away from God just as many in our nation have done the same. When this happens there are consequences.

Fortunately, God intervened in their moment of complete despair. He spoke to his prophet Ezekiel:

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”   (Ezekiel 37:1-6)

Notice that Ezekiel did not have the answers to God’s questions. Nonetheless, God would put the answers in the prophets mouth. God was doing a new thing, but Ezekiel must declare it to make it happen. I believe that God is ready to do a new thing for America and for the church in America. Are we listening and are we ready to speak?

Apart from God we can do nothing. In fact, there is no life at all apart from God, only death. Life begins when God breathes upon us the Spirit of life. The psalmist wrote:

You hide your face, and they are terrified;
you take away their breath,
and they die and return to their dust.

You send forth your Spirit, and they are created;
and so you renew the face of the earth.

May the glory of the Lord endure for ever;
may the Lord rejoice in all his works.   (Acts 2:30-32)

When life was first formed we read that the Spirit was hovering over the waters:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

God breathed his Spirit and  life became possible. We need him to breathe on us again. The Apostle Paul wrote:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.   (Romans 8:22-25)

Have we given up hope on our country? Have we given up hope on our church? Paul tells us that in hope we were saved. it is time to put our salvation into practice. We must not give up. Rather, we must speak out. That is what Ezekiel did:

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.   (Ezekiel 37:7-10)

The Day of Pentecost is a reminder that God started the Church. The disciples did not do it. We cannot do it. The promised Holy Spirit of God came upon the followers of Jesus and breathed into them new life. In the Old Testament, the Spirit would fall upon certain prophets. By his  death and resurrection Jesus prepared the way for everyone to receive his Spirit. In today’s Gospel Jesus is speaking to his disciples about his Spirit:

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.   (John 16:7-11)

The world was wrong about three things: sin, righteousness, and judgment. This is still true today. The Church should not be governed by this false understanding. Yet much of it has been captured by the world. First, sin is real and sin brings death. We must confess it. Secondly, we are not righteous except by the blood of Jesus. Yes, we are saved by grace through faith, but without the shedding of the blood of Jesus there would be no cleansing on sin. We must still confess the blood of Jesus. And thirdly, the world is under judgment to this day. America is under judgment because it is governed by wicked leadership which the church has not challenged. We are starting to see some of our wicked leaders fall, both in the government and the church. Are we ready to move out from being under this corruption?

A great awakening is occurring. We cannot afford to be silent any longer. We must speak out and declare the new life in Christ that God is offering our nation?

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.   (Ezekiel 37:9-10)

Let us pray: “Send Forth Your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.”

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Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B

The Testimony of God

The great basketball coach John Wooden was well-known, not only for winning 10 NCAA championships, but also for his sayings on life. This was one of them:

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

There is much wisdom in what he is saying. Reputations are based on the perception of others. Often their perceptions are not very accurate. Jesus warned:

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”   (Luke 6:26)

In his First Epistle, John writes that we have a greater testimony than human testimony:

If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.   (1 John 5:9-12)

Are we more interested in the praise of men that the praise of God? The praise of men is fleeting at best. The public is fickle, and as we have noted, often wrong. People look at surface values and do not see the heart of a person as God does. God sees our heart and draws us to himself. He is no respecter of persons. He is not influenced about what others might think or say. What could be more comforting than the testimony of God dwelling in our heart that we are his, that he cherishes us, and that we have eternal life in him through the blood sacrifice of his Son?

Not only is human praise fleeting, but this world is passing away. In his high priestly prayer, Jesus declares that his disciples are no longer of this world, just as he is not of this world. He asks the Father that he would protect his disciples from the evil one of this world, Satan.

And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

If we are true Christians the world will hate us. This is becoming increasingly more obvious each day. This hate, however, cannot separate us from the love of God, nor can it take away the peace we have in our hearts. God is preparing us for a better world. In the meantime, Jesus wants his joy to be made complete in us, praying that we are one in him with the Father.

Each day, let us pause and listen to the inner testimony of God in our hearts. It is stronger than any human testimony. And it is truthful and lasting. All other testimonies are empty words from empty people. Let us remember to pray to God that they, too, might be filled with the knowledge of the love of God in Christ Jesus.

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