I Believe In the Holy Spirit

Sermon Text  – 09.30.2018
[Acts 2:14-18 and John 3:6-8]       
    Clare Boothe Luce once said, “There are no hopeless situations. There are only people who have grown hopeless about them.” There once was a man who had two children, twin boys. The man was a mess – alcoholic, constantly out of work, abusive. One of his boys grew up to be an alcoholic, constantly out of work, abusive and angry. One day someone asked the son, “Why are you like this? Why are you the way that you are?” The boy, all grown up, shrugged and said, “Look at my father, what else could I become?” The twin brother also grew up, never touched alcohol, was always a hard worker, was kind, gentle and happy. One day someone asked him, “Why are you like this? Why are you the way that you are?” The boy, all grown up, shrugged and said, “Look at my father, what else could I become?” Perspective is everything. Life happens whether we want it to or not, success or failure is not what comes in our life – but how we handle what comes. There are no hopeless situations. There are only people who have grown hopeless about them.           Today is the final sermon in our series “Foundations: The Apostle’s Creed.” The this past month we have broken down and explored in detail the beliefs outlines in the Apostle’s Creed. Truth is, this is very basic stuff, but for some of us it’s new, and for others it’s an important reminder to give us a good foundation to work with. Today we are talking about the Holy Spirit – what that means, what that is, and more importantly – what that means for our hope for a better tomorrow.         
    So we start with our scripture lesson in Act. It’s a pretty well known story, but let’s take a look. After Jesus came back from the dead, he spent some time visiting people and teaching them and just sort of proving that he was really alive. Scholars estimate that he appeared to some 500 people over 40 days – and then he ascended into heaven. He went home. And after that moment, the disciple were terrified. But that kind of makes sense – the whole world was watching, looking for rebellion, trying to squish the Jesus movement before it could get started. So they are literally hanging out in hiding in some room – not sure what to do. Jesus is gone – what are we supposed to do now? But before he left, Jesus promised to send his Spirit to help us. So the disciples are hiding in the room in the big, bustling city of Jerusalem. Now it’s a big city, thousands of people from all over the world come to Jerusalem – but the disciples are not out there having fun the streets of the city. They are hiding, terrified. You might know the story. There they are, hiding in a room, when suddenly there was a rush of wind, and little tongues of fire appear above each of their heads. And they felt God’s presence in their hearts. Suddenly they were inspired. The Holy Spirit had arrived. Their souls were just set on fire. And it’s really early in the morning, but they rush out in to the streets and they just start telling everyone who will listen about Jesus, about how amazing he is – his love, his sacrifice, his forgiveness. And to make it a little miraculous, the disciples start speaking to people in their native language, no translators necessary. Now, at this point in the story, we’re in the first part of chapter 2 in Acts, most of the people on the streets kind of roll their eyes at the disciples. They think, crazy people running around the streets of the city – probably drunk guys, too much partying. It says in verse 13, right before our scripture lesson, [read it]. But then our good buddy Peter gets up, and he says, “No, they’re not drunk. It’s only nine in the morning. No, this – this is something else.” Peter says, what’s going on here – this is big, this is what the prophets were talking about when they said, [read v.17-18]. And as he talks a big crowd gather around, and then Peter does some preaching – and 3,000 people give their life to Jesus in one day. This is the day the church was born. It’s a pretty cool story.   
        But I have one quick note before we move on. The Holy Spirit comes, inspires them, and then they go out into the world and tell everyone about Jesus. And then there’s this whole speaking in tongues miracle thing going on – but I think that’s a secondary miracle. The real miracle in this story is the inspiration. Not the fire up above their heads, but the fire set in their hearts to suddenly care for those around them more than themselves. I don’t know if you’ve heard about this before, but these 12 disciples – most of these guys died horrible deaths sharing the love of Jesus with the world. 1 guy got exiled, but all the rest of them died really painful deaths. They were hiding in the city for a reason, but when the Spirit comes, it inspired them to put others first. The world didn’t get safer, it didn’t get less dangerous. Same world, but now they have a new perspective – now they have hope. This about this – in our lives in the modern world – with all our individualist, personalized-leave-me-alone-don’t-talk-to-other-people society the real miracle is not speaking other languages, but talking to each other at all! The real miracle would be to go and have a conversation with another human being – to put them first in your life. Don’t get me wrong – the speaking in other languages thing is cool, very helpful logistically, but the first miracle in this story is the inspiration that the Holy Spirit gives us. The fire that pulls us together – it created a church, it created a family.        
    Now let’s take a second and take a look at our other scripture lesson – back in the book of John. And this story comes before Jesus ascended. He’s hanging out with this teacher of the law named Nicodemus. Nicodemus is like this really kind old wise scholar – and he’s trying to figure out Jesus. And he comes up to Jesus and says, “hey, we can tell there’s something special about you. Nobody can do what you do unless you’re from God.” And Jesus responds, [read v.3] And poor Nicodemus, he has no idea what Jesus is talking about – so he takes Jesus literally in verse 4 [read it]. This poor old man is taking Jesus literally, and so he says, “you want me to do what, and climb back inside of who now?” And so Jesus clarifies, [read v.5-6]. Now this is kind of confusing if you don’t have the context. The last couple of weeks we’ve been talking about Jesus – trying to explain and understand who he is. First we talked about how he was fully human – he’s so relatable. He knows what we have been through. I think the favorite realization from that week was that Jesus pooped in his diaper as a baby – he went through what we have been through, so that makes him someone we can connect to. Then last week we talked about how he was also fully divine -and how he offers us forgiveness from God. And so in this moment with Nicodemus, Jesus is explaining what comes next. Once you accept the forgiveness of God. You know, once you repent, turn away from our sins and say, “I don’t wanna live broken anymore, I wanna live God’s way.” Last week I said, “once you decide to follow Jesus, you have to actually follow Jesus.” But today I have very good news for you. You see, God sends us help in our walk with him. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to set up shop in our hearts and transform us – so we can start living for God. Jesus tells us, “Flesh gives birth to flesh. We said last week, “death can’t death.” But the Spirit gives birth to Spirit. When we say I want to follow you, God – God sends us help.    
         The Apostle’s creed says, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Now, up to this point with the Apostle’s Creed, we have been telling a story. First, that there is a God out there, and he is our creator. Second, He has a son, Jesus Christ – and then it includes all these important details about his life. But the final section of the Apostle’s Creed is all about the church – about you and me together in this thing we call the family of God. I believe in the holy catholic church. Now a lot of people are thrown by that word catholic. But the word “catholic” just means universal in Greek. We may have splintered ourselves into all these little denominations, but we are all one family of God. In fact, this line is actually MORE important, now that we have split into all these separate denominations. There are differences between denominations, don’t get me wrong. In fact, I bet if you and me sat down and talked long enough, we could probably find a reason to hate each, a place to disagree. But this line is a call for unity. We are part of the universal church. We might disagree on some of the secondary stuff, but we are the followers of Jesus – ie, Christians. We come from all over the world, different backgrounds, different experiences – but all come to the same God, in the same body. I believe in the holy catholic church. The Holy Spirit pushes us to come together as the body of Christ.      
     The next line says, I believe in the communion of Saints. This pushes the idea of the family of God even farther. That word saints includes all the people who have already died, Christians who have gone on before. Not just the Christians that are around here on earth today, but our family actually extends to include all Christians ever. I believe, not just in the holy catholic church – all of us alive, but also in the family of God extended through the ages. Christians have a belief, a hope, that someday we will share the table, we will share communion with those who have gone on ahead of us to prepare a place for us. If you’ve ever lost someone in this life, these are beautiful words that we cling to.      
     I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of the saints, and forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sins – it seems like a simple thing, but this is actually a really big deal. Last week we talked about how Jesus sees us as we really are. How no matter how we present ourselves to the world, no matter how good we try to look to everyone else – Jesus knows the real me. But what’s amazing about that is that we all come to God at the same level. There’s a strange equality among the broken. Doesn’t matter any of the other categories the world gives us – rich, poor, gender, race, education, nationality, any of those things that people use to divide  themselves – none of that matters in front of the cross. Because in front of the cross we are all equally fallen – I’m broken, and you’re broken, and you’re broken. But because of what we talked about last week – because of Jesus the description changes – I’m forgiven, and you’re forgiven, and you’re forgiven and you’re forgiven. Do you see how the forgiveness of sins creates an incredible equality at the table of God?     
      The next line in the Creed is I believe in the Resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Translation – they’re talking about heaven. Christians believe that there is something after this life, an afterlife. We believe in heaven – eternal paradise, that we will have eternal life. Before he left, Jesus told his disciples, “Someday, I’m coming back, and I’m going to clean this place up, I’m going to bring heaven to earth – but until then, I’m sending you my Spirit – the Holy Spirit.” Now, there are lots of different pictures and specifics about heaven. I can’t really tell you what it will be like. Well, there are two things I can say. First, it’s not going to be this weird ethereal cloudy space where we all float around playing harps – it’s going to be way better than that. At the core, the thing that all of us can agree on is that heaven is life, existence in the presence of God. And on the other side, Hell is existence in the absence of God, the absence of love and all the other good things that God is. Christians believe that there is more. The Holy Spirit gives us hope by giving us a picture of what life could be, what perfection is coming. Now there’s a lot of different opinions about heaven and hell and what that looks like, and to be honest – I don’t have all the answers. I could probably do a whole series on heaven and what it looks like and what we know and what we don’t – but let me just leave you with this picture. This is the picture I use when I need a little hope for something better. When the world is full of garbage, I go to back to Revelation chapter 21. If you don’t know, Revelation is the last book of the bible, and it’s a hard book to understand about the end of the world – but there’s this moment of clarity where it says, [read v.1-5]. I don’t know what heavens going to look like specifically – but I’m very excited about a world with no more pain, no more death, no more mourning. I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  
          All right, so that’s the Apostle’s Creed – and so now, real quick we have ask the question: so what? What do we do with that? Really all this talk about the Holy Spirit boils down to one key concept – hope. The Holy Spirit gives us hope, and it does that in two ways. First, the Holy Spirit – like we just talked about – gives us hope by giving us a picture of what life could be, a picture of what perfection is coming. The Holy Spirit inspires us by giving us something to shoot for, something to work towards. But the second way the Holy Spirit gives us hope is by inspiring our hearts – right here and now. Remember what happened with the disciples – the Holy Spirit lit a fire in the hearts of the disciples and they did incredible things. But Nicodemus and his conversation about being born again shows us that that same Spirit, that same power is available to every single person who calls Jesus their lord and savior. Do you understand? The miraculous power of God, that moves mountains, and heals lepers, and speaks different languages wants a place in your heart. God wants to inspire you to a higher level of existence, even before we get to heaven. Because of the Holy Spirit acting right now in this world, you can experience the presence of God. We only get glimpses of it in our lives here on earth, and it’s just a shade of what’s coming – but it’s incredible.    
       I believe in the Holy Spirit – in the church, the saints, forgiveness, heaven and eternal life. I believe the Holy Spirit gives us the greatest gift of all – hope. First, it gives us a goal, a picture of what is coming – we call it heaven. Second, it inspires our hearts right now here today. So what do we do with the Holy Spirit in our lives? The answer is kind of weird. I want you to prophesy. Now, hang on, hang on. Don’t everybody tense up on me now (oh no – Pastor JJ’s one of those preachers). Think about what Peter said, [read v.17]. I’m not saying I want you to have hallucinations or see literal visions – but I want you to dream dreams. I want young people to see visions of a better world. Because right now? They don’t see those visions. Do you know what the most popular genre of book is with the kids these days? Post-apocalyptic worlds – from Hunger Games to Maze Runner, Divergent to any of the zombie stories. They’re fun stories, but they all start with – and then the world exploded. We have lost our belief that things can get better. I want young people to see visions of a better world. I want old men and women to dream dreams. Invite the Holy Spirit into your heart, and then be set on fire. Throw off the shackles of a world that lives with a limited perspective. I am inviting you to embrace the impossible through God. Imagine a better world, have hope for a better world. All the training, all the teaching and book smarts, streets smarts – it’s all nothing. Nothing without hope. The will is everything. Hope changes the equation. Your perspective shifts – if you believe in heaven, you have already taken the first step in getting there.        
     There once was an alcoholic man who had two sons. One grew up just like him, and one grew up to be so much more. What was the difference? Hope. There are no hopeless situations, there are only people who have grown hopeless about them. The Holy Spirit invites us into this family, and then creates the picture and the possibility of perfection. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you invite the Holy Spirit to come into your heart, set your soul on fire. May you dream dreams, and never settle for anything less than God’s presence ever again. Amen.          

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