God With Us

Posted on 04 Jun 2017, Pastor: Adam
  • Acts 2:1-21

    When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

    Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs-- in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."

    But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

    `In the last days it will be, God declares,

    that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

    and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

    Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

    And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

    The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day.

    Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.' "

“Pentecost: Ture Spiritual Unity & Fellowship in the Holy Spirit,” Rebecca Brogan, watercolor pencil on matboard, Australia

O

n the day of Pentecost, the disciples were gathered together, all in one place. In fact, they were gathered together in much the same way that we are today: for worship and prayer, for community and wholeness, and for the work of figuring out what was next. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit came upon them like the rush of a great wind. Tongues of flame rested upon their heads, and the Holy Spirit drove them out. The Holy Spirit drove them out of their place of gathering and shelter. The Holy Spirit drove them out into the world, and the world was filled with strangers who came to witness this thing that was happening. The world was filled with strangers who mocked and derided the words and actions of the disciples. But the disciples persisted, and the Holy Spirit was with them.

There was an interesting story in the news this week. Now if you missed it, that would be understandable, as there was a lot going on in the news this week. The story was about a congressman from the State of Michigan who, while speaking with a gathering of constituents this week, was asked his views on climate change. After acknowledging that it existed, he then went on to explain that his faith as a Christian caused him not to worry about it.

“As a Christian, I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us. And I’m confident that, if there is a real problem, he can take care of it.”[1]

I share this with you, not to pick on this congressman, but because it is a profoundly thought-provoking comment. More than that, it is a comment that illustrates in extremis a very common Christian belief. In a thousand smaller, and often subtler, ways we profess the same underlying view.

When we are sick, we pray that God will heal us from whatever ails us. When we have children, we ask that God keep them safe and shield them from the pain and hardships of this life. Just this past Friday, I attended a service to honor veterans at Chestelm, and I offered a prayer that beseeched God to protect and keep safe all service personnel and all veterans. And once I held a grandmother as she wept over the death of her grandson, crying out to God that after all her years of faithfulness, he had not kept this tragedy from her family.

Even Jesus, as he prayed in the garden, asked God, “If you will but take this cup from me.”

We want a God whose operative preposition is “from.” A God who will shield us from all adversity. We want a God who rescues us from all danger, a God who delivers us from all evil. We want a God who is always at hand to step in and save the day when everything goes sideways. We want a God who keeps us safe from all that is out there in the world so that we can stay in here, where it is comfortable. So we can stay in here, where nothing threatens us.

But that is not what God offers us. That is not the promise God made to us. Jesus promised his disciples, “I will be with you to the very end.” And in the resurrection, we learned that even the end does not separate us from God. Even after we come to the end, God is still with us.

And Jesus promised, “I will send you another, an Advocate, one who will be with you.” On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples and was with them. And the Holy Spirit has been with us ever since.

God with us. It is very different from God who protects us from all things. God who is with us, equips us with the skills we need to overcome the challenges before us. God who is with us gives us the strength and the courage to stand in the face of adversity. God who is with us gives us the wisdom to listen for the truth spoken to us by others, as well as the wisdom to speak truth and proclaim the Gospel message to the world. That is the promise of God who is with us. In all things, the Holy Spirit is by our side. In all things, we are not alone.

What is more, the Holy Spirit who is with us is also the Holy Spirit who drives us out. The Holy Spirit drives us out to face the evil in the world, to face the suffering in the world, and to face the brokenness in the world. And in all these things we will be more than their equal, for the Holy Spirit is with us.

Now, if we step back for a second, though the promise of God with us in the Holy Spirit sounds good, we can also understand the appeal of God who protects us from the world. For one offers the allure of preservation and comfort, of protection and safety. The other offers none of these things.

Presented with these two visions of God, we might ask, but why? Why would we choose God who is with us over God who saves us from the world? Why would we want the path of conflict, the path of danger, and the path of adversity over the path of safety, and comfort, and peace?

The answer is simple. Our faith in God is not about us. Our discipleship to Christ is not about us. Our faith in God is about God. Our discipleship to Christ is about Christ. And the mission of God and Christ is the reconciliation and restoration of creation.

And in the baptism with which Christ baptizes us, we are called this same work. We are called to participate in God’s mission. The Holy Spirit is with us to empower and equip, to strengthen and make wise, so that we might be successful in the work that is before us.

We cannot shy away from this work. We cannot hide from it and remain faithful to God. The Holy Spirit will not allow it. For the Holy Spirit drives us out into the world and into the work God has given us to do.

Where we encounter racism, sexism, and all forms of oppression and persecution, we cannot stand back and say, “God will take care of this.” Truly I tell you, God has sent you to proclaim justice and be the agent of dignity for every human being. And where we find suffering, pain, isolation, and death, we cannot stand back and say, “God will heal this.” Truly I tell you, God has sent you to bring healing to those who suffer, companionship to those who are lonely, and the promise of new life to the places of death. Where we see creation being destroyed by the folly and greed of humanity, we cannot stand back and say, “God will fix this.” Truly I tell you, God created us to be stewards of creation, that the image of God that is in all things might be honored and celebrated.

And wherever we see the brokenness of the world and the fallen-ness of creation, we cannot retreat to our shelters of comfort saying, “God will sort this out.” Truly I tell you, the Holy Spirit has come to us for just such work as this, that we might be agents of reconciliation and restoration. And we can be confident in the knowledge that we are not alone, for God is with us.

My friends, the Good News of this Pentecost day is this: Christ did not come into this world to save us from the world. Christ came into the world to save us for the world, that through us and through our discipleship, the world around us might be renewed for all people and God’s work might be done. And at last, when our labors come to an end, we can enter boldly God’s Kingdom and take our places in God’s new creation.

[1] Rep. Tim Walberg, May 26, 2017. http://time.com/4800000/tim-walberg-god-climate-change/

Preached by Adam Yates