Monday, January 11, 2010

Formed by the Spirit

Traditionally Lutherans don’t talk about the Holy Spirit that much.
We are much more comfortable talking about Jesus, about the forgiveness and grace given to us through his life, death, and resurrection.
The Holy Spirit therefore usually takes a back seat.
Mostly I think because Jesus is easier to talk about.
Jesus was a real person who said things to us, and taught us about a Godly life.
The Holy Spirit is a much more nebulous kind of thing.
I cannot show you the Holy Spirit.
I cannot tell you this is what the Holy Spirit once did or said.
I cannot tell you a story about how the Holy Spirit once walked on water, or broke bread.
But this morning I want us to talk about the Holy Spirit, because it is an integral component of our faith life.

What we are reminded of this morning in the Gospel and the reading from Acts is that no baptism is complete without the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ baptism is complete only when the Holy Spirit descends from heaven to claim him as God’s Son.
The apostles are sent to Samaria to lay hands on some Christian converts so that they will receive the Holy Spirit, because being baptized in the name of “the Lord Jesus was not enough.”
For us too it is not enough to only know Jesus we also have to pay attention to the Holy Spirit.

But what is it exactly that the Holy Spirit does?
What does the Holy Spirit do in our lives as God’s children?
I think it is helpful to start by looking at Jesus.
What is it that the Holy Spirit does for Jesus in his Baptism?
First, the Holy Spirit is what connects Jesus to the realm of heaven.
At least while he was a human it was the Holy Spirit that came and answered his prayers.
The Holy Spirit in our lives is what brings us to Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit is what gives us answers to our prayers, and our questions.
After we are baptized we grow in our faith.
What makes that growth possible is the Holy Spirit.
We do not come away from the font fully formed into the people God wants us to be, nor the people we want to be.
That takes years, decades.
And many, many prayers.
Only after we have gone through many things with God do we fully realize the power of faith and what it really means for our lives.

I have talked to a number of people who will say things like, “I can never go to church I am just not a good person.”
That is who church is for!!
That is what the Holy Spirit is for, to form us into God’s people.
The Church is for all of us who are not yet done having God work on us.
If you are a perfect person, or think you are, then Church is not for you.
Because here we experience the Holy Spirit as we are drawn to grow in faith, and know God better.
So the Holy Spirit is what connects our lives to heaven and to all the blessings of knowing God.

Second, the Holy Spirit prepares us for our mission in the world.
Jesus was Baptized because he was about to embark on a very important mission.
And Jesus needed the power of the Holy Spirit to be his guide.
It is the only explanation for Jesus’ Baptism.
Because Jesus is not baptized to have his sins forgiven, or to get salvation.
The same is true with our Baptism.
They prepare us for our work in the world.
Every single one of us is on a mission.
That mission is unique in some ways to all of us, but it is also the same in many ways.
Our mission is to show others God’s love by sharing our faith.
That happens in all sorts of ways.
God calls us all to do it in different ways, places, and times.
This might be the scariest thing about the Holy Spirit that once it get hold of your life you never know where it will lead.

Think about all the people that for whatever reason got the Holy Spirit into them that ended up traveling or doing something they never would have guessed because the Holy Spirit lead them there.
Think of St. Paul.
He would never thought that he would have traveled all over the world starting Churches in the name of Jesus Christ, except the Holy Spirit got a hold of his life and took him to unknowable places.
I once met a man who did the music for his congregation.
He told me how he was an addict, he never thought that this would be his life.
He never thought he would give up a Saturday to come to a Church conference on evangelism to play the piano.
But he said once he found God he can’t help himself.
Maybe that is part of the reason we don’t talk that much about the Holy Spirit because it is so unpredictable.
We never know what the Holy Spirit might call us to do next.
But whenever you get that sensation like something is taping you on the shoulder and calling you to do something that you never thought you would do it might be the Holy Spirit.
The next time you are thinking about doing something to help someone else or forgive someone you never thought you could that is the Holy Spirit.

For example, I once got a call from one of the shut-ins asking if I would go visit her.
I went and she told me about a dispute she was having with one of the other parishioners.
“What should I do?” She asked me.
“I think you should forgive her.”
We had a long talk about it.
We read scripture together, and then we prayed together.
At the end of our conversation she said, “I still don’t think I can forgive her pastor.”
But the next time I went and visited she told me that one night during her night time prayers she felt this need to forgive her.
That is the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.
The Holy Spirit calls us to the mission of love and forgiveness in the world.

Finally, the Holy Spirit is what claims us as God’s children.
In Jesus’ Baptism the voice from heaven gives Jesus his title and authority to live out his mission in the world.
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
The same happens in each of our Baptism.
The Holy Spirit tells us that we too are God’s sons and daughters, beloved.
That is an important title for us because it defines who we are.
We are not lonely wonderers.
We are claimed by God to be God’s children.
It was important for Jesus because there would always be this question about who Jesus was and where he came from.
It is only by being claimed by God that we know that Jesus was the messiah, the anointed one sent to show us God, and baptize us with the Holy Spirit.
Being God’s children matters a lot.
It makes everything we do important to God.
Just as everything your children do is important to you.
The Holy Spirit is that constant reminder that we are not our own, but through our baptism belong to God forever.

So, we might not talk about the Holy Spirit that much but without it.
We would not know Jesus.
We would not know our mission in the world.
We would not know that we belong to God.

But because of the Holy Spirit we are drawn and formed by Jesus Christ.
We know our mission to let others know about God’s love by sharing our faith.
We know that we belong to God now and always.
So let us go out into the world led by the Holy Spirit to grow in faith, serve in love, all in the name of God our heavenly father.

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