I Corinthians 12:1-11, 28-31
ďDepending on the Holy SpiritĒ
October 21, 2007 - Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
†††††††† Push the button, and my day had begun. I used to have a coffee-maker in my office at home. Each evening I would set it up: water, filter, carefully measured scoops of two different coffees blended precisely. Then when the alarm went off in the morning, I walked in, turned it on, and sat down for an hour or two of caffeine-fueled productivity at the computer. As dependencies go, it was minor, but at that time I was truly dependent on a couple cups of coffee to begin my day, to stoke my energies for the first few hours.
†††††††† My dependence on that little dose of caffeine was a conscious dependency. I carefully and deliberately maintained it with little rituals of preparation and indulgence each evening and morning. At the advice of a doctor several years ago I discovered that I did not really need coffee, but that is not true of all dependencies. In the Covenant Church, our fifth central Affirmation is ďA conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit.Ē
†††††††† In the Covenant Church, we recognize and acknowledge in our core beliefs what Paul teaches here in I Corinthians 12:3, that ďno can say ĎJesus is Lord,í except by the Holy Spirit.Ē In order to even believe and utter the most basic truth of our faith, we are wholly and absolutely dependent on the person the Bible calls the Holy Spirit.
†††††††† Weíve walked now through four other Covenant Affirmations: The centrality of the Word of God, the necessity of the new birth, the whole mission of the church, and the church as a fellowship of believers. And what we come to now is that we are utterly dependent upon the Holy Spirit for those other Affirmations to become practical realities in our hearts, minds and lives. It is the Holy Spirit who guides us to understanding as we read the Bible. When we are born again to new life in Christ, it is the Holy Spirit who comes to live within us. In order to carry out our mission, we are energized and directed by the Holy Spirit. And it is only by the Spirit that we are knit together into a single, unified fellowship of believers, because, as the Apostle says in verse 4 and verse 8 and verse 9 and verse 11, it is the same Spirit working in all of us.
†††††††† Yet as I said earlier this year, the Holy Spirit is often a kind of silent partner in our business as Christians. We have much to say about and much awareness of God the Father, and even more, generally, about the God the Son, Jesus Christ. But when it comes to that mysterious, spooky point of the Trinityís triangle named in old-fashioned language, ďthe Holy Ghost,Ē we are a bit clueless, even a bit indifferent.
†††††††† In the Covenant, we placed dependence on the Holy Spirit within our central Affirmations in order to remind ourselves how wrong and misguided it is to be ignorant and indifferent toward the Spirit of God. If the Bible is to be truly central to who we are, then we cannot ignore how often the Spirit appears and how crucial He is to the story and to our lives as Christians.
†††††††† The Holy Spirit appears at the very beginning, in the second verse of Genesis, brooding over the deeps in which God is going to bring forth our world. The Spirit showed up as God made a covenant with Abraham. He appeared as the shining presence of God in the Tabernacle and in the Temple. He inspired and directed the prophets. He came down upon Jesus like a dove. Every miracle that Jesus did and every word that He taught was done and said in the power of the Holy Spirit. In His last long message to the disciples at end of John, Jesusí constant theme was the arrival and work of the Holy Spirit among those who believe in Him. And the record of the first years of the church in the book of Acts is, more than anything else, a record of the work of the Holy Spirit.
†††††††† No Holy Spirit, no Christian faith. No Holy Spirit, no Christian mission. No Holy Spirit, no Christian believers, because, again, no one can even say that Jesus is Lord without the Spirit convicting, directing and guiding her.
†††††††† So we unashamedly affirm that we are dependent people. In all that we say and do, we depend on the power and work of Godís Holy Spirit within us and through us. Jesus depended on the Holy Spirit, and so do we.
†††††††† The first result of depending on the Holy Spirit is an energizing power which takes us beyond our own abilities. Itís generally agreed that studies show the caffeine in coffee consumed in moderation provides a slight edge of alertness and performance for many people. A little dependence on coffee may help you do a bit better at your work than you would otherwise. You just have to weigh the benefits against the downsides of stomach acid, nervousness, and if you drink lattes or put in creamer and sugar, the extra calories.
†††††††† There is, however, no downside to depending on the Holy Spirit for your place in Godís service. Paul lists in verses 8-11 some of the benefits the Spirit bestows upon those who depend on Him. Wisdom, knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, gifts of prophecy, gifts of interpretation, gifts even of speaking in miraculous tongues. From verse 28 we could add gifts of teaching, of helping, of administration. There are other lists of the Spiritís benefits in the New Testament, more spiritual gifts in Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and I Peter 4, and the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, as well as the spiritual gifts of the Old Testament, found in Isaiah 11:2. The benefits of the Spirit are many.
†††††††† If you seek the benefits of coffee, you probably have a daily ritual or habit to obtain your regular dose. It might be setting up the coffee machine the night before like I did. It might be leaving a few extra minutes on the way to work to drive through an espresso stand. It might be stocking your refrigerator with bottles of frappuccino. If we want to realize the benefits of dependence on the Holy Spirit, we need to form in our lives rituals and habits that connect us with the Spirit and remind us of our dependence.
†††††††† The most obvious habit of spiritual dependence is prayer. Time in the morning asking the Spirit to guide you through the coming day, a pause at meal times to give thanks and acknowledge the Spiritís gifts, quiet moments in the evening to reflect on where Godís Spirit met you and your needs for tomorrow, or even a habit of sending up short prayers at all the crucial moments of the day, asking for strength and guidance. To pray is to welcome the Holy Spiritís presence within you and to express your reliance on His help.
†††††††† Other habits or rituals also connect us with the Spirit. Corporate worship is the most central one. In worship, we call together on the Spiritís energy. Like co-workers gathered round the coffee maker or friends sitting down at a table at Starbucks, we express our need and dependency together, in refreshing fellowship.
†††††††† The regular reading of Scripture is another connection with the Spirit. We cannot fully understand what we read without seeking His help. Habits of fasting or giving or solitude or silence can also help renew our life in the Spirit. Thatís why these are called ďspiritual disciplines.Ē From the start of our history, Covenant people believed in living out our connection with the Holy Spirit through regular, practical forms of devotion and dependence. Spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible reading, and worship are part of what we mean by ďdependence on the Holy Spirit.Ē They refresh and give us new energy.
†††††††† In the Covenant Affirmations DVD some of you have been watching, Debbie Blue, our executive minister of Compassion and Justice, likens our dependence on the Holy Spirit to a childís dependence on his parents. And that image reminds us of another of the great benefits we derive from the Spirit of our Lord. A little boy comes in crying with a knee scraped bloody on the sidewalk and receives hugs and antiseptic and a bandaid from his father. A teenage girl dissolves in tears after being snubbed by fellow students and is embraced and listened to and consoled by her mother. So in John 15:26, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Comforter or Counselor or Advocate, literally the Paraclete, one called alongside us to help us.
†††††††† If youíd like to continue my first metaphor, think of what a comfort coffee is on a cold, dreary morning like weíve recently experienced. You sit with your feet in slippers, with your hands wrapped round the comforting heat of the mug, you inhale the aroma, and as you sip you feel that warmth work its way into your whole body. Comfort.
†††††††† So we depend on the comfort, consolation and help of the Holy Spirit. As we struggle with depression, battle with cancer, wrestle with unruly children, or simply try to pay the bills, the Spirit who comes from the Father and from His Son comes alongside, wrapping love around us. We depend on Him for the strength and courage and hope to live another day, to stay faithful to Jesus, to walk one more mile of the journey. It is in and through the Holy Spirit that God is there, that Christ is there, walking with us, offering comfort.
†††††††† One of the benefits of coffee Iíve already mentioned is how it makes you a bit more alert, adds a little mental acuity and focus. Students who have coffee in moderation before a test may actually do somewhat better, get a few more right answers. Likewise, dependence on the Holy Spirit carries with it Jesusí promise of seeing things more clearly, understanding ourselves and God more accurately.
†††††††† Again in His last message in John, Jesus says in chapter 16 verses 12 and 13, ďI have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.Ē With most other Christians we believe that this promise of the Spiritís guidance into truth was primarily fulfilled in His inspiration of the writers of the New Testament. By directing what the apostles wrote down in the Gospels and the Epistles and the Revelation, the Holy Spirit gave the Church all the truth it needs about Jesus and what it means to believe and follow Him.
†††††††† Yet again with most other Christians we believe that the Holy Spiritís role of guiding us into truth continues. As you or I sit and read the Bible and make ourselves open to the Holy Spirit, He guides us into deeper understanding, clearer insight. As we grow in faith and years, He does what Jesus said, and helps us know and understand things we could not hear clearly or bear before.
†††††††† For nearly all of my then 31 years I had heard that God loves me like a father, that Jesus invited the children to come to Him, that He taught that you and I are to become like little children. But it was not until nearly 21 years ago when I stood and held our newborn first daughter crying out her first breaths in my arms that I could begin to bear those truths in any real depth. The Holy Spirit hovered over us as I began to really learn about Godís fatherhood and what it meant to be His child, utterly helpless and dependent upon His love and grace. I read all those texts again, the same old truths, but with the Spirit shedding new light on it which I hadnít been able to bear before. Thatís why He is still actively helping us understand Godís Word, leading us into truth.
†††††††† The Holy Spirit leads us into truth, but that leads to me to just one more thought that I would like us to grasp about the Spirit this morning. You might get the idea from all of this that the Holy Spirit is the individual and private property of the Christian. Iíve been speaking of how the Spirit energizes and comforts and guides you or me. Iíve talked about spiritual disciplines mostly as habits of individuals, your or my ways to stay connected, to remember our dependence. Iíve talked about the Spiritís holy work in me and in you and you and you, as if we were each separate trees in a forest or private cars driving down the highway or individual listeners at a concert. But perhaps the most important fact about Godís Holy Spirit, and the reason I chose this passage for this message, is that we are not only dependent on the Spirit. In Him we are interdependent.
†††††††† Iíve given you the image of the Spirit coming to you like the freshening jolt of a cup of coffee. You might picture yourself as in a television commercial, sitting on the porch alone savoring each sip. Or you may rush along to work gulping from your plastic-lidded cardboard cup. Or you toss back a frappuccino as you hurry off to practice. But to see the Holy Spirit only as that sort of private consumption is to get it wrong, badly wrong.
†††††††† Sitting there in my office, enjoying my mug of dark, hot coffee by myself each morning, I am the image of self-sufficiency and self-reliance. I washed the pot and spooned out the coffee myself the night before. I set the alarm and got up before everyone else in the house. I took my cup and sat down to do my work, balancing the checkbook or writing a sermon, or building a web page, all alone and needing no one else. But thatís not true.
†††††††† Just for my cup of coffee I should remember that my wife did the shopping and brought home the coffee and the filters. I should recall that the coffee is the product of labor by people I will never know, picking beans, roasting and grinding, sealing cans. Sailors on ships brought the coffee here. Drivers of trucks carried it to stores. Stock clerks put it on the shelves. A clerk rang it up. Not to mention the technicians who kept electricity flowing to my coffee maker or the factory workers who made my mug and the coffee maker itself. The connections, the interdependency goes on and on and on, all so I may enjoy a cup of coffee quietly alone in my office.
†††††††† The same kind of thing is even more true of our enjoyment of the Holy Spirit in the Christian Church. As we speak of dependence on the Spirit, we must always remember that that we depend on the Holy Spirit in each other. The Spirit manifests Himself in each of us, Paul says in verse 7, but it is all ďfor the common good.Ē The gifts of the Holy Spirit are not private gifts. They belong to all of us and they only truly work when they are shared.
†††††††† The Holy Spirit will guide you in understanding the Bible when you read it, but not nearly so well if you only read it alone. The best understandings of Scripture come when we read together, when we learn together. As we discover in verses 8-10, we need to learn from the Spirit in the gift of wisdom to one person, in the gift of knowledge to someone else, in the gift of a prophetic word from still another person. And in verse 28 we see apostles and prophets and teachers all communicating the truth the Spirit is delivering.
†††††††† To receive the Spiritís power, we depend on those with special gifts of healing or miracle or simply faith. To enjoy His comfort we depend on those who have gifts of helping or encouragement or the beautiful ecstatic utterance of a spiritual language. Itís in and through each other that we fully experience our conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit.
†††††††† So I want to suggest to you that worship does not end when the benediction is pronounced. Here is one more crucial place where caffeine and the Spirit connect: our offering of coffee and refreshment is a holy time. Itís a space in our life together when we find the Holy Spirit in one another.
†††††††† As I move around and talk and listen to our conversation over coffee and juice and cookies and fruit slices, itís mostly pretty light stuffóyesterdayís game or a recipe for lemon bars or admiration of someoneís new car. But here and there almost every week I hear someone talking about a deep need and receiving sympathy and the promise of prayer. Last week I heard mission getting started as the Dirty Hands team met to begin a new phase. I see hugs exchanged and offers to help fix a roof or care for a parent. I watch children playing together and learning the joy of Christian friendship. And I hear the Bible being discussed, questions raised, and interpretations shared. Itís coffee time, but itís also Holy Spirit time. We depend on it. We depend on Him and because of that we depend on each other.
†††††††† Which leads us exactly where the Holy Spirit wants to lead us. Which is where Paul took all this as he closes out his thoughts on spiritual gifts. As he finishes those thoughts, he tells us to desire the greater gifts, desire the deepest blessings of the Spirit, to fully depend on Him. And then, at the end of verse 31, he says, ďAnd yet I will show you the most excellent way.Ē That way appears in the next chapter, the greatest gift of the Spirit, the greatest fruit of the Spirit, the way of love. Depending on the Spirit, we depend on love.
†††††††† Valley Covenant Church
†††††††† Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
†††††††† Copyright © 2007 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj