Sunday 19th October @ St Barnabas and St Michael’s
A personal preface. Something very odd happened when I was preparing this sermon, which may explain why it is not quite of the same standard as others. Every time I sat down to right it I found I had a splitting headache, and it was like wading through treacle trying to write it. I’m not a big one for spiritual warfare and seeing demons under every bed, but as soon as I preached it at the one church, it was like a huge cloud lifting. What was all that about? Don’t have a clue – but it does remind me that spiritual warfare is a reality, and that preaching about a relationship with Jesus has to be at the heart of it all, no matter what the opposition
So here it is – the fourth in our basics course, based on John 14:15-27
Meeting someone famous
Is there anyone famous people here would like to meet? Do you have a superhero you’d like to come alive, such as Harry Potter or Doctor Who? Is there some famous footballer or model you’d like to spend the day with? Or is there some religious leader or politician you’d like to invite to tea? Who is it you would like to meet?
Of course the one famous figure many people would like to meet is Jesus Christ. Just think how many arguments could be settled, how many wrong ideas could be corrected, if only we could build a time machine and go back to Palestine 2000 thousand years to meet Him face to face. But we can’t – at least not for the foreseeable future – and maybe even then it wouldn’t be such a good idea.
However the promise of the Bible is that we don’t have to go back in time to meet Jesus. Jesus instead promises that if we love Him and want to follow Him then He will come to us, and live in us, right here, right now. And that presence of Jesus in our lives is called the Holy Spirit, and it’s what we are going to be thinking about this morning.
Because it seems to me that the Holy Spirit is one part of the Christian faith many people are confused about. When we stand up in church and say, “I believe in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit”, yes, it’s reasonably clear that God is our Heavenly Father and, yes, we know, Jesus is His Son. But who is the Holy Spirit and why is He important to my faith? Is the Holy Spirit only for special kinds of Christians or is He for everyone? And even more, importantly, what will happen to me if I have the Holy Spirit in my life?
That’s why my aim this morning is to clear up some of this confusion, and to provide a few answers, so you can see how important is the Holy Spirit to your life. But instead of asking lots of difficult abstract questions, and using lots of long, complicated words, I want instead for you to imagine that the famous person you’ve been thinking about just now has rung you to say that, yes, he’ll be with you next weekend and he’s going to be with you for a whole day. How do you react? And how do you think you’ll spend your time with him?
So, firstly, how will you react? Well, I guess on hearing the news you’ll have all kinds of feelings. Perhaps a little humble that such a great person should be coming to see you. Perhaps rather overwhelmed with the thought of actually being in His presence. Perhaps aware you need to tidy up and make yourself presentable. As well of course being nervous, excited, apprehensive, and a whole host of other emotions all at once.
And I’d like to suggest that’s rather how we should feel when we understand Jesus’ call upon our lives. Because as we’ve been seeing over the past few weeks, Jesus isn’t simply a good person who lived a long time ago or a misguided martyr who died a tragic death. Jesus is the living Son of God, the one who when the universe was created flung stars into space, who became human being just like us to serve us and to save us, and who died for our sins on the cross. And the amazing thing is, as the risen and exalted Son of God, He is calling each and every one of us to have a relationship with Him through His Holy Spirit.
Jesus replied (John 14:23) If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Isn’t that astonishing? That God the maker of the universe and His Son Jesus Christ who has saved us and loves us wants to come and live in our hearts. And the thing is, it’s not just a promise for grown-ups, or for people who go to church regularly. It’s a promise for each and every person here this morning, from the youngest to the oldest, from the greatest to the least, that if we decide to love Jesus, He will come and live with us forever.
Making a response
So how will you respond? Well, I suggest that in many ways our response should be no different to hearing the news that someone great and famous wants to visit us. We should be humble, aware that Jesus doesn’t want to come to us because we are good or clever or religious, but simply because He loves us. We should, I think, certainly feel more than a little overwhelmed, that Jesus should choose to show such love to us personally even despite our faults and failings and weaknesses. And we should certainly want to tidy up our lives, as we say sorry for the times when we have rejected His call upon our lives, and try to go our own way.
And if you’ve never thought about the response you ought to make to Jesus, now is as good a time as any. In a little while I will ask parents and godparents “Do you turn to Christ?” and “Do you repent of your sins?” and what those questions really mean is whether we are willing to claim that promise of Jesus for ourselves, whether we want to invite Jesus into our lives, not just for a day, or on Sundays, but now and always, and let our heart become His home.
But before we decide whether this is something we want to do, it’s worth stopping for a moment and thinking what this decision will actually involve. Just as in the same way we need to stop and think what it might involve having our famous person coming round to our place. After all, you don’t want to waste the time on small talk, or find yourself sitting in an embarrassed silence, or even look back on the occasion realising you had blown your big moment. No, you need to be clear what you want to learn from them, find out what it’s like really being with them, and maybe even learn to do some of the things they do.
And it shouldn’t really be any different when we think about following Jesus. We shouldn’t ever think that we can ask Jesus to live in our lives by His Spirit and that somehow we can carry on exactly as before, or only allow Jesus into certain areas of our lives and not others. After all, the whole point about deciding to follow Jesus is recognising that He is Lord – the boss, the one with authority, the one who has paid for the price for all our sins by conquering even death itself.
Spending time with Jesus
Which means that, firstly, if we want Jesus to live in our hearts, we have to be willing to learn from Him and learn to live by His truth. Jesus promises in our reading this morning that the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. And while that’s a great promise, it does mean that we have to be willing to be actually taught by the Holy Spirit. That’s why if we want to be follower of Jesus, all of us need to have a practice of reading our Bibles and regular, daily prayer, right from an early age. It always strikes me as odd that if people are interested in a certain famous person, or follow a particular football team, they will spend hours on the internet finding out all about them, and maybe buy books or watch DVDs about them, yet as Christians we seem so unwilling to spend so little time finding out about Jesus and His will for our lives.
You see, being a Christian isn’t just about what we believe, or what we do when we come to church, it’s about having a relationship with Jesus that needs to grow and develop. After all, when you make friends with someone, you spend time with them, you learn what they like and they don’t like, and you start to trust and understand them. And it should be exactly the same when it comes to Jesus. Because it’s as we give Him time and space in our lives, as we devote ourselves to learning from Him, that we discover what it’s really like being with Jesus day by day.
That’s why it’s surely no accident that after Jesus gives us the promise of the Holy Spirit to teach us and to remind us of everything He has said, He goes on to say Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Because this peace Jesus is talking about really is the hallmark of a growing, living relationship with Him, the true sign that He is living in our heart. It’s the peace of knowing that whatever we go through, and whatever difficult situations we have to face, that Jesus is with us by His Spirit, that, as Paul tells us in Romans chapter 8, nothing can separate us from His love, and that, most importantly of all, we have a hope before us which is secure and certain. Do you, I wonder, have that peace in your life?
And it’s little by little, step by faltering step, as we allow the Holy Spirit to teach us, and as our relationship with Jesus deepens and develops that we learn to do the things that Jesus does. Not that we become perfect, or we stop making the same mistakes again and again, but gradually, almost imperceptibly, the Holy Spirit begins to work in our hearts and change our thoughts and our habits and our attitudes. That’s what Paul is talking about in our second reading when he says the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Because, after all, fruit isn’t something appears overnight. You don’t plant an apple seed one day, and hey presto, have an apple tree the next. But steady, slowly that seed grows later and months or years later you have first a shoot, and then a plant, and then eventually the fruit. And that, it seems to me is how the Holy Spirit works in our lives, to slowly, gradually to make us more like Jesus. and the people who begin to show the love, the joy, the peace and all the other qualities that make Jesus who He is.
Accepting Jesus as Lord
And here I guess is the rub for many people. After all, when you invite someone famous into your home, it’s going to change your life, for good or for ill. From the moment that whoever steps through your door, things are somehow never quite going to be the same again. And I think that’s exactly the problem many people have when it comes to accepting the good news of Jesus Christ. Yes, they can accept that Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of Man. They can accept that Jesus died for their sins and they are profoundly grateful that He has done so. But the idea that Jesus wants to come and live in their hearts, and actually work there by His Holy Spirit, is something deeply disturbing and unsettling. For if the truth be told, we’re actually rather comfortable with life as it is. We like the way we spend our time, our money, our leisure, and we’d rather things stayed just as they are, thank you very much.
To which Jesus quite simply replies: If you love me, you will obey what I command. Because at the end of the day, our Christian faith isn’t about having a relationship with Jesus on our terms, but on His. He is either Lord of every part of our life, or He isn’t really Lord at all. And although we might find this is a challenge, although we might have all kinds of fears and questions, if we are prepared to give Jesus all that we are, and all that we have, Jesus promises us forgiveness of our sins, knowledge of God as our Heavenly Father and the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit. And surely that’s got to be worth is, hasn’t it?