In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
What is the Human Condition?
Good morning, St. Andrew’s! Today we conclude our preaching theme for this month, which is worship in the context of the Easter season that concludes today with Pentecost. You will recall that the term, worship, is derived from the old English word, weorthscipe, which means having worth. So when we worship something or someone, we are essentially assigning ultimate worth to that person or thing.
You recall further that we have talked about the fact that we tend to become like whomever or whatever we worship, so it is important for us to worship the One True and Living God. We Christians, of course, worship our Triune God—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Two weeks ago we compared and contrasted what J.B. Phillips called “unreal gods,” gods purportedly authentic but which are really human fabrications or perversions of the Real God, with our Triune God.
We talked about how the real God is worthy of our worship, how God the Father is our Creator and Source of all life, who loves us passionately and pursues us relentlessly, encouraging us to repent of our sinful and rebellious ways so that we can live with him forever. We saw that from all eternity, God has a plan for the redemption and salvation of both his broken and fallen world as well as his creatures, a plan that included God himself taking on our flesh, dying for us, bearing our just punishment so that we could live with him forever. And then we saw God in Christ do the unbelievable thing by rising to life again and ascending to heaven where he advocates for us with the Father.
We saw that in the Resurrection of Christ, we Christians have gotten a preview of coming attractions of sorts, a glimpse of God’s promised new creation when heaven and earth are fused together, creation is redeemed and restored to its original goodness, and we get new resurrected bodies that are no longer subject to sickness, suffering, infirmity, or death. This vision is better than anything we could hope for or dream of and it is a powerful sign that our God is worthy of every bit of worship we can give him.
But we also saw that we live in what the NT refers to as the “end times,” the unknown interval between Christ’s resurrection and ascension in which God has begun his restorative work and the time when Christ returns to finish it. The end times are characterized by what we Christians call the “already-not yet.” The “already” refers to the fact that in Christ, God has begun the last phase of his redemptive work but anyone who looks around today’s world realizes that God’s promise to restore his creation and us are “not yet” fulfilled.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus acknowledges, at least implicitly, that his impending death and resurrection will not immediately usher in God’s new creation and seems to be preparing his disciples, and us, to live in the “already-not yet.” He observes that his disciples are afraid and sorrowful as they contemplate him being taken from them because they, like us, were probably wondering if Jesus intended to leave them to their own devices. This is where God the Holy Spirit comes into play and this is what I want to focus on this Pentecost morning. How can the Holy Spirit help us in our worship of God in the midst of our broken and fallen world when we are so prone to get it wrong more often than not, and where we have to deal with all the messiness that life inevitably sends our way?
Where is God’s Grace?
It is to the glory of God that he knows everything his children need and has acted to ensure that our needs our met. We see this illustrated wonderfully in today’s Epistle lesson. Like the Lord, Paul acknowledges that we live in the “already-not yet” when he talks about both creation and us “groaning.” We groan (stenazo) from the weight of our sin and from living in a broken and fallen world, don’t we? Who among us is not currently “groaning” over some issue in our lives? For example, I noticed some of you looking at your watches and starting to groan as I begin to preach—I mean, what’s up with that? On a more serious note, your groaning might deal with personal health, family, or finances. It might be some issue of faith or the fear that we can feel when we look at what is happening in the world around us. It is precisely at these times when Satan, the great Accuser, is delighted to whisper in our ear and lie to us, telling us that we are in this life all by ourselves with no one to help us.
But then Paul makes two extraordinary statements. In the first, he likens the suffering of God’s fallen creation to that of a woman in childbirth. While the suffering and pain can be agonizing for the woman giving birth, it is temporary, not permanent (and watching my daughter be born years ago, and what her mother went through during labor, I can testify that this is a good thing; if it were permanent I am afraid I, and a bunch of other fathers, would not be living today). Paul is pointing us to that glorious day when God finally completes his plan for our redemption and restoration, and reminding us that our sin, suffering, and sorrow will not have the final say. Paul then makes the remarkable statement that God’s Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and groans for and with us as he intercedes for us. Here Paul reminds us that contrary to what Satan wants us to believe, God has NOT left us alone, but rather has poured out his Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13) to help us navigate life’s rough and messy waters. He not only helps us, he actually identifies himself with us when he groans with us. Now that’s a God worthy of our worship!
Likewise, in today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus reminds us that the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will lead us into all truth so that we will not fall prey to either our infirmity or Satan. After all, if we must endure the buffets of an Accuser, is it not a wonderful thing that God provides us with an Advocate to help guide us in all truth, Who is Jesus? The coming of the Holy Spirit, then, at Pentecost and ever since is another reminder that this God of ours really is the Hound of Heaven and who will do whatever it takes to reconcile us to him so that we can live with him forever. I can worship a God like that. Can you?
Moreover, having the Holy Spirit live in us, both as individuals and as the Body of Christ, the Church, can help us worship God through the sacrifice of our praise and good works. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that worship is more than paying lip-service to God. Real worship also translates into serving God and our neighbors (Hebrews 13:15-16). Because God has promised to restore us and his broken creation, it is important that we Christians help him in that process and this is where the Holy Spirit helps us, by giving us our marching orders. More importantly, after giving us our marching orders the Holy Spirit helps us carry them out. How is your worship translating into service to God and neighbor?
Having the Holy Spirit live in us also helps prevent us from worshiping another one of Phillips “unreal gods,” the god of Perennial Grievance. We create this god when some prayer of ours goes unanswered or something bad happens that we feel we didn’t deserve. “I trusted God,” we say, “and he let me down.” This god of Perennial Grievance is the God who Disappoints and worshiping an Ultimate Disappointment is a very hard thing to do, to say the least. When we create the god of Perennial Grievance we are essentially setting up in our minds who God is and what we think he should do. When this god fails to toe the line, we feel a sense of grievance and even betrayal. Unfortunately in my life, I have tried to worship such a god [personal testimony about losing my job in 2004].
But when we have the Holy Spirit in us and we listen to him, he can help us avoid creating a god of Disappointment. The Spirit will speak to us through Scripture, prayer, impulses, and Christian friends and family, as well as an infinite number of other ways, to remind us that God is in charge even in the midst of all the uncertainties and vagaries of this life, that he is working out his plan of redemption, and that he is Big Enough and Capable Enough to complete his work and fulfill his promises. Our job is to trust him and listen for our marching orders so that we can help him accomplish his work as we await his return. What an awesome privilege!
Where is the Application?
What then are some practical implications for us right now, to help us to navigate through all that life throws our way? I would offer three suggestions. First, make a practice of asking the Holy Spirit to help you develop the holy habits of daily prayer and Bible study. When you pray, listen for his Voice. When you read your Bible, ask the Spirit to guide you into all truth and make clear for you difficult passages. He might do so by prompting you to buy a study Bible or join a small group. Whatever he tells you, you can be confident that he will want you to DO something, not just sit on your behinds. When you are obedient to the Spirit’s prompting, you are worshiping God.
Second, start getting in the habit of recalling “God Moments” in your life. God Moments are those times in your life in which God worked in unmistakable ways [share a God moment]. Remembering God Moments will help remind you that Satan is indeed a liar and that you are not in this life by yourself. God is very present with you everyday through the presence of his Holy Spirit. The more often you can remember God moments, the more you will understand this truth and not forget that you have the Holy Spirit living in you, guiding you, advocating for you, and groaning with you.
Last, share your God moments freely and regularly with one another. This will help you get a more comprehensive picture of God’s activities in his world. It will help you begin to understand that God intends us to live life together and if we are ever to do that, we must learn to get real with each other. Sharing God Moments within the context of a small group is a great place to start. If you are not currently part of a small group, then share your God moments with your family and trusted Christian friends until you join one. And as you share your God moments, trust that the Holy Spirit is using them to build you up, as well as those around you, to equip you to worship him, in part, by your service to him and to each other.
What are you currently struggling with in your life? Do you struggle with the reality of the Spirit’s presence in your life? Perhaps you are struggling for a sense of direction or calling in your life. Perhaps you are struggling with some personal fears or a faith issue. Maybe it is a financial, health, or family problem. Whatever it is, take a minute right now and ask the Holy Spirit to help guide you and comfort you. Ask him to give you your marching orders or to make himself known to you more completely. Ask him to help you remember those God moments. Whatever it is you are burdened with, take a moment now and pray for the Spirit’s help [silence for prayer].
We have a God who loves us passionately and who pursues us relentlessly. He has borne the punishment for our sins so that his own justice could be satisfied. He has promised to redeem both us and his creation one day and to allow us to live with him forever in a new creation that knows no suffering, pain, sickness, infirmity, death, or sorrow. In the interim, he has poured out his Holy Spirit upon us and lives with us right now, to guide, comfort, and support us until all his promises are completely fulfilled. That’s good news, folks, now and for all eternity. That’s a God worth worshiping for all he’s worth.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.