Monday, 9 April 2018

Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me.

Exodus 14: 10-end, 15:20-21 (page 56 in our pew Bibles) God parts the sea for the Israelites so letting them cross in safety.
Acts 4: 32-35 (page 912 in our pew Bibles). An idealised vision of the early church holding everything in common.
John 20: 19-end (page 906 in our pew Bibles). The famous story of “doubting” Thomas. Whatever his original misgivings Thomas went on to India and in AD52 founded the “Mar Thoma” church, which is today two million strong.

It must be really galling to the apostle Thomas, who founded the 2 million strong Mar Thoma church in India that he is forever saddled with the adjective “doubting”.

In fact his words to Jesus when asked to put his hands in Jesus’ hands and his side “My Lord and my God” are the most explicit confirmation of faith in the divinity of Jesus you’ll find in the entire new testament.

Interestingly the text doesn’t say that he actually did touch Jesus at all; just hearing Jesus’ voice addressing him seemed to be all he needed, just like Mary Magdalene in the garden last week.

It seems to be true that the line between honest doubt and deep faith is thinly drawn.

Jesus goes on to say how blessed his future church is for believing while not actually having him standing there in front on them as some kind of “proof”.

What proof do we need to see to believe? What proof do others outside the church need in order to believe?

The answer to that is also given in our short passage we heard today.

The example of the changed and intentional lives of the apostles is the proof that people saw and experienced, that overcame their doubts. And so we need to ask, how were their lives changed?

Remember this is still Easter Sunday in John’s account and when he first met the disciples he sent them out into the world and breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit”

John’s account does not have Pentecost. Luke’s story of the giving of the HoIy Spirit at Pentecost is well known because it suits the liturgical needs of the church but in John’s gospel the disciples received all the tools they needed for transformation growth and evangelism in that one act on Easter Sunday.

The church is a spirit filled body of people.

I remember being at a conference in Mirfield many years ago when there were representatives from different denominations each expressing their claims to be ancient in origin and the Pentecostal minister got up and said “we are the most traditional church here because our origins spring direct from the Holy Spirit in AD 33.”

He was speaking for effect but he had put his finger on something fundamental.

Any church that is not Pentecostal or charismatic has no connection with the spirit of God which is the very source of our power and the most convincing “proof” that anyone can get.

The proof for others can only be changed lives. And lives are changed by the Holy Spirit.

When people say they have Jesus in their heart, or that Jesus is present in the Eucharist what they are really saying is that God’s spirit is present, for it is the Spirit that makes Christ present.

It was Jesus himself who said that he had to go away but he would send someone else to be with us forever.

It is God’s spirit that leads a church.

The clearest statement that this is true comes at the start of the Eucharistc prayer when I say;
“The Lord (Jesus) is here” and everyone replies…
“His Spirit is with us”.

The whole Eucharist is addressed to the Father, through the Son, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 Seeking the Spirit is not confined to one particular brand or type of service.

As our own Bishop Mark has highlighted, a quiet reflective service with incense and candles can be just as charismatic as noisy, overtly evangelical ones.

The form is far less important than the substance.   And it is the substance of our faith that needs to be encouraged.

I shall end with Paul’s powerful prayer for every one of us in Ephesians  which can be appropriated by all Christians

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3: 16-19

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