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Pentecost Sermon

(Ephesians 3:14-20)


The village atheist wasn’t a bad man, he just didn’t believe, and he wasn’t interested in church . . . which totalled to exactly 1 in the area. The church was cold and rather dead really – not much more than a social club.

One day the church building caught fire, and the entire village ran toward to help extinguish the flames, even the village atheist! Someone called out to him: “This must be new for you, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen you running to church!” The man replied, “You’re right – but this is the first time I’ve ever seen the church on fire!”

I have a deep desire, for our church, that no one will ever be able to say they have never seen us on fire. And of course, that kind of fire begins with each of us being filled up by the living, breathing fire of God; His breath; his Ruach – the Holy Spirit.

Some of us may have had the experience of being in a cold, or tired or dead church, without any fire filling it up. Someone sings and it’s like they’re simply going through the motions, there’s no heart or passion. The sermon is preached and it’s so boring it’s hard to stay awake, or it’s so heady or nonsensical that we can’t grasp whatever it is the preacher’s trying to say. The prayers seem meaningless, Communion is a slow, passionless exercise and the offertory has become nothing more than some loose change and a button.

Some people who suffer being in tired or dead churches say, “What we need is some new converts, that’ll set the church on fire!” Well, in fairness, what’s really needed is some fire, and then people will get converted! As Christians, we might occasionally ask ourselves when did we last have new converts in the church? But the question I believe we should be asking is, could God entrust us with new converts? The famous Baptist preacher and theologian, Charles Spurgeon once lamented, “To put new converts into most churches is like putting live chicks under a dead hen.” Notice Surgeon said ‘most churches’, not some. You and I should never forget that we are called to be fishers of men and women, not just keepers of a garden fish pond! We’re not here to form a nice cosy social club with an occasional reference to Jesus, or a place that’s snug and fun and comfortable, amongst good friends, but has little or no growth in faith or holiness or depth of soul. The trouble is, we are dreadful creatures of habit . . . we like what’s familiar . . . we get used to the way things are and we can be fearful of change . . . sometimes we can even dig our heels in and refuse utterly to move forward.

But guess what? Our heavenly Father/Mother has created us with the ability to change; Jesus has the desire and passion to change us; and the Holy Spirit has the power and energy to change us - we are reminded of that just about every time we hear the Scriptures read to us, or read them for ourselves. So why do we tend to stay the same? Why do we seem so stubborn when it comes to change? Why do we sometimes seem so unforgiving towards a brother or sister, so bitter over the past, so selfish or so isolated from others? Why are we such complainers at times, or so ungrateful for what others do for us, so faithless sometimes, so lustful over someone or some thing? Why are we simply so un-pleasable at times or just so dis-pleasable?

My beloved friends, this should not be. We are called to be filled with the Spirit, as Paul reminds us frequently in his letter to the Ephesians, and this is not a one-off, once for all time thing, it’s an ongoing re-filling with a conscious desire on our part to seek daily filling, to be filled and go on asking the Lord to fill us with his Spirit. You know, it actually makes little difference what kind of experience you or I once had with God if we’re not showing it in our lives now. May be you’ve known an absolutely gob-smacking miracle in your life, or you’ve had an amazing experience of Jesus, or you’ve known his touch on your life in a tangible and life-empowering way, or may be you’ve been rescued by an angel! BUT . . . If you aren’t living now, with power in your life to be faithful to God; if you aren’t living with freedom and a sense of peace over sins and crises and troubles that hit your life – however large or small – then you have a spiritual problem.

The good news is that this problem is not unfixable.

During the American Depression, a field in Pecos County, West Texas was part of a sheep ranch owned by a man named Ira Yates. Yates was struggling financially with his ranching operation and hadn’t been able to pay his mortgage for quite some time. He had reached the point where he was in danger of losing the ranch. With so little money for clothes or food, his family (like so many other American families at that time) had to live on government subsidies. Every day, as he grazed his sheep over the rolling Texas hills, he was no doubt greatly troubled about rising bills and diminishing money. Then out of the blue, a seismographic crew from an oil company came into the area and told him there might be oil on his land. They asked permission to drill a wildcat well, and he signed a lease contract.

At little more than a thousand feet they struck a huge oil reserve. The first well ran at 80,000 barrels a day and subsequent wells were about twice the size. In fact, in the sixties, 30 years after the discovery, a government test showed it still had the potential flow of 125,000 barrels of oil a day. Mr. Yates, of course, owned it all. The day he bought the land he received the oil and mineral rights. Yet he was a potential multimillionaire living in poverty, because he simply didn’t know the oil was there, even though he owned it. He was more interested in grazing his sheep, than in discovering whether his land held anything more valuable than grass.

This is Pentecost Sunday, the day we remember the Holy Spirit coming down into the world and into our hearts. So, are we are simply content to sit here unchanged, while the passionate burning fire of God longs to refine us? I really encourage you today – to let God drill into you, burn away the rubbish and ignite the life he intends you to have. This is what Paul means when he writes to the Ephesian church, saying, “For this reason, I bow my knee before the Father for whom every family in heaven and on earth are named, that according to the riches of his glory, God may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have the power to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and depth of the love of Christ. May you know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to God, who by the power within us is able to do far more abundantly that we ask or see, to him be the glory in the church and to Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-20).

When the Spirit was given by the risen Christ he overturned everything and set it on fire. The disciples were enabled to become a life-sharing community, and that’s when their love began to overflow, just as Jesus had commanded them to love one another. They were on fire with a burning love that drew them overwhelmingly and consistently together. Love had become for them and in them a holy imperative. In just the same way Jesus had gathered his disciples and friends to him, so the Holy Spirit drew the early Christians together radically in love. Together they felt compelled to live the life of Jesus, talk about him, and live in complete community together. This is the fire that burns away isolation and melts ice-cold existence. Communal life in Christ requires white-hot love that can only be instilled and ignited by the Spirit’s power. In this heat, materialism for the early Christians melted away to its foundations. Selfish possession . . . obsessive ownership . . . and a greed for materialism feeds on stifling self-interest. When deep-seated selfishness is killed by love, and only then, possession and ownership and all that separates, comes to an end. This is how it was in the early church when they were swept up in the fire of God. This is how it can still be in the 21st Century for us. Fired up by the influence of the Holy Spirit, community is born, where people do not think in terms of “all this is mine” and “that is yours.” The only question for us is whether or not we want to respond to the invite to surrender and join the journey.