Friday, March 04, 2016

Sermon: “Spirit Empowered Humanity”

Preached March 4, 2016 as the final sermon in the Cox Deeper Life Series.
So if you were here on Wednesday, the title of the sermon was, “Jesus sanctified humanity.” The basic point of that sermon was that when Jesus came to earth he showed us what it meant to be truly human, to be the kind of human being that God intended all human beings to be. I argued that when Jesus was on earth, he played it by the human rules and did everything he did by the power of the Holy Spirit. The idea was that there was nothing that Jesus did that, in theory, we could not also do through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus showed us how to be human.

So today we want to talk about how the Holy Spirit can empower us to be like God, to be holy as he is holy. What does that look like?

Two aspects to us being holy
There are two basic aspects to being wholly as a person. The first is *being* God-ified.

I don't know if you saw the first of the recent Batman reboot movies. In Batman Begins, there's a scene where Morgan Freeman is showing Christian Bales something he calls memory cloth. Basically when you put an electric current through the cloth it stiffens. So Batman can put the current through his cape and instantly it becomes a glider, like the picture.

Arkham video game 
[By the way, I guess physics students don’t think this would actually work very well, so don’t try to jump off any of the dorms with something like this.]

What I mean by being “God-ified” is that when we become God’s, he touches us. He electrifies us. He brings us into his force field. I thought of the Iron Man movie where he “electrifies” the hands of people falling from Air Force One so that they can’t help but grab the next person’s hand.

This is a difficult concept for us. Our Western culture doesn’t understand the idea that sin or holiness can be contagious. Take 1 Corinthians 7:14, where Paul says that an unbelieving spouse is made holy when they are married to a believer and that the children are also made holy by this connection. This is a pretty amazing statement. Just by being married to someone who is touching god an unbeliever is brought into the force field of the Holy Spirit. The children are brought into the force field of the Holy Spirit. Like the cape that when electrified takes on the form so in some strange way, and unbeliever in connection with a Christian somehow comes within the power of God!

We have a real tendency to bring comments like this into our modern paradigm. We want to say that they come under the influence of Christianity, the influence of God. And of course that's all true. But there something more than that going on here, something special, something striking. I would go so far as to say that to some small extent an unbeliever who's touching as it were a believer is less likely to sin. They’re a little more likely to do the good or more likely to be protected from evil. again I don't know how it all works. Its mystical, it's divine.

But somehow, even unbelievers are “God-ified” by contact with true believers. It doesn't mean they're going to be saved. Paul is explicit about that. Just because an unbeliever is married to a believer doesn't mean they're actually going to make it in the end of the kingdom of God. Paul saying something different, something very difficult for us modern people to get our head around.

But one aspect to holiness is to be “God-ified.” When we are God’s, God is touching us and that makes us holy.

But there is a second aspect to holiness. not only does God touch us and make us *be* God-ified, but the part I most want to talk about today is that when we are made holy we *live* God-ified. So “being” God-ified is one aspect of holiness, and the second is “living” God-ified.

So we return to the verse we looked at Wednesday in 1st Peter 1. “Do not be conformed to the desires That you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, so be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, as I am holy.’”

On Wednesday we talked about how Jesus came and represented us. Today we want to talk about how we need in our lives to represent God in how we live.

Only by God’s Power
We all know the saying by Yoda in Empire Strikes Back. “Try not. Do or do not.” I'm not sure I never really understood what that means. When I hear it I just think man I've got to really try harder. And after all there are some things you just can't do. I grew up in the area where they told you that you could do anything you put your mind to. Do they still say that? it's a load of rubbish. I will never ever be able to run a five-minute mile. When I was in high school I came within 29 seconds of doing it once but I can tell you for a fact I will never ever be able to run it.

Empire Strikes Back
So what's up with this try not do or do not stuff?

As I reflect on this sermon, though, I wonder if what Yoda is telling Luke Skywalker is that he actually can't do it. I wonder if he's telling Luke that the kinds of things that he is trying to do are impossible for him to do. In other words, the only way to do them Is for him to surrender himself fully to The Force and let the force do them through him.

No I don't believe in some impersonal force around us that empowers us. But I do believe in the Holy Spirit. I do believe that God wants to take over our lives and do impossible things through his power in us. I believe in the Holy Spirit.

What does it look like?

1. Love God with your all.
So what does it look like to live holy and not just be holy because God is touching you? I think Matthew 22 is a great place to start. Yeah actually it's a good place to end too. Someone comes to Jesus and ask him what God requires of us, what the greatest commandment is. Jesus responds, You will love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind. Basically, God expects you to love him with all your being.

This is a pretty tall order. It falls into the category of things you might try to do but you just can't. It's the kind of thing that's going to take some divine power to come anywhere close to.

For one thing none of us are really completely aware of ourselves. I may want to give everything to God but I don't know everything there is about me to give. Let's face it human beings are incredibly complex and we are far more unaware of ourselves than we are aware of ourselves. if other people only see the little bit of our iceberg above the water, we don't really see that much more of ourselves either. The stuff deep down the stuff that really makes us who we are, the stuff that drives us, the stuff that pushes us in certain directions--we aren't that much more aware of a lot about stuff ourselves than anyone else is. In fact, sometimes other people are more aware of those things than we are.

If I don't know all of me, how can I give it to God?

It might help to think of it more like an arrangement we have made with God, a covenant even. Have you ever actually told God that your whole life is his? Now none of us knows really what that all is going to entail. None of us knows the crises we're going to face later in life. In a real sense, none of us knows the complete inventory of this house that we live in, this house that we call our lives.

Did you have a fun attic in your house growing up? Did you have a musty basement in your house or a cluttered garage? My family is, for good or ill, a Harry Potter family. There's this place in Harry Potter that is called the Room of Requirement. It's a place where there is a ton of stuff and a mess of junk, and you never know what you're going to find it. I hate to say that we have an attic a basement and a garage in my house that are a little bit like that. There are things that I've been looking for in our house for over 15 years.

I did my doctorate in England in the city of Durham and the university I was a part of was made up of little colleges and had I think about 12 colleges that made up the university. The one I was part of was called St John's College, and I was something like in RD in St Johns.

One of my jobs--which by the way it was very dubious to give me this job--but one of my jobs was that if the fire alarm went off I had to go find out where in this maze of interconnected houses the alarm has been set off and then go to see if there was an actual fire. And let me say that St John's was a fire trap of amazing proportions. Basically at some time they had taken this row of houses that were built in the 17 hundreds and they had torn down the walls inside between the making this kind of maze of tunnels like that went up and down and around. One of my favorite staircases ended in a wall.

Let's just say that the boy in me loved that maze all of the secret places that you can find in this amazing network of hallways that were almost like tunnels in a mine. There are all sorts of hidden nooks and crannies in those buildings.

In the end, we just don't know everything that's in our lives. we don't have to list every single thing and specifically give it to him in order to love him with all our heart mind soul and strength. Holiness preachers use to use the analogy of signing over the title deed to your house to God. I may not know everything that's in my house. I may not know everything that's going to come through the doors of my house in my life, but I can sign over the house to God

I can make an arrangement as it were. I can make an arrangement that promises God that everything in my house, whatever it is it is his. That doesn't mean that I may not have to struggle at some point in the future.

Maybe someday when I'm wandering through my attic I'll come across something that pulls against God. Maybe I'll encounter something in my attic that threatens to divide my loyalty. And when that moment comes, and it probably will, then I have to stop and remind myself who holds the title to my house who owns the property.

And I won't be able to do it in my own power. There's a good chance that “trying” won't be enough. There's a good chance that I will have to rely on the Holy Spirit to make it a reality. But 1 Corinthians 10:13 promises that the Holy Spirit will make us able to bear up under temptation. Paul implies that there is no temptation that has to win over us.

Have you ever signed over the property of your life to God? Have you ever promised him that whatever you find in your attic or basement or garage, that it is his? Have you ever made that covenant with God for all of the rest of your life, committing your all to him?

It's not something we can do. It's not something we can work out in our minds or figure out. It's a covenant that we give over to him and let him take it from here.

There's a verse in Colossians 3 that has been my personal motto in this area. It says that whatever you do in word or deed do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. What this says to me is that my fundamental motivation needs to be to serve God with all my heart and all my being.

It's a different way of thinking about what I do. I don't approach living as a question of what is right and wrong but I approach what I do with the question of what would be most pleasing to God what would most glorify God.

A teenager once asked me how far he could go with a girl before he would go to hell. I smiled and jokingly said that he had already done it. Why? Because he wasn't approaching the question from the standpoint of what would most please God but from the standpoint of how much sin he could get away with.

In other words he has not given his property over to God he wanted to give just enough of his house to God in order to get to heaven. It's like Jesus said, this people honor me with their lips but their heart is far from me.

So there will always be things in our house that we lose track of, that we don't even know are there. Our lives are not static stuff comes in stuff goes out. I don't know if you've seen the movie inside out, but there's this pit where old memories fall to die, never to be heard of again.

Those things aren't so much the problem for holiness. As the hidden things of our lives come back we simply rededicate them to God we simply remind ourselves that we have committed to love God with all our heart mind soul and strength.

The problem is when there are secret spaces, hidden closets that we full well know are there but that we don't want to give to God. Again, being a Harry Potter family, I thought of that little place under the staircase where Harry Potter is sleeping in the first movie when the story all begins.

Harry Potter, Sorcerer's Stone
There's a campground in Frankfort Indiana that my family used to have a cabin at. And right underneath the top step of the stairs to the second floor, there was a little nook that you could open and I used to keep a can collection there. Don't ask me why I collected cans. But I have a can that had 1976 on it, the Bicentennial anniversary of America's birth. And then I had a can that said 1986 on it and then later one that said 1996 on it, if I remember correctly.

Some of us like to have little secret places in our lives little things that we keep to ourselves, little things that we do not share with others. And of course it's okay to have some things that you keep private to yourselves. That is it's OK as long as you don't keep them from God.

The problem with secret spaces is if we don't give that part of our house to God.

So if you've never actually signed over your property to God that is something you're going to want to do. That is something you must do. There's simply is no other option. We cannot keep our houses from God and be his.

The same thing goes with secret spaces. It may be some little thing at first that we are keeping from God. but if we continue to have parts of our lives where we do not let God go, eventually they go from being little things to becoming quite great things indeed.

A drip of water seems like hardly anything, but over time just that little drip can create large cracks. I mentioned that I was at St John's College in England. When I first arrived there the steps leading up to the front building were quite remarkable. Like I said they were from the 17 hundreds. The principle of the college once remarked when he had visited Independence Hall in Philadelphia how funny it was when the tour guide remarked at how old that building was. He whispered to his wife that his office was in a building that old.

But the steps in front of John's College actually bowed. And you might think wow what incredible force must cause stone to actually curve? but the answer is just the ordinary steps of people like you and me walking up and down and in and out of that building for 300 years. a little step is nothing but a million of them can cause stone to bow.

So it is also with our lives. For both good and bad. Habits of doing good are hard to establish but with each passing time that we do them it becomes easier. good can become a habit. But in the same way, small little things that we keep from God can over time become so great that they smash our relationship with Him. we cannot go into the kingdom with anything other than that which fits with God and small bits of defiance overtime become massive defiance in the end.

2. Choose to love others.
There is a second part to the Great Commandment. When the young man came to Jesus and asked him what God required of him, Jesus not only said that he needed to love God with all his being. Jesus also said that he needed to love others.

You might remember the parable of the Good Samaritan in which the person who comes to Jesus in that instance tries to wiggle out of loving people he doesn't like. in lawyer like fashion this man says but who is my neighbor? in other words can I get by with just loving my friends, the people that I like to call my neighbor?

Jesus answer must have been very very annoying. In the story of the Good Samaritan Jesus makes the hero someone that no one wanted to like, a Samaritan! Jesus was saying as it were that you have to love everyone, even Samaritans.

Jesus says similar things in Matthew 5. Jesus says if you only love the people who are friends with you better than anyone in the world? Don’t even evil people like their friends? No, Jesus says. You must love your enemies just as God loves his enemies. God sends rain and sun not just on good farmers but on wicked farmers as well.

So the command for us to love our neighbor means everyone, both our friends and our enemies.

An interesting observation here is that God does not command us to like everyone. I don't think that loving in this instance is the same as liking. in fact I don't think that what Jesus is talking about here has anything to do with feelings. rather, it has to do with choices.

I tried to word this last slide carefully. Choose to love others. I think there will always be people that you don't like, people who rub you the wrong way. this is specially applies to people who have hurt you in the past.

When we say that God calls us to love our enemies, what we are saying is that God has called us to act lovingly toward them, not to feel loving toward them.

I like to think of it this way. In life we are often confronted with a choice between A and B. Now sometimes we don't know which is the more loving choice. but often we do. Often we know that Jesus would take choice A and not choice B. Sure we can be self-deceived. I am amazed right now at the incredibly different things that American Christians think Jesus would do. Christians often disagree on what the loving thing actually is. God knows, And God is the judge.

As we said on Wednesday God isn't looking for perfection from us. He's looking for commitment. He's looking for our intentions. As Jesus says God looks on the heart.

To love our enemy means that when we are confronted with a choice between A and B that we choose the loving choice. It doesn't mean that were happy about it. It doesn't mean that we enjoy doing it. It means that, by God's grace, by God's power, we trust ourselves to the Holy Spirit and make the right choice.

There are of course all sorts of clarifications here. When it comes to our own morality and eternal destiny, all of a suddenly become good lawyers. We want to wiggle out of doing the right thing so often. But it is true that sometimes the loving thing to do is not to let others have what they want. Sometimes, as one person put it, love must be tough.

For me personally, sometimes I get a kind of gnawing feeling inside of me that what I'm about to do just isn't the right thing. This happens off and on Facebook and Twitter for me. I like to make people laugh, but some things just aren't funny. Sometimes right before I tweet something I'll get this kind of feeling inside that I want to ignore. Some of my friends have suggested that this is the Holy Spirit or my conscience telling me that I really shouldn't tweet that.

But again God is not looking for perfection. He's looking for commitment.

So as we close this holiness series today, I hope that you will make a commitment. it is first of all a commitment to give your house to the Lord. Even though you don't know everything that's in your house, you can sign it over to him. You can say to the Lord, “Lord I'm giving you everything I know that's in my house. I'm giving you all the secret spaces.” You know what they are. Give it all. Give it all to God. Everything that there now. Everything that's there from the past. Everything that's going to be there in the future.

Then commit to choose love when you have a choice. Commit to make the right choice whenever you're confronted with doing the loving thing or not doing the loving thing.


RDavid said...

Your thoughts good, they are.

(Yoda style)

Ken Schenck said...