Saturday, January 17, 2015

Driven By The Spirit

Driven by the Spirit
Mark 1:4-11[1]
We who attended the Presbytery training event yesterday were reminded that we’re trying to live out our faith in a rapidly changing environment. Part of what that means is that many people these days are looking to sources other than the church for spiritual guidance. Part of what it means is that many are more comfortable with a “do it yourself” kind of approach to spirituality rather than looking for a community in which to practice their faith. I’m not sure we Presbyterians have done a very good job giving people a reason to join us in the spiritual quest. It seems that even from our origins we Presbyterians haven’t been too comfortable with “spirituality.” We prefer our prayers written out in advance and many of us dislike anything related to faith that might evoke an emotion. I have to wonder if our discomfort is one reason why our churches are struggling to attract younger generations.
Despite our ambiguity about spiritual things, our Gospel lesson places the Spirit of God right in the middle of what happens to Jesus at his baptism. We ought not find this surprising. From the very first chapter of the Bible, the Spirit of God is active in achieving God’s purposes among the human family. And so it is that when Jesus presents himself to John for baptism, the Spirit comes upon him in a powerful way.[2] In fact, throughout the Gospels there are various references to the Spirit guiding, empowering, and even “driving” Jesus’ life and ministry. The Gospels make it very clear that Jesus does what he does through the presence and power of the Spirit. [3]
Now, I’m concerned that our ideas about Jesus may get in the way of understanding this. We assume that Jesus was the incarnate Son of God. Many of us may think of Jesus as more “fully divine” than “fully human.” But make no mistake about it, the Gospels make it clear that the “fully human” Son of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, carried out his work in the power of the Spirit.[4] Perhaps that’s why he found it so necessary to find ways of taking time to be alone with God. You might say that if he was praying, then he received his strength and guidance from God. But in the Bible, there’s really no difference--what the Spirit does, God does, and what God does, the Spirit does.
If the fact that Jesus relied on the Spirit weren’t enough, it’s very clear from the writings of the Apostles that the Spirit’s presence and power in our lives and in the life of our congregation is crucial. I think our lesson from Acts calls attention to this. When St. Paul discovered a group of “disciples” who had not even heard of the Holy Spirit, he immediately corrected that by baptizing them in the name of Jesus. And, as is customary in Acts, when people turn to Jesus in faith and are baptized, the Holy Spirit comes into their lives to guide and empower them. In fact, one of the lessons of the book of Acts is that without the presence and power of the Spirit, there is no church. Those who seek to follow Christ cannot live the Christian life without being guided and even “driven” by the Spirit.[5]
So how do we as disciples and as a congregation follow Jesus’ example and live our lives through the Spirit’s presence and power? How do we seek to be like the New Testament believers and open our hearts and lives to the Spirit of God? To some extent, I would say that it is inevitable. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it wills, ... and so it is with the Spirit.” In one sense, if we genuinely and sincerely seek to follow Jesus Christ and live out the life of discipleship, we cannot help but experience the Spirit guiding, empowering, and even “driving” us. It’s part and parcel of truly living out the faith we profess.[6]
But in another sense, the work of the Spirit among us and through us is something that we have to cultivate. That’s why the greatest examples of spirituality have described it as a discipline. Like many other aspects of our lives, it’s something that takes practice. We have to train ourselves to seek and hear and follow the guidance of the Spirit in our lives. It’s not rocket science, but it’s also not easy. Cultivating the presence and power of the Spirit is a matter of practicing disciplines that are as old as our faith itself. Like Jesus we have to carve out time to be alone with God, time to quiet our minds enough to listen, really listen, to the voice that speaks to us through Scripture and worship and even through our own conscience. We have to follow Jesus in “denying ourselves, taking up our crosses and following him.” That means paying more attention to what we do for others than what we do for ourselves. It’s not easy to cultivate a life that is guided and empowered and even “driven” by the Spirit. It takes determination and consistency. It takes a definitive decision that “not I but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
And yet, there is also a simplicity to all this. It may not be easy, but it’s also not rocket science. If you want to know what living in a way that is guided by the Spirit looks like, I think all you have to do is look at Jesus Christ![7] A life in the power and presence of the Spirit looks like the “fruit of the Spirit”: love, joy, and peace. But I feel it necessary to warn you that a life that is directed and empowered and even “driven” by the Spirit is going to be inherently unpredictable. You never know where you’ll wind up when you open your life to the presence and power of the Spirit. I think I can guarantee you’ll find yourself doing things and going places you never dreamed. You’ll find yourself on an amazing adventure of faith and service and witness.  You’ll be living a life that is driven by the Spirit.

[1] ©2015 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 1/11/2015 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ: Christology in Messianic Dimensions, 89-91, interprets Jesus experience at his Baptism as the impetus for his unique understanding of the Kingdom of God. While both John and Jesus proclaim the approach of the Kingdom, for John this is a matter that calls forth repentance on the part of the people. On the other hand, for Jesus, his baptism was accompanied by a vision of the heavens opened, which is a “sign of salvation” in contrast with the “image of the ‘closed heavens,’” the endowment with the Spirit, and the divine voice that calls him “My Son.” Moltmann says, “something unique is added: a new revelation of the name of God. ... The ‘Abba’ name for God gives Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom a new quality, compared with John the Baptist, and with the prophets too: in the kingdom of Jesus’ Father, what rules is the justice of mercy for all the weary and heavy-laden. In the kingdom of Jesus’ Father, what reigns is the liberty of the children of God in the Spirit.” (emphasis original)
[3] Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit: A Contribution to Messianic Ecclesiology, 236: “His public ministry stands in the sign of the Spirit (Luke 4:14, 18 et passim). The Spirit leads and drives him on his way (Mark 1:12). His signs and wonders count as the signs and wonders of the Spirit. In the Spirit he offers himself up for death on the cross (Heb. 9:14). Through the power of the Spirit, God has raised him from the dead (Rom. 8:11) and exalted him to be a life-giving spirit (1 Cor. 15:45).”
[4] Several commentators link this with the text in Isaiah 61:1-2, which refers to the Spirit-annointed Servan of the Lord. Cf., for example, A. Y Collins & H. W. Attridge, Mark: A Commentary on the Gospel of Mark, 148-49; Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, 60-61.
[5] Cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 4.1:312: “The ‘blowing’ (Jn. 3:8) of the Holy Spirit which creates life and leads into all truth is received by them. They are ‘baptised’ (Mk. 1:8) by Jesus Christ Himself, or they have ‘drunk’ of Him (1 Cor. 12:13). As they pray for Him, He is to them the One who is ‘given’ by their Father in heaven (Lk. 11:13). He ‘dwells’ in them (Rom. 8:11). They are ‘led’ by Him (Gal. 4:6, 5:18; Rom. 8:14). They walk in conformity with Him (κατὰ πνεῦμα*, Rom. 8:4) or in Him (πνεύματι*, Gal. 5:16, 2 Cor. 12:18).”
[6] Cf. Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, 68: “The Spirit whom the disciples experience, and with them the community of believers, bears the impress of Christ. Through the Spirit they enter into Christ’s saving and life-giving fellowship. In the experience of the life-giving Spirit they recognize Jesus as the Lord of God’s rule.”
[7] Cf. Luke T. Johnson, Living  Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel, 201: “The imitation of Christ in his life of service and suffering … is not an optional version of the Christian identity.  It is the very essence of Christian identity. It is the pattern by which every other claim about the spiritual life must be measured if it is to be considered Christian.”

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