Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | June 5, 2022
John 7: 37-39
When you enter into a place you can sense the spirit by the mood of the people. Is it warm or cold? Is it oppressed or free? Is there joy or sorrow? At a sporting event where tens of thousands gather to watch, one side can be in exultation while just as many on the other side are crushed in spirit. You can feel such spirit with every ounce of your being, but it’s very difficult to describe.
The thing about spirit is that it is hard to control and hard to manufacture. For someone to admonish, “Let’s get into the spirit,” is maybe like listening to a laugh track. Spirit comes when spirit comes.
In the bible the word for spirit and the word for wind come from the same word. It is popular to say that we can ‘harness’ the wind. But we don’t harness the wind in the same way that we put a harness on an animal. If you harness a horse, you can direct it in the way it will go. But if you harness the wind, you are setting a sail or a building a turbine to catch it. No one directs the wind. That’s why Jesus compared the wind to God’s Spirit.
The first mention of the Spirit in Scripture is that of God moving across the unformed waters of creation. That movement of Spirit sets the tone for everything that follows. The Spirit is rarely stationary or set as in stone. The Spirit does not reside in a place like a temple or monument. The Spirit may come to a place, but the Spirit is not contained by bricks and mortar.
We can work ourselves into a frenzy, but that doesn’t mean we are touched by God’s Spirit. “Make a joyful noise,’ the psalmist implores and ‘sing to the Lord a new song. But remember, ‘deep calls to deep’ and ‘be still and know that I am God.’
Often in the stories of people’s encounters with God, the story unfolds through people’s willingness to hear the still small voice. It’s as if God intentionally whispers so that we intentionally listen. People might look for God in signs and wonders while God is saying, ‘listen for what the silence tells you.’
We’re living in a “postal” world. We are reminded that our society now has moved on from the norms that once defined us. The times are –
The assumptions we once made about the way things are or the way things ought to be are no longer valid. But then, every era has its “good old days.”
One time a colleague said to me, “We’re having a revival next week.” I said to him, “You are? Does God know about this?” Revivals come when the Spirit comes. We don’t say to God, “You’ll be there next week to revive us.” Maybe it’s just semantics, but then again, maybe the statement, “We’re going to have a revival” in all the ways we say it, is a form of human presumption that deep down believes, “We’re in charge here, God, so when we say revival, you darn well better be there.”
Because we own the buildings and everything in the buildings and we control the activities, we begin to assume that we control the activity of the Spirit. Which of course, we don’t.
Or it could be that saying, “We’re going to have a revival,” is a statement of hope.
When I was college, I took a few classes in psychology. In one, the professor told of his experience at a Billy Graham crusade. He said he went forward at the invitation to give his life to Christ. He felt a real urge to respond to the invitation. He felt moved. And so he went forward and met with a counsellor and prayed the prayer.
But then later he began to wonder if it was all just a reaction to the pull of mass hysteria. He began to explain away the experience as an example of how even he a thinking person could be drawn into the spirit of a mass mind set.
People do that. They get drawn in and then they explain it away. How do you tell the difference between a mass hysteria and the authentic movement of God’s Spirit? One can seem identical to the other. I would be reluctant to pronounce judgement on someone else’s experience. I’m also skeptical of people who have an experience of the spirit and then say that their experience is the only way to know God.
Jesus said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and let the one who believes in me drink.” It’s good to know that our thirst for God is our own thirst. Our sense of spiritual longing doesn’t have to fit someone else’s definition of legitimacy or orthodoxy. The Spirit is like the wind and Christ is owned by no one, but he comes to anyone who longs for his way, his truth and his life. I would imagine that Jesus is far less picky about who he receives than are some of his self-appointed trustees.
Back in the mid 90’s Billy Graham held a crusade in Minneapolis. I took my kids one night. They had no experience of Billy Graham or the kind of Christianity he represents. I just said, “Someday you can tell your grandchildren that you heard Billy Graham in person.”
So we went and it was everything that a Billy Graham crusade is known for. Afterward we talked about it. We talked about the people going forward at the invitation. My children all said the same thing, “We’ve always felt that God is a part of our life.”
Part of what the Billy Graham organization did, is that if someone went forward to make a spiritual decision and they were a member of a church, a card was sent to the minister saying that person went forward to make a spiritual decision. After the crusade was in town, I received a few of those cards.
It was interesting to go and talk to the people. One woman said that she had always thought of herself as a Christian, but in attending the Billy Graham crusade, she realized something was missing from her life. So she went forward and prayed the prayer and that made her feel as if she had done something tangible. Rather than assuming her faith, making a decision about it helped it seem somehow more concrete; more real.
“Let anyone who is thirsty” said Jesus. No one is standing at the fountain of life with a test for the legitimacy of our thirst. No one says, “Just how thirsty are you?” or “Describe the nature of your thirst. When did it start? On a scale of one to ten, would you say …” Anyone, come, drink and be filled with what God has on offer.
One story is told of how the Spirit poured out on people and it was like the sound of a mighty rushing wind and there were tongues of fire resting on each person. That was called Pentecost. And it was a revival. The Christians went out and spread the word and spoke to people in different languages. It was this great big wonderful rally.
But it was what we would call a one off. They tried to keep it going but the Spirit moved in different ways. There was a great sense of community at first. They all gathered and sang songs and prayed and worshipped God. But after a while the focus of their community was on who was going to wash the dishes.
What’s so spiritual about that?
So they appointed people to serve the community of faith. They called them deacons and after a while they discovered the Spirit was in service such as clearing off the tables; the same Spirit that was in the mighty rushing wind.
As time went on, they began to understand the nature of God’s Spirit in community life. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
In the story of Jesus in John’s gospel, Pentecost was a personal event. The Spirit of God brooding in the hearts and minds of people as it brooded over the face of waters in the story of creation. What Luke describes as happening over 50 days, John suggests it all happened on the same day.
The Spirit came not to a particular place to live there forever, but to the people. To them and to us. It was as if the words of Jesus were fulfilled when he said, “The realm of God is not contained in a place or a thing. You can’t point to it and say here it is. It is within you. It is among you.”
God’s Spirit is in you. You will know that in your own way, and you will show that in your own way. However you experience God’s Spirit, as you share it you fulfill the words of Jesus who said, “Out of the believer’s heart* shall flow rivers of living water.” Amen.