Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Holy Spirit, Prayer and Community (II)

Holy Spirit, Prayer and Community

Moses in Deuteronomy sets up what it meant for the OT community to be God’s community.

He gave the basis for community

- law – the Decalogue marked them and set them apart as a community

- the creed – gave them the reason, why as a community they must be different from the communities around them

- loving God – ultimately this gave them the motivation to work out what I means to be community.

- Loving God and our neighbour is only possible in the Holy Spirit

Let us look now to Luke and see how he sets out to show us what it means in the NT for us to be the people of God.

Luke was the only gentile writer in the NT. He is also the only gospel writer who was not an eyewitness to Jesus. All he knew about Jesus came from others, especially the apostolic writers.

Peterson points out that Luke “has the unique experience among the gospel writers of knowing Jesus exclusively through the work of the Holy Spirit in the community of Jesus’ followers”[1].

In contrast the apostles and gospel writers, being eyewitnesses had a first hand experience of Jesus. They actually talked, walked, ate, lived with Jesus. They saw him, heard him, touched him. Does this mean that all of us like Luke, are at a distinct disadvantage in that we can only have a second hand experience of Jesus?

Peterson rightly pointed our that “that through the Holy Spirit our experience of Jesus is not second hand at all. Which is why Luke, whose experience of Jesus was exclusively by means of the Holy Spirit , should refer to the Holy Spirit more often than the rest of the other Gospel writers”[2].

Listen to this important and perceptive comment by Peterson:

Luke’s gospel begins with a visitation of the Holy Spirit that results in conception; the book of Acts begins similarly, also with a visitation of the Holy Spirit that results in conception. In the Gospel it is Jesus, the Saviour who was conceived. In Acts it is the church, the company of the saved, that is conceived. The two Holy Spirit conceptions are meant to be understood as parallel beginnings in the parallel narratives: both Jesus Christ and the community of Jesus Christ similarly conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Luke-Acts teaches us that Jesus’ presence and ministry did not end with his death. In fact the best title for the book of Acts is “ the continuing presence and ministry of the Lord Jesus through the acts of the apostles and disciples in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Because this is quite a mouthful, it is shortened to ‘Acts’.

Jesus’ ministry continues in the “men and women, boys and girls who had been raised to new life, who had been born again, who now belong to the community of the resurrected Christ”. The church, is the Holy Spirit’s gift to us. It is the Holy Spirit who conceived, sustained and propagated the church. This would be our topic of discussion next week.

In the meantime :Note the numerous references to the Holy Spirit in Luke’s Gospel:

  • 1.13-15 – “your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before birth”.
  • 1.33 – to Mary, six months later, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow yo”.
  • 1.41 – Elizabeth filled with the Holy Spirit blesses Mary
  • 1.67 – Zechariah is filled with the Spirit and prophesied
  • 2.25-26 – Simeon a man whom the “Holy Spirit rested” and one to whom the Holy Spirit revealed and one who is guided by the Spirit (2.27) takes the infant Jesus in his arms and blesses child and parents

In addition to all these references to the Holy Spirit, the gospel of Luke is known for a Pentad of prayers commonly referred to in church by the Latin words that begin each in prayer:

The Fiat mihi ( 1.38)

The Magnificat ( 1.46-55)

The Benedictus (1.68-79)

The Gloria in excelsis ( 2.14)

The Nunc Dimittis (2.29-32)

We can learn a lot from these people and their Holy Spirit inspired prayers as to what the people of God, what the community of God should look like.

Fiat mihi

38"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.

Mary – young girl starting life in prayer – let it be to me according to your word

What a great way to start your life!

Mary hears and receives, believes and submits

It is hard to submit to God at any age – but if we can learn to do so early, it sets the tone for the rest of our life.

  • Wanted to do medicine but could only receive offers to do science?
  • Wanted straight As but managed only a string of As and Bs and Cs?
  • Wanted to go to top prestigious firms but could only get work in a china man company?

Fiat mihi – is a stern test of obedience and submission to the Lord.

I prefer this, I want this, I choose this, I like this, it is my life, I run it the way I like it ….

We need to stop and take a deep breath. And then say” I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. Let it be to me according to your word”.

The Magnificat

- Shows how God has been speaking and working among his people for two thousand years

- in many ways, prayer is that of Hannah when she was miraculously pregnant with Samuel (1 Samuel 2)

- God establishes his strength and disestablishes the proud (1.51)

- God puts down the people at the top and lifts up the people at the bottom (1.52)

- God fills the hungry and sends the rich away empty (1.53)

The proud, the powerful and the rich are reduced to size.

The downtrodden, the deprived are given significance and meaningful roles to play. They have a future and a hope.

We work from a position of weakness and not from a position of strength. That sounds like madness, doesn’t it?

But that is the clear emphasis of the NT. Consider :

- The Pauline texts about Jesus crucified in weakness and inviting us to be crucified with him.

- The Petrine texts about about following in the footsteps of Jesus, whose suffering has left us an example,

- The Revelation texts urging perseverance in affliction.[3]

This is how the apostle Paul puts it:

2 Cor 129 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

This is hard to work out in practice. We naturally look out for the gifted, the strong, the charismatic, the successful.

The Jews were weak for centuries. They suffered persecution, exile, death, injustice. Finally they said enough is enough – began arming and equipping themselves – today, the Jews have the most powerful armed forces in the middle east.

Won every war – 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973

Yet since the day Israel was formed they had no peace.

If military might and economic power alone can make the world a better place, our era would be known as pax Americana.

Perhaps it is revealing of the American psyche that the bald eagle – a fierce predatory bird is the symbol of America.

In contrast we are asked to follow the lamb that was slain. Who wants to be a lamb?

Johan Arnold :

The more confidence we have in our own strength and abilities, the less we are likely to have in Christ. Our human weakness is no hindrance to God. In fact, as long as we do not use it as an excuse for sin, it is good to be weak. But this acceptance of weakness is more than acknowledging our limitations. It means experiencing a power much greater than our own and surrendering to it. …this is the root of grace: the dismantling of our power. Whenever even a little power rises up in us, the Spirit and the authority of God will retreat to the corresponding degree. In my estimation this is the single mot import insight with regard to the kingdom of God.

John Stott in his comments on Revelation 5:6, has this to say,

“At the centre of God’s throne (symbol of power) stands a slain lamb (symbol of weakness). In other words, power through weakness, dramatised in God on the cross and the Lamb on the throne, lies at the heart of ultimate reality, even of the mystery of Almighty God Himself.”

We have a responsibility to do our best. To aim for excellence. To work hard. To be responsible. But we do not presume that we can do anything significant without God. Herein lies the significance and importance of prayer – for it is only on our knees that we are enabled to be truly humble, to know that we are completely helpless without God.

It is when we are weak, know our limitations and are prepared to suffer, even to be crucified that we are strong in the Lord.

The Benedictus

First words after nine months of silence take the form of a prayer. The culmination of his prayer – an eight day old baby boy who will go before the Lord to prepare his way.

Leaders are God’s gift to the church – you recognised them by the intrinsic authority of their life, work and teaching. You can say of them that they were Spirit filled, Spirit guided and Spirit empowered.

Their authority does not come from the office they hold, the wealth and power they possess. Nor the training the received and the prestige of their family pedigree.

May the same be said of our leaders too. May we pray that the same be said of our leaders.

Who are our future leaders? Hasn’t God in his mercy given us any?

Our senior leaders are now in their late forties and fifties

Those leading major ministries are all in their forties

As are those shepherding our CGs.

Where are the thirties and twenties? Are they in significant ministries? Has God not given us godly men and women in these age brackets? If He has already given, we must take the responsibility to train and release them into ministry

What are we doing to prepare, train, disciple, mentor, love and care for them?

What structures are in place for them to exercise their leadership

Do we trust them to lead?

Do we allow them to make mistakes?

The young people: are you willing to be counted?

Worship leading

SS school


College Students

Community outreach


Gloria in excelsis

On earth as it is in heaven

Christ born on earth in a stable near by the fields where the shepherds watch over their flock.

Angelic choirs in the heavens

The prayer of angles joins what originates in heavens with what takes place on earth.

Again our faith is supernatural – we should expect the presence, the comfort and enabling of the Holy Spirit in living out our life of faith. We are not left alone to cope with life – in all its bewildering complexities.

Nunc Dimittis

Simeon – Lord lettest thou thy servant depart in peace for my eyes have seen the salvation of the Lord.

What is the first thought on waking up. What is our last thought before we go to sleep? What thoughts, desires, drives, longings fill our minds and our hearts.

What do we long for, what are we waiting for, what consumes us, moulds us and shapes us?

After a long life of hopeful prayer and faithful witness, God answered Simeon and gave him the desire of his heart.

He is ready to let go, to relinquish everything, to die.

Summary and conclusion

Young woman submitting to the word of the Lord

Old man letting go of his life in peace, for the Lord has answered all his prayers and gave him the desires of his heart. He can ask for no more.

In between:

God’s assurance that he cares for the poor, the needy, the marginalised

He gave us leaders to take care of us

He assures us that it will be done on earth as it is in heaven

What more can we ask?

So why do we continue to fret

To eat the bread of anxious toil?

To be consumed by anxieties, torn apart by ambitions and lusts

Divided among ourselves by jealousies and bitterness?

The Lord is good

He is good all the time

However despite all that Moses should to do to prepare the Israel to live as the people of God in the promised land, he failed. Peterson commented that

“Everything that Moses has worked for in leading, training and praying for this community would unravel as soon as the people enter Canaan. It is a familiar story for readers of Scripture.”

Who among us have not been puzzled and discouraged y the repeated refrain:

The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD –

Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals.

The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.

Once again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD

Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD,

Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD. They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. …… the Israelites forsook the LORD and no longer served him,

And so on….

There are at least seven references alone in the book of Judges.

What are the implications of this?

It means that being God’s community is going to be messy, and untidy. There will be times and periods in which we will have sterling and quality leaders. At other times, leadership will be much more mediocre and questionable.

At all times, the people of God will show their petulance, their grumbling, their murmuring and discontentment. Time and again, one or two or a group of people will disobey, rebel and cause problems and woes.

Others, seemingly more righteous will point to glaring weaknesses, blame people around them for perceived faults and even sins in the church and justify walking out to do their own thing, or to go to another church only to discover similar or other failings and imperfections.

What’s the point of worshipping in this church? They know only how to talk but never act.

This CG only knows how to prepare good supper but they have no heart for evangelism.

And so on.

But encouragingly, there will also always be a remnant that remained faithful, in the ‘best of the times and the worst of times’ as Charles Dickens put it in his ‘Tale of Two Cities’.

Let us therefore be realistic about the people of God. It is not the Utopia or the Ideal paradise that is advertised – Malaysia may be truly Asia – but it certainly is no paradise! Christian community as Peterson puts it, does not only consist “ lovely, upbeat and beautiful people” alone

Moses’ experience and that of the other OT leaders showed that building the community, nurturing the community and being the community of God, is difficult indeed. But we do not give up – simply because God has saved us, delivered us from our enemies (in the case of Israel) and from the bondage of sin in our case to be the people of God.

[1] Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, p 268

[2] Ibid p 268

[3] Marva Dawn, The Tabernacling of God and a Theology of Weakness.

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