A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga, on October 24, 2010.
O God and Father of us all, in this week just passed, some of us have encountered new challenges. Some of us have acquired new burdens. Some of us have struggled with new disappointments. So we turn to you this morning with an awareness that we did not have last week, an awareness of how much we need you. Others of us have grown even more weary with the burdens that we have carried for a while. Long and standing disappointments have grown even more bitter within our lives. O God, our strengths falter and our spirits shudder at the thought of what we have yet to face before these trials might be over. Yet our hope and our confidence are ever in you. We pray believing that your sheltering arms will hold us safely, that your supporting hand will not let us go. We pray because we believe your promises will see us through all things. We ask that you would shepherd us now. Lead us and sustain us in the midst of all we face and lead us even in the paths of righteousness that we might be ever faithful. Bring us safety to the place where our souls are quiet and our hearts are at peace. May your light drive away all the shadows that are in our paths. May we come through the valley safely. Our Father, we trust in your goodness and your mercy today. We know they will see us through and with all of our hearts we believe that if you are with us it matters not what might be against us. We pray in the name of Christ who triumphed over the grave. Amen.
Prayer invites us to rest in the fact that God is in control, and the world’s problems are ultimately God’s, not ours. If I spend enough time with God, I will inevitably begin to look at the world with a point of view that more resembles God’s own. What is faith, after all, but believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse? —Philip Yancey in Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?
We live in a world of experts. Whatever the current news story is that captures our attention for a week or two, the news networks always bring in experts to explain. When the Chilean miners were deep in the ground, the networks would have a mining expert on who would explain how they were going to go down and how they were going to bring them out.
If there is a trial that captures nation-wide attention, you can be sure that there will be a famous prosecutor who is giving some insight or there will be a famous defense attorney telling how the defendant might proceed.
Throughout the war, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have seen a number of instances where they bring in the retired general, a counter-terrorist expert or whatever it may be.
If we go to our family doctor and he tries the standard things and for some reason it doesn’t seem to do the trick, very often we get referred to a cardiologist, a neurologist or whomever it might be that we think we will bring more attention to the problem.
We live in a world of experts. We seek out advice from people we think have the most knowledge and who have proven to be effective in their field. We want to know what they have to say about the issues or concerns that affect us most.
Hold on to that thought for just a moment while I transition and remind us once again that we do live in an age that is preoccupied with the spiritual. It could be a celebrity on a talk show who talks about how they have found spiritual healing, spiritual insight, or whatever it may be there. It could be one of the TV shows where there is an underlying spiritual message. We are aware that people are concerned about what it means to be spiritual, but what it means to be spiritual is sometimes lost on us. Sometimes we hear it and think, I would like to think that about myself, but we are not exactly sure how to get there.
When we watch preachers on TV, they use a faith language that is not always the language that we use. We find ourselves thinking, Maybe I am not spiritual because I don’t talk that way. Maybe I am not spiritual because those are not the ways I express myself.
We might encounter friends who are designated spiritual by their peers and they talk about different things that have happened in their churches and other places they have been in a spiritual context and we don’t find ourselves having the same type of emotions or feelings. We are just not sure that we measure up. We find ourselves feeling inadequate.
If we want to turn to an expert, then why don’t we turn to Jesus? Surely, Jesus will give us some advice, insight or challenge into what it means to be spiritual.
All of the Gospels tell us that there was a period in Jesus’ life before he began his ministry. We guess he was about 30 years old. In each of the Gospels, there is a time of waiting for the world to be right. In the Gospel of Luke, it occurred this way. Jesus went out into the wilderness, was tempted, and when the temptation was done, Luke says he went back into Nazareth which was his hometown and, as was his custom, went to the synagogue on the Sabbath Day. When it came time to read scripture, they give him the scroll and he unrolled it to the place where the Prophet Isaiah says, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
If anything should seem obvious it should be that the spirit of the Lord was upon him. What is happening in the life of Jesus that we could apply to our own lives and seek to be in that place in life where we would say, The spirit is upon me. I am a spiritual person.
It seems to me that there are two very simple things here. One, Jesus’ heart was right. I don’t know how you say this about the son of God, but there seems to be in this time of preparation, even for the son of God, a time of growing, knowing, and of being ready for what comes next. We know from this very simple passage that Jesus lived a life in which he was formed in the spirit. He was formed by regularly going to the synagogue with the other people of Nazareth. He was formed by that study of scripture in the synagogue. When the time came and he needed the right words to say to everyone who was gathered that now was the time and he was now about his father’s business, he knew where to open to and he knew what he wanted to say. It was very clear that he was familiar with the scripture, and he was involved in the work of God in the world. He was quoting scripture. Sometimes when we read this, we remind ourselves that he was quoting Isaiah. Sometimes it seems so clear to be coming from the lips of Jesus. It is also reminiscent of the time when he talked about the separation of the sheep and goats. The people who have understood what it means to follow Jesus have welcomed him when he was a stranger and fed him when he was hungry. All of these things seem to run together, but we recognize that when Jesus said, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he was doing the work of God.
It has been 13 or 14 years ago when we adopted, as a congregation, the mission statement seeking His heart . . . being His hands. It is a way of describing all the things that we try to do. If it does not follow under one of those headings, we are not sure it is really worth our doing as a church family. What Jesus described here in this passage is exactly what we are talking about. Jesus had been seeking the heart of God. During this time of preparation that lead up to the moment when he came into the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus had been growing in his understanding of his mission. He had been growing closer in his understanding of the leadership of God in his life. Now, it is about the work.
We want to make being spiritual something that is associated either with our personality or we want to make it a part of our emotions. We think people who lean towards a certain emotional display tend to be more spiritual than other people might be. But Jesus makes it so simple. It is about this two-pronged mission that seems to intertwine in all of life. People who are shaped by seeking God always seem to wind up in that place of service where the work of God is seen tangible in their lives, their hands, their feet, their mouths, and their presence. They are the ones who are doing the work of God. You will not long do the work of God in this world without realizing how much we need to seek the heart of God in order to continue in that work. We will encounter obstacles and objections by people who think that is not the way we should operate. I think you never fully grow to have the heart of Christ unless your life is invested in service.
What does it mean to be spiritual? For those of us who think that, in some way, we are not good enough, not holy enough in the eyes of other people, not worthy enough in our own minds, we need to realize that Christ puts before us a very simple pattern that any of us can do, and that is to simply want to grow to be more like Christ. We can do that by putting ourselves in those places and positions where we can be shaped by faith: in worship, as Jesus did by going to the synagogue; through scripture as he surely knew it and learned to love it; in the influence of a community of faith.
What is it that Paul says— No one can even say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the spirit? In all of these things, we cannot make this effort unless the spirit is upon us. Everyday, if we want to see spiritual people, we need to go to places like the Community Kitchen, to see people who are invested in the work of God in the world; the Free Clinic where people are performing the work of healing in the world; Good Neighbor where many of our members volunteer where people are helping the poor every day; to the Homeless Shelter where those who have no place are welcomed in the name of Christ. These places, and countless other places where members of this congregation are involved, are where you will find the hands of Christ. Look at people doing that and you will see spiritual people.
The spirit of the Lord is upon me. It doesn’t require me to worship in any one particular worship style. It doesn’t require me to come to tears every time I think about something of the spirit. It doesn’t require me to use a particular vocabulary that other people think of as more spiritual.
The spirit of the Lord is upon me. I have learned it because I have allowed a community of faith, the worship of God, and the word of God to shape my life, and because I give my life in service to be seen in the world doing the things that God wants done in the world. He uses human agents, such as you, me, and other Christians who would, to do his work.
Have you ever heard people talk about the Depression or about being raised in a rural area with lots of brothers and sisters? One of the things they will often say is, We were poor but we didn’t know it. Have you ever heard anybody say that? Then, maybe we were spiritual and didn’t know it.
The spirit of the Lord is upon us. Let us grow in Christ. Let us do the work of God.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.