Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
January 13, 2019
Text: Isaiah 43:5-6, O.T.: Isaiah 43:1-7, N.T.: Acts 8:14-24
Once again God is challenging American Christians. God may be challenging Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikkhs, Jains, and Native Americans, too. But the challenge that’s uniquely Christian is restoring the Spirit among us.
All about us are congregations and church leaders asking questions about the future of Christ’s mission. This Christian conversation has been held while “government shutdown” talk has dominated America’s air waves. It threatens the economy. This secular mantra has seeped into our national sub-conscience. American salvation is usually cast in economic forecasts. Economic anxiety affects Christians.
The currency of faith and trust from which are made pledges and offerings for Christ’s mission loses value when we’re anxious about our daily bread. Daily bread becomes a worry when personal debt, corporate debt, and sovereign debt devalue faith and trust in God.
We Presbyterians take particular pride in addressing debt by laying it at the Lord’s feet to forgive indebtedness. But then, in our unique Presbyterian form of holiness, we avoid debt as much as possible for fear that we would tax the Lord’s patience. We take it on ourselves to solve debt before we need to rely on God to save us.
Certainly God wants us to be responsible. Responsible stewardship shows appreciation for God’s gifts that we’ve received. But there’s more to the whole question of salvation than allowing fear to drive us to protect our fiscal future.
The future of Christ’s Church lies in the power of the Holy Spirit that’s alive among Christians. The Holy Spirit is not a spirit of fear, but a spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. The Holy Spirit is the energy that motivates Christ’s followers to spontaneously offer love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control to one another, to our neighbors, and to those who are a challenge to love.
The power of the Holy Spirit is enthusiastic about Christ’s presence that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. The Holy Spirit doesn’t permit Christ’s followers to descend into the dungeon of why me? The Holy Spirit elevates Christ’s followers into the assurance of God’s mercy.
The Holy Spirit animates the Church. It inspires the Church. It sends the Church fearlessly into the world to make disciples of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit isn’t constrained by anxiety over income and debt. It overflows in praise and thanksgiving for God’s redeeming work. The Holy Spirit is Christ – working within Christians and His community to make disciples of all nations.
The Holy Spirit cannot be bought by pledges and offerings to God. The Holy Spirit is not the reward for faithful giving of tithes and talents in God’s name. The Holy Spirit is not the ambition of Christians seeking to grow their congregation. The Holy Spirit is the power of Christ’s presence among those who love Him.
The Holy Spirit initiates fearless giving in the face of obstacles that seem insurmountable to worldly people. The Holy Spirit compels Christ’s followers to give their lives for others without regard for the personal cost it may require. The Holy Spirit separates Christian wanabees from Christ’s disciples. The Holy Spirit is Christ working among us.
When Christians permit the mantra of worldly salvation to infiltrate their faith and trust in God, they lose Christ’s spirit. A subtle but decisive shift occurs that leads to life’s diminishment and death.
Seeking worldly salvation stops faith and trust in Christ. It takes salvation into our own hands. We focus on faults and failures rather than appreciating Christ’s love. We stop celebrating the power of Christ’s Spirit to free us from fear. So we lose our joy. We become immersed in working harder and relying on our own ingenuity rather than being thankful to Christ. Christ gets lost and so does His Spirit while we lose our energy and enthusiasm.
When worldly salvation dominates Christian thinking, congregations become lifeless. Worship becomes a duty or a ritual without genuine joy and praise. Mission is half-heartedly pursued for the purpose of paying bills, not for sharing the life-giving power of Christ’s Spirit that renews and restores hope.
Worldly salvation is the product of political and economic success. Christ’s Spirit isn’t the by-product of political and economic success. Worldly salvation depends on improved technology and organizational efficiency. Christ’s Spirit is not a commodity that can be improved by human engineering and management.
Christ’s Spirit simply rises from the gratitude of appreciative hearts where Christ is treasured, honored, and praised.
Perhaps we best experience this when a child is born. The gratitude and appreciation for a newborn’s safe arrival inspires us to give thanks to God. We connect our child’s life with Christ’s life and seek His spiritual blessing upon our child. We joyfully bring our infants and children before God for the waters of Christ’s baptism with the Spirit of Christ uplifting us.
Before those waters of the Holy Spirit, when we pray for the Spirit to descend upon our children, we offer our children for Christ’s mission. We promise to raise our children to live with the Spirit of Christ. A congregation commits itself to the spiritual life of the child. The Spirit of Christ is with us.
But when Christ is no longer at the center of a father and mother’s attention, the joy and gratitude to God escapes that originally inspired parents to rise from their homes to come to Christ’s sanctuary for baptism. When church members become distracted from Christ’s Spirit that sustains their faith in God’s salvation, the joy and gratitude to God vanishes that inspires a congregation to accept responsibility for a child’s faith development. The parents, the congregation, but especially the children become casualties to worldly salvation.
Worldly salvation distracts us. Worldly salvation competes for your attention and mine every minute of every day. In thousands of ways we’re daily bombarded by messages that devalue our faith and trust in God’s presence.
Every moment Christ offers you freedom from business in which there’s no real hope for the future. Every day Christ’s Spirit is there to revitalize your life. Every day Christ’s Spirit sustains and uplifts those who rely on His Spirit to offer hope, faith, and love with joy and courage – unafraid of the world’s future.
Friends, for over 2,000 years, kingdoms of the earth have risen, and fallen. They were built with worldly materials that cannot endure forever. These kingdoms were engineered by the finest minds, and the brute strength of human might that did not and cannot survive the test of time.
Only Christ’s kingdom has endured by the power of the Holy Spirit. Only Christ’s kingdom will endure forever by the life of the Holy Spirit. Live by the Spirit today, and for all of life to come. Be restored by His Spirit among us.