St. David’s Jan 2016.

There used to be a church in the west end of Vancouver that had on its marquis the words: “The church where friendly people meet”. You could expect a cordial, sociable, hospitable experience on a Sunday morning. I think we are called to be more than that. Listen to some of the ancient words of the prophet Isaiah around the year 550 BC, near the end of the Babylonian exile of Israel. This is God speaking to the Israelites and also to us, the people of St. David’s. “I have called you by name; you are mine…. I will be with you…I am the Lord your God…you are precious in my sight and honoured and I love you…I will gather you up.” We are a people loved by God. That is who we are and that is what we are about, not just to know that, but also to experience that reality. It is an ancient thing and it is a “today” thing. There is a gap between knowing something and actually sensing that presence within our being. When I was 16, I prayed with great earnestness that God would somehow be real to me, not just words in a prayer book. To my great surprise it happened. I felt like I was being picked up and cradled in the arms of my father-God. There was an overwhelming sense of his love washing over me. It went on and on and I didn’t want it ever to end. Heaven had come to me and I knew that I knew that it was real, not just words spoken by a dusty old prophet. When Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit descended on him, the voice of God said, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” I wonder if he had a similar experience.

This is something that is offered to the people of God who desire to enter into that experience. In our readings today there are two references to receiving the Holy Spirit, or being baptized in the Holy Spirit. This isn’t just about accepting certain doctrines. It means to have Jesus come and live inside us. It happens when the Holy Spirit joins with our spirit and brings it from death to life. Water baptism is the beginning, when the seed of the Spirit is planted. It might grow, but it might not. My computer is an I-Mac and it has an icon on the desktop called “Safari”. I can go on line and browse the Internet. When I first bought the computer and clicked on Safari there was no connection. I had to get an Internet provider to come and put up a satellite dish. Then it worked. I had the potential to access the web, but I had to get help to make the connection. Maybe baptism is like that. We have the software installed in us, but we need to activate it. I could take computer courses and read books about computers, but never get on the Internet until the connection was established. Jesus is like a guest waiting in the vestibule. He might be in the house, but if I’m down in the TV room watching a video, then I have not yet received him. The Holy Spirit is in us, but needs to be received before he can activate our lives. The connection to the realm of God comes by way of the Holy Spirit; otherwise it is just an icon on the screen of our lives. The caption says; “Kingdom of God”, but when we click on it, it says, “The document could not be opened because the application that created it could not be found.” Without the Holy Spirit we cannot gain access, so the Holy Spirit needs to be released in us. The prerequisite is that we need to desire it. There needs to be a yearning and a hunger for God in our lives. Unfortunately, most of us are amused and distracted to death and we have lost our appetite. So my question to you today is: “Are you hungry?” Social media has so connected us with so many other things that we have lost the desire to be connected with the God who created and loves us.

The story in Acts was about a group of Samaritan Christians who had had water baptism, but never had received the Holy Spirit. When Peter and John laid their hands on them, then they received it. There is another story in Acts 19 when Paul is visiting Ephesus and he finds out that the Christians there hadn’t even heard that there was a Holy Spirit. The text says: “When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” Bishop Hervas, one of the founders of the Cursillo movement said, “It is necessary not only to receive Christ, but also to receive the Holy Spirit and to submit to his influence in order to be one with Jesus Christ.” We need the release of the Spirit within us. It is an anointing.

As people of the Spirit we know that there is another level to reality. We don’t just see things in material terms, the world of matter and energy, a space-time grid. There is another level of reality that is full of energy and power. It is not somewhere else. We are in it. It is in us. We have it. But we lack the awareness. We need to wake up to it. The waking up is what the spiritual journey is all about. God is not a remote creator who is somewhere else, but is around us and in us. It is about awareness and consciousness. God is an intimate presence that we can be conscious of being with. The Spirit is the source of all life and we live in it. It is reality, not an add-on. God is both at the centre and on the outside. We come from God, we return to God and in between, we can live in the presence and power of God. We are God’s body and his life is our life. It is all gift. We just celebrated Christmas, the feast of the incarnation where we see Jesus who is the human face and heart and mind of God, given to us. Jesus is like a transformer on a telephone pole that changes the high voltage electricity into domestic power, into the human version of God. The Spirit brings us into the consciousness of God. It brings us to an experience of being a son or daughter. That is why we can sing “Abba, Father”. The story of Genesis, the story of Adam and Eve, is about the human experience of separation from God, the loss of that personal Spirit, the loss of the consciousness of God’s presence and fellowship. We lost the connection. Jesus overcame that separation and broke down the barrier. Today we can either be open to that Spirit, or settle for substitutes, as many people do. The truth is that life in the Spirit is our home. So many folks live and die completely unconscious of who they are in God, often in confusion, dysfunction and fear, lost and alone. We are either alone in the Universe, or we are in relation to God. That is our centre, our foundation and our ground, but it is always our choice each day.  We need the release of the Spirit within us so that God can come alive in us. Without the Holy Spirit, God is far away, Jesus is in the past, the Gospel is a dead document and the church is just another organization looking for your money. So we need to allow the Holy Spirit to be released in our lives. Let the fire burn!