Can a Dead Church Live?
Sermon published by Pastor Joel Pukallus
Bible reading for Pentecost Sunday: John 7:37-39
I have always found it fascinating that Jesus compared the Holy Spirit to water. Streams of living water. The Spirit, the word in Hebrew means wind or breath or spirit. A different element, wind, not water. Yet Jesus was not referring to the Spirit’s form, but it’s function.
As water gives life to the dry ground, and makes trees bear fruit in the desert, so the Spirit gives life to the church, and faith where humans are frail and faltering.
Once, in my first Parish, I had someone ask me if we were in a drought, because too many people had turned away from God, and God had “removed his hand”, whatever that means, from this nation? Old Testament or Neo-Pagan thinking at it’s most blatant.
Not making myself very popular, I told her that maybe it had not rained because we were in the driest state in the driest continent on Earth, and the particular place where these people lived meant that they were trying to farm the edge of a desert.
(Literally, two of the National Parks bordering the region were called the Big Desert and the Little Desert National parks!)
In the driest of places, in the driest of times, it does not matter how good a farmer you are. If you do not get the rain that gives life, you have nothing, and your efforts will die in the dust.
The Holy Spirit is exactly the same in the life of the church.: It IS the life of the church. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, our faith would wither and die just as quickly as a crop without rain.
Do you think a group as fallible, frail, weak, imperfect, marred and broken as the history of Christianity proves us to be, could survive under their own strength, if God were not pumping life into us like a blood transfusion? The church would have flat-lined years ago if God had really ever “withdrawn his hand”.
Yet if you want to see what is happening in the world, if you want to be excited about something, go and study the series that we have been doing in our Home Group, called “Jesus the Game changer” (I will provide the link to the series in the youtube description below.) Go and see how the mission of God is still being carried out to the ends of the Earth.
There is no way that this is a product of the strength of we mere mortals. Just like the best and smartest farmer, if we do not have the life-giving water of the Holy Spirit, the church will not make it.
Today is the birthday of the Church, Pentecost Sunday. Now as we know for a human being, life begins at conception, not at birth, but hey, no analogy is perfect.
Pentecost is the birthday of the church, and so we are going to celebrate it as the day that it was given LIFE! (Like rain gives life to the ground) The Spirit was breathed into ordinary people, and supernatural things began to happen.
Those farmers in my first Parish who were dealing with the age-old struggle of trying to get by without enough rain, hoping for life giving water, praying for it, they had no guarantees. They could not hand me a bible and say “Look, here God promises that we will have exactly the right amount of rain, every year, for ever.” All they had to go on was their knowledge of what had happened in the past, so it led them to believe it would again in the future.
In comparison, the church, the future of the Christian faith, has WAY more assurances.
33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
The future of the church is way more assured than the future of farming, or each season or each crop, yet we pour time and money into each of those come seeding time with no assurance that we will reap any harvest.
Imagine how farmers would come to planting time if the rain they needed for that year was assured, locked in, a dead certainty? They would plant every square metre of ground and would pour even more time and money into it!
So why do we not approach the work of the church and the mission of Jesus Christ in the same way, where we are promised we will get what we need?
There are some people talking about the Covid-19 situation like a desert time, likening it to a drought, so how confidently are we going to approach the work of the church now at the start of what might be a new season?
Do we stare at the cloudless sky in fear because we do not know what is coming, or do we pour every bit of time effort and money we can into the work of the mission of Jesus Christ, because compared to everything else we do, we cannot really fail! And why can’t we fail? Because it is not up to us!
It is Christ’s church and he has promised! And he has given us the life-giving water of his Spirit!
There is a sense of excitement around the wider church because we are on the brink of some new things! I personally am excited, I can’t wait to see what happens next! Pentecost might have been the birthday of the church, and there was a real buzz around those early years in the early church, but maybe post Covid-19 is the rediscovery of self at the end of a mid-life crisis? A new buzz is gathering strength!
Can this time be likened to a new lease on life? We will probably (and by “We” I mean the wider church across the world) We will probably never go back to quite what we were like before. We have learned new things which we will keep. Some old things we will not go back to and do ever again.
But that is not a sad thing, it is so very exciting! It feels like that Post-Pentecost buzz! God’s Spirit is at work in new ways. What will church membership look like in future? You can join our church community from another town, state or continent and never set foot in this building. That’s okay! Our job is to help you in your journey of becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God can work though digital means, through cameras and microphones and breathe life into dry bones.
Get excited, the wind of the Holy Spirit still blows strongly across the earth, through you, and in you, and for you. And his life-giving water of the Holy Spirit keeps raining down.