Sermon published by Pastor Joel Pukallus
Bible readings: Acts 1:8; Galatians 5:16-18 (Guiding Principle 2 - Spirit Guided)
Have you ever noticed that when Pastors in Lutheran churches preach sermons, they are always based on a reading from the bible? We always say something like: the sermon for today is based on the Old Testament lesson, or the gospel lesson, etc.
The basis for not only our sermons, but also everything that we do as a church, (our decisions, our actions), is the bible. It has an authority that no other literature or art or music has. It is the inspired word of God.
And you may wonder why I am talking about the bible, when the Guiding principle for today is about being Spirit led: not bible led.
And it is because the two are inseparable. I mentioned last week one of the five great Solas of the reformation (and I as wrong apparently, there are 5, not 4): Christ alone, Grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone, and to the glory of God alone. Last week it was Christ alone.
But one of the other ones that we need to talk about is: Scripture alone.
The highest, in fact the only place that determines our belief and practice is the bible. That is the claim. Now we as human beings sometimes get things wrong and we can see from the life of the church that “Scripture alone” is not always the case. We also have many man made traditions, and some doctrines built on texts from the bible that are unclear, or do not mean what people have tried to make them mean. But in the end all those must give way to what is stated clearly in the word of God. And if one part is hard to interpret, you look at it in the light of what the rest of the bible says. In this way Scripture interprets scripture.
Lutheran theology tells us that the Holy Spirit works in and through the word of God: to point us to Jesus, to build our faith, to help us understand and believe.
The word of God, read and preached, is what we call a means of grace: something that we can observe that God has used over the history of the church, to bring faith to his people. The means of grace are: the word of God, and the two sacraments of the church, Holy Baptism, and Holy Communion. These are closely related to the word, because in fact they are the word of God put into action.
Now we have to make this point clearly: we are not claiming for a minute that God can ONLY work through these means. God is God, and is well outside any box that we try to put him in, or limit that we might try to make to help us understand him. No, what we are saying with the means of grace is not that these are the only ways in which God CAN work, but that these are the ways that he has seen fit to work. So God is not limited to them, but as a church, we are.
If we want to know God more, to grow in faith, we go to the word, we go back to what it means to be baptised, (and we live in that grace), and we come to his table in Holy Communion. Those are our first ports of call.
Prayer, as important as it is, is not a means of grace. It is a response to the work of God in us through his Holy Spirit. It can be an invitation to God to work in us more closely, to make things clear to us. And it reminds us to keep looking for the will of God for us.
So what part does prophecy play?
Does God, and can God work though direct words of prophecy to people today? Opinion is divided on this, and while God can do whatever he wants, we choose not to go to methods of finding out the will of God that are subjective, and can result in uncertainty. In some churches that believe in direct prophecy as their means of getting guidance from God there have been cases where one person has said that the Holy Spirit has told them something, and another has said that the Holy Spirit has told them exactly the opposite! So which is it? Is the Holy Spirit lying to one? Or to both? Is God divided? No, this sort of doubt and uncertainty is what our insistence on the means of grace is meant to avoid. We go to the objective word of God. As we have seen, even that is subject to our own interpretations, but it is the best authority that we have.
At St Marks, when we are planning, trying to peer into the future, to work out where God wants us to go, who he wants us to be, we will keep asking for God to send us his Holy Spirit to help us to understand and believe, to build our faith, and to point us to Jesus, so that we in turn can point others to him.
Remembering what we learned last week about Christ-centredness, we will strive to put aside our egos, and what I want to do, and do, in the words of Luther “what promotes Christ”. Is what we are doing making us decrease and him increase? If not, then it is not in line with the Spirit of God. We will go back to the word of God to look for guidance, this is the part in our guiding principle where it says that we will seek his direction through prayer and study.
And there is something else we need to mention about the Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit is a CREATIVE force. The word spirit in both Greek and Hebrew is the same word for both wind and breath, as well as spirit. God breathed him into Adam and Eve to give them life. He breathed them into the bodies in the valley of dry bones, and he promises in Isaiah 44 and Joel 2 to pour out his Spirit on the descendants of the church.
Armed with this creative force, we will be bold, we will be permission giving and realise that just like the Holy Spirit, we in the church too are in the business, of creation, and of re-creation, and equipped with this creative force we will take risks and chances knowing that we also have permission to fail. If despite our best efforts to ascertain the will of God we move in a direction that is not what God has in mind for us, it will not succeed, but that is okay! Churches so often beat themselves up about things like that!
The creative force of the Spirit gives us permission to fail, to leave that thing behind that did not work, and try something else! This is the freedom that we hear about in our Galatians reading today, and part of our witness to the world, about the freedom that we have. As it says in 2 Corinthians 3:17, now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
That verse goes on, and says:
18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Do you know what we call that, being transformed into his image with ever increasing glory?: that is called discipleship, and it is the guiding principle that we are going to look at next week.
God bless you this week as you walk in the freedom that the Spirit brings.