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Don’t Go To Church, Be The Church

Date: 15/05/2016/Speaker: Ps Pauline Ong

The Breath and Spirit of God In Us
Romans 8:14-17, Psalm 104:24-35

Today is Pentecost Sunday and it is also the week we begin a new sermon series, “Don’t Go To Church, Be The Church”. We started the year with “From Rubble to Return. And over the past few weeks since Easter, we have been talking about Christ’s resurrection power and what it means to be a resurrected people. So I think it’s a very appropriate time for us to consider together what it means to BE the Church. What does it mean to you to BE the church? What does it mean for us to be God’s people?

Perhaps I should start by asking how can we know we are the people of God? How do you know you are God’s child? I mean, when people question us — our identity, our existence — how can we know for sure that we are the children of God? How can we BE the church if we even have doubts whether we ARE the church? So how do you know without a doubt that you ARE the church and together, we are called to BE the church?

Of course there are many ways for us to know that we are children of God and that we belong to God. Scripture is filled with references about God’s relationship with us. One of the most important ways of knowing is simply believing what God has declared so. In 1 John 3:1, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” But sometimes that is not enough because it seems so generic. So today, I want to focus on a more specific aspect because it’s Pentecost Sunday. If you have been wondering whether you are a child of God or if you have been dealing with the questions of others, I hope you will listen carefully. I pray that when you step out of church today, you will go with the deep assurance that you are undoubtedly a beloved child of God and we are called to BE the church together! We are called to greater things! So what is this one aspect that shows us we are undoubtedly the children of God? It is the breath and Spirit of God in us. Romans 8:14 says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” Let me ask you, are you led by the Spirit of God? Is the breath and Spirit of God in you?

I have chosen to speak about both the breath of God and the Spirit of God today because people often think of Pentecost as just a New Testament phenomenon. For example, when I say Pentecost, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Most people think of Acts 2 when we talk about Pentecost and rightly so, because that was when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the believers and they started prophesying in all kinds of languages – languages that were understood by people from different parts of the world. And the believers experienced a divine and miraculous power that lasted beyond that day even as they went out into different parts of the world to preach the gospel.

Do you know that Pentecost occurred on a very special day in the Jewish calendar? It wasn’t just any ordinary day. It happened on the Feast of Weeks/Harvest. Pentecost in Greek actually means 50 days. That’s because this festival was celebrated 50 days after Passover. On this day, the Jews will remember how God gave Moses those tablets of instruction at Mount Sinai. So this was not a mere coincidence. Pentecost in the New Testament occurred on a day when the Jews were celebrating the gift of God’s Word. And now they were officially receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Word of God and the Spirit of God – what a combination of precious gifts! So Pentecost was a wonderful event but I want you to know that God’s presence and power has always been with God’s people throughout the Old and New Testaments. The concept of the Holy Spirit was only made known to us in the Gospels because Jesus promised his disciples that he will not abandon them, and he will send them the Holy Spirit to dwell in their hearts, to be their Advocate. So the Jews in the Old Testament didn’t have knowledge or understanding about the Holy Spirit as Jesus describes. However, they did have the understanding of having God’s breath of life, God’s Spirit in them. One of our Lectionary readings for today is from Psalm 104:24-35 and it talks about that. Let me just read a few of the verses from there.

Psalm 104:24-30 (NLT)

24 O Lord, what a variety of things you have made!
In wisdom you have made them all.
The earth is full of your creatures.
27 They all depend on you
to give them food as they need it.
28 When you supply it, they gather it.
You open your hand to feed them,
and they are richly satisfied.
29 But if you turn away from them, they panic.
When you take away their breath,
they die and turn again to dust.
30 When you give them your breath,[b] life is created,
and you renew the face of the earth.

You notice in v.30, there is a footnote there next to “your breath” because that Hebrew word is also translated as “your Spirit”. “When you give them your Spirit, life is created…” So Pentecost wasn’t the first time God gave her people God’s Spirit. From the beginning of time, God has breathed life into us. I want us to just pause and take a moment to ponder that thought: we are receptacles of God’s breath and Spirit. We hold God’s breath and Spirit within us. God’s breath and Spirit is in you! Isn’t that an amazing thing? And isn’t that something we often take for granted as we get caught up in our day-to-day struggles?

Let’s dig deeper into this thought by looking at Romans 8, which is another of our Lectionary passages for today. Instead of just looking at Romans 8:14-17, I would like to spend some time with you to read the portions before and after that too. I’ve taken portions of Romans chapter 8 from ‘The Message’ and I hope it will help us all appreciate this passage anew.

Romans 8 (The Message)

A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

3-4 God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.

The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.

5-8 Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.

9-11 But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!

12-14 So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!

15-17 This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!

18-21 That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.

22-25 All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

31-39 So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

What a rich passage of Scripture! I chose to share this with you at length because I think this Bible passage says it better than I could ever express it. I think Eugene Peterson translated this passage really well and personally, it gave me a refreshing perspective of how solid and absolute God’s love is for me, and how solid our position as God’s children is. No one and nothing can get between us and God’s love for us. No matter what doubts you might have, no matter what others may say, nothing can get in the way of God’s love for us. God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us so how are we to respond to such love? God lives and breathes in us and that is the highest honor and privilege. So how are we to respond? We are told to simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us. So let me ask you, what is the Spirit doing in you today? What is the Spirit doing in us as a church? How is the Spirit leading us?

I believe the Spirit is leading us to embrace what the Spirit is already beginning to do within us and around us in this world. I believe the Spirit is calling us not to live in fear but to rise up to our calling as children of God and step out into the world courageously. How do I know that? Well, through God’s Word and God’s Spirit alive in me. If we look at a more traditional translation of Romans 8:14-17, it says:

Romans 8:14-17 (NIV)

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba,Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

So we know we are undoubtedly God’s children because the Spirit of God testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. We know it as a truth deep within our hearts. If we are led by the Spirit of God, we are the children of God. Period. Full stop. That’s it. That’s all the criteria there is. And if we have received God’s Spirit within us, we should no longer live in fear. This doesn’t mean we no longer have any fears. It doesn’t mean we don’t ever get scared. We do and we will. But what it means is that we no longer live under the tyranny, the shackles of fear. Remember what I shared with you during my previous sermon regarding the filming of the Pink Dot video? I had all kinds of fears – both on a personal level as well as for my family and loved ones. I was afraid of repercussions, I was afraid that my family would crumble under the pressure. I was even afraid when I had to tell my parents and siblings about doing the video. How would they react? Would they be upset with me for pushing them into the spotlight and scrutiny of relatives and friends? Would they understand why I was choosing to do something like this? But I was reminded of Bethany Hamilton’s words that said, “Courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid. Courage means you don’t let fear stop you.”

You know, as I took the step of faith, I was surprised by how God worked. I wasn’t sure where my brother stood on this issue and how he would respond to me doing the Pink Dot video but what he said surprised me. He has a longtime friend that he grew up with in Sunday School who left the church because he’s gay. And my brother said if this video can help reach out to people like his friend, it would be worth all we needed to face. His response really moved me because the main reason why I said yes to this video in the first place was because of people like his friend. I knew in my spirit that above all, God wants them to know they are loved regardless…even if we had to take risks and be afraid. But we didn’t need to let the fear stop us. And I simply had to embrace what the Holy Spirit was doing in and around me.

Some of you may be asking: has this process been difficult for you? Well, to be honest, yes, at times. There have been moments when things were hard but there were also moments when I knew lives were being transformed. And those are the stories that uplift my heart. Those are the stories that truly matter. So I am glad I didn’t let fear stop me. I would never have known the courage of the people around me — people like my brother and many others — if I hadn’t done this. But you know, this is not just about me and my journey. At the beginning of the year while we were doing planning for the church, we couldn’t have envisioned that this would become part of the plan. The filming of the video was so last minute that as a church, we had no time to plan for it. I met the director and production crew on a Thursday and they asked if they could come do some filming that Sunday. I barely had time to discuss this with the board and the church. Both Miak and Gary were away that Sunday too. Many of you showed courage when you chose to sit beside me in church during the filming and also those of you who chose to sit and talk with me at the lunch table. I believe this is about something much bigger. It’s about you and me. It is about our journey as a church. We started out as a church many years ago that felt it needed to hide in order to be safe. And that was perfectly understandable. Maybe some of you still feel that way. But God’s Spirit is leading us into “the open, into a spacious, free life…God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!”

Let me clarify that I still mean for FCC to be a safe space for people who may be struggling with their faith and sexuality. But I’m asking us what is God’s Spirit doing in us? Where is God’s Spirit leading us? What are these things that God is leading us to do? Where are these places that we are to go? How can we rise up to the challenge and BE the church?

Many Christians, especially those of us who have been influenced by the individualism of modern culture, live as if the church is useful but unnecessary. We seem to believe that as long as we have a personal relationship with God, everything else is secondary. While nurturing our personal relationship with God is absolutely important, Pentecost is a vivid illustration of the truth that is found throughout Scripture: the community of God’s people is central to God’s work in the world. Thus, Pentecost invites us to consider our own participation in the fellowship, worship, and mission of the church. It is a time to renew our commitment to live as an essential member of the body of Christ, using our gifts to build the church and share the love and justice of Christ with the world.

So how can we BE the church in our world more effectively? How can we BE the church toegther? Let’s remember and cherish God’s breath and Spirit living in us everyday. Let’s live up to God’s calling as children of God and let no one and nothing get between us and the infinite love of God. Let us stop living in fear and embrace what the Spirit is doing in us. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! So let’s go do them.

Amen.