Sunday, June 12, 2011

Heaven's Power Poured Out on Earth!

Happy Birthday Christian Church and here we go with the blog!

In our Lutheran liturgy the Prayer of the Day was the following:
Holy Spirit, God and Lord, come to us this joyful day with your sevenfold gift of grace. Rekindle in our hearts the holy fire of your love that in a true and living faith we may tell abroad the glory of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Father, one God, now and forever. 

One thing I love about liturgical worship is all the rich content and meat that just fills every line said. I led this prayer today, and praying it felt like the proverbial drinking from a fire hose because there's so much to meditate on and appreciate from this prayer. 

But one thing that especially struck me today was, "What are we asking God for when we pray for the Spirit?I think the prayer is well-worded, and maybe more could be elaborated on. 

I've heard many talk about the Spirit bringing us comfort because he assures us that God loves us, has forgiven us, and is with us, basically. Don't get me wrong. This is true, but I don't think that's what Acts is showing us at Pentecost. As depicted in this icon, and in many drawings, the Spirit is power from heaven poured out on the disciples. In his Acts 2 sermon Peter refers to Joel when he says, "I'll pour out my Spirit on every flesh, and your sons and your daughters will speak what I've revealed (prophesy), and your young men will see visions, and your elders will dream dreams, and even on my male servants and my female servants. In those days I'll pour out my Spirit, and they will speak what I've revealed (prophesy)."

Pouring out implies an abundance. Now, what's significant is that this pouring out of the Spirit comes from heaven to earth. When you look at how heaven is talked about the Bible, it's not (at least primarily) this immaterial "spiritual" realm where God's people go when they die, as you might picture it in most of the Western Church. Instead, heaven is seen as God's control room. It's where his throne is, his HQ. And so in the Bible heaven and earth are much more mysteriously and interestingly linked than non-Jewish thought might imagine. 

I'm thinking of Daniel, where kings are confronted with the fact that God's actually the one calling the shots, and he's calling kings to account, or Psalm 2 where from heaven Yahweh's enthrones his Messiah to make all rulers give an account and wise up. I'm thinking of the petition in the Lord's Prayer, "Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven." We pray that Jesus rules, and not in the way Caesar rules. Jesus said to Pilate, "My kingdom is not from (Greek εκ) this world" (Notice that Jesus didn't say "of" this world in the sense of being in another place...I often hear it quoted that way...). 

When Jesus ascended into heaven as the crucified and risen Lord with all authority in heaven and on earth, the angels from heaven didn't tell the apostles, "This Jesus who's been taken up from you into heaven will look forward to welcoming you when you join him there!" No. John's Gospel talks about Jesus preparing a place for his disciples, but that's in the context still on Jesus coming back and sending another Counselor, the Spirit of truth, to be with them. The angels said Jesus would come again, and as the Bible states throughout and as we confess in the Nicene Creed, "He will come again to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end."

Have I made my point? Jesus rulesThis is the meaning of Pentecost, which is riding off the anticipation of Ascension Day when Jesus told his apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Spirit. Jesus rules, and he does it through the Spirit. And whom does he pour his Spirit on? HIS PEOPLE. God undid the curse of Babel as he spread the good news about Jesus' kingdom and the resurrection from the dead to the ends of the earth through his chosen people.

You see, at Pentecost we move into the last great "Act" of God's purposes as he sets his "Genesis Project" back on track which Satan derailed for a time. God created humankind, male and female, to bear his image and rule over and subjugate his creation. Not in an abusive or selfish way, but in a benevolent and productive way, serving his creatures and enjoying fellowship with God (this is the mission Christian green movements need to focus on!). So the Church, that is, God's people, aren't to have an arrogant triumphalism. But instead they are to have a confident and humble (others focused) heart as they let Jesus reign through them, his Spirit-filled people. Remember, God's Spirit isn't this Star Wars-esque force which gives you warm fuzzies or strange senses. God's Spirit is God, a personal being who empowers us and sets us apart for God's purposes. In the prayer above he's called "God and Lord." And throughout the rest of Acts, which will the book commented on for the upcoming weeks (hence the length of this post), we see what happens when God's Spirit rules through his people. We see simple people standing up to the rulers of the world who think they run the show. We see acts of charity as the poor are fed and the needy taken care of. We see joy and fellowship as God's people meet together regularly and live out their calling. We the disciples telling the rulers of this world, "You're getting it wrong." We see God's Spirit convicting the world of "sin, righteous, and judgement" through his people. We see new creation.

So Christians, pray for God's Spirit. And when you do so you'll be praying for strength and power from heaven to carry out your mission which began at your baptism when the Spirit was first poured into your hearts. Live out on earth whatever it is you receive from heaven. Amen.

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