Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (NIV)
Have you ever complained? Thatís a really silly question. One of things that we learn from a very early age is how to complain. Whether that complaining is in the form of a whinge and a whine, or a direct confrontation with what is considered an unreasonable request by a parent, or the seemingly unreal expectation of an employer, we all know how to complain. Complaining is one of those things that we readily learn from others in our family or from friends and it comes so naturally to us.
A guide at Blarney Castle in Ireland was explaining to some visitors that his job was not always as pleasant as it seemed. He told them about a group of disgruntled tourists he had taken to the castle earlier in the week.
"These people were complaining about everything," he said. "They didnít like the weather, the food, their hotel accommodation, the prices, everything. Then to top it off, when we arrived at the castle, we found that the area around the Blarney Stone was roped off. Workmen were making some kind of repairs."
"This is the last straw!" exclaimed one lady who seemed to be the chief faultfinder in the group. "Iíve come all this way, and now I canít even kiss the Blarney Stone."
"Well, you know," the guide said, "according to legend, if you kiss someone whose lips have kissed the stone, itís the same as kissing the stone itself."
"And I suppose youíve kissed the stone," said the exasperated lady.
"Better than that", replied the guide. "Iíve sat on it."
Kissing the Blarney Stone gives the gift of eloquence. The lady was indeed eloquent in her complaining about the rude guide at the Blarney castle. She didnít even need to kiss the Blarney Stone Ė she already had the gift of the gab.
We might not have kissed the Blarney Stone but we too can be very eloquent when it comes to complaining about the weather Ė itís too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry. We complain about politicians, prices at the supermarket, the cost of petrol, the noisy neighbours, the kids in the street on their skateboards, the people who like to squeal the tyres of their cars as they exit your street. Parents complain about their kids and kids complain about their parents and the silly rules they make.
We complain about the people who arenít friendly and those
who are too friendly. We complain about those who do too much and those who
donít do enough.
We complain about those who are always complaining and we complain about those who donít complain enough because we donít know when they have a need that we could help them with.
We are pretty good at complaining even about people in the church. Sometimes complaining is quite justified but too often it is only self-centred whinging.
When we take a close look at complaints and gripes, we see there is a strong focus on what I think should be happening to me, what others should be doing for me, what I want to get out of this organisation or that group or this congregation or that worship service. When I look at why I complain I realise complaining comes as a result of feeling that somehow Iíve been hard done by.
Let's see what all this has to with Pentecost.
At Pentecost we focus our thoughts on the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He can move mountains if necessary but something that is a far greater challenge is changing something much more stubborn, the human spirit - changing the heart of every person to be more like Christ, to be in Christ and to have the same attitudes and do the same things that Christ would do. God has no trouble keeping the planets and billions of stars in orbit, but to bring about a change in our hearts and minds, required the death and resurrection of Jesus, it also requires the continuing work of the Holy Spirit to bring us faith in Jesus Christ and to keep us in this faith.
Let's go back to the beginning. At our baptism in a quiet and unspectacular way we are given the Holy Spirit. The Spirit joins us with Christ in the water of our Baptism. We are united with Jesus in his death, and we join with Jesus in his resurrection. Our sinful self dies with Christ and we rise to a renewed life from the water of our Baptism. As Paul says in Romans, "If we shared in Jesus' death by being baptized, we will be raised to life with him. We know that the persons we used to be were nailed to the cross with Jesus. But now he is alive, and he lives only for God. Ö In the same way, you must think of yourselves as dead to the power of sin. Ö Give yourselves to God. Ö Don't let sin keep ruling your lives" (6:5-14 CEV).
You might say the Holy Spirit is the great reminder always pointing us to the never-ending love of Jesus. Every day we sin. Guilt, trouble, and upset are part of our lives because of our sinfulness. Every day the Holy Spirit reminds us of the love of God and the forgiveness of Christ and our place in the Kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit leads us to turn away from our sinfulness and reassures us that we are still loved in spite of our sin and that Jesus died on a cross just for those moments when we rebel against God's way.
The Holy Spirit is also the great challenger. Every day he challenges us to be what we are - God's people, members of God's kingdom, people who have been joined to Christ in baptism. This means we become people who have the same attitude as Jesus. Every day he challenges to give up our sinful habits and the desires that lead us away from God's will for our lives and be like Christ. Get away from every thing that leads you to focus just on you and what you want. Those things always lead to complaining about the fact that you are not treated the way you think you ought to be treated.
Paul says, "Don't do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble toward one another, always considering others better than yourselves. And look out for one another's interests, not just for your own. The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had" (Phil 2:1-5).
And precisely what is the attitude of Christ that Paul is referring to? He describes it this way. Jesus who is God almighty became a servant. A servant. God becoming a servant or better a slave, someone who had no rights, no standing in the community, whose life was in the hands of those whom he served is a highly offensive idea. Nevertheless, a servant he is. Like a true servant he always put the needs of others above his own.
We are the ones whom Jesus serves. We have a need. We are sinners. We desperately need forgiveness and restoration with the Father in heaven if we are going to have any hope for the future. And Jesus fulfilled that need. He humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! even though he himself was sinless and completely innocent. Nevertheless because we have a need, he was prepared to become a servant for us.
Paul says that attitude of Jesus is exactly the same attitude that we as members of a congregation should have. We should have the same attitude of Jesus who was loving, who filled people's lives with joy and peace, who was patient and kind and gentle, who didnít let his own needs get in the way of helping others, who never put down others to make himself feel greater and better than anyone else.
Sometime after Jesus ascended to heaven Paul encouraged the then new Christian church to be like Christ. This is not an action of human will power but of the Spiritís power controlling our spirit, our will, our mind and our actions. Paul puts it this way, "Let us live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit". Paul is using a military term here when he tells us to keep in step with the Spirit. Itís like watching a group of soldiers. They all march as one; all in step, all moving together as one. If one gets out of step itís so obvious, in fact, this one out-of-step-person messes up the beauty of seeing the soldiers moving as one. This one out-of-step-person may even cause others to stumble as he steps on heals.
What does Paul mean when he says we ought to march in step with the Spirit? Just a Jesus marched to the beat of a different drum to the rest of the world, the Spirit also challenges us to keep in step with God's will for his people making love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control influence everything we do, say or think. "To live by the Spirit" is to have the Spirit living in us and so follow the Spirit's leading to be servants of one another just as Christ has served us. That is the only way the Bible pictures the Christian - the person who works in humble service to fulfil the needs of others.
The night Jesus was betrayed, he washed the disciplesí feet, the act of a true servant and what did he say to his disciples? "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you... no servant is greater than his master... Now that you know these things you will be blessed if you do them" (John 13:15-17) Jesus is telling it straight. A disciple serves others.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the relationship of one Christian to another he used the picture of the body. And he pointed out clearly that all "the parts [of the human body] should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it...". Paul is emphasising strongly that there is no room for selfish individualism. The only way the body can function is one part serving the needs of the others.
Likewise in the Body of Christ, the Church. We are all members of that Body. We have been brought into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit. And so Paul challenges us to live by the Spirit and serve others with all love, patience, kindness, gentleness and understanding.
All this says a lot about our complaining. When we complain we are thinking in what ways our needs haven't been met; we focus on what others have failed to do for us; we may even become bitter because we feel that we have been let down by others.
In actual fact, we have let others down. We haven't given
thought to the needs of others and what we can do to help them.
The Spirit challenges us continually to stop focussing on ourselves and to be so busy watching out for the needs of others, serving their needs, we haven't got time to complain Ė "Hey, what about me!"
Unfortunately while we are on this earth we will always be complainers. Thatís part of our sinful and selfish nature. It's true that it's not always easy to act according to the prompting of the Spirit. It's much easier to go our own way and do our own thing. When you find that happening, as it happens to me, let the Spirit show to you through Word and Sacrament the joy of the Gospel and the peace that comes from knowing you have a Saviour who loves you. Let the Spirit fill your life with the new dimensions and the new ambitions that come from knowing Jesus - to serve as Christ has served us. "Let us keep in step with the Spirit".
© Pastor Vince
11th May 2008