Thursday 10 August

Rev. Heather Morris is a Methodist Minister with a PhD in Practical Theology from Edinburgh University.  She was the first female President of the Methodist Church in Ireland in 2013 and is now the General Secretary of the Home Mission Department of the Methodist Church, based in Dublin.  This year, she is leading the morning Bible Teaching at New Horizon.  Here’s a summary of her message from Thursday morning:

We are focusing this morning on the Holy Spirit and Jesus. As you look through the Gospels, there are startling few references. This may be because the Spirit does not draw attention to Himself. The Holy Spirit always points to Jesus.

The Gospels writers concentrate on a couple of areas: Jesus conception and birth and on the beginning of His public ministry (baptism and temptation).

What do you long for? Maybe at this stage in this morning, you are longing for a cup of coffee. Maybe when I asked, “What are you longing for?” You think about holidays, or more money, or a different job, or a partner, or to be a couple of stone lighter. The things that we long for fill our minds, can become the content of our daydreams. They become what we work for and look for. They shape us. One of my prayers this week is that we will long for more of God.

We are not left alone

In the Old Testament, we see the Spirit at work in  Creation. Throughout the OT, the Spirit of God comes on particular people for particular tasks. The Spirit enables prophecy. In Isaiah 63, the prophet recognises the work of the Spirit in the people of Israel’s long journey through the wilderness, guiding them. That activity is context specific and sporadic.

From time to time, we sense a longing among God’s people for more of God’s spirit. Would it be, says Moses, that more of the people were prophets and Joel prophesies and looks to the day when God will pour out His Spirit on ALL people!

And then a waiting… that long period (400 years) between the testaments when the heavens appear to be silent.   We know from the beginning of Luke’s gospel that there were people during that period who were faithful (Anna and Simeon). When he tells the story of Jesus, Luke opens his Gospel account not with Jesus’ baptism but he with four events that emphasise and evidence the work of the Holy Spirit before Jesus is born.

  • In Luke 1: 15 – 17, the prophecy comes to Zechariah that his son will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.
  • Then the angel speaks to Mary, to tell her about the baby she is to bear Luke 1:35 – 38 there are echoes of Genesis.
  • When Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting the baby leaps and Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit.
  • In Luke 1:67, Zechariah was filled with the Spirit when John is born.

Just notice what God is doing. In the Old Testament, we see the work of God’s Spirit in creation, prophecy and the enabling of God’s people and this is what is happening in the lead up to Jesus birth.

Sometimes when we take a step back and glance even at a section of salvation history, we have just got to say “Wow!” Sometimes in Paul’s letters, he is writing dense theology and then he breaks into a hymn of praise. God’s grace and providence are astounding.

I will never forget one day when my son was at playschool. He stood with tears running down his face looking out the window and waving at me as I walked away. When Jesus is about to leave His disciples (John 16), He does not leave them alone – He sends His Spirit (the comforter). With the coming of the Spirit, we are never left alone.

Jesus is affirmed as son and suffering servant

In that context, let us read from Luke 3: 21 – 23. As Jesus was praying at His baptism, heaven was opened. Mark’s Gospel talks about the heavens being torn open. There is huge Messianic significance in the descending of the spirit on Jesus as a dove. The coming of the Messiah into the world was no longer a future hope but a present reality. While in the past the Spirit had been an occasional visitor, now the Spirit rests on Jesus.

The heaven’s that had been silent for so long, now open – rent apart. The fact that Jesus, the son of God, willing submits Himself to baptism is remarkable but for Luke that is not the main thing. The way Luke writes, the baptism is a sub-clause. Luke wants our focus to be on the voice from heaven – “You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.” These are words of affirmation.

Two Old Testament passages are being explicitly referenced here: Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1.  Both word and spirit therefore affirm Jesus’ sonship.

I call myself a planner, my family calls me a control freak. My boys tease me because they know that even in situations where I am pretending to be laid back, I have a plan!

Jesus is at a crucial stage in His ministry. God the Father doesn’t speak from heaven to tell Him a plan, instead the Father says, “I love you!” The Spirit affirms the bond of love and trust between Father and Son. The life of Jesus is marked by a relationship of love and trust with His Father so in the garden, He says “Abba” and the Holy Spirit, that same Holy Spirit invites men and women and children into a relationship of love and trust with God.

As He did with Jesus, so with us, the Holy Spirit affirms the bond of love and trust between us and the Father through the Son, testifying that we are God’s children. We are invited to live our lives not with fist-clenched determination to be better but out of that relationship of love and trust.

Word and Spirit affirm Jesus as Son and as suffering servant. From His baptism, the Holy Spirit propels or leads Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted. Satan was about to tempt Jesus to think that sonship and suffering were mutually exclusive. One of the distortions that has crept into teaching about the Holy Spirit is that life in the Spirit is one without suffering or struggle. That is a lie. Life in the Holy Spirit does not mean we are exempt from suffering, struggle or temptation but it does mean trust and a willingness to depend on God no matter what. Word and Spirit affirm Jesus as son and servant, who is going to face suffering.

Suffering in the power of the Spirit

In Acts 12, Luke tells us that King Herod arrested some who belong to the church and had James put to death by the sword. Peter was put in prison to await trial and persecution. What is done in response? The people of God gather to pray.

If we had asked any of the people in Mary’s house as they gathered to pray if they believed that God would rescue Peter, they would have said, “Yes”. They were praying earnestly, fervently, that Peter would be released and in the power of God’s Spirit, He was released, thanks be to God. While Peter was rpayed for fervently, I would guess that many had also prayed for James and yet James is executed.

Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, was not saved from stoning and in the persecution that followed his death, Saul began to destroy the church. We have to rejoice in the full witness of scripture. In the power of God, Peter is released from prison but with integrity we need to recognise that James and Stephen weren’t. Many were persecuted. Many died. Many who suffered great physical and emotional harm.

God does heal. He may intervene in the power and grace of His Spirit but nowhere can I see scriptural evidence to affirm that being a child of God and living in the power of God’s spirit means avoidance of suffering or inevitable healing. It was not so for Jesus. We see it so clearly as the heavens are open and a voice proclaimed, “This is my Son…” The Son of God is not going to be delivered from suffering. My guess is that there are a variety of opinions in this tent as to whether God wills suffering. For me, I believe that suffering is a consequence of a broken creation and therefore not willed by God. You might differ from me on that point. The primary issue is what do lives lived in the power of the spirit, look like in the midst of suffering?

Come with me to Gethsemane. Mark 14: 32 – 36. Jesus is secure in His relationship with the Father and He does not hide His feelings. He shares His agony with His Father. What does life in the power of God’s Spirit look like when we are suffering? When illness looms? When the world feels like it is falling apart? It looks like trust that allows us to be held by God.

Hannah of whom we read in 1 Samuel has so much to be thankful for but she longed for a child. What does Hannah do with that? She brings her weeping, she brings her longing to the temple and shares it with the God who she knows stands with her and holds her in her agony.

A number of years ago, we went with the boys to a theme park and their was a ride called “air”. In my innocence, I got in. The ride lifted us up and then tilted. We were held in only by ankle bands and shoulder straps. That ride was a spasm of terror. My eyes were closed as we hurtled towards what I thought would be inevitable death.

By the third time, I had my eyes open and I began to enjoy it. On the fourth time, the ride stopped suddenly and we were left hanging. One of the boys, as we walked away, said, “Even when it stopped, we were still held.”

What does life lived in the power of the spirit look like in the midst of suffering? It trusts and holds the tension between answered prayer and unanswered prayer and allows us to be held close, even when it feels like the world is falling apart.

A longing for justice…

Just notice how the spirit, then stirs a longing for justice. Jesus himself picks that up when he goes to Nazareth – Luke 4: 14 – 20 

At the start of His ministry, Jesus returns to Galilee in the power of the Holy Spirit and He reads Isaiah 61. Let us not cheapen the work of the Spirit by implicitly or in practice by saying we are anointed to have great worship or have a great time in church with my friends.

The Spirit has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, to set the oppressed free… When the world looks at the church, does it look and see a church that is proclaiming freedom for prisoners, and setting the oppressed free? Or does it look like a club? We are called to live justice and mercy. What does it mean to bring good news to the poor or freedom for prisoners.

Would the community in which God has placed you miss you if you closed your doors?

The Spirit of the Lord is upon us and He has anointed us… What are we doing about this?

Resurrection power

“I don’t know where there is a shadow in your life… I do know that Jesus is the Lord of life and He is the master even over death.”

Do we believe that Easter is true? That God is the God of the resurrection? The Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, takes initiative. He has been at work from Creation and throughout all time. He draws and invites us into that loving relationship with the Father and with Jesus. He assures us that we are children of God. He enables us to trust when it feels like the world is falling apart. He is sent from the Father and the Son to dwell within all who give their lives to Jesus. Thanks be to God.