FRESH FIRE: Renewal in the Spirit

Psalm 130
JOHN 6: 35 & 41-51

August 8, 2021

Coming out of our Christmas in July celebrations my own heart was deeply challenged when my friend died along with a rapid succession of challenges from people struggling with their faith, their health, and their ability to get through every day. Friends, I have experienced the reality of exhaustion including exhaustion of faith … I have noted the need for something to return the focus of Pentecost to me and I have been praying a generic prayer of wonder …. Wondering how many people whom I know desperately need the fresh fire that God can provide through God’s Holy Spirit just as I do.

And, so today partly inspired by a friend’s sermon in which he spoke about excellence in faith but also moved by a book that once sat on the shelf of the pastor whose smile brightened up Vacation Bible School when I was a child. A child who excitedly attended VBS each year with my friends and my brother because all of our parents shared in the value of VBS … a pastor with a fun-side who held me under the baptismal waters a little too long when I renewed my baptism vows as a teenager whispering quietly “got you” as he brought me up into the air. He officiated at our wedding later becoming my mentor and a true friend and he gave me his book, “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire” written by Jim Cymbala. This has been one book that I have turned to frequently as a pastor and it will serve as the structure for this new sermon series. ‘Making our faith fresh again!’

I look up at the flame on our Pentecost banner … knowing we only need the spark to get our faith fire going but also realizing that the Evil Power in the world, which I truly believe is a power, has become much more effective in squelching out the embers of faith belonging to people who say they believe but whose eyes are on the crowd more than on the cross. I am witnessing on a regular basis parents making choices that diminish a faith connection for their children’s future as they seek to fit into the world’s tumultuous seas. I have been speaking with faith leaders around the country lately and I have heard that a spirit of volunteerism has been overtaken by self focus with achievement reserved for selves not others and even an increased lust for self escapism designed to avoid helping others. In an era when small group Bible studies are so much easier to participate in thanks to Zoom and other meeting platforms … no one seems to want to take on the challenge of bringing friends together to study God’s Word much less study the Bible with others whom they are not friends with and perhaps not even investing time to read the Bible alone … too busy or perhaps just flamed out.

So, to start our journey it is important to get renewed in the Spirit. I am hoping to offer one suggestion every week as a ‘to do’ item. I realize that most of you really dislike receiving assignments from the pulpit to take on. But these will be reflections of what has been helpful to me and perhaps after the Sunday I had last Sunday each of these “to do” items over the coming weeks are actions I again need to take on in my life.

Shane Claiborne in an interview recently stated that the focus of Christianity needs to be on the essence of what we have always prayed for in the Lord’s Prayer. “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” Perhaps the Common English translation that brings the Gospel from Matthew into today’s English rather than that of the King James’ translation’s Shakespearean English is more meaningful but it is from the prayer that millions of Christians including all of us will pray today, “Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven.” Luke reports Jesus’ words slightly differently than Matthew writing that Jesus told His disciples and people of faith “When you pray say Father, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in Your kingdom. Give us the bread we need for today.”

We pray that we want God’s kingdom to come to earth … that God’s heaven arrives here where we walk, talk, text, and post. But who will bring about God’s kingdom on earth? Is it in your plans? We pray for today’s bread … so we can get to tomorrow. Claiborne argues that Christians from the 20th and 21st centuries have been so focused on claiming they are saved for eternity while being dismissive of an obligation to live on earth as if we truly wanted God’s kingdom here and God’s will to be done as part of our daily lives. He reiterates that if we read the Gospels … if we listen to Jesus … if we have the Spirit with us … then we will be activists on earth to build the kingdom here just as Jesus told us to do.

But it takes a spirit … it takes a spark … it requires us to find fresh fire perhaps and renew our spirits.

First some Scripture … friends, none of us can renew the freshness of our faith minus God’s Word because God’s Word is our guidebook … Paul writes to Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightfully handling the word of truth.”

A cause and effect reality … as people of faith, we know we will be presenting ourselves to God one day. We have often laughed about jokes that find St. Peter at the Heavenly gates but that does not take away from a truth we anticipate for our lives. So how are we at our best? Workers; I love how this weaves in with the message of James that faith without works is dead. Paul does not write to Timothy that ‘one time hand raisers’ or ‘anyone who once stepped forward in a revival tent’ has no need to be ashamed or that they are rightly been handling the word of truth because Paul gets it … Workers in faith; people who have found Jesus taking our individual gifts and putting those talents to use for the Kingdom on earth. THY WILL GOD … THY WILL be done.

And, then there is our Vacation Bible School theme verse for the coming week and there is a very interesting verse that follows it … Ephesians 3:20 is a verse those fortunate children attending this year’s Vacation Bible School will have in their minds forever, “Glory to God who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power in work through us.”

Uh perhaps I need to read that again … according to God who is God able to do things far beyond all that we could ask or imagine … THY KINGDOM COME THY WILL BE DONE on EARTH as it is in HEAVEN? Paul says by “His power in work through us.” He is the one who wrote “a worker has no need to be ashamed handling the word of truth.”

So, the kids in VBS will discover that God has a plan for us … God’s Holy Spirit is a guide for us … simple human beings created in God’s image and rescued by Jesus Christ.

Cymbala in his book writes, [1]“I discovered an astonishing truth: God is attracted to weakness. He can’t resist those who humbly and honestly admit how desperately they need him.” Friends, God does not go out and hire professionals. Jesus did not recruit the top priests and religious leaders as His disciples … in fact, Jesus did not even hang out with the Pharisees and Sadducees nor did he ask the political leaders of His day for their endorsement.

On the morning of the day when the tomb was found open and empty God did not have the Roman newspaper reporters nor television crews from CNN and FOX tombside to report the story … God used the women; we all know Mary Magdalene’s history … she was there … women who loved Jesus; women who had come to care for Jesus body to do work for God … simple every day women while the disciples hid behind locked doors … they were the ones to hear HE IS NOT HERE for HE IS RISEN! <<He is Risen Indeed>> and they went on to tell the story … humbly and honestly with no training just because they believed. The shepherds had done that on the day of His birth.

In our Gospel lesson we heard Jesus declare to those wrapped up in their personal assessment and critique of Jesus by declaring, “Don’t grumble amongst yourselves. No one can come to me unless they are drawn to me by the Father who sent me. And, I will raise them up!” In Fresh Wind; Fresh Fire Cymbala declares, “The times are urgent, God is on the move, NOW is the moment to ask God to ignite God’s fire in your soul!”

And, for many of us … now is the time to ask God to renew our spirit of faith. To help us understand that the energizer of our faith is not Dave Delaney’s seminary degree nor my collection of Pastor Stanley Lewis’ books of faith but my energizer and your energizer is the Holy Spirit of God! God is the one who can lift us up … God is the one who is ready to direct our lives … God is the one pouring out love in each of our directions beyond measure without asking anything more than we believe and love God back with real love, committed love, and not just Sunday go to meeting time love but every day love when our lives reveal God matters and where we showcase God to those we love and care about as well as to strangers in our midst.

And, so hear our Psalm again, “I cry out to you from the depths Lord! My Lord listen to my voice!” The process for our renewal in the spirit of the Lord begins with our understanding that we cannot pretend that we don’t need God’s Spirit … find a place alone with you and the God of creation where you won’t be interrupted where you can identify God but also loudly or quietly confess Psalm 130 to God … “If you kept track of sins, Lord … my Lord who would stand a chance? But forgiveness is with you.”

Friends, if you are like me … then you have a laundry list of failures in your faith walk but God still wants and needs you and me. As Cymbala noted, God has never backed away from weak people … in fact throughout Scripture God has used weak people, loved weak people, directed weak people, renewed weak people, and called weak people His own!

We need to live a life where our faith walk is fresh and not worn down or so tired that people can sense our snoring when we refer to church or God or Christ. I believe we each need to regularly renew our faith in the Spirit of God so here’s this week’s PULPIT TO DO LIST ITEM … find a quiet place preferably away from your home and your personal property where you can go to hide with God; conveniently leave your cell phone in your car or at home or at the very least turn it off. Sit and listen to nothing other than nature. Sit and breathe in and out sensing your own breath and taking into consideration that you are a child of God created to live for God and to use your abilities each day to bring God’s kingdom to earth. Find something to focus your vision on … it can be a group of trees, water, birds, or even images in the sky. Sit quietly for at least 30 minutes and then begin the conversation with God using today’s Psalm, Psalm 130, which is referred to as a “Pilgrimage Psalm.” The psalmist wrote, “My whole being waits for my Lord more than the night watch waits for the morning.” “Wait for the Lord because faithful love is with the Lord because great redemption is with our God.”

Some of you know I escape to Longwood Gardens often and actually go up in one of their treehouses just to sit. This past Monday I knew Longwood was closed so I drove to a lake I had never been to … I walked down a path to the side of the lake for the quiet. There were a few tears and prayers and smiles and laughs just God and me.

I mentioned the verse that follows our Vacation Bible School theme verse. Ephesians chapter 3 verse 21 reads, “Glory to Him in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations forever and always. Amen.” Glory friends … are you ready to give God glory? Are you concerned about whether the future generations will see you giving glory and value to God and Jesus Christ … do you worry if this church will be open in August of 2031? If any church will be or are the success stories of the world’s organizations more important than houses of worship.

Are you ready and interested in bringing God’s kingdom to earth or is that an afterthought … do you want to make your faith fresh, energized, and joy-filled?

And, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life: whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Are you with me in praying to God … give us this day our daily bread, Jesus the Christ? And, are you ready and excited and happy to live each day thriving on our Savior and led by the Spirit of God, I sure hope so! AMEN

[1] FRESH WIND, FRESH FIRE by Jim Cymbala; Zondervan Publishing House

© 2017- St. Paul's United Methodist Church, West Deptford, NJ