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Spirit at Work
June 3, 1979

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

JOEL 2:28-29; EZEKIEL 36:26; JOHN 16:8-11; ACTS 1:8

I have great news for you this morning. God is at work. The Spirit is at work. That's great news. Some religions have God far removed from human life, sitting on top of a mountain. Pilgrims spend their lifetimes journeying, struggling to reach God while God sits there and waits. Some religions and some churches have God all cooped up within a fence with a sign on the outside that says “Private Property”, and the only way you get through the gate is their particular way.

But, our great good news this morning is that God is at work in the world. No one can fence God in. No one can contain God in a box. The Holy Spirit is at work and the sign reads, “Spirit at Work—Under Construction”, and perhaps a “Caution” sign is there too.The Spirit is at work. This was promised and foretold in the Bible. You heard some of the passages read. The prophet Joel looked forward to the day and recorded in 2: 28, “I will pour out my Spirit on all the world. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams and your young men shall see visions.” The prophet Ezekiel prophesied in 36:26, “I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit within you.” Jesus after the resurrection when he appeared to the disciples told them to wait in Jerusalem, and he gave them this promise in Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” 

That's the promise: you shall receive power. And all these predictions, all these promises were fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, which we celebrate today. The Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples. They turned from cowardly, weak, unworthy, frightened people into people of power. They went forth from that place, preached, talked and converted. They gathered people in and they covered the known Roman Empire in the name of Jesus. They changed when the Holy Spirit came upon them. They discovered great power. Red is the liturgical color of the season. Red symbolizes the Holy Spirit which appeared as tongues of fire over their heads. The energy was so powerful it appeared as tongues of fire over their heads. The promise was fulfilled on that day. 

You and I are living in an age when the Spirit of God is at work. That's great news. We are living in an age when the Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. Is God at work in you today? Can you say that the Spirit is working in you? Is there a sign outside your house or outside your life that says “Spirit at Work—Under Construction”? Are you under construction and being built, being changed or is there a sign outside you that says “Out to lunch” or “Closed for remodeling”? Some have signs, “Closed Until Further Notice”. Is the sign “Spirit at Work” outside you today?

There are signs if the Spirit of God is at work in you. There are signs when we know the highway is being rebuilt or new buildings are going up. We see trucks, we see people with orange hats and orange vests, we see piles of dirt, we see equipment. They are signs, evidence. Likewise, when the Spirit of God is at work in a person's life or in a church, we see signs, we see evidence. There are many such signs. But those I’d like to talk about today are those described in the 16th chapter of John and in the book of Joel. 

The first sign, according to Jesus, is when Jesus told the disciples he’ll be gone for awhile, but will send a helper back, “I will send my Spirit back to be with you.” And you will know that the Spirit is at work in you when he said, (John 16:8) “When the Spirit comes, he will show the world how wrong it was about sin, and about judgment.” The first sign that the Spirit of God is at work in you is an increasing awareness of your own sin, of your own unworthiness, an increasing awareness of all that's wrong, of all that is little, small, of all that is hurtful and harmful, of all that obstructs and keeps the Spirit of God from working in you. That is sin. Anything that keeps God out, not opening the door, and living with bad attitudes that plug up the channel so God can't get in—that’s a sin. 

The Spirit of God is at work in you showing, proving, convicting, making you aware of things in you that need to be changed, things in you that are not as they should be. The first sign of the Spirit of God at work in you is a consciousness of sin, a consciousness of judgment. And this judgment is already in process for Jesus said in John 16:11, “The prince of this world is already being condemned.” The Spirit shows the world how wrong it is. And that's the good news— the prince of this world, or the devil, or evil, whatever you want to call it is already condemned, is already judged. It's been done by Jesus’ victory upon the cross. The prince of the world has been judged, pronounced and condemned. Therefore, the disparity between our values and the values of the world has already been decided. Hurting our minds with trash and wrong ideas, hurting the body with abuse, with drugs, being motivated by selfishness or greed have all been judged as being of the world and will be condemned. 

How futile it is to build, base and live one's life on greed, selfishness, hurt, harm, filling one's body with chemicals and drugs, abusing one's body. How futile it is to live that way for it's all been judged. The Holy Spirit at work in us constantly nudges and reminds us that there is a difference between what the world says is right and what God says is right. There is a difference between what the world says is happiness and what God says is happiness. There is a difference between what the world says is successful and what God says is successful. The Spirit at work in us makes us increasingly aware of God's way and increasingly convicts us. 

Therefore, believe and trust in Christ. Jesus goes on in verse nine and says, “Sin is proved by their refusal to believe in me.” The refusal to believe is what Jesus says is sin. Sin is to not believe enough. Sin is to not have enough faith. Sin is to believe in other things than in Christ. The Holy Spirit at work in us is constantly bringing us to belief, bringing us to commitment to Christ and nudging us to put Jesus first in our lives. That's the first evidence of the Spirit at work. 

And that leads us to the second sign. As the Spirit nudges us of what we're doing wrong, or lack of faith in us, the Spirit nudges us and points us to the things which are to come. Jesus said, “The Spirit will tell you of things to come.” The Spirit will point us in the direction of the new order, point us in the direction of the kingdom of God, point us to the resurrection, the kind of world that is possible when the Spirit works. The Spirit pushes us in the direction of how would the world could be if we could just dream it. Joel says, “The sign of the Spirit is when your old men dream dreams, and your young men see visions.” He didn't tell us who's old and who's young, but we dream what the world would be like if a group of people like here this morning, dreamed, lived and worked to bring that dream into actuality. If we could catch a vision of what this world would be like if the love of Jesus was experienced, what your neighborhood could be like, what this town could be like, what the world could be like with God in charge. If we could just catch a vision of what this world would be like without people hungry, without children starving, without malnutrition, without violence, without crime, without people hurting each other, if we could just catch a dream of what this world could be like and then work towards the fulfillment of that dream. 

The good news is that God is at work bringing this dream to pass. The Spirit is already at work and if we had the eyes to see, we could see this is happening all around us. A botanist once went into the Scottish mountains to study a particular flower, a ground flower that grew wild.The botanist especially wanted to catch it when it was blooming. He brought along his microscope and found one particular flower that was beautiful. He adjusted his microscope, studied the flower and was just overcome with the delicacy, the color and the beauty of the flower. An old shepherd was watching him, interested in what this guy was doing. So the botanist motioned him to come over and without saying a word, picked the flower, handed it to the shepherd, and gave him the microscope. The old shepherd looked at the flower through the microscope and saw the flower as he had never seen it before. As he looked at it, tears streamed down his face. He said to the botanist, “I wish you'd never shown me that.” The botanist said, “Why?” “Because these rude feet of mine through the years have stepped on so many of these flowers.” The flower was already there in its beauty, but he hadn't seen it. And now he had a vision. 

If you could only look at your life as God sees it, if you looked at yourself as God sees you—the beauty in you, the wonder, the marvel, the goodness of you, if you could just catch a vision of what you are in Christ, if you could just catch a vision of what this world could be in Christ, that’s the Spirit at work, empowering us. “Therefore”, says Joel, “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” I'm glad he made it the young people—your sons and your daughters. Prophesy means to proclaim the message, to tell, to share. Our reason for being is to share with the world, tell the world about the love of God and about God's will. Paul told Timothy, “Let no one despise your youth.” Let no one ridicule you because you're young. The young have a lot to teach the older, especially in our day. The older have a lot of experiences to share with the younger, but a lot of what's happening in the world today was never experienced by the elderly so the youth have a lot to teach the rest of us. The youth have a big place in this church and in the schools and in this community, to express the Spirit of God and to tell, teach, proclaim, live it and dream it. 

The Holy Spirit is at work. That's the good news today. The Spirit is working in you, making you aware of your sin, letting you dream and getting a vision of what you and this world could be if the Holy Spirit were allowed to move.

© 1979 Douglas I. Norris