The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
May 29, 2022
Some of us who love Jesus have daydreamed about being among the original 12 disciples and with them walking with Jesus in the flesh. We imagine how strong our faith would then be. But Jesus in John 16:7, told the original 12 that they’d be better off when He ceased to be with them in the flesh. He said, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Paraclete” – usually translated as the “Advocate” or the “Helper”, but always meaning the Holy Spirit – will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”
Jesus’ ascension – that is, His leaving earth and returning to heaven – deprived His disciples of His physical presence, but enriched them with His spiritual presence in the Person of the Holy Ghost. Jesus’ departure precipitated the Spirit’s arrival ten days later at of Jesus at Pentecost – and that promised “baptism with the Holy Spirit” caused them to experience the supernatural life. The Spirit empowered them supernaturally to fulfill their call to be Jesus’ “witnesses…to the ends of the earth” and to fight the good fight of love for all people of the earth in His name.
A wise Christian once noted, “Unless there is within us that which is above us, we shall soon yield to that which is around us.”
The world needs us who love Jesus not to yield to that which is around us. For what is around us is a lot of evil: shown recently by the hate-filled murdering of innocent grocery shoppers, worshippers and school children. The world needs us who love Jesus to have within us that which is above us, that we would not become haters ourselves but be bearers of God’s transforming love even to the haters. The world needs us to be filled with the Spirit.
We who follow Jesus don’t need to determine what is ahead of us, as the original 12 disciples wanted to in asking about when Jesus would restore the kingdom to Israel; but we, like them, need to determine what is within us. Are we inhabited with Jesus’ own life force? Are we filled with a strength and wisdom beyond our own? Are we, by the Spirit, living supernaturally?
After all, as one saint put it, “It’s not our ability, but our response to God’s ability, that counts.” Jesus sent the Spirit to give us God’s ability to make a difference in this broken world. The Spirit injects into us a power from on high that we might have a bigger impact than we could ever mount by even the most strenuous effort of our best selves.
So how do we let the Lord baptize us with the Holy Spirit and carry us beyond a merely natural life?
As often as the Spirit is compared to water, the Spirit is compared to wind. We do well to think of our relationship with the Spirit as that of a sailor and his or her sailboat with the wind.
Now, I’ve never sailed a sailboat. But a writer for Christianity Today, Andrew Wilson, often does. In an article from a couple of years ago, he shared about his life of sailing and its parallels to his life of living by the Spirit. His thoughts help me think about my life of living by the Spirit. They may help you think about yours too.
Wilson asks whether having your sailboat “filled with the wind” is an experience of being overpowered or a result of habits and practices? Wilson concludes it’s both at once. It is a passive experience of a mighty force of nature catching hold of you and carrying you; but the frequency of the experience is an outcome of your actively engaging in spiritual disciplines. If you don’t hoist your sails, pull the mainsheet fast and adjust the jib, you don’t go anywhere you want even when the wind blows strong.
Wilson says sailing is “the art of attentive responsiveness to an external power”. You rely on the wind’s power to propel you and ride a strength beyond your own to move on.
But to let the wind catch hold of you and carry you, you have to discern where and how the wind is blowing and respond accordingly. You have to read what the wind is doing and react appropriately.
We learn to read the Wind of the Spirit and to react appropriately to His initiatives by practicing certain habits. We study the great movements of the Spirit in scripture; we listen to, and learn from, those experienced in paying attention to, and submitting to, the Spirit; we reflect carefully on what we’ve done to resist the Spirit’s taking over and what we’ve done to successfully apply our meager strength to avail of the Spirit’s far greater strength.
Over time, by practices and habits, we develop our capacity to make the most of the Spirit-Wind’s masterful power and to allow Him to take us where we could never take ourselves.
Then we will, again and again, sometimes seemingly without any effort from our side, experience the Spirit’s carrying us and giving us supernatural lives of love, courage, righteousness and wild generosity. Let us be enriched thanks to being deprived by the ascension!