Original Posting At https://revbrentwhite.com/2017/07/10/sermon-06-04-17-the-holy-spirit-lives-here/
In this sermon, I emphasize our church has all the power we need to be successful in the mission our Lord has given us. Why? Because we have the Holy Spirit. Are we living as if we believe it?
Sermon Text: 1 Peter 2:4-12
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Roger Moore was the James Bond of my childhood. So I love him. And after reading a Facebook post by an Englishman named Marc Hayes, in the wake of Moore’s death last week, well, I love him even more!
When Hayes was seven years old, he was with his grandfather at the airport in Nice, France, and he saw Roger Moore. He said to his grandfather, “Look, there’s James Bond!” His grandfather had no idea who James Bond was, much less Roger Moore. But he walked over to him and said, “My grandson says you’re James Bond. Can he get an autograph?” And so Roger Moore signed the child’s plane ticket. But the child was disappointed because he signed it “Roger Moore,” not James Bond. This kid didn’t know who Roger Moore was. So he and his grandfather went back over to the actor, and the grandfather explained the child’s disappointment.
At this point, Moore took the boy aside, leaned down to him and said,
“I have to sign my name as ‘Roger Moore’ because otherwise…Blofeld might find out I was here.” Blofeld is a famous Bond villain.” Then Moore asked the child not to tell anyone that he’d just seen James Bond, and he thanked him for keeping his secret.
Isn’t that great?
Twenty-three years later, a grown-up Marc Hayes had the opportunity to meet Roger Moore again, this time as part of a film crew that was filming a commercial for UNICEF. And Moore was part of it because he was a celebrity ambassador for UNICEF. Anyway, Hayes told Moore about meeting him when he was a kid. Moore said he didn’t remember the encounter but was glad he had a chance to meet “James Bond.”
Then, after the filming was over, as Moore was leaving the studio, he turned back to Hayes, “looked both ways, raised an eyebrow and in a hushed voice said, ‘Of course I remember our meeting in Nice. But I didn’t say anything in there, because those cameramen—any one of them could be working for Blofeld.’”
I can hardly share that story without tearing up. I’m sentimental about my childhood heroes. When William Shatner and Henry Winkler die, I’m going to be a wreck.
Anyway, I share this story with you this morning because like James Bond, you and I—and everyone who’s a member of Hampton United Methodist Church—have a secret identity. And like James Bond, we have access to a great deal of power. Remember one of the highlights of every Bond movie was when Bond would go into Q’s laboratory and get all these powerful gadgets that enabled him to accomplish his mission? We have something infinitely more powerful than Q’s gadgets. We have the Holy Spirit, which means we have all the power we need to accomplish our mission.
One difference is, unlike James Bond, we’re not supposed to have a secret identity; we’re supposed to want the “Blofelds” of the world to know who we truly are. And unlike James Bond, the power to which we have access is so often unused in our mission.
What’s the problem? What’s our problem? What’s my problem?
Brothers and sisters, I have an urgent message to share about our church and our mission as a church. I have an urgent message to share about the very reason that God planted this church here 109 years ago. I said last week, in anticipation of today’s sermon, that we all know that we can do better as a church. We all know that we ought to do better as a church. We all know—I hope—that each one of us will stand before God in judgment and will have to give an account in part for how faithful we were—or weren’t—with the resources that God gave us when he gave us this church—and he continues to give us this church. We’ll have to give an account for the souls of people that God sent to our church and the souls of people to whom God sent us.
In Acts 20, when Paul was saying goodbye to the church at Ephesus, a church that he started and a church at which he ministered for over three years, he discussed his ministry there, his boldness in proclaiming the gospel to everyone he possibly could, and said, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”
Do you know what he’s saying there? He’s saying that if he failed to proclaim the gospel to someone that God put in his path while he was there in Ephesus; and that person never otherwise had an opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel; and that person died and as a result went to hell; then that person’s blood would be on Paul’s hands. Why? Because the Holy Spirit put that person in Paul’s life for a reason—so that Paul could share the gospel with him or her. That might have been that person’s only chance at salvation. Paul understood, as we so often fail to understand, that what we do here—what we do as ministers of the gospel at Hampton United Methodist Church—has eternal consequences!
But I’m not like Paul. I can’t honestly say, “I’m innocent of the blood of all.” I wish I could! I have often, in my ministry, “shrunk from declaring the whole counsel of God.” This is a sin for which I am deeply sorry, and I have repented! And I promise, the Holy Spirit is changing me. Praise God!
Some of you might have noticed over the past couple of years that every time we have a big community event—including Easter egg hunts, Christmas musicals, and preschool commencement ceremonies—I am going to use that event as an opportunity to share the gospel with captive audiences who have come here. You think I don’t know that some preschool parents, for example, who otherwise will never darken the door of this or any other church, do not want to listen to me preach for ten minutes? Of course I know that! But they’re the ones who put their kids in a Christian preschool! Or these families who come to an Easter egg hunt shouldn’t be surprised that the church might have something to say about the meaning of Easter while they’re here! And it has nothing to do with eggs.
I think I’m a pretty good preacher, but even if I were as good as Andy Stanley or Billy Graham, I know that a lot of people don’t want to listen to me or anyone else preach the gospel. I don’t care anymore! I am not in this to win anyone’s respect or approval—except I want to win the approval of our Lord Jesus. His is the only opinion that ultimately matters. Gone are those days when yours truly would turn up at these “community events” in order to simply “make an appearance,” or to glad-hand people, or to make a positive impression on visitors. Don’t get me wrong: I’m friendly. I’ll shake hands and smile with best of ’em. But as long as God continues to give me life and breath—which he could take away at any moment—but as long as he does give me this gift of life, I will not shrink from the opportunity to “declare the whole counsel of God!” For the sake of the souls that God has sent my way!
The Bible tells us that the gospel itself has power, through the Holy Spirit. The Bible promises that powerful things happen when we proclaim it.
And I can guess what some of you are thinking: “It’s not working, Pastor Brent! Our church isn’t growing. Attendance is the same today as it was when I started here four years ago. We’ve lost some people, we’ve gained some people. But we’ve still got about 115 showing up every Sunday. It just seems like we’re stuck in a rut.” And on this Pentecost Sunday, especially, as we think about the power that the Holy Spirit gave to the church in the Book of Acts to change people’s lives with the Good News of Jesus Christ, to make an eternal difference in their world—when we compare our experience to that early Christian experience… well… maybe we are right to ask, “What’s wrong with us?” And “Why isn’t this working?”
My first response to this question is this: it’s not up to me or any of us to “make it work.” Peter understands that in today’s scripture. What he’s describing here, when he talks about how we believers are “living stones” being built up into a “spiritual house,” is that we the members of this church are the means through which the Holy Spirit “does the work.” In Exodus, God gave Moses instructions for building the temple—or tabernacle, which was sort of a portable temple that could move with the Israelites while they wandered in the wilderness. But you may recall that God’s presence was demonstrated in a special way in this portable temple: At night, God made himself known through a pillar of fire and during the day it was a cloud of smoke. It was unmistakable that God’s presence and power was with the people.
And then, when Solomon built a permanent temple, fashioned after the tabernacle in Exodus, God was especially present in a room known as the Holy of Holies. No one could enter into it, except the high priest, once a year. It was potentially deadly for sinners to be so close to that awesome power of God that resided right there in the midst of Israel.
And remember what happened when Christ was crucified? The veil—this large, thick curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple—was torn in two. This was a symbol of the fact that because of what Christ accomplished through his atoning death—our sins were forgiven; we were made righteous in Christ—God’s presence and power would now be available to all believers in his Son Jesus—not least when God’s people gather together as the Church to worship.
When we gather as a church here at Hampton Methodist, we believe something supernatural will happen: We believe that the Holy Spirit will meet us here, and the Holy Spirit will change people’s lives! We are not promised that this will happen in the fellowship hall, or the church hallways, or the Sunday school rooms, or the nursery, or anywhere else outside of the sanctuary. But we are promised it will happen here.
I’ve told the young people who will be confirmed next Sunday that they are making a promise to God and to the church that worshiping God on Sunday morning in the sanctuary is their top priority. And today’s scripture makes it clear that there is no category of Christian in the New Testament who deliberately skips church on Sunday, or routinely does something other than gather with his brothers and sisters in Christ for worship. According to scripture, there’s no such thing as a non-church-going, non-worship-attending Christian. It’s like arguing whether you have to be baptized in order to be saved. Well, I don’t know… There’s no other kind of Christian in the New Testament except baptized Christians. Attending church and worshiping is the same. We are not being faithful to Christ—we are sinning—when we routinely choose to be somewhere other than in this sanctuary on Sunday morning. We entered into a covenant with God when we joined this church to be here.
Were we lying to God? Will our young people be lying to God next Sunday? God forbid it! But we need to help our young people! We need to set an example for them!
And you might say, “Yes, but worship is boring. I don’t like the music. I don’t like the preaching. I don’t like the people sitting next to me. They hurt my feelings.” To which I need to ask: “Yes, but do you like Jesus? Because church is not about you, and your ‘likes,’ and your preferences. It’s not even mostly about your being ‘fed.’ It’s mostly about what you bring to the table. It’s about worshiping and adoring and glorifying God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.” When we complain that we’re not getting anything out of worship, we ought to instead ask what are we putting into worship! Because we are bringing that same old boring, American middle-class, consumer-driven mentality to worship.
Today’s scripture makes it clear that we are not worship consumers. We are worship producers. Every single one of us is responsible for making worship meaningful. Because Peter tells us that every single one of us is a priest in this temple that the Holy Spirit has built with the “living stones” of our lives. What does Peter say? We are a “holy priesthood” and a “royal priesthood.”
We are all priests—you every bit as much as me. The difference is, I would rightly be fired if I didn’t show up for worship. It’s my responsibility to be here. But brothers and sisters, it’s your responsibility, too! It’s not just me saying that. It’s God’s Word. Examine it yourself and see if I’m misinterpreting it. I promise I’m not.
As priests, Peter tells us in verse 5 that we are responsible for offering “spiritual sacrifices.” The author of Hebrews describes one of these spiritual sacrifices as praise and worship: “let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” Paul tells us that another “spiritual sacrifice” is financial giving: When Paul describes the financial gift he receives from the church in Philippi, he calls it a “fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve described the spiritual sacrifice of prayer and Bible study: Peter says in verse 3 that we should long for the “pure spiritual milk” of God’s Word and spending time with God in prayer. The idea of living without those things is as unthinkable as a baby living without its mother’s milk.
Peter tells us that we offer the sacrifice of our witness. Verse 9 says we are to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of the darkness into his glorious light.” This means using our words to witness. Are we proclaiming these “excellencies” to the people whom God has put in our lives, the people we encounter, our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers, our family members?
But witnessing isn’t only words. Notice verse 12: We are to conduct our lives in such a way that non-Christians “may see [our] good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation”—that is, the day when Christ returns and we all face Final Judgment.
So… Getting back to our original question: What’s wrong with our church? To answer that question, we have to ask whether or to what extent our church looks like the church that Peter describes here: Are our lives characterized by a deep longing for God and his Word? Are we earnestly praying for our church and its ministries? Are we praying that God would use us as his “priests” and ministers in this church? Do we consider worshiping alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ on Sunday morning our urgent need, our responsibility, and our highest priority? Are we being as generous with the money that God gives us as we know we ought to be? Are we witnessing through our words and actions? Does our heart break over the thought that we aren’t doing everything we can to save people’s souls through the power of the Holy Spirit?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” then I would submit that that’s our church’s problem.
Because notice something else: Peter begins today’s scripture by saying, “as you come to him.” As we come to him, the Holy Spirit will build us up into this spiritual house so that we can accomplish all of these things. In other words, these things that we want for our church won’t just happen automatically. They’ll happen “as we come to him”—as we come to him in God’s Word, as we come to him in prayer, as we come to him the way an infant comes to its mother to nurse.
Unless or until we decide to come to him, it’s very possible that God is withholding blessings that we can’t even imagine.
Oh, God give us power by the Holy Spirit to come to you. Amen.