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Holy Spirit - Developing Relationship Reliance

Jesus invites us to do something radical — live counter-culturally in the world. Don’t do as the world does, trust me as I show you the way forward. This is the basic arc of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6-8).

Learn to surrender. Become people of intersection, become people where heaven touches earth. This happens as we surrender ourselves to Jesus, trust him and his Father, and allow that trust to inform and shape the way we that we live our lives.

Love your neighbor as yourself and love your enemies too. Develop deep empathy for others because you have been deeply loved. Develop self-awareness, so that you can see yourself soberly, as someone who needs to loved; someone worthy of love. When you fail, which you will, do not be afraid, God still loves you. Admit your wrongs, your missing of the mark, your sins, and repent, make amends where necessary, and seek forgiveness always. When you are wronged or hurt, don’t seek revenge; instead work to forgive, as you have been forgiven. Trust in God, seek humility, and be faithful. When we do these things, we become people of intersection, people who overlap the presence of heaven in the reality of earth. Friends, this is how we are changed, and incrementally, how we join with in God in his mission to restore what was broken and to help and change the world. Jesus knew we would need help, that’s why he says in John 16:7, “that’s why I’m going away,” Jesus says, “and my Father will send the Holy Spirit.”

What was Jesus’ aims in sending the Holy Spirit? It was to reveal to us the relational nature of our connection with God. In a phrase, its “relational reliance.” When others questioned Jesus about his authority and power, in John 5:19-20, Jesus would reply by saying, I only do what I see my father doing.

Jesus’ invitation (in John 16:7) to partner with the Holy Spirit matters as much today as it did on Pentecost because what the Holy Spirit brings to us ordinary human beings, living our ordinary lives, coping daily with all of the ordinary ups and downs of life, is what we all desire: hope and freedom.

Hope, Freedom, and Liberation

Have you ever heard someone say, “That’s just the way the world is?” There is a hopelessness in that phrase, a sense of powerlessness. The fact that we can’t change the world on our own can lead to resignation; there is nothing I can do. Which is why we need relational reliance on the Holy Spirit. God says that with the Holy Spirit we can do something (Romans 8:26-27) and that we are never alone.

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don't know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit intercedes for us believers in accordance with the will of God.

And God seems to be quite satisfied with a bunch of little somethings.

Embedded in the gospel message is a theology of liberation. Saint Paul, says as much in Galatians 5:1,

1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

Paul is only echoing what Jesus said when he shared his kingdom agenda in Luke 4:18-19:

18“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

The poor were liberated.

The blind were liberated.

The oppressed were liberated.

The prisoners were liberated.

The communities that we live in, serve, and minister to are desperate as ever for the church, and for those of us in the church, to imagine a reality where we can come alive to new possibilities. That we would reject the idea that that’s just how the world is. That when we partner with the Holy Spirit we never act alone.

When epidemics or plagues hit ancient cities, killing up to 5000 people a day, those with means including the leaders and physicians would flee the city; however, historians like Rodney Stark (from the University of Washington) noted that it was the Christians who stayed behind in the city to care for those suffering from the effects of plagues (smallpox or measles.)

I want to posit that these Christians understood their call to trust Jesus, what we call discipleship today, meant that first they belonged to God. I think this radical way of seeing themselves and their relationship with God fueled their willingness to stay behind, care for the sick and dying, risking getting sick and dying themselves. It was just one person, partnering with the Holy Spirit seeing another person, trusting God. What would take for you to stay behind to care for the sick and dying?

For most of my life, I’ve found myself in the “left-behind” category, needing those with means and power to see me, love me, and understand that I’m inextricably linked to their humanity. I am here today because of someone’s relational reliance on the Holy Spirit.

When I was in middle school, I met George Kettle, a relator who was convicted by the Spirit of God to help inner-city children break the cycle of poverty they found themselves in. He didn’t know immediately what to do, so he started a bank account called, “God’s Account.” He would later use the money saved in this account to help me and 60 other students at my middle school go to college through the “I Have A Dream” foundation. He recruited nine additional sponsors to the program and adopted a second class of students. Mr. Kettle’s obedience to the Holy Spirit changed my life.

This, you could say, has always been our call as the people of God, to learn to love like God does. To learn to live as God does. To learn to see the world as God does. To realize that we do not act alone when we partner with the Holy Spirit.

13But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. John 16:13

Who in your life today would benefit from you seeing them and proclaiming good news to them? Would you do something risky? Would you take a moment and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you those in your life who need liberation?

Let me tell you another story: During our second ministry day in Dehradun, India we were picked up by a local pastor who our church has helped to plant five churches among the snake charming community–a community he grew up in. He saw and experienced first-hand the devastation caused in this community when the government banned their primary source of income: snake charming. In partnership with the Holy Spirit he had a vision: “Build a church to help liberate your community.” He took his resources, plus those we sent, and did just that. He purchased a building and transformed it into a church, which also doubles as a training center, a youth conference center, and a hostel. One person at a time, he is transforming his community.

Are we making space to see those held in bondage (physical, spiritual, economic, emotional) as our neighbors? Are we considering what it might mean to love them as we love ourselves? Do we see the other as sharing in our humanity?

As a recent board meeting, I learned about a program in Washtenaw County called Summer18. It’s a program that runs in partnership with Michigan Works! to help youth aged 16-25 avoid the streets during the summer. The program partners with 50 or so businesses in the county to help these youth find summer jobs. When I heard about this program, immediately, I thought our church should join this program. It would be a way for us to impact someone’s life.

It’s not saving the world, but it is investing in someone’s future. At our board meeting, we decided to vote to apply to participate in this program. Then I shared about this program with our leaders at Cultivate Vineyard. A few weeks later, a congregant sent me a note. This congregant said, “I can’t neighbor with someone who is on the Eastern edge of the county, trapped in a hopeless situation, trapped in poverty, trapped in under-resourced schools, so I want to pay for the church’s participation in the Summer18 program because that’s how I can become a neighbor to the person matched at the church.” This is the relational reliance on the Holy Spirit. This congregant allowed the Holy Spirit to speak, reveal truth, and to activate their willingness to partner with the church in transforming someone’s live.

15“If you love me, keep my commands. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:15–18)

When you know that God holds your life in his hands, it can vanquish fear, it can power love, it can overcome injustice and suffering–all because you belong to God and are willing to act on that truth.

Let me tell you another story of Holy Spirit relational reliance. I had a conversation recently with a couple who raised five kids of their own, have three grandchildren, and should be transitioning to retirement; but nope, they announced to me that they are becoming foster parents again so that can foster kids who are starting to age out of the foster care system.

So many of you in the church are doing the work of ministry by loving those at the margins, those left behind, humanizing those who have been dehumanized. This happens when you support single parents and their children. This happens when you fight human trafficking. This happens as you visit those incarcerated. This happens when you welcome those isolated. This happens when you care for the lonely and isolated. When you foster and adopt children who have been abandoned or left behind.

When we see the world hurting, broken, stuck, despairing, our response as Christians isn’t, “That’s just the way the world is.” Instead, we partner with the Holy Spirit who reveals all truth to us, empowering us to imagine a reality that is infused with God’s loving presence and mercy, announcing liberation to those held in bondage, person by person, transforming the way the world works.

Are we willing to live infused by the power of the Holy Spirit, the same power that raised Jesus for the dead? Are we willing to live as resurrected people, announcing life instead of death, peace instead of anxiety, freedom instead of bondage?

Friends, I want us to become the people of intersection, where we bring the reality of heaven into God’s good creation, and it requires a reliance on the Holy Spirit.

I want us to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s ability to reveal all truth to us. To reveal that the world isn’t the way that is, that we, the people of God, through our simple acts of obedience, can, in fact, transform the world. All it takes is relational reliance on the Holy Spirit.

In the Vineyard, we have a simple prayer, “Come, Holy Spirit.”

Would you stand with me?

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