Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
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Fixing Church 7- Spirit

Acts 2:1-21 and Luke 10:38-42

Perhaps you’ve heard this expression before: “The main thing in life is to keep the main thing the main thing.” What is the main thing of the Church? Why do we exist? Potluck dinners? Paying the bills to keep a building open? No, we are in the business of salvation. We are in the business of proclaiming the message of God’s grace and salvation available in Jesus Christ.

It’s not that we don’t care about physical needs, whether they be our own or those of others. They do matter. It is important that people have food, water, shelter, medical care, and so on. But compared to eternal things, they are less important. The temporary trials of our bodies are just that: Temporary. Our eternal spirits, our souls, matter more.

When John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, sent Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke to America as Methodist missionaries, he told them, “You have nothing to do except save souls.” Really? Nothing to do? Well, of course, there were other things to do. But they were not worth mentioning alongside the main thing, the one thing that really mattered: Getting people ready for eternity.

I think it’s reminiscent of Acts chapter 6. The Church was growing rapidly. And they were experiencing the difficulties of a growing church, chief of which was that some of the widows were not receiving food. There was a temporary, physical need that had to be addressed. It wasn’t insignificant, but the apostles said, “We should not forego proclaiming the Word of God to run a food program.” So the Church appointed capable people to do that. It was important, but not important enough to stop doing the main thing: Proclaiming the gospel.

It’s easy to get distracted, isn’t it? The early Church could have gotten distracted by a physical need, food, and lost sight of its most important work. No one would say, “Oh, that’s terrible that now they’re just focused on feeding poor people.” But would they still be the Church? No. They’d be a food pantry. The Church can run a food pantry, but the Church can’t be a food pantry, or it’s not the Church.

It’s easy to get distracted. How much of the Church’s energy and time and money and attention go into things that never save souls? We put a lot of time and energy and money into church buildings, church programs, traditions, things we’ve always done. That’s not bad if those things are making disciples, but often they don’t.

We read the story of Mary and Martha. This is actually the second time we’ve read it in the last month, but this time we’re looking at a different emphasis. Last time we looked at Mary, sitting with the disciples, learning from Jesus, becoming a disciple. This time let’s talk about Martha. She is “worried about many things, but only one thing is necessary.”

The many things weren’t wrong. She was making dinner for Jesus and the disciples. She was being a good host. The New Testament reminds us several times to be hospitable. But all this was detracting from the one main thing: Knowing Jesus and doing his will, having eternal life in him; and not just eternal life some day in the future, eternal life now. Eternal life isn’t just something we experience when we die; it’s a changed character and quality of life right now. Eternal life is also the peace, the joy, and the purpose that we find in relationship with God.

Maybe Jesus was a little bit annoyed with Martha. Here he is teaching his disciples the things of God, and Martha’s in the kitchen, banging the pots! He’s trying to give the words of life, and she’s looking for the flour!

How often are we Marthas? Obsessing over our own little affairs while something far more important is going on right in front of us? If we’re honest, that’s all of us from time to time.

Here’s the thing: We can’t have a transformed church without also having transformed people. God’s Spirit has to change us from self-filled living to Spirit-filled living. Our orientation needs to be changed, and that only happens when we open ourselves up to be transformed by God. God’s Spirit won’t change us if we are unwilling to be changed, I’m convinced of that.

We just finished praying the Lord’s Prayer a few minutes ago. I think the Lord’s Prayer is a wonderful example of Spirit-filled living. Spirit-filled living is seeking God’s glory and God’s will to be done. Spirit-filled living is dependence on God, not on our own strength or power, for our daily needs, guidance, protection, and help. Spirit-filled living is seeking peace with God and giving peace in our relationships.

This kind of living lets us see life from a different perspective, a higher perspective. When we live by the Spirit, so many of the things we worry about on a regular basis just seem insignificant.

I think people are drawn to mountaintops because of the perspective they give us. This photo was taken from the top of Maple Mountain. Maple Mountain is the second highest peak in Ontario. We went there in 2016 on a canoe trip. It took us two long days of paddling plus several hours of hiking to get there. From the top, we could see the hiking route that took us over several ridges and past a lake. We could see the lake where we started the hike and the lake where we had stayed the night before. And we could see all the lakes we had traveled through on the way there. Even though it had taken over 20 hours of travel to get there, it all seemed so small from the top. And that’s how it is: When viewed from the perspective of eternity, the things we worry about in this life all seem so small.

The Spirit-filled life draws us upward. And as we are drawn upward, we are also focused outward. We worry less about ourselves, and we think more of others. As a church is filled with the Holy Spirit, the people focus more on the needs of those outside the congregation. What are the needs of people in our community? What is God doing in their lives? How can we bring God’s grace into the lives of others?

I think the picture of a funnel is helpful here. In a funnel, you can’t go upward without also going outward. And you can’t go inward without also going downward. That’s a picture of the church. A church that obsesses over its own worries and wants is doomed to go downward. But a church can’t go upward, toward God, without also going outward, thinking more about those who are not a part of their fellowship.

Let’s close with one more word from Jesus. This is Luke 6:38: “If you give, you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use in giving – large or small – it will be used to measure what is given back to you.” If we want to receive abundant blessings from God, then we must be a church that gives abundant blessings to others.

Verse of the Day...