May 1, 2016 sermon
Acts 16:9-15/ John 14:23-29
Works of the Holy Spirit
There are a lot of things going on in the scripture readings we did today; different topics and stories. Let’s be clear at the beginning that this sermon will ultimately be about the work of the Holy Spirit in our ministry and mission works. We start today’s scriptural journey with our Methodist Father John Wesley; because he has a lot in common with Apostle Paul, and also because I love him so much!
When Wesley was a young Anglican minister, he had a chance to go to an American colony to serve. During his journey to America, there was a scary storm at sea and everyone including Wesley was, well, scared. Then he witnessed some of his travelling companions, Moravians, singing and praying like nothing was going on. He witnessed that no man, woman, or child among them was afraid to die. Struck by their incredibly strong faith, from then on, Wesley kept close to Moravians, and his theology was greatly influenced by them. In case you’ve never heard of them, Moravians are an old German Christian group that teaches, among other things, simplicity and happiness of faith. Can you imagine the kind of peace that these Moravians felt in them in the face of death? They believed in God’s love and grace so strongly that whether they would live or die, they were at peace. Very impressive indeed.
In the text we read in the Acts of the Apostles, Paul is on a mission trip. He sees a vision where a man asks him to come to Macedonia. Through his diverse mission trips, he goes to different places being guided by the Holy Spirit. In today’s text, he and his companions are guided by a vision of a man in Macedonia; but when they get there, what they find is no man like in the vision, and no proper synagogue where they can pray and preach. Instead, they meet some women by the water.
Both Paul’s mission trips and Wesley’s errand preaching teach us the importance of flexibility and keeping an open mind. Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter 9, “To the Jews, I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so I might win those under the law… I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.” In today’s story, Paul experienced surprises on his journey and had to adapt to them; such as preaching to women instead of men, or preaching and worshipping in unconventional places. When John Wesley started traveling all over England on his horse to preach, and gathering more followers and requests from different regions for him to come and preach, he had to adapt to the innovative idea of letting lay people preach (because he can’t go to all places; he only has one body). The Church of England was completely outraged by this, and started arresting lay preachers. According to the Wesley movie, it seems like they even beat some of the lay preachers to death, although I’m not entirely sure if this is historically accurate. By the way, another Methodist fact; these errand preachers of the early Methodist movement were called the circuit riders. But the point is; in the mission works and ministry of the Church, it is important to remember that different people and circumstances require different approaches and solutions. There is no such thing as “one-size-fits-all” method.
Another unusual thing Paul does in today’s story is accepting Lydia’s hospitality after the conversion of her whole household. Peter’s usual way was being independent and not having to rely on people’s help on his mission trips. But by receiving Lydia’s hospitality, she and the other Christians in Philippi became an important resource for Paul’s future missions.
In John 14, Jesus promises his disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit since he will not be with them forever. In verse 25, he defines the identity of the Holy Spirit as “the Advocate”. Then he adds that this “Advocate” will teach them everything and remind them of all that he has said to them. It is the Holy Spirit who whispers to us, “Now, now, don’t be like that. Jesus taught you to (blah blah blah), remember?” Then he says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you”. Huh? Why would he mention peace in the middle of his Holy Spirit speech? It’s because the works of the Holy Spirit result in peace. This peace of which Jesus speaks is not about the absence of tribulation or warfare. This peace is, first of all, about the kind of peace that the Moravians demonstrated on the ship with Wesley. “Me and my God, we are so tight that even the prospect of death doesn’t shake me. I feel peaceful”; it’s this kind of peace we are talking about. After struggling for a long time trying to acquire the Moravian simplicity and happiness, our Father Wesley succeeded. So at his death bed, he was able to confess, “The best of all is, God is with us!”
But there is another aspect of peace I should mention in the context of the works and mission of the church; it’s that true peace is not possible without justice. When Western missionaries went to spread the gospel in Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world, they usually went with colonialism. According to my experience in Kenya, the British has colonized the people so well that even now, long after the British left, they are perpetuating the colonial mind. People’s minds are still so colonized that whenever they have needs, the first thing they would do is to beg the outside world. Think about what the North American churches did to the First Nations people. We have gone to them with a colonial mind too. Because there is no peace without justice, the United Church of Canada’s effort to reconcile with the First Nations people of Canada comes with giving the First Nations people proper voices and learning about their culture.
Let us think about the outreach ministry we do and the people we serve. Think about the refugee families we are trying to bring, although this project is not the ministry of the Church per se. Whether they are our local people or outside our community and country, whether we are trying to bring the gospel of Jesus to them or fulfilling our Christian responsibility by helping the needy, let us remember to humbly understand and respect them. We can no longer try to change who they are and impose our ways; we can no longer say, “Receive Jesus Christ (and our Western ways) or go to hell, you heathens!” Rather, we should quietly and humbly shine the light of Christ on them with our words and acts of love, and let them experience for themselves the unconditional and undiscriminating love of God.
God’s love is just. We cannot spread God’s love by exercising our power and privilege over the people we serve. If the Holy Spirit is our guide, we wouldn’t think we are superior for who we are or what we believe in. If the Holy Spirit is our guide, we wouldn’t be driven by a colonial mind or a “savior complex” in serving others. Let us be the light of Christ that humbly shines in the world so that people may witness the love of God through our words and actions. This is how the Holy Spirit works; by inspiring us to be the light of Christ.
Rev. Sunny Kim