Waking up to a purposeful life (01/28/2017)

Read John 3:1-17
We continue this Sunday, exploring a book by Kelly Fryer titled, “Reclaiming the ‘E’ Word.” And the chapter today is titled, Waking Up to a Purposeful Life. What she writes about in this chapter is about waking up to a life lived as a follower of Jesus.
When Jesus called those first disciples, he said, “Follow me.” The Bible says they were “disciples,” a word that literally means “students.” For three years they left everything and literally followed Jesus around and learned from him. They could see him, touch him, hear what he taught and see what he did. And so Jesus, after his resurrection, appeared to those first disciples and said “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21) In other words, do as you have seen me do. It made perfect sense.
But today, we have Jesus’ Spirit, but not his physical presence. The world today has changed from the days of the Bible. And we wonder how we can follow Jesus? I mean, follow him where? And what does that look like? And how does that happen?
We have two bible readings this morning about the Holy Spirit, that I think can help to answer those questions.
In our gospel reading, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born from above, meaning the Holy Spirit. Another translation has Jesus telling Nicodemus that he must be born again. Jesus is talking about a life that is transformed, made new, reborn, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit dwells in us. God speaks through his prophet Ezekiel, in the Old Testament, of a future day when all of God’s people will receive his Spirit. God says in Ezekiel chapter 36, “I will put my Spirit within you.” Jesus says to his disciples, following his resurrection, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The Apostle Paul, in his letter called First Corinthians, says to the church, “Do you not know that God’s Spirit wells in you?”
The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ gift to us, dwelling in us. The Spirit helps us to bloom into beautiful people whose lives bear fruit in the form of a developing character that reflects, more and more, the mind and the purposes of Jesus our Lord.
And that’s where our reading from Galatians is so helpful, where the Apostle Paul talks about living by the Spirit. We read this verse: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
The Apostle Paul draws a contrast between the acts of the sinful nature, and of the fruit of the Spirit. One is opposed to the purposes of Jesus. The other reflects the purposes of Jesus.
Paul has a whole list of words for the sinful nature, what he calls “the works of the flesh.” What does that mean?
What Paul has in mind are actions that fragment, tear down, and isolate people from each other; actions that set people in conflict against each other, actions that destroy community.
Think of broken relationships, or divided families. Think of political factions. Think of how mean people can be to others. Think of envy, anger, jealousy. Think of selfish actions. Think of actions that hurt others.
On the other hand the fruit of the Spirit builds up, it unites; it is a healing force that brings together what once was separate, a healing force that creates community.
The acts of the sinful nature focus on me, myself and I. They isolate me and seek to place me as the Lord of my life. On the other hand, the fruit of the Spirit focuses on Jesus as Lord, and seeks his help to equip us for his purposes in our lives. The Holy Spirit is at work in us – every one of us – changing the focus from self to Jesus. The Holy Spirit seeks to change our attitudes about life, the things we value, and the way we think and believe. The Holy Spirit seeks to shape and mold us. The Holy Spirit seeks to focus our minds and hearts on Jesus, so that we can live toward others in ways that reflect the mind of Jesus. It’s the Spirit’s work in us.
I’m so thankful that it’s not all up to me to live the Christian life. Because, if that’s the way it was, all on my shoulders, I would certainly fail. On my own power, I can’t decide to become more loving, or more joyful, or more patient. I can’t produce that spiritual fruit on my own. Using the words of Jesus to Nicodemus, I can’t choose to be born from above, or born again, by my own effort.
It’s the Spirit’s work.
But we can open ourselves to it, and we can pay attention to where the Spirit in leading us.
How do we do that?
First, look to Jesus; Look to him in his Word in the Bible.
See him act out of love, for you and for the world. Pray for his Spirit to form in you the kind of character you see in him. Watch for the ways he is teaching you and forming you into his disciple. Be ready to participate in his work, his ministry, in the world. This is what God wants in our lives. We can wake up to God’s purposes for us.
And second, notice in those stories in the Bible, where Jesus goes to do the majority of his ministry. It’s not in the temple, it’s not in the synagogues – the churches of his day. Instead, as the author of our book notes, Jesus did most of his important work “out there” where people live, work, and hang out.
And it’s the same way for us.
I really like what Jesus says to Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it chooses…so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (3:8) In other words, the work of the Spirit is not limited to Church activities and Sunday mornings, but is also “out there” where Jesus is – in our daily lives and daily encounters with people.
And that brings us to the third thing: when we’re “out there” where Jesus is, in our daily lives, look for ways to participate in his mission and ministry.
I like the way Kelly Fryer states God’s purpose for us in this chapter of her book. She writes: “God is on a loving mission to bless, save, reconcile, heal, and set free the whole world. We are called to participate in that mission, everywhere we go, in everything we do. This is the evangelical purpose of the Christian life.” (pg 61)
I think it’s helpful to simply ask, each day, “Where do I see God today?” And, “How can I participate in that?”
Maybe you see God in a kind action directed to you. Well, why not get involved in what God is doing, and pass that on, as Jesus disciple, with a kind action directed toward someone else?
Maybe you see God in a Men’s group, or in a quilting group, or in some other serving group. Or, maybe you see God in the work of the local Food Shelf. Well, why not get involved in what God is doing and ask to help in some way? And then, why not share this insight with someone else and invite them to join you?
We can wake up to a purposeful life, and we can wake up to our evangelical identity.
Every day, the Holy Spirit is teaching us, and pointing us toward God’s purposes in the world. We simply need to pay attention and respond, to exercise the spiritual muscles that the Holy Spirit will grow within us. Spiritual muscles are like body muscles. If we use them, they stay strong; if we work out, they get stronger.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Think about these things. The Spirit is working all these in you.
Let’s pray … Lord Jesus, through your cross and resurrection you have made us your own – you have claimed us for all eternity. We thank you and praise you for your amazing gift. Now, we pray that you would direct us according to your purposes. By your Holy Spirit working in us, help us to wake up to a purposeful life, in you – following you and participating in your mission in the world. Mold and fashion and direct our lives in ways that we can serve you and live for your glory. We pray this in your name. Amen


About pastorjohnwaseca

ELCA Lutheran Pastor
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