The Untapped Power!
2 Kings 2: 1 – 2, 6 – 14; Mark 1: 4 – 12, 21 – 27
Power over other people, power over nature, power over supernatural forces and power over oneself – such is the four-sided goal of humankind. It is quite amazing how much energy and cleverness goes into these pursuits. In contrast we feel so lost when we have no control. Powerlessness devitalizes.
Our Bible texts tell us that Elisha wanted the power of Elijah and got it. Jesus is described as a man of authority and power. In the brief extract from Mark’s account of the Gospel the authority and power of Jesus is clearly recognised by the crowds. Jesus demonstrated his authority and power in his teaching and the exorcism of evil spirits [Mk 1: 21 -27]. The Gospel according to Mark has numerous examples of this. Jesus had the authority to forgive sins [Mk 2:10] and the authority to drive out demons [Mk 3:15]. Mark gives us a very interesting insight into Jesus’ power in the story of the woman with the haemorrhage. When she touched the hem of Jesus’ garment and she was healed, and he felt the power go out from him [Mk 5: 28-30]. Jesus’ authority and power amazed people.
This instance of the woman being healed and Jesus feeling the loss of power begs the question; ‘What was the power that Jesus had?’ The Gospel writers, Mark, Matthew and Luke, each tell us that the Holy Spirit descended upon him when he was baptised [Mk 1:10; Mt 3:16; Lk3: 22]. They tell us that the Sprit directed and sustained him in the wilderness [Mk 1:12; Mt 4:1; Lk 4:1].
Now Mark does not refer to the Holy Spirit often, but he says enough to make it clear that the Spirit is working in and through Christ Jesus. However Mark is speaking indirectly about the Spirit when he refers to Jesus’ authority and power. What we find in both the Old and New Testament is that when the Spirit works in the servants of the Lord they have an authority and a power. Jesus’ authority and power is a sign of the Spirit being in him.
We witness the presence of the Spirit in others when we sense they speak with an authority and power that is healing and energising. We recognise the Spirit in ourselves when in doing the Lord’s work and we feel carried or strengthened to a point where we are surprised.
However we may not always recognise the Spirit at work amongst us because the Spirit’s work is to point us to God and Christ. The Holy Spirit’s work is partially hidden because the Spirit never points to herself. We know the Spirit by her work not her person. We identify the Spirit by looking for the Spirit’s effect upon us. That is, we are looking for those mysterious little nudges that move us to do things. We might call it our conscience but it is more than that. We experience the Spirit when something strikes us about the Bible or something is said about God. The Spirit is working within us when we are moved to be thankful to God, feel blessed in worship or convicted of wrongdoing. The Spirit is working in us when we sense our need for God.
In contrast we read about Jesus revealing the nature of God through his profound teaching, driving out of demons, his crucifixion and resurrection, but the Spirit is always pointing us to the Father and the Son. Grammatically speaking the Spirit is not the subject or the object of the sentence but the verb: the Spirit is the theological doing word. The Spirit is always helping us see the work of God in Christ in the world. The Spirit touches our hearts and minds and leads to God. Our mistake is to overlook the Spirit’s ministry or underestimate it.
From the Bible passages read today we learn a few things that help us.
We learn that the Spirit’s power is available to do God’s work, not to achieve our own ends. J. Stuart Holden wrote; God does not invest a person with power for any other work than that of the Kingdom of God. That is very important to remember.
We learn that God wants us to be powerful. It is a wonderful thought that God wants us to be strong. God wants us to have the confidence to speak God’s truth and to act for the good of others. When Jesus saw that his disciples were anxious about standing up for themselves he said to them; I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict [Lk 21:15]. If we pause in the midst of our anxiety and stop to listen to God we will not be disappointed for God’s wisdom will come. In my early Christian years I recall doing just that – praying for the Spirit’s guidance – and at times being amazed at what I said.
Every Sunday morning we see the Spirit’s work helping us worship. I know that to be true. I know because there are times when I feel far from being ready and willing to be here, but God honours my faithfulness. I know that the worship leaders increasingly are experiencing God’s strengthening presence. I also sense that the Spirit works amongst you. Sometimes it might be more correct to say to me at the door, not ‘thank you, Peter’, but one of the following.
‘Thanks to the Spirit for speaking to me through the sermon.’
‘Praise God as the message spoke to me.’
‘God spoke to me this morning.’
The great joy in my ministry is seeing the work of the Spirit in you and watching your growth and maturity in Christ.
Jesus’ metaphor of the Vine & Branches found in the Gospel according to John 15 helps us understand the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus spoke of how a vine becomes productive. Firstly, the vine grower looks after the vine by feeding and pruning it. Jesus wanted us to understand that his followers, like the branches or members of the vine plant, only grow and produce fruit if they are connected to the plant and are nurtured and pruned. The analogy is obvious. Jesus is the vine and we’re the branches. We’re members of the vine, that is, members of Christ Jesus. We don’t have a membership in the vine. We are part of it. It is important to remember our membership is not in an institution but through being a part of Christ’s body on earth. Jesus said to his followers; “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” [John 15: 1-9]
Now Jesus doesn’t stretch the analogy any further because he wants to highlight the importance of us abiding in him. However it is reasonable to reflect further on this metaphor of the Vine and Branches. The first thing to note is that this metaphor is set in middle of the larger conversation about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in John chapters 14 -16. Jesus tells his followers that the Spirit will help them follow him and empower them for mission. Secondly, the metaphor of Vine & Branches makes no mention of the sap of the Vine. So we can rightly say, as Jesus does, that the Father is the vine grower and Jesus is the vine, but what makes the vine and the branches work together is the sap. A plant’s sap conveys moisture and nutrients through the plant stem to the tips of the plant. That is what the Holy Spirit does for the Church – the people of God. God the Father is the Vine grower, God the Son the Vine, we’re the branches and the Holy Spirit is the sap making it all work. The metaphor of the Vine & Branches extended shows how God works with us. Without the sap of the vine running through the plant from root to the branch tips the plant is nothing. Likewise, without the Spirit the Church is life-less for it is the breath of God that enlivens the Church. The Spirit is the sap of the Church.
I pray that we might begin to see the thoughts that nudge us towards love and justice for others, the words of heart-felt praise that we utter in worship, and the feeling of belonging we have at the Communion Table are all the work of the Holy Spirit. I pray that we become like Elisha and persistently seek the untapped power of the Holy Spirit so that we might together stand tall as ministers in God’s vineyard.
Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC: 30/06/2019