Series: God Is Calling. Will you answer?
Sermon: When Willpower Isnít Enough
Pastor Diane Gordon
Mt Pleasant FUMC
January 7, 2018
Scriptures: Mark 1:4-11 and Acts 19:1-7
††††††††† Happy New Year! As most of you know, I will be retiring in June, which means I have 20-some sermons to preach here in Mt. Pleasant before we move to Spring Lake, over by Grand Haven. As I have been planning for these sermons I ask myself, what is it that God would have me say to this congregation and to those who hear this sermon? This month, I am using scriptures as they are assigned by the Lectionary, but even so, I must discern what thread God would have me pick up and illuminate?
††††††††† In todayís scriptures, we read of John the Baptist baptizing people and Jesus coming to him at the Jordan River. We also read the conversation between the Apostle Paul and some early followers at Ephesus regarding their baptisms. It makes us want to ask the question, what does happen when we are baptized?†† I daresay that some people today still act as if they have received Johnís baptism and not Jesusí.
††††††††† The difference was that Johnís baptism was only about repentance and being figuratively washed of sin, leaving the people with a clean slate so they could abide by the Law of Moses. It was up to them, and them alone, to be ďgood enoughĒ for God.
On the other hand, when baptized in the name of Jesus, yes, the person is cleansed of sin but also receives the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, to transform their hearts with the love of Christ. With the power of the Holy Spirit, we are enabled beyond our human capabilities. It becomes more than just about us and our willpower. It becomes about God working through us. Thatís the power of the Holy Spirit Ė Godís Spirit Ė indwelling us.
Not many people today, or perhaps ever, get that. We grew up being taught to obey rules, and if you broke the rules you were labeled a bad boy or bad girl. It was about obeying expectations placed upon you and when you didnít, then, somehow, you were no longer welcomed by God Ė or at least thatís what those in charge at the church implied. Itís no wonder so many people have said, to heck with this noise! †If God doesnít want me the way I am, then I want nothing to do with this church foolishness! †I want nothing to do with that kind of god.
Itís a shame, really. Not the shame of those who left the church, but shame on the church for practicing the baptism of John and leaving out the power of transformation, the power of forgiveness, the power of the Holy Spirit to work through our brokenness, our flaws, our weaknesses to create Godís kingdom in the heart of the very people God has created.
All through the Bible we read stories of flawed and broken people whom God loves and uses to do great things. Those first disciples were no Rhodes scholars. They were simple people, living in a complicated time, like us.
Studies have shown that far more people believe in God than participate in religious organizations. I take this as a sign that Godís prevenient grace is still connecting with peopleís hearts. Thatís proof to me that God is doing a new thing and that new thing may have nothing to do with institutions like the church. If churches fail to connect with the baptism of Jesus and let the power of the Holy Spirit work in and through them, then they and their rule books will become history. They have become something other than the Body of Christ.
But God is not finished with us yet! God still finds a way to touch the hearts of people. The baptism of Jesus still exists, blessing with the Holy Spirit who isnít afraid to work the long game. Itís not just about rules. Itís about letting the will of God work in us, on us, and through us, over time.
The way I see it, Johnís baptism was about human willpower, while Jesusí is about Godís power at work in us. Personally, I donít have a good track record with willpower. If I did, youíd see a much thinner person standing in this pulpit! Our human hungers and urges are powerful. They are not necessarily sinful, but they are not always healthy. God desires good for his creation. Everything created was called good, and humans, ďvery good.Ē God saw that the Law needed fulfilling. Thatís why Jesus came among us, and sent us a helper, the Holy Spirit, to empower us to that which we couldnít attain on our own.
This time of year, we are all about establishing new and healthier habits. Jesus cautioned us about sweeping clean and what might happen if we fail to fill the void with new and healthier things. Hear these words of Jesus:
ďWhen an unclean spirit leaves a person, it wanders through dry places looking for a place to rest. But it doesn't find any. Then it says, ĎI'll go back to the house I left.' †When it arrives, it finds the place vacant, cleaned up, and decorated. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself. They go in and make their home there. That person is worse off at the end than at the beginning." Matthew 12:43-45 CEB
Holy habits are needed to fill the void if we hope to be a habitat for Godís Spirit. This is true both on an individual level and for us as a group. Corporately, this church and every church needs to open itself to the power of the Holy Spirit. We want to grow together to become deeply committed Christians who follow and serve Jesus Christ. Itís the most important part of our church vision.