Moved By the Spirit

(1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24)



The concept of the Holy Spirit is sometimes a difficult one for some people to grasp, particularly among those who do not believe or who are not deep in their faith.  The thought of a Holy Ghost coming to you when you least expect it, wanting you to do something is something we have a difficult time wrapping our heads around, and when you tell someone, you were moved by the Spirit they may give you a strange look or think quietly to themselves that they need to give you some space.  And I’ll admit that for the first sixty or so years of my life I never really gave the Spirit a lot thought as I didn’t see much evidence of the Spirit working in my life or asking me to do anything spiritually motivated.


But then I got appointed as your pastor almost eight years ago.  I figured it was part of God’s plan to keep me busy and out from underneath Teresa’s feet as I had been retired for about eighteen months and was running out of constructive things to do.  When I met with the Staff Parish Relations Committee, they asked me an interesting question.  They asked what did I see as my vision for the church under my leadership?  I hadn’t really given it any thought, but I responded that as their former elected prosecutor I knew that the Tri-Area was ground zero for homelessness, unemployment, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic violence, and petty crime and that the county was not doing anything to address it, but that we would.  I asked them to give me six months to put a plan together and I’d come back with some recommendations.  They seemed to like the answer and agreed.  Well, that did it.  God turned the Holy Spirit loose on me and we began laying the groundwork to be a renewed presence for God in this community.  And I’ll say this for the Spirit, he or she pretty much left me alone during the day to tend to church business, but it was and is in the middle of the night when I get my Spirit visits.  It’s like I’m not doing anything but sleeping so, says the Spirit, let me tell you about another idea I want you to float by the leadership.  And as hard as I tried to brush off the Spirit and go back to sleep, I couldn’t.  So, I took these ideas to the church leadership who approved and our congregation, which is Spirit-led agreed, and, by faith, we have done what many have thought was not possible for such a small and mature congregation.  When asked how we do what we do, I just tell them we are moved by the Spirit.


And being moved by the Spirit, not brushing off the Spirit, is what the Apostle Paul is talking about in our scripture reading for today.  Paul was writing to the Thessalonian church that had recently heard the gospel and turned to God.  They, like many of the other churches knew of Jesus’ promise to return and expected it to be during their lifetime so they just had to wait and go through the motions of faithful church attendance.  Now, I find no fault in that belief because the return of a crucified Christ is a challenging concept to fully understand.  They knew about the Spirit but, to their way of thinking, the Spirit, the Advocate, the Counselor, was sent to get them ready.  They probably didn’t give a second thought to getting anybody else ready other than family and friends.  And here we are two thousand years later, and some people still believe that the Spirit’s sole job is to get them ready for Jesus’ return and everyone else is on their own.  If they want to find Jesus, they can just come to church.

Paul begins this portion of his letter by saying: Rejoice always.  Pray continually.  Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  Paul says a mouthful there.  He doesn’t say hang in there, it won’t be much longer, Christ will be back very soon.  He’s telling them to hang on to what is good.  He’s telling them to rejoice in their new-found freedom from sin.  Rejoice in their new life of peace and joy.  And he tells them to pray continually because God wants a dialogue with them.   God wants them to bring whatever is troubling them to him.  God wants them to know that prayer is a way to bring focus to the problem, or what really is at issue.  He’s reminding them to give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for them which may seem strange to them as they were currently going through the same persecutions other churches were experiencing.  Why, they ask, should I thank God for my suffering?  Well, you’re not, you’re giving thanks that God is with you during these times of trials and tribulation.


And then Paul says: Don’t suppress the Spirit.  Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good.  Yeah, don’t blow off the Spirit when you are approached with an idea.  Don’t be one of those people who say that they have already done enough and it’s time for someone else to step forward, rather than saying they might be a little older and slower but there is still something they can do.  With God there is always something that needs doing and, besides, if God wanted someone else to do it, he’d have the Spirit come to them.  And, if someone comes to you with a Spirit-inspired idea don’t brush them off.  Hear them out and don’t throw a wet blanket on their enthusiasm.  Ask: “How can I help?”  Now that’s not to say you have to embrace every idea that is floated your way.  Some are kind of out there and some come in the form of a suggestion as to what you ought to do without an offer of help or support.  Those are the ‘”Yotters”, that mythical creature that swims up next to you and says: “You ought to do this,” and then swims off never to be seen again or until another idea bubbles to the surface.  Paul tells us to look closely at these spirit-inspired ideas and go with what is appropriate for the time and place which, to me, means that we vet what we do in our mission field and whether or not it is the best use of our resources.  You know, what would Jesus do? What has amazed me is that when we take on one of these projects God always supplies what we need and the disciples to get it done in a manner that brings him glory and thanks from people who are glad we exist.  You know, like warm clothes and hot soup.


Paul then says to avoid every kind of evil.  Paul knows there are all sorts of temptations out there meant to distract and derail us from doing God’s work and his will.  People seem to take some sort of sick pleasure in seeing us succumb to temptation and falling from grace.  It’s as if it makes them feel better about their shortcomings or the fact that they aren’t doing anything and this gives them the justification to blow off the Spirit, to turn their backs on God and Jesus’ supreme sacrifice.


The Apostle closes out his letter by praying: Now, may the God of peace himself cause you to be completely dedicated to him; and may your spirit, soul, and body be kept intact and blameless at our Lord Jesus Christ’s coming.  The one who is calling you is faithful and will do this.  When Paul references the person’s spirit, soul, and body he’s talking about the total package, your entire being as a person.  It’s his way of saying that God must be involved in every aspect of your life.  It’s wrong to think or assume that we can separate our spiritual life from everything else.  Christ is interested in us as a total person, flaws and warts included, not just the religious part of us.


As Christians, as true Followers of the Way of Jesus Christ, in all circumstances we are to be constantly, always, continually, looking for ways to rejoice, pray, and give thanks.  And when it comes to prophecy, that is Spirit-inspired messages, we are not to suppress the Spirit by ignoring or disclaiming this divine communication but are to test whether the message is truly from God.  And, in doing this, our joy, prayers, and thankfulness should not fluctuate with our circumstances or feelings.  Obeying these three commands; be joyful, pray continually, and give thanks often goes against our natural inclination of taking care of self above all else.  It takes us out of our comfort zone.  It challenges the status quo with which we are okay with.  But when we make that conscious decision to do what God says, through the urging of the Spirit, we will begin to see people in a new perspective, as God sees them.  And when we gladly do God’s will, we will find it easier to be joyful and thankful, and easier to be moved by the Spirit.


Let us pray.


Come, holy Comforter, thy sacred witness bear in this glad hour.  Thou who almighty art, now rule in every heart, and never from us depart, Spirit of power.  Yes, gracious and all-loving God, come to us during this season of Advent as we celebrate not only the birth of your Son, but of his life and promised return.  And O how we praise you for the gift of the Holy Spirit sent to guide us and move us in your service as we do your work and your will in preparation for the return of our Lord and Savior.  Come, thou almighty King, help us thy name to sing, help us to praise!  In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.