Sermon for August 12, 2018
Acts 20:22-24 (NIV)
22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns methat prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.
How many times in our lives do we feel compelled to do something, but fear of the unknown pushes its way into our intention? Fear of what might happen, fear our identity, which has been shaped by the memory of our past, might not live up to our calling- these all pull us out of the present. The ‘future’ has a unique nature in that it is largely made up of possibilities, probabilities for those with a quantum physics affinity. The past can be viewed as somewhat stagnant by comparison, however, it is very alive in the way it influences our current identity. The present is where the Spirit lives, and, in reality, the only one of the three that truly exists.
Why is it that Paul can feel compelled to do things which could lead to all manner of suffering, and even death? The answer lies in where the Spirit lives and hence where Paul lives also. Why is it that we sometimes become paralyzed even though we may we compelled? The answer lies in where we live- past and future. We get a glimpse of the call of the Holy Spirit and then we retreat to the distractions of our ideas of what the future and past mean to us.
In Paul’s case, he was a murderer of Christians- in the past. Imagine that for a moment. Christ has chosen a man who formerly persecuted Christians to be a messenger of His Grace! Now imagine if Paul, like many of us, allowed himself to identify with his past, with the man he was. The contrast between being called to serve Christ, and who he was, would cause chaos in his soul. I would expect that, when he saw the truth that he used to attack those who truly were children of God, he would begin to hate himself, become depressed, dejected, and possibly even try to kill himself in disgust at what he had done.
Paul, however, was renewed through Christ. If Paul had identified himself as the man he once was, he could not have been open to the Holy Spirit. He would not have been present to receive the Holy Spirit to guide him. This is a great tragedy that befalls many. We fail to realize that the Holy Spirit is ALWAYS there for us in the moment- it is we who have left. We run away, even claiming to be searching for the Holy Spirit, to the future and the past while forgetting the Spirit never left your present moment.
Paul could be compelled because he was present with the Spirit. He lived where the Spirit lived. His identity was present. Have you ever met someone who seemed to be present with you in the moment? It can be unsettling it’s so different than most of our other interactions with people who are past or present obsessed. It is also a glimpse into your own status, where you’re living.
Paul also knew that the future could hold unimaginable horrors for him if he allowed himself to be compelled to continue his ‘mission’. Paul, however, did not live in the unknown, nor in the many possibilities, of the future. He could have run away. He could have let his mind run away with all the potential bad things that could happen and be frozen in inaction. Paul, however, lived in the Spirit, the present. He identified with what is, in the present moment, and not the infinite ‘might’s’ in the future.
Trying to sleep the night before a big event, why should we feel anxious? We are in a comfortable bed, safe, well fed, and yet we might pray for our anxiety to go away even though there is no danger. We are praying from the future to a Spirit that lives in the present- just come back to the present and you will find the Spirit.
We are all well aware that this is very easily said but that the fact that some many of us don’t live this way seems like proof it just isn’t that easy. Easy versus hard is a trap. It sparks an instinct we have to ‘try’, to use our self directed effort. This isn’t bad, it’s just a clash between our practical instincts we use from a day to day task perspective and our spiritual identity. We get so used to using effort in our daily mundane tasks, picking the kids up from school, making dinner etc, that we also find it easy to apply this to spiritual matters. This is why the easy versus hard concepts about living in the moment are a trap.
The effort we expend is in leaving the present moment to run around in the future and the past. We can, quite literally, never exist in anything but the present moment. We like to fool ourselves into thinking we have to do something to get back to the present when all we have to do is stop putting forth effort and we will find ourselves, naturally, perfectly, in the moment and with the Spirit.
Paul is not a man we can easily write off. His trials, his life in communication and service to Christ, speaks to even ‘modern’ people . His past is hardcore, and his future, after these verses, even more so. Knowing that Paul, with all he had gone through, and was to go through, could receive the Spirit, in his full presence in the moment, gives our own present moment an importance we neglect far too often. This week, let us look at the ways we retreat from the present, and escape to the past and future. Let us find those moments, between our forays into an escape, when we let go of effort, allow the moment to exist for us, and find the compelling Spirit to guide us.