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"Sculptor Spirit"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on May 26, 2019
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Sculptor Spirit)
Copyright 2019 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: John 16:7-15

I was baptized into the Christian faith as an infant and raised in the faith. By the time I got to junior high, I was getting bored with church. I remember we would go every Sunday. My parents would make us go, no discussion. And my mind would wander in between the standing up and the sitting down. We went to a pretty formal church. Standing up and sitting down, up and down. And doubt began to overshadow faith for me at that time. And when I got to my freshman year in college, I was in a full spiritual eclipse. I was trying to make the world revolve around me. Thought I looked pretty stellar on the outside, but internally I was imploding.

Someone had suggested that I read a book titled Mere Christianity by a man named C.S. Lewis. Reading that book, all this began to dawn on me. The things that he said about self-centeredness being the most dangerous sin, really the root of all sin, those words hit me like a meteorite.

At this point, I started going back to church to worship. And the liturgy, that formal service that I was once so bored with, breathed life. It shined with new light, and I heard the Gospel again. This promise that I'd heard over and over again, it had been pushed on me like your grandmother pushes seconds of casserole on you, "Here, have some more. You're a growing boy. Have some more." I'd had more helpings of grace and forgiveness than I could stomach, but this time when I heard it, at 19 and a half years old, it had never tasted so good. And I had never been so hungry, I couldn't hear it enough, that this promise, that the commitment the Father of Jesus had made to me in my Baptism, He hadn't turned away from that. I had turned away, but He hadn't. And I delighted that I could still be, that I still am, a child of the living God through this Jesus. And I noticed something in me was changing. My motivations, my affections, my whole thought life started to revolve around this Jesus. I was becoming one of those weird Jesus-y people, but I didn't care. It was all I wanted to do, and I had Bible studies that I attended and prayer meetings and worship services. And we were serving and witnessing, all I wanted to do. All I want to do is make Jesus famous.

That's my testimony of some of the Holy Spirit's work in my life. What is your testimony? Maybe the Holy Spirit has worked in you in a different way. Or maybe you're not sure if He's working in you at all. Maybe you're not even sure if you believe in a Holy Spirit. If you are skeptical, I don't have a magic formula to convince you. But I do have the evidence of the Holy Spirit's work in my life and in the lives of other people. And most importantly, definitively, conclusively, the Holy Spirit's work in the life of Jesus recorded in the Bible.

So, even if you're only a little curious about the work of the Holy Spirit, I invite you to listen to the evidence, listen to the testimonies, the stories. Maybe you've tried this and what you found there was a bit confusing. The way Christians talk about the work of the Holy Spirit is all over the map, it is confusing. And so in this message, I hope we can do just two things: first, appreciate the variety and, second, discern the unity.

So first, to appreciate the variety of ways that Christ followers testify to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, while also number two, discerning the unity of what makes that authentic Christ-centered talk about the Holy Spirit. In other words, what we're trying to do here is get a clear picture of the work of the Holy Spirit.

To borrow an image from an ancient Christian teacher, the work of the Holy Spirit is like water for a flower garden. So, one in the same water brings forth white in the lily, and red in the rose, and purple in the violet. So also, among the followers of Jesus—there are a variety of gifts and service and activities, yet one and the same Spirit, one and the same God who works all of them in everyone.

Read 1 Corinthians 12. So, if we can get this clear picture of the work of the Spirit, it will help us discern the unity in Jesus, without being too confused by the variety of what we see. We don't see flowers of all the same shapes and size and color. When I listen to the testimony of people who follow Jesus and have discerned the work of the Spirit in their lives, I see variety. I do not see uniformity.

To illustrate this variety, I'll give you four images. First, the Holy Spirit—He works like a tear jerker, second, like a cheerleader, third, a miracle worker, and fourth, machine grease. We'll take each one of these images in turn.

So first, in some testimonies, the Holy Spirit sounds something like a tear jerker. You probably have a genre of movie that is a tear jerker for you. Maybe it's a romantic comedy, maybe movies about sports or movies about dogs. For me, it's any movie that involves a dad, or a father figure, who has completely emotionally neglected his family. In a moment of awareness sees this and sees them suffer because of the lack of his involvement, is crushed because he sees this and realizes they still love him and want to be with him. And then he resolves to do better. And there's almost always a moment where one of the children looks up into daddy's eyes, tears welling up, and says more or less, "I just want to be like you. I just want to be with you." Then they roll the piano music, and that's when I have to start choking back tears.

In some personal testimonies, the Holy Spirit sounds like this, like a tear jerker. He shows them their sins; He crushes them with an awareness of their wretchedness. He crucifies them with Christ, and then He brings them to tears with God's forgiveness and a second chance in the resurrection of Jesus. Sometimes the Holy Spirit sounds like a tear jerker.

Second, in some personal testimonies, the Holy Spirit sounds like a cheerleader. For example, baseball is, I won't say it's a boring game, but it's got its slower moments. When I was little, my family used to go watch the local minor league team play. And there were moments in the game when I was bored to tears. And almost on cue, who would come out? The mascot with all his friends. See, baseball doesn't have cheerleaders like football has cheerleaders, but they've got mascots and mascots are cheerleaders in their own right. And the mascot would come out and shoot T-shirts into the crowd and do a dance off and race around the outfield. And that's the mascot's job is to get everybody energized and reengaged with the game.

In some personal testimonies, that's what the Holy Spirit sounds like, a cheerleader. Before the Spirit came, they were lifeless; they were disengaged and aimless. But then He came, and He fired them up with passion for the Lord's work. Sometimes the Holy Spirit sounds like a cheerleader.

Number three, sometimes the Holy Spirit is a miracle worker. Dr. Nik Ripken was a missionary in the Middle East. And in his book, The Insanity of God, he tells the story of a Muslim man's conversion to faith in Jesus the Christ. The man's name was Pramana. Pramana was fasting and waiting on a revelation from God. One night, a voice without a body spoke to him: "Find Jesus. Find the Gospel." Pramana had never heard of Jesus before. But the voice continued, "Get up now and cross over the mountains. Walk down the coast and at daybreak you will reach a city, and there two men will meet you and they will bring you to a house. Knock on the door and when the door opens, tell the person who answers why you have come."

So Pramana got up in the middle of the night and walked until morning. And he reached a city where two men met him, and they showed him the way to a house. And he knocked on the door and an old man opened it and Pramana blurted out, "I've come to find Jesus! I have come to find the Gospel!" And the old man grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him inside and slammed the door and said to him, "Is this some kind of trap? Do you take me for a fool?"

Pramana was confused. He said, "Sir, I've just met you. I do not know whether or not you are a fool, but this is why I have come." And he told him the story, and it turns out that that man was one of a handful of Christ followers in the whole country. And apparently the Holy Spirit of the living God had led Pramana to him and he shared the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus the Christ crucified and risen for forgiveness of sins and new life starting now. And Pramana became a follower of Jesus. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is a miracle worker. Just read the book of Acts in the New Testament.

Number four, sometimes the Holy Spirit is like a machine grease. Many Christians are not comfortable talking about the work of the Spirit in their lives. Especially when it sounds a little too supernatural, and a little too emotional. And if you listen to their stories of faith, they won't often mention the Holy Spirit directly, but He's still there under the surface, like machine grease.

Here's what I mean. How do you recognize a mechanic? You look at his hands. You see the machine grease under his fingernails and in all of the cracks and crevices of his hands. Through years of labor, his vocation has left a mark on his hands. So also with the followers of Jesus, through years of gathering with other saints to worship Jesus, years of laboring with the liturgy, standing up and sitting down, and singing hymns, and listening to sermons, and reciting prayers, and receiving the Sacraments week in and week out, the Holy Spirit has left a mark on them.

Now it might not be obvious, but if you studied them, if you watched the way they live and the way they serve, the way they suffer, and the way they celebrate, you will see it. Like lines of grease in a mechanic's hands, the Spirit has left His mark.

These four images are not conclusive; they are not comprehensive, but they are enough to suggest a variety of ways that the Spirit works in the lives of the followers of Jesus. Some Christians focus on the formal, regulated side of the Christian tradition. And they tend to be suspicious of strong emotions or stories of bodiless voices in the night. Other Christians focus on the mystical, the spontaneous side of the Christian tradition. And when they see people going through the motions of a formal worship service, it looks lifeless and mechanical, void of the Spirit.

So here's the problem, how do we appreciate the variety without losing the unity? The unity is in Jesus. He said it Himself. In John 15, He said to His followers, "When the Holy Spirit comes," the Helper, the Advocate, "when He comes, whom I will send to you from God the Father, He will testify about Me." And later in chapter 16, He says to them, "The Holy Spirit will bring glory to Me." That's the goal. Forever and always, that's the goal of the Holy Spirit, is to bring glory to Jesus, to make Jesus famous.

Turning back to these four images for the work of the Spirit—tear jerker, cheerleader, miracle worker, machine grease—if we are going to appreciate their variety without losing their unity in Christ, we need another image.

Consider a statue, a statue of a person. What causes the statue to be what it is: the sculptor. But also, in another sense, the real person who is imitated in the work of the statue is also a cause of the statue. That person, their fame, their renown, the power of their character is such that it inspires the sculptor to capture their image in this statue.

Along with those primary causes, there are other elements. There are the tools, the chisels, the hammers that the sculptor uses to shape the statue. And there is also the material. The sculptor doesn't work out of nothing, but starts with existing material, marble or bronze. So also, in your life, in mine, the Holy Spirit is the Sculptor and His inspiration, His goal for you and for me, is Jesus—the crucified and risen Jesus. That's what the Holy Spirit's all about. He wants to make Jesus famous so that people will see Jesus everywhere, in you and in me.

And He uses tools, what are His tools? He uses the Word, the testimony of the followers of Jesus recorded in the Bible. The voices of the followers of Jesus as they continue to bear witness to Him. He uses the Word made visible in Baptism, in the Lord's Supper. And what is His material? It's me, it's you. You, your mind, your heart, your emotions, your whole unique personality is His material. And He is sculpting you into an image of Jesus. He might bring you to tears. He might make you stand up and cheer. He might work miracles in you. He might, through long years of labor with the Word, get under your skin. He might do all of this and more.

How has the Holy Spirit been sculpting your life lately? Maybe He's been working on you for decades. Maybe He's just getting started. Wherever you are, whatever the case, share it with someone. Talk to someone about it. Join in the work of the Spirit who set the stars in motion and gives life to the flowers of the fields. Take your place in creation, by the Spirit, to bring glory to the Son of God—to make Jesus famous.

And pray with me: Holy Spirit, our Advocate, our Counselor, our Comforter. Jesus promised that You would come and be His witness so that we could be His witnesses. Empower us to be like Him, to think like Him, to do like Him. Empower us that we strive for nothing but to please the Father. Empower us that we live for no other reason than to serve our neighbor as Jesus has served us and laid down His life for us. Sculpt us, sculpt the followers of Jesus so that when people look around, they would see Jesus everywhere. Because He lives and He reigns with you and the Father, One God, now and forever. Amen.

Reflections for May 26, 2019

Title: Sculptor Spirit

Mark Eischer: Once again, here's Dr. Zeigler.

Mike Zeigler: Thanks, Mark. In the studio I have joining me a teacher, a friend of mine, Dr. Leo Sanchez. He's a professor of systematic theology at Concordia Seminary, and also the director of the Center for Hispanic studies back in Concordia Seminary. Thanks for joining me Leo.

Leo Sanchez: Thank you.

Mike Zeigler: We're talking about the Holy Spirit, and this is something that I know is on your heart. You shared earlier that you were not raised in a church-going family. But tell me about how you first heard of talk of the Holy Spirit and, what was like that for you?

Leo Sanchez: I think the first time I heard about the Spirit was through the work of itinerant Pentecostal preachers. I was playing soccer on the streets in the barrio where I lived.

Mike Zeigler: Where was that again, Leo?

Leo Sanchez: This was in Panama.

Mike Zeigler: Panama, okay.

Leo Sanchez: I was born in Chile but raised in Panama, Central America. I heard about the work of the Spirit from the street preacher. One of the things that he said was that the Spirit comes with great power. He calls you to repent. I thought, "What does that mean? That sounds interesting. I want to learn more." I think I associated then the Spirit with kind of manifestations of power, and with miracles, and with kind of exceptional things, and exceptional people or those who were filled with the Spirit. Then there's certainly something biblical about that, but it's not the whole picture.

Mike Zeigler: You have a new book that's just come out and I've enjoyed reading it, learned a lot from it. The title is Sculpture Spirit, which I shamelessly took as the title of this message, so thank you for that. What drew you to that title, Sculpture Spirit?

Leo Sanchez: Yeah, I probably was thinking for a while about how the work of the Spirit is to shape us into certain kinds of persons. The Spirit has a formative role in the life of a Christian. The Spirit works in and through us. So, that got me thinking about the Spirit, shaping, forming, and so I kind of needed an image, didn't I, to sort of bring it all together? I may have heard a preacher talk about the Spirit as chiseling our rough edges or something like that. That stuck with me. You know, I said, "Oh, that sounds like a sculpture."

Mike Zeigler: You study and have written on Spirit Christology; that's a heavy theological term. Could you put that into layman's terms for our listeners?

Leo Sanchez: Yeah, so Spirit Christology basically means a way to talk about Christ, who He is, from the perspective of the Holy Spirit being with Him, in His life and mission. So, if you think about the Gospel of John, for instance, in chapter one, John the Baptist, eluding to the Baptism of Jesus says, "The One on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain," meaning the incarnate Son of God, right, Jesus. "The One on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit."

So, basically what John the Baptist is saying, Jesus is the One who bears the Spirit; He's the One who then gives the Spirit to us. So, that's what a Spirit Christology does, is just kind of thinks about the joint mission of Jesus and the Spirit bringing about the Father's plan of salvation for us.

Mike Zeigler: So, it helps us think of the Spirit; the dove doesn't fly away, so to speak, the Spirit remains linked to the life and mission, and story of Jesus.

Leo Sanchez: That's right. That's right. Because sometimes the Spirit is thought of as kind of an independent Agent, you know. So, you know, Spirit Christology kind of anchors in a good way the Spirit to the life of Christ. In other words, you want to know what a life in the Spirit looks like? Look at Jesus.

Mike Zeigler: Yeah, and you mentioned the Gospel of John, and there certainly are those impressive works in power at work in Him, but also things like washing His disciples' feet, and bearing sins and being persecuted and dying.

Leo Sanchez: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the One on whom the Spirit descends and remains is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. So, remember John the Baptist says that even before he talks about how the Spirit descends and rest on Him. So, you know, the Spirit descends and rest on Jesus so that He might also do His work and that is a work that leads to the cross. He's the suffering Servant. So, in the same way the Spirit with whom we are anointed in Baptism and when we hear the Word, walks with us. When we go through the struggles of life, when we bear the crosses of life, that's the Spirit of Jesus.

Mike Zeigler: And we can talk to Him. Many of our prayers are addresses to the Holy Spirit.

Leo Sanchez: Oh yeah. You know, "Come, Holy Spirit," Right? "And shape Christ in us." Melt away that which is sinful, kind of like the sculpture, and refine us with the fire of Your love. I mean, there are all kinds of prayers that we can ask the Holy Spirit to come into our lives. And, we should probably do it more often to be quite honest. You know, I often wonder why is it that we ask for the Spirit to come at an ordination so that He might give the pastors the gifts he needs to serve God's people in a Christ-like way, but we don't ask the Spirit to come down say, when a marriage takes place.

I mean, a married couple, they need the Holy Spirit just as much. So, we could probably do a lot more "Come, Holy Spirit " prayers in our lives.

Mike Zeigler: Amen. Well, thank you for the conversation Leo.

Leo Sanchez: Thank you.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

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