God Empowers You – Chrysalis Flight #84
Prayer to the Holy Spirit
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and kindle in us the fire of Your love. Send forth Your Spirit and we shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
O, God, Who by the light of the Holy Spirit did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy Your consolations.
Through Christ our Lord.
It is the largest on the planet by volume at 103 feet in circumference, 36 feet in diameter, and 275 feet tall (that’s ten feet taller than the Sun Sphere in downtown Knoxville), and its estimated weight is 2.7 million pounds.
If you put it in the middle of the 50-yard line of a football field, you would have to walk past the 20-yard lines in either direction to escape its shadow.
It started its life over 2,300 years ago, at least 300 years before the birth of Jesus. Its beginnings, which may have come as late as two decades after it was technically “born”, were tiny compared to its current form, and its beginnings were harsh – it literally had to go through a horrific fire in order to become what it is now.
Its name is “The General Sherman” and it grew from a seed like the one you’ve just been handed. Its seed sat in a pinecone and waited over 170 feet above the ground until a forest fire came along hot enough to get its pinecone to open up and drop it to the ground below where it found what it needed to germinate, take root, and grow into the largest tree on the planet.
Hi, there! I hope you’ve had a remarkable weekend! I know you’ve been learning a lot and that there’s a lot to learn, but let’s go over what you’ve done so far.
You’ve learned about prevenient grace – that period before you consciously told God you wanted to have a relationship with Him. That period was a lot like the time those seeds were cradled safely in their pinecones high above the forest floor, protected until the fire they needed to release them came along.
You’ve learned about justifying grace – how, when we surrender our doubts about God to God, when we step out on faith in the unknown and unseen mystery of God to consciously say yes to a relationship with Him, that we begin to change. Justifying grace is a lot like what that little seed goes through when the fire finally comes … it isn’t quite sure of what’s happening … only that things have suddenly heated up and then whoosh! It’s free-falling its way to somewhere different, somewhere unknown, somewhere previously unseen, and it’s probably both scared and excited as well as possibly a little dazed and confused, all at the same time. I know I was.
My talk is about the next step – about what happens when that little seed finally lands where it lands – about Sanctifying Grace, and how God gives us the power to live and grow in our relationship with Him for the rest of our lives …
My name is Rev. Val Ohle, Walk 108, Table of Esther, and the title of this talk is …
God Empowers You.
OK, I may be weird, but when I read “God Empowers You”, I hear “God-od-od Em-em-em Powers-ers-ers You-oo-oo,” and I immediately imagine being given some kind of holy superpower and flying through the air in my brand-new superhero cape to save the world or at least a portion of it.
Then I think I hear this voice say, “snap out of it” and I remember that most of those Marvel Comic superheroes really didn’t want to be superheroes and tried to be normal until they saw or heard whatever their superhero needed signal was. Well, except Tony Stark. I think he liked it and I think he loved the attention it brought him.
Which takes me back to the redwood seeds and how it took a forest fire to signal the pinecones to give up the seeds to the earth below and how the redwood seed can’t and won’t grow unless it is released by fire and falls onto burnt and barren soil, and all that leads to how it is that God empowers us.
So, how does God empower us? This, my young friends, requires a story from the Book of John and the Book of Acts.
It was during the last supper. Jesus was talking with his disciples and told them that he was going to be leaving them, but that God would send a helper, an advocate, to be with them after he’d gone.
And Jesus did leave them. That night, he was arrested. The next day, he was tried and crucified on the Cross. He died, was buried in the tomb, when to Hades where he defeated Sin once and for all, then returned to the tomb, and the third day he was raised from the dead and ascended to Heaven.
Fast forward to fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection. The disciples were again gathered together all in one house when they heard a great wind coming from heaven. The wind rushed into and filled the house they were in, and they saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and then came to rest on each of them. At that moment all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit …
And that is how the Holy Spirit came to dwell among us as our friend, our helper, our advocate, our guide, and the vehicle through which God empowers us. What an entrance, right?
The end. Of the story, that is … not my talk … and really, for us, it’s more a new beginning.
In essence, the Holy Spirit is our superpower, that power that lets us live and grow in our relationship with God. See, the Spirit is God’s presence and power in our lives.
We probably know her best as that still small voice we hear suggesting that we do something we need to do or God wants us to do, or that we don’t do something that we’re about to do and shouldn’t do or sometimes she’s that voice reminding us who we are – God’s beloved children – and that we’re accepted just as we are.
Other times she places someone or something in our path that affirms we are beloved by Him and wholly accepted by Him.
When I finally let myself hear God’s call to ministry (it only took about 57 years to let myself, but that’s another story), it was Spirit who kept whispering to me that I needed to get up from my table at Wednesday Night Fellowship Dinner and go over and tell my then pastor about it.
Spirit is constantly at work on us, perfecting us to become as complete in our love of God as possible, nudging and leading us along Christ’s path. OK, confession time. Sometimes she has to break out the tow truck, winch and heavy chains to get me where I need to be, but the point is, she keeps at it.
Spirit’s been working on me for a very long time. I recognize that now. When I was your age, I was both an outsider and a wild child. I wanted so very badly to be accepted and I did things I shouldn’t do trying to be accepted.
I didn’t grow out of my bad habits until my late twenties. Looking back, I know now that every single time I was between a rock and a hard place Spirit was always right there with me, bringing me safe through to the other side of whatever it was.
One of the ways she perfects us is to prune away any attitudes and actions that stand between us and perfection. Attitudes that cause us to put God in a box by limiting how much of His will we are willing to carry out. For instance, loving others, even our enemies. Spirit will find ways to remind us that God loves everyone … even the people we hate, and she’ll work continually clipping and nipping away at us until she’s cut away whatever caused the hate we held that put God in that box.
She’s generous with us, too. It’s the Spirit that gives us the power to do what’s right. She lays a superhero cape around our shoulders and shows us how to accept all those people we so badly want to reject. She reminds us that God gave His only son to the world, that Christ died not for just us or the people we like or hang out with or would choose, but for the whole world … even the people we don’t like.
It’s Spirit that lays that cape on our shoulders yet again, and teaches us how to learn to love our enemies, that guides us with her whisperings, through signs, through things she pushes in our path to learn to understand our enemies, to try to see the world through their eyes, and then to set all that aside and love them because we now understand them.
She whispers to us, “You’ve got this. Go make friends. It’ll be okay.” And … if we’re listening … we walk over, sit down, and have lunch with that kid no one likes or talks to because we know God loves them, too. If we’re listening, we step in when we see some kid being bullied in the hallway. If we’re listening, we notice when someone is struggling, and we stand in the gap for them until they’re able to stand up on their own. If we’re listening, we find out those people we thought were our enemies are really a lot like us and not so bad after all.
Spirit brings us peace. That night at that fellowship meal when I finally got up and went to my pastor to tell him about my calling? The moment the words were out of my mouth, the most amazing sense of calm came over me.
When we get sad or mad because we or someone we love have been hurt by someone else, it’s the Spirit who again lays that superhero cape around our shoulders and says, “Come on. It’s time to forgive them and move on” and then coaches us through it so we can heal as much as the person that we’re forgiving. My brother is an opioid addict. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve had to forgive my brother because of things he’s done to feed his addiction, and it is Spirit that reminds me each and every time that Jesus told us to forgive 70 times 7.
It’s also the Spirit that gives us our calling, that leads us to where God needs us, and that gives us the gifts we need to answer our calling and carry out our ministry. Mine was to pastoral ministry. Yours may be to something else entirely. And be mindful of something: Ministry takes many forms and doesn’t always happen in or through the church. Just like we need to be careful not to put God in a box by setting limits on His will, we need to be careful not to limit our callings and ministries to the box we call a church. It’s a big world out there and we are called to be out in it.
So, how then do we get the Spirit to begin talking to us? How do we hear her? How do we work with her instead of against her?
We stay focused on God and on Christ, study God’s word, worship God joyfully and with thanksgiving, and not just on Sunday mornings for an hour or so but in the way we live our lives. We serve God by serving the rest of His children.
We pray for one another, and we pray that God send the Spirit to fill us and help us. It’s where we get that first part of the prayer we said at the beginning of my talk … Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and kindle in us the fire of Your love. Send forth Your Spirit and we shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
We support one another. We stay connected with each other. We hold space for one another when space is needed. We humble ourselves, remembering that we are no better than anyone else and we follow the example of Jesus who humbled himself and washed the feet of his disciples before sharing the Last Supper with them.
And … we go to God honestly … sincerely … and humbly … honest about ourselves, honest about our own transgressions, honest about our weaknesses and sincerely asking Him to help us.
None of this is easy. None of this is a “do it once and it’s done” thing. This process of Sanctifying Grace is continual. It has to be, because we are all broken, and all fall short. We’re human. We’ll mess up less and less now that we’ve made the decision to have this relationship with God, but we’ll still mess up.
I mess up every day. And I pray every day and I confess every day and I ask His forgiveness multiple times a day every … single … day.
I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for God, for Christ’s sacrifice on my behalf, and for the Spirit who has consistently and constantly advocated for me throughout my life. My life is a testament to this.
And now the question: That prayer you’ve been saying for three days … that God empower you, that the Spirit come to you? Do you truly want that? Do you want the power of the Spirit to fill you? Are you prepared to open yourself to her and let her lead you even when it’s to something you’re unsure of or may not want? God wants that for you, but you have to want it, too.
In Jesus’ name, I pray you want it for yourselves and I pray God will fill you with the Spirit, you will be transformed just as that tiny seed you have transforms into a giant tree. I pray you will fly with Christ to help build His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
This talk was delivered to the girls in the Chrysalis flight, each of whom were given two gifts during the talk … a small organza bag containing an actual sequoia seed (about the size of a fennel seed), and a superhero cape.
Sunsphere, built for the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, TN. Photo: By Ɱ – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77633916
The General Sherman. Photo: By Tuxyso / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28563576