Summary: A sermon for the 2003 World Day of Prayer. The reason the Holy Spirit doesn’t seem to be moving on us at the moment may be that he has to renew us before he can fill us.
It is appropriate that the theme for this year’s World Day of Prayer is, in fact, a prayer. It is a prayer that the Church has been praying since Jesus went home to Heaven. It is a prayer that God has been pleased to answer since that first Pentecost.
However, it is a prayer that has largely gone unanswered, at least in the way that we expect. Part of this is because the Holy Spirit doesn’t always act as we expect. There are those—and I’m not singling out any particular denomination or movement within the Church—who would claim, or act as if they believed, that they control the Spirit. This isn’t true. The Holy Spirit is sovereign, and acts according to the will of the Father. No human can control him.
**Three pictures of why we can’t be filled**
However, I wonder if the reason we lack the infilling of the Holy Spirit is that we can’t be filled. I want to describe this problem using three different mental pictures.
First, imagine a sponge that has been used to wash the dishes. It’s all full of dirt and food and old water. It needs to be filled with clean water! But how can you do that? Easy. You wring it out, rinse it off, and wring it out again. Only when you have done this can you fill it with clean water.
It’s the same with the Spirit. Here we are, all full of sin and grime and filth. There is no room for him. But once all the filth has been removed, and we have been emptied, the Spirit can come and fill us anew.
Jesus explained this a different way, mainly in regard to institutions as opposed to people. He spoke of filling old wineskins with new wine. Now I don’t know a lot about wine, but I gather from what Jesus tells us that you can’t do it. It’ll wreck the skin, and all the wine will be lost! You need to prepare a new wineskin for the job. In the same way, our nation and our church need to be renewed before the Spirit of God can move in.
Finally, I want you to think of a third picture, the Old Testament picture of an old pot. The soloist sang about this earlier:
Spirit of the Living God
Fall afresh on me.
Break me, melt me
Mould me, fill me.
Spirit of the Living God,
Fall afresh on me.
The Spirit can’t fill an old, broken pot. It needs to be broken and remade if it is to be used again.
None of these processes is pleasant. Being wrung out like a sponge, being replaced by a new wineskin and being broken and remoulded like an old pot are all traumatic. Nevertheless, they are the price we must pay if the Holy Spirit is to answer our prayer.
So what is the dirt that fills us, the wineskin that restricts us or the crack in our pot? I would like to ask this question at three different levels—the Nation, the Church and our selves. Each of these needs to be filled with the Holy Spirit, but like the sponge each has it’s own dirt that needs removing.
Legally speaking, our nation can never be a Christian nation. Our Constitution forbids our lawmakers from ever establishing a state church. Likewise they cannot make any denomination or religion eminent over any other.
However, the Spirit is not in the slightest bit concerned about our laws or denominations. Whilst he appreciates these things, he operates outside of them.
Our nation is in desperate need of the Holy Spirit now. The name ‘Australia’ comes from an old Latin name for our southern continent: Terra Australis Incognita. The explorer Pedro Fernandez de Quiros believed he had found this continent, and he renamed it Terra Australia del Espiritu Santo—the South Land of the Holy Spirit. So this land has been associated with the third person of the Trinity since before Europeans arrived here. (History shows that whilst he thought he had found the Lost Continent, he had in fact landed on Vanuatu!)
Yet the Holy Spirit doesn’t fill our nation. Do we need to be emptied?
† We pay lip service to the ideals of justice and fairness to all, yet we treat those least able to access justice with contempt (refugees, Iraq, East Timorese oil). The Australian myth of the fair go for everyone is little more than a myth.
† We constantly preach to the rest of the world about the atrocities committed by their governments, yet we ignore the woeful plight of so many of our indigenous citizens.
† We put the interests of the rich and wealthy before the interests of the poor and disadvantaged.