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The Charismatic Stream: Discovering the Spirit-Empowered Life

February 17, 2008

John 14:15-17, 25-26

Last Sunday, we began a series of sermons entitled Streams of Living Water. At that time, I made reference to the fact that I was using as a reference Richard Foster’s book by the same name. Streams of Living Water traces these definite streams through our Christian faith and life. One stream Foster mentions is the charismatic stream. I decided to address that one first because I knew it might be the one most difficult for you. The fact that we are celebrating the Lord’s Supper with New Day Baptist Church today makes this topic especially appropriate.

Our text is John 14. I want to read two short segments from this chapter of the Gospel of John, beginning at Verse 15. Hear now the Word of God.

“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be with you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

Verse 25:

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

In this Scripture, we go right back to the source of living water, to the fountain for whom all blessings flow, to Jesus Christ. Jesus promises his disciples that he will give them this gift of the Holy Spirit, which will come and be a part of their lives forever. They will not be left as orphans.

The Spanish explorer DeSoto entered this country through Florida. Then he made his way up through Georgia and followed the Congaree River into the area we now know as Columbia, South Carolina. From there, he took a river that feeds the Congaree, the Saluda, following it up through Greenville County and finally into the Appalachian Mountains. Of course, the counties were not designated then. The Saluda River is one of the finest in South Carolina. One stretch of the Saluda, which is called a “wild and scenic” river, has been designated as a preserve. Most of that beautiful mountain stream flows through Jones Gap State Park. We might think of this stream of living water, this charismatic stream, this stream identified by the Holy Spirit, as a “wild and scenic” stream. That is not to say that it is out of bounds or unruly; it is to say it is a beautiful part of the Christian faith and life. God’s Holy Spirit nourishes our souls. This stream that we identify with the Holy Spirit is so important in our maturity as Christians.

What is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is a person. It is the invisible presence of God. It is the invisible presence of the risen Christ. We complicate this concept by talking about the persons of the Trinity as three in one. It is hard to make sense out of that. Think of the Holy Spirit as God’s presence with us now. This stream of living water is one of grace. The Greek word for grace is charis. This Spirit gives to us gifts or charismata, the Greek word we find in the New Testament. We get the word charismatic from that Greek word. We consider people who are charismatic as a little different or odd. They worship in a different way than we do. The truth is that every Christian is charismatic. Every Christian has received gifts from God through the Holy Spirit. If you go to that “wild and scenic” area of the Saluda River, you will find some of the best trout fishing in South Carolina. It is a real treat to catch one of those fish that actually breed in the waters of the upper Saluda River. In the same way this stream supplies fish, God provides many surprises, wonderful treats, gifts, charismata. The Spirit comes into our lives and bestows gifts as varied as the people of God. Every person playing in this orchestra has a gift of the Holy Spirit. That gift allows them to pick up that instrument and create beautiful music.

One of the greatest manifestations of the Holy Spirit is its creativity. In the very beginning of the Bible, we read that God’s Spirit hovered over the face of the deep at the time of the creation. The Creator brings creation into being through the Holy Spirit. That creative Spirit is still at work in the lives of God’s people. Every person who can paint a picture, every person who can write a poem, every person who can teach children, every young parent who nurtures their own child, has this gift. Nobody is omitted. You might say, “I just do not think the Spirit has given me any gifts.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The Spirit has no orphans, nobody that is omitted. God gives all of us gifts, and we are to use those gifts for His glory, not for ours.

Every week I have trepidation about my responsibility of standing here – Sunday after Sunday – daring to bring God’s message. Reverend Hailstock knows exactly what I mean. Anyone who preaches understands that statement. In my wildest imagination, I could never have thought when I was growing up on a lumberyard that God would lead me to be a preacher. Sometimes I am absolutely amazed that I can do it. I started life with a pronounced stutter. I will sometimes still hear that. It is not I. It is God. Every person is gifted by God with some way to use those special talents and abilities to serve Christ.

This Spirit nourishes our lives as an irrigation system. Think of the Saluda River and all the lush land along the Saluda River Valley. Farmers there grow some of the best tomatoes in the world. Apple trees, peach trees, cherry trees, pear trees, fig trees, as well as all kinds of grapes, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries grow in that lush land along the river. Likewise, God produces fruit in our lives. We can read about those gifts, which we call the Fruits of the Spirit, in the book of Galatians: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance…” (Galatians 5:22). God nurtures this fruit in our lives. It is one of the gifts He gives to us, one of the ways He enriches us. The Holy Spirit yields an abundance of fruit that could outdo any farmer’s market.

This Holy Spirit, God’s unseen presence, flows through our lives as a stream of living water. A companion to this stream is a constant breeze. Jesus talked about the Holy Spirit as he talked about wind. Sometimes the wind of the Spirit is very gentle, very quiet and calm. Sometimes the Spirit is a very strong wind, as for example, on the Day of Pentecost. This wind of the Spirit is as much a part of this experience as is the stream. The Greek New Testament speaks of the spirit, by using the word for wind – pneuma. In the Old Testament, the Spirit is the very breath of God. When God created us, He breathed into us the breath of life.

The truth is that we are all dying. I know that is a grim statement to make. It is like St. Augustine said when he was talking with someone about a newborn baby: “When you look into that crib and see that new baby, you should say, ‘You won’t get over this.’” In a sense, we are all dying. Some are very aware of that fact. Others of us are almost oblivious. It is so important to remember that God breathes into us the breath of life.

Several years ago, an incident happened at a Hardee’s restaurant in Union County. A young African-American teenager, who was a part of a Boy Scout troop, was just having a snack, as teenagers do. An elderly white man was eating one of those big hamburgers when he grabbed at his chest and appeared to be choking. Because no one seemed to notice or did not know what to do, this young Boy Scout performed the Heimlich maneuver, removing the blockage from the man’s throat. Then he administered CPR, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, breathing his own breath into the man and pumping the man’s heart until the rhythm was restored. EMS said that this young African-American boy had saved the life of this white man.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Holy Spirit does the same for us. It removes the blockages from our lives. It breathes into us the breath of life and restores the very rhythm of our hearts. This stream of living water inspires. It prompts our creativity. It reminds us that God is always with us, always nurturing us and loving us. God’s sure and steadfast promise is, “I will never leave you, and I will never forsake you.”

During the Last Supper, Jesus promised his disciples that they would receive the Holy Spirit. It happened after they had taken these elements: the bread and the cup. On that occasion, Jesus said, “You will not be alone.” The bread and the cup remind us of that covenant. Those elements certainly remind us of the sacrificial death of Jesus, but they also remind us of the life-giving quality of the Holy Spirit. We gather around this table to be refreshed. We gather here to breathe deeply. We gather to receive the inspiration from this stream of living water.

May I remind you that this table does not belong to Morningside? This is not a Baptist table. This is the Lord’s Table. Any person who believes that Jesus Christ is Lord is invited to partake in this Supper.

As you take this Supper, I want you to be very, very aware that surely, surely, the presence of the Lord is in this place. Let us take the Supper together.

The Lord Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed, took bread. He broke it and said, “This bread is my body, broken for you.”

We will have a prayer of blessing now for the bread.

Dear Lord, we come today to remember and celebrate the greatest gift of grace You have given us, your Son. His body was broken for us. As we take up this bread, keep us mindful of this sacrifice of Christ’s body, broken and nailed to a cross so that we might have eternal life. We ask these things in the name of your Son. Amen.

Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me;

Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.

Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me.

Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.

Jesus said, “This bread is my body, broken for you.” Eat ye as often as ye eat, in remembrance of him. Eat ye all of it.

We will have a blessing now for the cup.

Our Father, as we come to drink from the cup together, we are reminded of the many gifts You have given to us. The greatest gift of all is Your Son, Jesus Christ. It is through him that we have the joy of our salvation. Thank you for all that You do for us, each and every day. Amen.

There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place,

And I know that it’s the Spirit of the Lord.

There are sweet expressions on each face,

And I know that it’s the presence of the Lord.

Sweet Holy Spirit, Sweet Heav’nly Dove,

Stay right here with us Filling us with your love.

And for these blessings We lift our hearts in praise;

Without a doubt we’ll know that we have been revived,

When we shall leave this place.

Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Drink it as often as you drink it in remembrance of him. Drink ye all of it.

The gift of the Holy Spirit never leaves us. In my own walk with the Lord, I discover at times that I am acutely aware of God’s Spirit nearness. He seems so close that I feel as if I can flick Him with my eyelashes. At other times, God’s presence seems distant. That is probably true of you, too. We have the opportunity to be transformed and revitalized at a service such as this one. It is my hope and prayer that you have received renewal and refreshment.

© 2008 Kirk H. Neely

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