"The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Us"
By Rev. James A. Splitt
Sermon May 31, 1998 - Pentecost Sunday
The Presbyterian Church, Hamilton, OH
Isaiah 61:1-3 8-9 John 14:8-17
Growing up in the Lutheran Church, I had to memorize Luther's small
catechism. Now remember I said I had to, I didn't say that I fully
accomplished the assignment. John Schramm, pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in Annandale, Va., at the time, said we could slip up on some elements of the catechism, but not on the meaning of the Apostles Creed. The third article of the apostle's creed begins with the confession of belief: I
believe in the Holy Spirit.
What does this mean? From those 9th grade days of Lutheran Catechism I
remember reciting the following explanation:
"I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus
Christ my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the
gospel, enlightened me with God's gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true
We cannot on our own believe in Jesus. We can't even begin to exercise our
faith on our own. God equips us for ministry through the power of the Holy
Spirit. The Holy Spirit calls us, enlightens us and sanctifies into faith. In other words, faith is hopeless, and the Christian life is virtually impossible until we become filled with the Holy Spirit. We can't even make sense of God's word unless we are anointed by the Holy Spirit. We are called, enlightened and sanctified into Christian action. Christian life is pretty dull and boring if we try to do it on our own. We need the spirit of the Lord upon us, then look out ... ministry happens, faith happens, salvation happens!
There are so many aspects of what it means to be Spirit filled. This
morning I want to address the Spirit of Christian care giving. God's Holy
Spirit is upon us, calling, challenging, and guiding us to care for one
another. When we ignore the power of God's spirit, we are selfish, self
centered, and least of all, we are not capable of Christian care giving.
The text from Isaiah has particular importance for us to understand the
depth of Christian care giving. While Jesus was at his home in Nazareth, he
took time to worship in the Synagogue. While there he was given a scroll
from the book of Isaiah and asked to read. He carefully selected the 61st
Chapter and began reading. At the end of his reading, Jesus declared that
the fulfillment of this scripture had occurred in their hearing.
Christian care giving begins with Jesus. Jesus said, "the Spirit of the
Lord is upon me because the Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to
proclaim the year of Lord's favor."
Theologian, Arnold Come, suggests that Jesus perceived his ministry and
mission from the Isaiah text as ordained by God's spirit. It was a ministry
to the whole person. [Human Spirit and Holy Spirit, 1959, Philadelphia:
Westminster Press, p.129]. Christian care giving is a ministry to restore
people to their fullness of being. It is a ministry made possible when we
are filled with God's Spirit.
Today, Stephen Ministers are commissioned to be Christian care givers. Today the spirit of God is upon them calling them to touch the human community with their warmth, gentleness, and commitment to proclaim God's
words of healing. The care giving of Stephen Ministers is the work of the
Holy Spirit, it is not something Stephen Ministers do on their own. It is a
ministry of promise, a covenant commitment to serve as led by the Spirit of
God. While we are all called by God's Spirit into Christian care giving, I want to address a few aspects of Christian care giving that our newly
commissioned Stephen Ministers can employ in this special calling of our church.
Embrace these five challenges in your ministry as Christian care givers.
¥ Untiring Love
¥ Dedicated Laboring
¥ Fellowship in Learning and Suffering
Stephen ministry is about healing, bringing individuals to wholeness of
being. Led by the Holy Spirit, you are accepting a challenge to foster the
healing of brokenness in people's lives. You cannot do this on your own
accord. When you are given a care receiver, expect your care receiver to
receive care. . . . not from you, but from God. This morning, I'm wearing a
Stole that was made for me by a friend of a member of the church I serve in
Milford. She presented it to me as a gift saying that she was very thankful
to Stephen Ministry who had brought God given healing into her own life.
Stephen Ministry is speaking the truth in love. Honesty is spiritual truth
that sets us free. The healing environment confronts people with the truth. A trite question we ask of others is, "How are you?" The trite reply is "Fine." I posed this question to a person who was obviously troubled. I expected the person to share with me the nature of their misery, but instead I got a not so fine, "fine." To which I responded, so why don't you tell your face? Honesty helps open a person to their potential of fullness. Kenneth C. Haugk, the founder of Stephen Ministry, shares an important message about honesty and prayer in his book, Christian Caregiving: a Way of Life.
" Feel free to share all emotions and experiences with God. God is loving
and wants honesty from us, not prettied -up piety." (p.112).
Jesus established a ministry of honest confrontation as a means for healing, well being, and wholeness. When we face the truth, we stop suffering and begin the healing process. (ref. "The Woman at the Well" , "Jesus and the Pharisees").
The third challenge is untiring love. If you don't get spirit filled, you'll tire out. You'll burn out. You'll give up and you won't want to have anything to do with Stephen Ministry. Someone seeking a Stephen Minister or any caring Christian friend needs to feel that your love won't just up and quit. Imagine someone getting the answering machine of a Stephen Minister and the recording goes something like this: "Sorry, I can't come to the phone right now, I'm not available at all, I'm drained, I have no love to give, don't leave a message, just go away." When Christian caregivers loose their ability to love, they need to turn on to God's Spirit. Like the words of the song, this is the prayer of anyone wishing to be a Christian care giver ....Fill my cup, let it overflow .....
The fourth challenge is dedicated laboring. Caregiving is the WORK of the
Holy Spirit. It is dedicated work. It is disciplined work. There is a Christ-centered work ethic that says, the work isn't done 'til everyone is
graced by Christ's love. If we try to do it on our own, we will burn out. The early apostles depended on one another and formed covenant groups to support one another in ministry. Paul speaks about running the race. We
talk about a labor of love. We are invested in the critical job of restoring ourselves and others to wholeness of being. The Spirit of God empowers us in fellowship with the Spirit. The Spirit of the Lord is truly upon us when we inspire and are inspired by the power and energy of a group of people working together in caring ministry.
The gift of dedicated laboring is trust. My mentor and teacher was a Jewish woman named Renee Swartz. She was the chief psychologist for the Blainton-Peale Institute in New York. Renee, a survivor of Aushwitz use to
begin our counseling sessions with, "Now I will work with you. For one hour
we work." When we deal with a person in need, we are to roll up our shirt sleeves and invest ourselves in their care. The key word is dedicated .... We dedicate ourselves in the name of Christ to bring care. The work of Holy Spirit is upon us!
The final challenge is fellowship in learning and suffering. The Spirit of the Lord is upon us! It is a group thing. One of the joys of Stephen Ministry is that you are invited into a continuous experience of learning and supervision. But with that is the exposure to a wide range of struggles people are having. To be concerned with the problems, hurts, and suffering of others, there is no immunity from empathy. To hurt with and for others in their pain is an essential ingredient. While we do not make someone else's suffering our suffering, we do experience their anguish. The fellowship of Stephen ministry is both educational and sensitive to suffering. Without that ingredient, our Christian caregiving would be impersonal and shallow.
Healing, honesty, untiring love, dedicated laboring, and fellowship in learning and suffering ... challenges for Christian care givers. Our calling is the result of God's spirit upon us. Calling us, enlightening us and sanctifying us into people of faith and action. Amen!