Joel 2:21-end; Luke 24:44-end
How about that weather today? We can’t put away our winter wardrobe just yet! I come from California where the weather is generally predictable. And that makes it easy to figure out what you’re going to wear during any given season. Here in England the weather is a popular topic of conversation because it’s so variable, and many days will contain something from each of the four seasons, and so trying to decide what to wear each day can be a tricky business!
Of course it depends somewhat on what the day will involve. During the week, for someone working in a bank, a suit is definitely in order. If you’re employed at a fitness centre, it could be shorts and t-shirt. And if it’s Sunday and you’re a minister, you might put on one of these... [my cassock and surplice]. Or maybe if you can sing well, you might be dressed as one of these lovely people [gestures towards the choir].
Clothing has several purposes. It identifies, protects, and helps us control our body temperature and our level of modesty. It can be an expression of fashion and personality, or vocation. To be ‘clothed’ is to be covered in some way. Ever since Adam and Eve clothed themselves with fig leaves, it has been important for humankind to be clothed.
In our reading this evening from Luke’s gospel, chapter 24, Jesus is talking to his disciples, and he says that after his ascension, he will send them what his Father has promised; that they will be ‘clothed with power from on high’. We know what it means to be ‘clothed’ in the ordinary sense, so what does this mean to be ‘clothed with power from on high’?
Well, the power that Jesus speaks of is, of course, the Holy Spirit - the same Spirit of God that was present at the creation of the heavens and the earth; the same Spirit that filled many of the Israelites throughout the Old Testament period - the patriarchs, judges, prophets and kings. It’s the same Spirit that inspires wisdom, discernment and prophecy. It’s the same Spirit that was involved in the Incarnation of the Son of God. And it’s the same Spirit that enables the transformation of our hearts and our minds - the Spirit that confirms our faith - and the Spirit that empowers our mission.
What is this Spirit? As one of the Trinity of persons in the One God, the Spirit is the way that God lives in us. The Spirit gives us strength; the strength we need to follow Christ along the way that leads to life in all its fullness. The Spirit enables us to have fellowship with one another in the unity of Christ – fellowship with all believers, whatever their background or origin; whatever their denomination or position, whatever their social status or race – all believers are united in the body of Christ by the Spirit.
The Spirit also is active outside the Church, and we can’t always say where or with whom that is happening, but we can say that the Spirit always acts as a means of pointing people to the good news of Jesus Christ. The Spirit’s mission in the world is always bound up with energising the Kingdom of God and the new creation. And the Spirit is not a prisoner of the church. The Spirit can work with anyone: a mysterious, sovereign wind, the Spirit blows wherever the Spirit wills, and we’re not in control.
But the Spirit has a momentum and a direction into which those of us who call Jesus ‘Lord’ are called. The Spirit equips the church for mission and often goes on ahead, always to glorify Jesus Christ, of whom the whole of Scripture speaks. The text in our Luke 24 passage tells us that Jesus opened the minds of his disciples so they could understand the Scriptures. At that point, the New Testament hadn’t even been written – so it’s the Old Testament Jesus is referring to when he says, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations’. Jesus confirms that the Old Testament points to himself as the Christ. The Scriptures and the Spirit all point to Christ.
If you were in church this morning you will have heard the story of the day of Pentecost from Acts 2:1-21 where the disciples are metaphorically blown away by the wind of the Spirit. And our first reading this evening from the prophet Joel is quoted in that Acts passage by the Apostle Peter, who explains to the crowd that what Joel prophesied hundreds of years before Jesus was even born, was now coming to pass with the pouring out of the Lord’s Spirit on all people, and for all people.
Jesus Christ is truly a gift to all people, in all places, at all times. He’s the source of hope, life and light for all, and cannot be reserved for a particular grouping, tribe, church or community. It’s not one-size fits all, it’s One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism as Paul says in Ephesians 4. We are called to be brothers and sisters in Christ, reconciled with God by his death and resurrection, and united in him by his ever-flowing Spirit.
We all know when we’re clothed and when we are not. And just as we wouldn’t go anywhere without our clothing, so as Christians we should not go anywhere without the Holy Spirit covering us. God doesn’t expect us to grow in Christ-likeness on our own, or to grow the church on our own, or to promote his kingdom on our own. God wants us to put on the clothing that he makes freely available to us – the Holy Spirit. How do we do this? Well, first we have to be naked. We have to discard our own clothing of pride and self-sufficiency, and with prayer, in humility, we must come to God and ask for the clothing of the Spirit. Prayer is essential if we are to submit to God in all our weakness and ask to be filled and clothed and strengthened by the Holy Spirit for the life of discipleship and mission.
I leave you with a prayer based on that which Paul prayed for the church of Ephesus; a prayer that summarizes the vast and limitless power of God that is open to all believers. Being adopted children of God and co-heirs with Jesus Christ in the kingdom of God, we have the same access to this unlimited power through faith in Jesus Christ. Let us pray:
Father God, out of your glorious riches, clothe us, we pray, with power through your Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. And we pray that, being rooted and established in love, we may have the power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ; that we might know this love that surpasses knowledge; and that we would be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Father, you are able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to your power that is at work within us: to you be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (based on Ephesians 3:16-21)