Reading: Acts 28.23-31
And so we get to the end of our series on the work of the Holy Spirit through the life of St. Paul. Lets just remember what we have done.
The Journey so far
We started just on Pentecost Sunday looking at who the Holy Spirit is – that this is God working in our world today by his Spirit living in each one of us.
After that we reflected on how we each respond to the Holy Spirit. We reflected on how sometimes we respond with fear and ignorance – not understanding the Holy Spirit. That’s certainly how St. Paul reacted to the early Christian movement – by persecuting them.
We wondered how much we also react against the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, fearful of what God might want us to become.
Next we looked at Paul on the Damascus Road and his dramatic encounter with the Holy Spirit. Paul was one stubborn, zealous man, and it took something really blinding for God to get his attention.
We reflected on how sometimes we are so set on our own ways, that we completely miss what God is trying to tell us. But the good news is that the Holy Spirit is always working within us, helping us to listen to his voice, and urging us to turn around and go in the right direction.
That was just the beginning for Paul and the Holy Spirit. We looked at the way both Jesus and Paul needed to take time out with God. They both went out into the wilderness as part of their spiritual journeys. The Holy Spirit was telling them both that they needed time for God to work in them, time for formation, to get their head’s thinking in God’s way – and so God gave them time out in the desert with the Holy Spirit.
We reflected on the fact that if Jesus and Paul needed time out with God the Holy Spirit so do we. Do we take time regularly to allow the Holy Spirit to help us think right – to think as God thinks?
Its interesting to see the way the Holy Spirit urged Paul and his friends to talk about their faith. They just naturally talked about Jesus and what he meant to them all. They didn’t have to have a manual on how to talk – they just shared what they knew about Jesus – that’s what the Holy Spirit does, point to Jesus.
Filled with this desire to talk about Jesus Paul and his friends went on their Missionary journeys. They met lots of different people and talked about Jesus. They learned new things as they went too – learning to trust God and listen to the Holy Spirit prompting them where and when to move.
That’s something we need to remember too – that we too are on a journey with the Holy Spirit. I believe the Holy Spirit is talking to us, prompting us to meet people and encouraging us to share our faith. The big question is whether we’re listening and whether we’ll do what God is asking us to do.
We heard about Paul in Athens – meeting new people and having to think things through – and we reflected on how the Holy Spirit transforms our minds and thinking so that we can be heard in a noisy world filled with so many competing voices and opinions.
Finally we heard about Paul’s arrest and his shipwreck – and how they all got through alive. We learned that being a Christian and following the way of the Holy Spirit through life doesn’t necessarily mean it'll all be plane sailing, that everything will go swimmingly.
The end of the journey?
So now we get to the end of the journey.
The book of Acts leaves us with Paul under arrest in Rome and still trying to share his faith with the people there. His journeys have never been easy – he had tough times all the way through, and it is the same again now.
We looked at the book of Philippians a while ago and heard some challenging thoughts from Paul.
When thinking about his own death he told his readers that to live is Christ and to die is gain! That life is all about Jesus – and that death will bring him even closer to Jesus.
What a challenging thing to say to his readers – and how inspiring.
We know that Paul in prison had lost almost everything – he was unable to move around freely, he was separated from all his old friends, and he was facing the greatest loss of all – his own life.
But this does not worry him. He knows that despite all our efforts to cling on to things, the truth is that everything we have in life is only temporary. Ultimately we lose everything – our friends and family, our health and independence. We gain all these things, but in the end we will lose them.
Paul has learned that there is only one thing in this world that is permanent – and that is the love of God we have in Christ Jesus.
This truth has given him a wonderful freedom from the attachments of this world, and helped him to enjoy the simple things of life. He tells his readers to rejoice in all things – especially in their relationship with Jesus.
He thinks of himself as a long distance runner – keeping going and pressing on towards the finishing line. He doesn’t want to give up, but to win the prize.
Sometimes I think that as I get to the end of the journey I’ll just want to look forward to a quiet life – to put my feet up and relax. But I hope that the Holy Spirit will encourage me to keep on being open to all that God wants for me, and the example of St. Paul will inspire me.
And remember, this is not the end of the journey – for two reasons: Number one we know we have the promise of eternal life – so for St. Paul, and for us we know that St. Paul lives on with God and one day we will get to meet him – won't that be exciting?
The other reason the journey goes on is that the Holy Spirit is alive and active here and now just as he was 2000 years ago.
I think for me the key message of these last seven weeks is the way the Holy Spirit transformed this person Paul.
He started off being a narrow, bigoted zealout, proud of his Jewish pedigree and his pure heritage. He was ready to use violence to further his aims without mercy.
But we have seen how the Holy Spirit has worked in his life over the years. He turned away from violence. He embraced love and grace, and long suffering patience. He became passionate about knowing Jesus and what he really wanted about all was for other people to know him too.
What a huge transformation – he has become more and more like Jesus. And that is what the Holy Spirit does – it transforms you and me - in our thinking and in our heart, so we become more and more like Jesus – and that has got to be a good thing hasn’t it?
I’ll end with a prayer that St. Paul had for the Church at Ephesus:
I’ll end with a prayer that St. Paul had for the Church at Ephesus:
I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, so that you, together with all God's people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ's love -- and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. Amen.