His Presence – May 15, 2016

“His Presence”

Isaiah 63:7-9 Acts 2:1-24

There’s an old story…likely not true…that illustrates today’s message.
When Joseph, Mary and Jesus were on their way to Egypt, as evening approached, they were weary and took refuge in a cave along the roadway. It was very cold…so cold that the ground was white with frost. A little spider saw the little baby Jesus…and he wished so much that he could do something to keep him warm in the cold night. He decided to do the only thing he could. He spun a web across the cave entrance…to make a curtain there to help keep out the chill.
Along the roadway came a detachment of Herod’s soldiers seeking the boys that Herod wanted killed. When the soldiers got to the cave they were about to burst in to search it…but…their captain noticed the spider’s web stretched across the entrance. “Look”, he said…”at the spider’s web there. It is quite unbroken and there cannot possibly be anyone in the cave…for anyone entering would certainly have torn the web.”
So…the soldiers passed on…and left the family in peace…just because a little spider…led by the Spirit…had spun his web across the cave’s entrance. Some say that is why today we put tinsel on our Christmas trees…for…the glittering tinsel streamers stand for the spider’s web…white with frost…stretched across the entrance of the cave on the way to Egypt.
Isaiah told the people….“In all their distress He too was distressed, and the angel of His presence saved them.” The angel is the Holy Spirit.
God was there for the people of Isaiah’s day. God was there for Jesus, Joseph and Mary. Though the story of the spider and the soldiers may not be true…the promise of God’s presence is true. What Isaiah described as “angel of His presence” …the Holy Spirit…comes in many forms.
For the infant Jesus and Mary…it was Joseph. Though Joseph was…in effect…Jesus’ adoptive parent…he was acting on the command of God’s angels…as seen in dreams. Joseph married Mary…though the custom of his day would have made it quite right for him to quietly dispose of her…to end their engagement. Joseph took Mary and Jesus out of their home to safety in Egypt to avoid the wrath of Herod. Joseph helped Mary raise Jesus through his youth and taught him carpentry skills. Like God our Father…acting on behalf of God our Father…the Spirit in Joseph was present to protect the child…Jesus.
When Isaiah was telling the people that God was distressed and present Isaiah was referring to some of the more spectacular…better known stories…Noah and the great flood…the Exodus from Egypt. He surely knew of the lesser stories. He also knew how all too often we don’t recognize…or maybe even ignore God with us. It still happens today….here’s another story that may be well known.
A terrible storm came into a town and local officials sent out an emergency warning that the riverbanks would soon overflow and flood the nearby homes. They ordered everyone in the town to evacuate immediately.
A faithful Christian man heard the warning and decided to stay, saying to himself, “I will trust God and if I am in danger, then God will send a divine miracle to save me.”
The neighbors came by his house and said to him, “We’re leaving and there is room for you in our car, please come with us!” But the man declined. “I have faith that God will save me.”
As the man stood on his porch watching the water rise up the steps, a man in a canoe paddled by and called to him, “Hurry and come into my canoe, the waters are rising quickly!” But the man again said, “No thanks, God will save me.”
The floodwaters rose higher pouring water into his living room and the man had to retreat to the second floor. A police motorboat came by and saw him at the window. “We will come up and rescue you!” they shouted. But the man refused, waving them off saying, “Use your time to save someone else! I have faith that God will save me!”
The flood waters rose higher and higher and the man had to climb up to his rooftop.
A helicopter spotted him and dropped a rope ladder. A rescue officer came down the ladder and pleaded with the man, “Grab my hand and I will pull you up!” But the man STILL refused, folding his arms tightly to his body. “No thank you! God will save me!”
Shortly after, the house broke up and the floodwaters swept the man away and he drowned.
When in Heaven, the man stood before God and asked, “I put all of my faith in You. Why didn’t You come and save me?”
And God said, “Son, through the Spirit working in others I sent you a warning. I sent you a car. I sent you a canoe. I sent you a motorboat. I sent you a helicopter. What more were you looking for?”
Just like Joseph…the adoptive father of Jesus…God is with us to protect and guide us. Look back on your life and you might say…oh yes…God was there. A seminary student and his wife were overjoyed at the birth of their first child…Michelle. During the child’s dedication service the pastor stressed that the parents were not only dedicating the baby girl to God. He said they were also dedicating themselves to raise her for God…just as Joseph had done with Jesus. The pastor said the child was on loan to the parents…on loan from God.
A month after the dedication service the little girl developed a severe influenza that steadily weakened and dehydrated her. One rainy, dark evening the child’s vomiting and diarrhea had become so severe that the doctor told her parents to rush her to the hospital. The examining doctor told the parents that if they had waited until the next morning she would have died of dehydration.
They left the little girl at the hospital…and drove home…recognizing they had come close to losing their first child. In their tears and conversation they reaffirmed to God that Michelle truly belonged to God. They loosened their grip on Michelle and said they would follow God’s will…demonstrated by the Spirit…for her life…for He is their true Father. He is the One whose presence saves…protects and guides.
Perhaps there has been a time…or more than one time…in your life…when it was God to whom you released something…and God found a way to take care of it. The near loss of a child…loss of a job…economic calamity…days in combat…loss of an important relationship…serious illness. Isaiah spoke clearly of God’s presence. We call it the Holy Spirit. Joseph experienced it…and became a participant in God’s work. When you and I reflect there’s a good chance we can identify God’s presence… directly…or through another person.
As I reflect personally…I can attest God was there.
My parents divorced when I was eight years old. I spent much of my time alone while my dad worked two jobs to earn almost enough to pay the rent…utilities and buy food. God was there in the neighbors and community chest volunteers who checked on me…brought us food and clothes.
In my teens I was a good student…but constantly looked for activities that would lead me to trouble. God was there in Ace…the Black man with whom I worked in the restaurant. He was also a house preacher…leading worship for six, eight or ten people in his living room every Sunday. He didn’t preach to me…or judge…or scare me into thinking God would send a bolt of lightning to strike me. Instead he gave me love and told me to whom he turned when the temptations got strong. God…working his Spirit through Ace… was there to walk me away from some of my temptations.
God was there in Bob…the Congregational Church minister with whom I played racquetball and drank beer. As we became closer friends…Bob began to encourage…encourage not push or threaten to walk away from our friendship… encouraged me to visit his church. Eventually I did…and that’s where God strangely warmed my heart one Christmas Eve…starting me on a journey that years later places me in your pulpit today.
Though there are still temptations…I now recognize that it is God’s presence in the Holy Spirit that keeps me at a distance from them. Though there are losses and hurts…I now accept that it is God’s presence in the Holy Spirit that gives me comfort. Though there are decisions that if made incorrectly could lead me down a wrong path….I believe it is God’s presence in the Holy Spirit that guides me to the right decision.
Instead of being like the Christian in the flood story who ignored or didn’t recognize God…or the Israelites who continually rebelled against God…or like yours truly in my teen and early adult years…we need to accept…desire…and expect God’s presence…always…as a direct presence in our lives…often working through someone like Joseph…my childhood neighbors…Ace…and Bob.
You have temptations…God sends his Spirit to keep them at a distance.
You have hurts and losses…God…through the Spirit…will bring comfort.
You have decisions to make. Take them to God…and listen to his guidance…follow the Spirit leading you to the right decisions.
And…by the way…look around you…God may be asking us to be His presence in someone else’s life. Open your life to God’s leading to whomever that person might be as you…together with the Holy Spirit…make your way on your Christian journey…make your way as part of their Christian journey.

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