Coach Shug Jordan at Auburn University once asked his former Linebacker Mike Kollin, who was then playing for the Miami Dolphins, if he would help his alma mater do some recruiting.
Mike said, “Sure, coach. What kind of player are you looking for?” The coach said, “Well Mike, you know there’s that fellow, you knock him down, he just stays down?” Mike said, “We don’t want him, do we, coach?”
“No, that’s right. Then there’s that fellow, you knock him down and he gets up, you knock him down again and then he stays down.” Mike said, “We don’t want him either do we coach?”
Coach said, “No, but Mike, there’s a fellow, you knock him down, he gets up. Knock him down, he gets up. Knock him down, he gets up. Knock him down, he gets up.”
Mike said, “That’s the guy we want isn’t it, coach?” The coach answered, “No, Mike, we don’t want him either. I want you to find the guy who’s knocking everybody down. That’s the guy we want.”
The guy who is knocking everyone else down—that’s the guy we want. You know, that’s the guy we want too, isn’t it? We want someone on our side who is bigger and stronger than everyone else; we want someone who will help us in our lives. Today is the day we commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the church on Pentecost. And He is the biggest One around. He is greater than anyone here on earth or anywhere. He is God, the third person of the Trinity. Today on Pentecost many years ago, there was a mighty rush of wind, tongues of fire rested upon each disciple and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages.
This is a great story but what does that mean today for us? Most of us do not speak in another language without going through the laborious process of first learning it. What does Pentecost have to do with having someone on our side, someone bigger and stronger who will help us? In order to understand how it fits in, it is important to understand why Jesus came to earth because the coming of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost are intertwined and interdependent. So then to back up the question, why was it important for Jesus to come to earth? We know Jesus came to earth to save people from their sins so we can be forgiven and then so that we can live differently than before; he died on the cross and then rose from the dead and defeated death. He fulfilled the prophecies and He established the church; He came to show us what God is like. He came to give our lives direction and purpose. And people believed and followed him; we have believed Him and are trying to follow Him. Jesus taught us that to live in God’s kingdom requires us to live differently than how our world lives. Jesus taught us that God’s kingdom has an entirely different set of values than our world. We who believe in Jesus and we who are trying to follow him need his help to be able to continue in faith and continue in obedience to live in that new way. The fact is without his help we just cannot be very good Christians. So even IF we want to believe and live like he has taught we need his help; we need his Holy Spirit.
We know that God’s presence is the Holy Spirit. We know intellectually that God is always there around us. Intellectually we can look out at the world and see the fingerprints of God in the great beauty of the sunrise or sunset. We can see a fragment of his greatness as we sense the power of the ocean or of a great storm. But most of us do not always feel Him with us as we go through our daily lives. Particularly we may not sense his presence when we struggle with pain or are experiencing some great difficulty. We might not feel his presence when we see someone we love going through suffering. We may feel weak when we are tempted to sin or not forgive or to lose our temper. So what do we do when we look around and want to truly feel God’s presence? What do we do when we really need God’s presence in our lives? C.S. Lewis in his Chronicles of Narnia said of the lion Aslan who was a picture of Jesus, “He is not a tame lion.” God the Holy Spirit is not our employee. We cannot just push a button and ‘bing’ God does what we want like some vending machine. We cannot force God to fill us with his presence. So what can we do? Do we simply hang out and hope?
No, not exactly but there is an image from James Smith’s book Imagining the Kingdom which I really find helpful. He says the following: “I cannot choose to fall asleep. The best I can do is to choose to put myself in a posture and rhythm that welcomes sleep. I lie down in bed; I close my eyes and breath slowly, putting my plans and thoughts about the day out of my mind. But the power of my will or consciousness stops there. I want to go to sleep, and I’ve chosen to climb into bed—but in another sense sleep is not something under my control or at my beckoned call. I invite sleep to me by imitating the breathing and posture of a sleeper. There is a moment when sleep “comes” settling on this imitation of itself which I have been offering to it, and I succeed in becoming what I was trying to be. Sleep is a gift to be received. And yet it is a gift that requires a posture of reception—a kind of active welcome.”
So it is with the presence of Almighty God; The Holy Spirit is a gift. We cannot force Him to come to us any more than we can force our body to go to sleep at night. Yet there are things we know about God. Intellectually we know God loves us. God has shown us his love through how Jesus treated people while he lived here on earth. We see his love through Jesus’ willing sacrifice for us so that we can be reconciled to God. We see his love in that he has adopted us as his children. So we know God is willing to share his presence with us.
So even though we cannot force God to pour his presence into us, we can put ourselves into the proper position to receive His presence. First we ask God to give us his presence so we can feel it. Jesus said, “If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” Next we can put ourselves into the position of hearing his voice to us when we are here at church together. We can truly listen to the Scriptures being read to us and listen to the message of the homily. Then when we pray, consider our sins and seriously mean to try to change when we say we are sorry in confession so that we remove any walls between Him and ourselves. And then during Holy Communion we reflect on God’s love shown to us through Jesus’ sacrifice. As we do all this we are putting ourselves into a place where we can sense him around us and He can fill us with His presence.
Coach Jordan knew exactly the kind of player he wanted on his team; he knew what he needed. And we need someone like that too. We need someone bigger and stronger than anyone else. We need someone bigger and stronger than all our problems that we face. We need God. So let us each pray that God will send us His Holy Spirit to live within us so that we can experience his presence and feel His power in our lives. And as we sense His presence let us live our lives so that the love of God is evident to others through the way we live. Amen