O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
What do you think of when you hear the word majestic sound? We use the word majestic to describe big things like mountains. In my mind majestic is big, but also loud. Big and loud would also be good words to describe the opening and closing gatherings at our Vacation Bible School this week. In a world where kids are so often being told to be quiet, at VBS they are encouraged to be loud. The beginning of each session included a slide that said “make some noise.” Boy, did they ever!
One day when Jesus was at the temple in Jerusalem healing the blind and the lame, the Jewish leaders heard children shouting at Jesus, “Praise God for the Son of David!” The leaders were angry about what they were saying and the noise they were making, but Jesus reminded them of our Psalm for today, Psalm 8. Verse 2 says, “From the mouths of children and infants you have ordained praise.” (Matthew 21:14-16)
The rest of the verse says that the purpose of that praise is to silence God’s enemies. If anybody can drown out the noise of enemies, it’s wound-up kids. Even when they aren’t trying to be loud, kids are loud. Teaching at VBS this week, I learned quickly not to try to talk over the noise. One person shouting has little effect on a room full of kids, it just adds to the cacophony. But God has given us all sorts of abilities, and clapping hands breaks through the noise and gets their attention. Thanks be to God.
The Holy Spirit works this way too. Breaks through the noise and gets our attention – sometimes in big, dramatic ways like sound of wind and the vision of flames at Pentecost that we talked about last week, sometimes in more subtle ways like clapping hands in a classroom. The Holy Spirit is both chaos and order altogether. Through our faith in Jesus Christ, God has given us the Holy Spirit to help us change the world, in big and small ways. But…
With great power comes great responsibility.
In Psalm 8, the psalm writer praises God for caring about us and giving us the ability to care for the world.
What are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You gave them charge of everything you made,
putting all things under their authority—
God made us with a purpose – to care for the world and for one another. We have seen lots of good ways this has happened, and also lots of ways that this power has been abused to exploit the vulnerabilities of people and creation.
God gave us the ability to grow and change, and the Holy Spirit helps us to have wisdom and insight, and to work together. We have learned that small things have big impact.
We demonstrated this principle at VBS this week by dropping various items into a tub of water. Before we dropped each item, we asked the kids to guess what the impact would be. They guessed that a potato would make a big splash, and it did. They guessed that an apple would make a smaller splash, and they were right. They guessed that a foam ball would make no impact, but they were surprised to see that even though it was very light and stayed on top of the water, it made pretty good ripples across the surface. Even small things can make a difference. Even small things can make waves.
Last week in worship, for Pentecost, we used red yarn to symbolize the Holy Spirit connecting us, and we each hung our piece of the Spirit on a tree, as a sign of our working together in the power of the Holy Spirit. This week that tree got planted in the middle of the front yard of our house.
It’s been important to me to work on planting trees, even though I still have a lot to learn about how to do it successfully, because it’s one way we help take care of our world. Trees take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen. We need trees to help clean our air. If everyone in the world planted trees, it wouldn’t be enough to totally fix our carbon dioxide problem, but it would be a start. Working together to help our environment we have a bigger impact.
The apple tree we planted might someday bear fruit. It’s a yellow delicious apple tree, so maybe it can even help feed people. But one apple tree all by itself won’t bear fruit unless it gets pollenated, and that can’t happen unless I plant another apple tree, or get my neighbors to plant some apple trees. What would happen if we all planted apple trees? Wouldn’t that be cool?
Trees are symbolic of hope for the future, and they remind us that…
Growth takes time
We talked a lot about water at VBS this week, because our theme verse was John 7:38 “Whoever believes in me . . . rivers of living water will flow from within them.” John 7:38 NIV
Living water is an analogy for the Holy Spirit who works in so many different ways – some dramatic and sudden, others subtle and gradual over time.
When my husband Rob and I were driving across the New Mexico and Arizona, we got to see some beautiful geology – layers of rock exposed over eons of time by the flow of water, uncovering minerals that were deposited millions of years ago. This picture is the Painted Desert National Park in Arizona. This beautiful landscape didn’t happen overnight, but over the course of lots and lots of time.
Over time, the living water of the Holy Spirit changes us, too, as it flows through us, and impacts the people around us. We see this impact in the story of Phillip meeting the Ethiopian man in Acts 8. The Holy Spirit prompts Phillip to go walk alongside the carriage in which the Ethiopian man is riding. Phillip doesn’t just say hi and move on, he spends some time with the man. Phillip has heard the man reading a passage from Isaiah 53, so he asks the man if he understands what he is reading. The man admits that he doesn’t, and so Phillip helps him to understand that the passage is talking about Jesus. Phillip tells the Ethiopian man the good news about Jesus, and the Ethiopian asked Phillip to baptize him in a nearby river. They then go their separate ways and never see each other again, but they are forever brothers in Christ. Their lives have been changed, and God’s love continues to be spread through them as they go.
Through the Holy Spirit, we have all we need to make a difference
Because the Holy Spirit lives in us, we are pear-fectly equipped to share God’s love with the world.
There are many passages in the Bible that talk about the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12-14 describe various spiritual gifts that enable us to be leaders, to have ecstatic experiences, and to build community. All of these are important, and all of these help us to know that God is present and working among us through the Holy Spirit.
The passage we focused on in VBS this week was in Galatians 5 in which Paul lists what he calls fruit of the Spirit. Can you name all nine?
“The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23)
Some of that fruit get more attention than others, maybe because they’re easier to work on – love, kindness, joy, peace.
Patience is a tough one, maybe because it’s specifically about time. The word in Greek that Paul used is makrothymia. Makro means long, thymia means passion. So it basically means to be long-tempered instead of short-tempered.
Patience is a fruit that carries a lot of wait. It’s about waiting, and it’s hard to wait. Have you ever noticed that this word is the name of the job that’s so important at a restaurant? To wait on tables as a waitress or a waiter. It takes a lot of patience to wait on customers, but that’s what’s required. A short-tempered waiter is likely to get fired.
Another fruit of the Spirit that especially involves time is faithfulness. Faithfulness is how the Holy Spirit enables us to keep on trusting God while we’re having patience.
We especially need patience and faithfulness as we live in a time of great uncertainty. We don’t know what the future holds. We are living in the midst of a world that has been and is still being transformed by climate change, a pandemic, economic upheaval, racism and white supremacy, and the list goes on. But we can “be assured that through the Holy Spirit, we already have what we need, even when it doesn’t feel like it.”
God can help us change the world around us.
As we spend time with God, the Holy Spirit changes us.
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” – Gandhi
Even just helping people in small ways can have a big impact, because people are more likely to help people after they have been helped. Love and kindness are contagious.
If you could change the world right now, how would you like the world to change?
This week, we challenged the kids at VBS to write down their answer to that question and take it home and pray about it, trusting that God has given us the Holy Spirit to help us change the world.
Will you accept the same challenge? What would you like to see change?
Will you commit to praying about that?
And let’s watch and wait to see how the Holy Spirit will help us make a difference!
 Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water, as found in “Defining the Charismatic Tradition: The Spirit-Empowered Life” at https://renovare.org/articles/defining-the-charismatic-tradition
 Elizabeth Evans, “Sitting With Uncertainty,” Sunday’s Coming, Christian Century email sent June 6, 2022 https://mailchi.mp/christiancentury/sc-free-2022-06-06?e=ad12e8afdd