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Toshiki Toma

Go up, let us go

15. maí 2016

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. -Amen.

The sorrow and despair of Jesus’ disciples after they had lost Jesus on the cross turned into astonishment and joy when they met the resurrected Jesus. “He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God,“(At.1:3) as it is written in the Bible.

Then Jesus left his disciples again and went up to Heaven. This time, the disciples were not sad, even though Jesus had left them. They had, on the contrary, “great joy” (Lk. 24:52) since they were assured that their master was alive, and they would be connected for all time.

And for 10 more days after the Ascension of Jesus; that is, 50 days from his Resurrection; the event we call Pentecost took place. The Holy Spirit came down and dwelt in the disciples.

In today’s text from the Acts of the Apostles, it is written: “Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”(Act. 2:3-4)

The disciples were in the crowd, because it was the Jewish feast of Pentecost, and there were many Jews from many different places in the world. They were surprised to hear the disciples, who were uneducated Galileans, speak the visitors’ varied native languages.

Surely, it must be astonishing to witness this kind of event. If I were suddenly to begin speaking Persian here, you would be surprised. It was the work of the Holy Spirit that caused the disciples to speak languages that they had never known.

However, I would like to focus on another point here. OK, they began to speak many foreign languages all of a sudden, but what did they say? What did the disciples talk about in all these foreign tongues?

The answer is recorded in the Bible, but in a very modest way. “(…. )We hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”(Act. 2:11) Yes, they began to proclaim “the mighty acts of God” that had been revealed through Jesus’ death and resurrection. From this day, the disciples began to live their new lives, lives as founders of the Christian church. The Holy Spirit gave them this mission.

I want to think about the Holy Spirit a little bit. In spite of the fact that, when we begin our Sunday service, we always make the sign of cross saying, “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”; we don’t talk about the Holy Spirit as much as we speak about the God the Father, or Jesus.

One of the reasons for this is that the Holy Spirit is not described much in the Bible. Today’s text in the Acts is actually the text most directly focused on the Holy Spirit.

Or in the Gospel according to John, Jesus is explains the Holy Spirit to the disciples: “But when He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on His own, but He will speak what He hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming.”(Jn. 16:13)

Another reason it is not easy to speak about the Holy Spirit is this: the Holy Spirit hardly speaks by himself. But the Spirit went into the prophets, and let them speak. The Holy Spirit enters people, and speaks through them.

“I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and daughters will prophesy(…)”(Joel 3:1) This is what happened to the Jesus’s disciples on the day of Pentecost.

Because of this, we learn one very simple way to distinguish whether someone is inspired to speak about God and his mighty acts by Holy Spirit; or because of something else, like temptation by Satan. When we say things in accordance with what Jesus teaches and does, we are filled with the Holy Spirit. If we say something that doesn’t correspond with Jesus’s teachings, the Holy Spirit is not with us. It’s just that simple.

On one occasion, when I was a young pastor at a church in Japan, there was a man who taught at Sunday school. But he became influenced by a spiritual movement in South Korea, and began to speak an unknown language when he prayed. He said that he was filled with the Holy Spirit, but the fact was he began to speak badly about other church members after that, saying: “Your faith is very weak”; or “The Holy Spirit is not coming to you”.

I tried to help him consider whether the Holy Spirit would really work that way, but he just became resentful and left the congregation. This is a sad memory for me, but I still think that he wanted to be “different” from others; and somehow, he wanted to possess the Holy Spirit. But we cannot “possess” the Holt Spirit. The Spirit comes to us when we wait for him humbly.

God is almighty, and the Holy Spirit can enter into us regardless of what kind of people we are. He can even enter a person who does not believe in God, or is actively against him. St. Paul used to be a most aggressive persecutor of Christians until Jesus appeared to him.

But usually, God sees us as individuals who can decide what to believe, and what to accept. God our Father respects his relationship with us, and doesn’t force us into things when it comes to our faith.

There can be cases where the Holy Spirit cannot work well. For example, one of the disciples, Stephen, said the following in the Jewish supreme court, when he was accused of dishonoring the name of God: “You stiff-necked people, (…) you always oppose the Holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors.”(Act. 7:51)

And there are similar examples to be found in the Bible. And these examples show that when we are occupied with our own beliefs or ideas, and our hearts are “stiff”, the Holy Spirit cannot enter in.

Once there was a popular pastor in Japan, Yasuró Enomoto. He died young, only 52 years old, in 1977. He was an interesting guy. Before he became a pastor, he went to a Zen Buddhist temple and became apprentice to a Zen-master. In that temple, Zen-masters might not marry, and young Yasuró had to do much housework every day. Days passed, but the master didn’t try to teach Yasuró anything about the teachings of the Buddha.

One day, Yasuró’s reached the limit of his patience, and he went to his master and asked: “Master, please teach me the teachings of Buddha”. The master answered: “Do you want to learn the teachings of Buddha?” “Yes, I do.” “Then bring a glass and teapot full of water”.

So Yasuró brought a glass and teapot with water to the table. Then the master said, “Fill the glass with the water”. Yasuró did so. The master said again: “Fill the glass with water”. Yasuró asked: “What? Master, the glass is already full of water. If I try to pour more, the water flows over the glass!” And the master asked: “All right, did you get it?” “What? No, I don’t understand.”

Then the master stared at Yasuró and said: “Now, you are like this glass of water. Your head and your heart are full of junk. If I try to teach you the precious teachings of the Buddha right now, they will just flow out of you. If you want to learn the Buddha’s teaching, go and make yourself empty first!”

Years later, Yasuró, who became a Christian pastor, related this episode in his preaching, and said: “In the same way, if we want to ask for the help of the Holy Spirit, we need to make a space inside ourselves to welcome him. If we are full of junky ideas ourselves, he cannot enter into us”.

Meeting Jesus is a very important encounter in our lives, and receiving the Holy Spirit inevitably follows to an encounter with Jesus. The Holy Spirit helps us to understand the words of God and to strengthen our faith. Moreover, he gives us a new mission in our lives.

Look at the disciples of Jesus. After Pentecost, they became like totally different people from how they used to be. Weak Peter, who said three times “I don’t know Jesus” after Jesus was arrested, became a brave missionary until he himself was crucified. And the others became also strong missionaries. The Holy Spirit gave them their mission in life, and guided them.

We can be the same, and we should be the same. The missions that the Holy Spirit gives us are not limited to direct work in the church. Our missions in life can be various, even unique. We can choose the path of the nurse, engineer, baker, football player, chef, policeman, artist, singer, writer, etc.

God gives us different talents, so the appearance of our vocations can be also different. It might be that, in some situations, the mission in life is to protect one’s own family. Keeping sober must be a life mission for some people.

A week ago, there was an event called “From the darkness into the light”. It was held by an association called “Pieta Iceland”. This association is made up mostly of those who have lost family members or close friends through suicide. They work together to prevent more suicides from taking place.

I was not involved in this event at all, but listening to the people who attended this event, and seeing how they worked, I was touched. They were changing their difficult experiences into creative, loving power. I felt the true “life mission” of the people there.

Each of us may have a different mission in life. Nevertheless, if we look a little bit deeper into our various missions from God, we might see their common nature, such as faith, gratitude for life, the joy of forgiving and being forgiven, zeal for justice, love of peace, compassion for humanity, and so on. Isn’t it wonderful to be able to engage ourselves in such a mission?

Now let’s make our hearts humble and ask for the help of the Holy Spirit, receive his power and “Go up, let us go” (Jn. 14:31) to carry on our missions.

The Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Amen.


Joel 3:1

It shall come to pass
I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.

Acts 2:1-4, 9-11

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

„We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”

John 14:25-26, 31

“I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.

But the world must know that I love the Father and that I do just as the Father has commanded me. Go up, let us go.”

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