“ . . they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit “. Acts 8:15
Have we ever had a moment when we were suddenly pulled up by the realization that people did not see us in the way that we see ourselves?
There have been many times when I have suddenly realized that the person I thought I was differed greatly from the person that other people saw, I was not the person that I imagined myself to be. However, if anyone had asked me what sort of person I was, I think I would have insisted on telling them that I thought was OK. Maybe I was not not the best of people, but surely I was not the worst of people. I would have thought myself as not being the greatest of saints, but equally I would have felt that I was not the worst of sinners.
Wouldn’t we all see ourselves in that way? We wouldn’t profess to live perfect holy lives, but we would feel greatly aggrieved if we were accused of being seriously in the wrong. If someone came to you and spoke to you individually and accused you of being a miserable sinner, I think you would feel somewhat annoyed.
The passing years have caused me to realize that I’m not a very good person. The sins change, but the human weakness doesn’t.
Saint Paul seems to understand the tendency towards doing wrong. He writes in the Letter to the Romans Chapter 7 Verse 19, “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.”
Most people, if they sat and seriously reflected for five minutes could probably come up with a list of aspects of their lives which they would be prepared to admit was far from perfect. Maybe there are unresolved wrongs from our past, things for which there has never been a genuine saying of the word “sorry.” Maybe there are things now that really do need to have something done about them. Maybe there are things that no-one else even knows about that need to be addressed, that need to be put right.
The option Christians do not have is to do nothing. One cannot pretend to be Christians and simply go on living unchanged lives. If people know that there are things in their lives that they should be doing something about, and they persist in doing nothing, then what does that say about their attitude to God? What does it say about their attitude towards their faith? and we are making a mockery of our faith.
In the Second Letter to Chapter 1 Verse 9, Saint Paul writes that the Lord, “has saved us and called us to a holy life.” Christians are called to live lives that are different, different from the lives they have lived in the past, different from the lives of people around them who profess no faith. If the lives that people live as Christians are not distinctive, are not different, then doesn’t the question have to be asked, “are they Christian?”
The problem faced is the very problem that Saint Paul faced, we mean to do things that are right, but it’s so much easier to do the things that are wrong. It’s easier not to say sorry. The excuses come readily to us, we don’t want to rake over old ground again, let sleeping dogs lie. It’s easier to carry on thinking the way we have always thought, sure who knows what we’re thinking anyway. It’s easier to carry on doing the things the way we have always, done them, we’re too old to change now or we’re no worse than the next person.
It’s very hard to change. Maybe there is the odd thing that pulls us up and makes us think, but generally we just carry on.
Jesus realizes what people were going to be like, he realizes that left to our own choice we will just go our own way, so he says that the Father will give his people a Counsellor to be with them forever – the Holy Spirit.
This morning’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles shows that being a Christian is about more than what people do themselves. It is about what God does.
The Samaritans had been baptized but more was needed, the disciples laid hands on them and “they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is God with his people, the Holy Spirit is God in his people.
The Holy Spirit that descended upon Jesus in the moment of his baptism by John in the Jordan is the Holy Spirit who is with God’s people now.
It’s 9th January today, the second Sunday of a New Year. Most New Year’s resolutions have probably fallen by the wayside. What about making a new resolution? What about taking five minutes this afternoon, this evening or tomorrow, and reflect on your own life and honestly ask, “what needs to change? What do I need to do to become the person God wants me to be?”
Don’t wait until something pulls you up – by then it might be too late.