Some of you will remember back in 1993 a cult that called themselves the Branch Davidians were led by a guy named David Koresh.
Koresh said the Spirit of God designated him the last prophet sent into the world and that he would lead a separate select few who followed him to the right religious life.
Accused of statutory rape and other offenses, like illegal explosives, Federal ATF agents stormed his compound and a fiasco of bombs and death, including his, followed.
Some remember in 1978 a guy named Jim Jones who said God’s Spirit told him to gather followers into a closed religious community he called ‘The People’s Temple’.
Congressional investigators, prompted by family members back home concerned about brainwashing and abuse, went to the African village he founded called ‘Jonestown’.
A congressman and others were killed and then Jones had his community ‘escape to heaven’ by drinking poisoned Kool Aid that killed 918 people, including 300 children.
Today on television, you can see people like Joel Osteen saying that God has told him to tell you that the Spirit is focused on, and all about, the idea of ‘profit’.
Not a prophet like Isaiah, but a profit in terms of the health and wealth you’ll have if you just have strong enough faith: its otherwise known as the ‘Prosperity Gospel’.
Pentecost Sunday is a day we talk about the Holy Spirit (AKA, Holy Ghost) and marks when the Holy Spirit came to enliven and aid the Church.
Some people like to call it the birthday of the Christian Church: i.e. when it began.
Of course, Jesus first gave that Spirit to his closest followers, as we heard in John 20.
But after that the Spirit of God came to bring this new movement God’s direct help.
In short, we can say that the Holy Spirit is the working of God in the world.
The Spirit of God does act autonomously and works to do God’s will on his own.
But, more often than not, that work is done by the Spirt through inspired people.
Yet, because the Spirit, unlike something you can tangibly document, is invisible,…
this idea of invoking the Spirit can lead to either divine work, or a dangerous game.
So how do we know the difference; that is, when the Spirit of God is really at work?
To begin to understand how the Spirit of God works, let’s go back to the beginning.
In the beginning, God’s Spirit was his breath: as he breathed and spoke, God created.
Since the world created was good, we know the Spirit of God creates only good things.
From the event at the Day of Pentecost in the Book of Acts, we learn a second thing.
The Spirit of God in Jesus Christ is about bringing disparate peoples to work together.
Unlike the Old Testament, when God preserved a people by keeping them separate,…from the time of Jesus on, the Sprit is about creating a community of the many different.
Thirdly, we know from Jesus that the Spirit will be our counselor, helper and advocate.
And the Spirit will give Jesus’ wisdom and authority to leaders of the new community.
But Jesus also gives us all the Spirit to help endure an often cruel and harsh world.
It will tell them tell the truth about unjust suffering, sacrifice and redemption from sin.
Using those biblical guidelines of bringing good things, promoting community out of disparity, and telling believers about God’s true help in the stuff they’ll have to endure,…
can help us discern whether the Holy Spirit of God is at work in someone or someplace.
So David Koresh and Jim Jones were false prophets who formed isolated communities who turned away from a ‘bad world’, instead of working together it to make it ‘good’.
And the Spirit of God certainly didn’t tell them to create the bad and sick sexual exploitations they engaged in or to have their followers kill themselves or others.
And how about the Joel Osteens of the world and their popular Prosperity Gospel.
We know the Spirit is about creating things good and wealth and health are good.
And those preachers bring all kinds of different people together in one building.
But do false prophets like the Joel Osteens tell the truth the Spirit wants us to hear?
They say that they speak for the Spirit, but that Spirit was given to us….by a man relatively poor, who had no possessions, and no place to call home during his ministry.
They claim inspiration from the Spirit of a guy….who rejected obsession with wealth, said ‘it’s better to give than receive’, and ‘blessed are the poor’.
Jesus himself fervently believed and had faith and yet he was rejected, humiliated and unmercifully killed for being true to God.
Did you ever notice that all those prosperity preachers are themselves mostly young and healthy and wealthy? (can I use the word ‘BS’ in a church sermon?)
You want to know if God’s Spirit is at work or speaking and acting through someone?
Ask yourself - does what’s being promoted bring about God’s goodness?
Kindness,…compassion,…mercy, forgiveness and love?
Does it promote community that brings disparate people together or cause separation?
Common purpose for God regardless of color, religious beliefs, politics, income, etc.?
And finally, is there honesty in telling how God addresses the unfair realities of life?
That the poverty, injustice and death that God hates,…even his Son could not escape?
But that God suffers with us and helps until eventually all is resolved and redeemed.
You can have false prophets within Christian churches and real ones out on the street.
You can have God’s Spirit working from a grand cathedral, or through a soup kitchen.
Just ask - is their witness and work from Jesus, or is it from their own ideas?
When you see the true things of God at work,…you see the Holy Spirit at work.
Its Jesus Christ in the world to help bring spiritual goodness where things are bad.
And one last thing,….
same holds true for determining whether and where the Spirit of God is in your life.
Are you being pulled to or moving towards things that are what God would call ‘good’?
Do you work with others different than you to further God’s will, or separate yourself?
And do you hear the truth of a harsh and sinful world, that God heals and forgives?
May we all realize and see that the Spirit is at work, whether we see him or not.
Happy birthday to the Christian Church.