Varsity Faith: Lettering in a Spirit-Filled Life (8/16/15)

The Letter of Ephesians provides us with seven important ways to have a varsity faith. This week’s focus is on lettering in a Spirit-Filled Life. (Ephesians 5:15-20)



Today’s reading comes from the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 5, Verses 15-20 (NRSV).

15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 


I have been wearing one of your varsity jackets each Sunday during this varsity faith summer focus. Today, I am wearing Kellen Murphy’s high school varsity jacket. Kellen went to Centennial High School up in Columbus where he lettered in hockey and tennis.

So, Kellen has not only served tennis balls, he also serves Jesus through many different ways here in our church. Thank you, Kellen for all of the ways you serve.

Today, we focus on the importance of lettering in living out the Spirit-filled life.

Many years ago, a young family invited Penny and me to their house for dinner. It was just going to be a time to relax and get to know each other a little better.

So we arrived at their house and Terry, the husband, was shooting baskets in his driveway.  And so I started shooting baskets with him.

And after a few minutes of shooting some baskets, Terry said, “How about a quick game of horse.”  So we played a game of horse and he beat me.  Terry was a pretty good basketball player.  He was about 6’ 4” and very athletic.

After our game of horse, Terry says to me, “Here, shoot around a while, because I need to go into the house for a minute.  I’ll be right back.”

Terry goes into his house and I continue to shoot some baskets.  Five minutes goes by and Terry isn’t back. Same thing after ten minutes.  Still no Terry. I start wondering what’s going on.  Finally, about 15 minutes later, Terry emerges from his garage.  He is now wearing gym shorts.  He is also wearing a head band, knee pads, and basketball shoes.

I look over at his wife and she starts laughing because she knows how competitive her husband can be.  And here I was, wearing casual shorts, a polo shirt, and regular athletic shoes. Throwing the basketball into my chest, he tells me, “Let’s go to twenty.”

So we start going at it, and that’s when I realize how good Terry is. He’s blocking my shots.  He’s stealing the ball from me.  He’s getting just about every rebound.

Terry came out of his house ready to play. I obviously was not ready or prepared to play.

I wonder if this is what Paul means when he tells us to be filled with the Spirit. Maybe we can learn something from Terry. We are to come ready to live out our faith every single day.  We are to allow God’s Spirit to grab hold of us and strengthen us, and guide us as we seek to be followers of Jesus Christ.

Paul tells us to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul is saying, if you want to be filled with the Spirit, come ready to play.  Put on that head band and those knee pads and allow the Holy Spirit to be at work in your life.

“Be ready,” Paul says.  Don’t rely on your own strength.

If we want to have a varsity faith, we need to letter in being filled with the Holy Spirit. We need to practice the presence of God in our lives.

Baptism reminds us that the Holy Spirit is always present in our lives. We may not always realize it at the time, but God’s Spirit is always with us.

This was never made so clear to me than the time that I was attending a conference event when I was still in college.  It was at a time in my life when I knew that God had called me to totally change my career plans and respond to God’s call to enter the pastoral ministry.

It was a scary time for me, because I had a lot of self-doubts at that time, and I was struggling with this new calling in my life.

And so, here I was at this large conference meeting, and I just so happened to sit next to one of the former pastors of my home church when I was born back in the early 60s. Rev. John Wesley Stamm was his name.

I was his first baptism at that church. He had served several other churches since that time, and now in God’s mysterious way, here we were next to each other at this conference event.  And when he found out that I was one of the McDowell kids from a former church, his eyes lit up and he said to me, “I baptized you!”

Those three words had such an impact on me that I have never forgotten them.  “I baptized you!” he said.   His words to me were a reminder that it’s not about my abilities or strengths for ministry.  It’s about what God through his Holy Spirit can do in and through each one of us.

Rev. John Wesley Stamm reminded me that God’s Spirit is present in each of our lives even when we are only a few months old. I went away from that conference thinking about his comment to me. “I baptized you.” I felt a renewed confidence in responding to the calling to enter the pastoral ministry.

Paul tells us to be filled with the Spirit. That’s what my home pastor’s words helped me to do. They helped me to realize the untapped potential that is inside each one of us.

Here I had been focusing on my doubts and insecurities as I wrestled with God’s calling to enter the ministry, not realizing that the Holy Spirit was already active and present in my life.

I have noticed it really doesn’t matter how long we have been followers of Christ or how long we have been part of the church, all of us have a tendency to forget that God’s Spirit is present in our lives. But when we do remember, it’s the greatest thing.

This reminds me of the story of the man who was at a revival service. This man was out in the congregation and he shouted out for everyone to hear, “Lord, fill me with your Spirit! Lord, fill me!”

A couple of minutes later, this man stood up again and shouted, “Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit! Fill me!” He did this several more times during the service.“Lord, fill me with your Spirit! Fill me!”

     Finally, another man had heard enough, and he stood up and said, “Don’t do it Lord. He leaks!”

Well, truth be told, we all leak, don’t we? We are all leaky Christians. That’s why Paul is reminding us that if we want to have a growing and vital faith, a varsity level kind of faith, we need to remember to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Remember, that it’s not about our abilities or strengths. It’s about God’s empowering and indwelling Holy Spirit that has always been there. We just forget about this from time to time.

Laurence Hull Stookey says that we all suffer from what he calls, “spiritual amnesia.” We forget that God is present in our lives in any given moment and situation through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Several years ago, I was asked to preach at a church where a friend of mine was serving. She had always wanted me to preach at her church, and it just so happened that the best date for me to preach there was on Baptism of the Lord Sunday, which always falls in the beginning of January.

As I prepared for that Sunday, I felt led to offer a baptism renewal where I would invite the people in the church to come forward and I would place water on each person’s forehead and say the words, “Remember your baptism and be thankful.”

As that Sunday approached, I remember feeling anxious about leading this baptism renewal as a guest preacher.

I mean, this congregation didn’t know me and I didn’t know if anybody would respond and come forward for the renewal. I was beginning to second guess myself.

The Sunday finally came and I preached a stirring sermon about baptism and the Holy Spirit. I ended the sermon by offering an invitation for people to come forward for this baptism renewal.

As I was giving the instructions, I noticed this great big burly guy in the back pew. He looked kind of intimidating and his arms were crossed. I thought to myself, “This ought to be interesting.”

     I then picked up a bowl of warm water that I had prepared ahead of time and took my place there in the middle of the front of the sanctuary. I said to the congregation, “Come forward as you feel led and remember your baptism.”

     Inside I was praying, “Lord, please have at least a couple of people come forward, even one person, Lord.” Yes, these are the things pastors think about at such times, just in case you were wondering. Sometimes, we leak!

To my delight, several people got out of their pews and began coming forward. I was very surprised. As each person came to me, I said, “Remember your baptism and be thankful.” “Remember your baptism and be thankful.”

I glanced to the back of the sanctuary and didn’t see that big burly man in the back pew. Did he leave? Where did he go? Did I scare him off?

The people continued to come forward. “Remember your baptism and be thankful.” “Remember your baptism and be thankful.”

     The people of that church were really responding. It was so moving to see so many people come forward. Some even knelt at the chancel rail to pray before returning to their pew.

But God saved the best for last. Lo and behold, that big tough guy brought up the end of the line. I was shocked! “Ye of little faith,” I thought to myself.

The last person in the line, this giant of a man with huge arms and an incredibly thick neck, was one of the last persons to come forward. I dipped my fingers in the bowl of water and reached up to put the sign of the cross on his forehead.

That’s when I noticed that tears were streaming down his face, obviously moved by that holy moment. I said the words, “Remember your baptism and be thankful.” And this giant teddy bear of a man said back to me while choking back the tears, “God bless you, Pastor.”

I can’t totally explain why people, even tough looking guys are that moved by this simple reminder that God’s spirit is present in our lives, but I’ve experienced this time and time again. Whenever we are reminded that we are not alone and that God is with us, it makes all the difference in the world.

We are reminded that God has claimed us and knows us by name. The fears, the insecurities, and the doubts fade away. We realize that we have everything we need. God’s spirit dwells within us.

I’m sure there are a many people who could use a little reminder that the Holy Spirit is with them, especially as a new year of school is about to begin. It’s a time of preparing for new classes, meeting new teachers and professors, and making new friends.

The Apostle Paul is reminding us in our scripture reading this morning, that we will not be alone as we face these changes in life. The Holy Spirit will be with those students as they walk into the lecture hall on their first day of class, as teachers prepare those lesson plans, as a little girl gets on the school bus for the first time, and as the new pastor is still trying to get adjusted in a new setting.

The Holy Spirit is already present in each of our lives, guiding and directing us. We just need to remind each other of this good news of our faith.

An elderly church member from my previous church told me how difficult it’s been since her husband’s death several years ago. She said that when he passed away, she felt all alone. Everything changed when he died.

She said that her husband would always drive them places, but now she was in the driver’s seat. She said that since his death, when she gets in the car to go somewhere and puts her hands on the steering wheel, she has a little conversation with God. She prays, “Well, Lord, it’s just you and me now. I know you are with me. Guide and direct me in all that I do.”

Isn’t that incredible? It was her way of reminding herself that she wasn’t alone. The Holy Spirit has been guiding her every step of the way even in the driver’s seat, literally, the driver’s seat.

This is what the Apostle Paul is telling us to do if we want to have a varsity level kind of faith. Be filled with the Spirit. Remember that you are never alone. God is right there guiding, directing, and empowering us to live out our faith.

I was reading an article this past spring about what helps churches to grow. One of the top reasons why a church grows is because there is a lot of excitement within the congregation about what God is about to do next. And this excitement is because the people are open to how the Holy Spirit is at work in and through the church.

What if we have the same openness to the Holy Spirit as the elderly woman who I just shared with you? What if every time we enter these church doors, we would adapt her prayer ever so slightly and say,

“Lord, I know you are with us. Guide and direct us in all that we do. Help us to be a Spirit-filled church.”

     You’ll find this little Holy Spirit prayer in your bulletin this morning. I invite us to pray this prayer together.

Let us pray: “Lord, I know you are with us. Guide and direct us in all that we do. Help us to be a Spirit-filled church. Amen”

Today is a special Sunday. Later in our worship service, I am going to invite you to come forward for a baptism renewal. If you haven’t been baptized, that’s OK, you’re still invited come forward and know that the Holy Spirit is present in your life in every situation you face.

This is not going to be a typical baptism renewal service. Usually, I would place a little water on each person’s forehead in the form of the cross, but since we will be blessing five hundred water bottles which will be given away to college students this Saturday, I’m going to invite you to come forward to receive a bottle of water so you can take back with you to your seat.

When you come forward, I will hand you a bottle of water and say to you, “Remember your baptism, and be thankful.” Today’s baptism renewal service reminds us that we are a Spirit filled people who are seeking to be a blessing to our community by giving out these water bottles to college students.

After everyone comes forward to receive a water bottle and return to their seat, we will all have an opportunity to bless these bottles together. You will notice that the bottles have labels on them that include a welcome message, our church name, and our worship times.

This Saturday, from 11 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon, volunteers in our church will be handing out these water bottles to students and folks walking by our church building. We want our community to know that the Spirit is alive and well here at First United Methodist Church!

I can tell that the Holy Spirit is alive in this church because I can sense an excitement and openness to new ways to share God’s love right here in this university setting. The Holy Spirit is in this place!

As we have being going through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we have been discovering what it means to have a growing and varsity level type of faith. Paul says we need to letter in worship, Christian unity, growth, spiritual gifts, kindness, and a Spirit-Filled life.


Next Sunday, we’ll focus on one more letter for a varsity faith, prayer.