In his recent book, The Power of the Other, Dr. Henry Cloud tells a story about his late brother in law who was a Navy SEAL, Mark was his name. He died in the Iraq war. After he died all the Navy SEAL’s in the area gathered together and came to his family’s house. They spent a week caring for the family and telling stories of Mark’s life. During the course of the week one of the gentleman told this story, and Dr. Cloud refers to him as Brice although that’s not his real name. Brice tells the story of being in the Navy SEAL training with Mark and the intensity of the training and how many soldiers that enter the training but don’t complete because it’s so intense. When you get to the very end of the program, soldiers must pass through Hell Week. During five and half days of continuous training, soldiers are pushed beyond mental and physical limits. A significant number of candidates will decide to drop out because it’s so overwhelming.
On the final day of training, Brice tells the story of being dropped into the water. He had to swim to shore, but when he begins to swim toward shore Brice was so physically exhausted from the week, so mentally exhausted that he had given everything he could give. He had nothing left. He was completely wiped out and he was prepared to give up. He just could not push his body any further. He’d begin to tread water and right as he was in the process of letting go his eyes met Mark on the shore. At that moment, Mark lifted his hand and said, “You can do it Brice.” Suddenly power surged into Brice’s body and he swam to shore and completed the training.
Of course, Dr. Cloud goes on to tell of this power of what other people do in our lives. He’s touching something that is fundamentally the way God created us. We are made to sustain and encourage and support one another. As we meditate upon Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit, of the Holy Spirit raising up the disciples to be his witnesses and the gifts being poured out in the body, we are meditating upon the Spirit of God moving to his people and through his people into the world.
The gifts that God pours out into His body are not simply to make us feel good. These gifts are to be poured out. We are made to pour out his love to one another, to encourage one another, to sustain one another. The book of Acts works out this Pentecostal story of the disciples becoming witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, all Samaria into the ends of all the earth. The book of Acts shows the disciples gradually working their way out o Jerusalem and eventually ending up in Rome. They have been made witnesses by the power of the Spirit. The Spirit has made them testify in the power of Christ. Also in some sense Paul will work out in the book of Galatians, they have become living manifestations of the promise made all the way back in the beginning of the Bible to Abraham, that through Abraham He would pour out a blessing upon all families of the earth. In Galatians Paul says this is the blessing of the Spirit. The Spirit has been poured down on his people and they are extending the blessing of God throughout the earth.
As we meditate upon this power of witness poured out in God’s people, sometimes we think of it like within a particular community. In fact, those of you who were here last year, I told plenty of Pentecostal stories from my Pentecostal life so I’ve had plenty of charismatic experiences, which enriched my life. I’ve seen God do wonderful things. We tend to think of the gifts of the Spirit working in that way. The Spirit pours out His gifts into a specific community to bless and encourage and strengthen the people in that community. I would also suggest that another way of understanding the gifts of the Spirit is to think of the gifts of the Spirit poured out across time.
Sometimes when people look out in the world today and they see the problems in the church and in the culture, they fret. I’ve heard people say, “Oh we need another Billy Graham to rise up. We need someone to spark a revival. We need something.” There’s some kind of fear that the church is not going to survive all the darkness. Well, it’s not ultimately us who will make the church survive. It is the Spirit of the Living God who raises his people up as witnesses from generation to generation to generation. We are here today because of witnesses, like Mark on the shore who lifts his hands up to Brice and says, “You can make it Brice.”
The writer of Hebrews says, “the body is to gather together all the more as you see the day approaching, exhorting one another, encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:25). The gifts are being poured out through us when we gather and from across the ages. Witnesses that have lived long before us give us strength through their words and lives. This morning I thought I might just rehearse a few of these witnesses whose lives poured out for the body of Christ across the ages that continue to sustain the faith of God’s people. It is the gift of God’s Spirit poured out on his people.
Let’s go back to the very first and second Century and meet Ignatius of Antioch, Apostolic Father and one of the most important fathers in the church and probably one of the least known. In fact, we don’t know a lot about his story. We know a little bit from Eusebius but there’s no way to verify everything Eusebius tells us but it appears that he was born while Christ was on the earth. There was a legend in the church that he could have very well been one of the children that Jesus blessed when he said, “Let the children come unto me.” We would have no way of knowing that.
We do know he was in Antioch. He was discipled by John and he was a friend of Polycarp, and he’s made a bishop of Antioch. Now just to help your memory: Antioch is the church that sent out Paul and Barnabas. This is the sending church that sends out Paul on his great missionary journey. Years later Ignatius is made the Bishop of Antioch and he serves as Bishop for 40 years. While he serves as Bishop there was a season between 81 and 96 that Domition greatly persecuted the church. Ignatius probably would have seen some of his own people in his congregation being led away to die. We know from his letters that this greatly troubled him. He wanted to be a martyr for the faith. He’s seen other people martyred. He himself feels called to be a martyr but it doesn’t happen at that point.
As he grows older, the year 107, 108, 110, we’re not exactly sure, the Emperor Trajan comes to the throne and puts Ignatius on trial, sentencing him to death. Picture this, Ignatius is an older man who couldn’t really, harm anyone. Trajan sends 10 soldiers to collect him. They put him in chains. They put him on a boat and begin taking him to Rome. As they head to Rome, they have to stop at different sea ports along the way. This sounds almost odd to us but he becomes something like a early Christian celebrity, a rock star. When he comes into the ports, all these Christians show up at the ports cheering him on. They’re excited to see Ignatius, this great Bishop of the faith who’s being led away to death.
When he comes to Smyrna Polycarp shows up with all the church at Smyrna. Not only Polycarp, a whole contingency from Ephesus shows up as well. They’re all coming to see him and cheer him on. He’s moved by the gathering of the church and decides to write a series of letters. He writes possibly 7 letters, we’re not exactly sure. We have 7 letters so he wrote some of those letters, exhorting and encouraging the church. It appears the letters were written in haste. Sometimes the arguments aren’t fully formed so it would be as though he’s on the ship scribbling off some letters sending them out as he’s on his way to Rome. He’s encouraging the body of Christ. As he his on his way to death, he’s encouraging them to stay true to the faith. He’s not lifting himself up. In fact, he says, “I’m no greater than you, I’m just a fellow learner of Christ.”
What makes his letters so fundamentally important to the church is that in the early second Century, we have a Bishop of Antioch defending the virgin birth, defending the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ in his letters, calling his people to worship and gather on Sundays, not on the Sabbath on Saturdays. The church had begun to worship on Sundays. We have the first use of the word, “The Catholic Church” because he sees the whole church united in Christ. We see him exhorting the church to take communion, the Eucharist. Come together and remember the body and blood of the Lord.
Some of these great doctrines that will shape the church already early in the second Century begin to emerge in a man’s letters as he’s on his way to death. One other interesting detail that shows up in his letters, he writes the Christians at Rome, some of whom are very influential, and he says, “Don’t pull any strings for me. I’m on my way to die and I don’t want you to try to get me out of it.” That’s exactly what happens. When he gets to Rome, he is fed to the animals. His witness continues across the ages and has played a fundamental role as the Church has tried to understand the meaning of our faith. His witness in letters took shape in a time of fire, in his final moments on the earth, and by the Spirit his witness continues to resound in the earth today.
Let me jump ahead a few Centuries over to Ireland, which we could spend the whole time because I love the Irish saints. As I was reading Columbanus’ story he makes me think of the late nineteenth Century, early twentieth Century emergence of the YMCA and muscular Christianity. These Celts were definitely these muscular Christians who did heroic feats that are almost unimaginable. Praying all night long out in ice cold water, doing all sorts of crazy things to their bodies in acts of service to the Lord.
What makes Columbanus fascinating is that he basically goes on pilgrimage for his entire life. As a young man, he enters a monastery under Saint Comgall where he’s trained and he learns spiritual discipline and spiritual formation. Eventually, he actually writes up a rule of life that shaped many of the Celtic churches. After a few years, he asks Comgall for permission to go on pilgrimage for the sake of the Lord. Comgall agrees, so Columbanus and 12 of his companions travel first over to Britain. Then they go to France. If you read much about the Celtic pilgrims, they often don’t know where they’re going. They just feel a call to go on pilgrimage. They just go out and go; they go out and start traveling wherever they might lead.
They end up in France and they’re traveling from town to town proclaiming the gospel. They don’t have a particular plan in mind they’re just traveling town to town. They end up in Burgundy and King Gontram says, “Hey will you build a monastery here?” They agree to it and they build it in the middle of the mountains, the Vosges Mountains. In fact, they serve in these mountains for over 20 years building monasteries. When we look back and see where these monasteries are you think, “What kind of super humans were doing this without any kind of modern equipment?” They spend their days building monasteries, preaching the gospel, training young leaders, and teaching the locals how to cultivate the land and grow and eat.
This was the Celtic form of evangelism. They would go in and plant a community. That’s what their understanding of a monastery is, it’s a community that sustains the local communities, it’s a teaching place, it’s a place that sends out disciples and as soon as the community is established, Columbanus would put somebody in charge and move on and start another monastery.
Eventually, he offends one of the rulers there for rebuking him for his profligate lifestyle and has to leave Burgundy. He starts traveling across Europe and he spends his whole life traveling town to town with a small band of monks preaching the gospel. By the end of his life it’s said he planted between 60 and 100 monasteries across Europe and he is fundamental for the evangelization of Europe.
Let’s jump ahead almost 1,000 years to one of my favorite witnesses. Some of you will be familiar with him, Count Nicolaus Ludwig Von Zinzendorf. He was born in a Lutheran family that would be called Pietist. There was a response to the formalism of Lutheranism. Pietism would say that we need to have a personal encounter with Christ. It’s not simply formal religion. We need this encounter with Christ. Count Zinzendorf grows up in a family that is deeply rooted in studying scripture and praying together. His mothers prays, “that the father of mercy would govern the heart of this child, that he would walk blamelessly in the path of virtue and that his path would be fortified in his word.”
The Count’s wanted to become a preacher and a theologian but because of his family’s position he was expected to serve. He serves as a young ruler but has a deep passion for Christian community. While he’s praying and asking God about forming a Christian community, Christian David, a Moravian shows up at his doorstep. The Moravians had suffered persecution and were wandering refugees. Count Zinzendorf invites Christian David to live there and sets aside part of his property for a community of refugees.
A year later, 100 Moravians have moved onto the property and over the course of the next few years the community increases to 300. Count Zinzendorf’s heart is with this community even though he is serving in government. How do we help this community foster their faith, how do we help them grow? At one point there’s some conflict because you have Lutherans in the community, some Pietists, some Moravians, they’re all from different backgrounds and they’re having conflict. The Count and his family leave the family manor and move into the village with the rest of the Moravians. He begins to ask God, “What’s the wisdom for managing this community?”
I think I’ve mentioned John Amos Comenius in the past. The Count comes across the writings of John Amos Comenius which gives him wisdom in how to manage this community. Then Zinzendorf and this little Moravian community begins to grow and it becomes a mission-sending community. Some of you may be familiar with this community already but they began a prayer meeting that goes around the clock and it lasts for 100 years. Because of this prayer meeting has rippling effects around the world including the First Great Awakening. Charles and John Wesley were both shaped by this community. In one way or another, all modern missions were directly impacted through the work of Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians.
Now let’s jump ahead to a completely different gentleman, Michael Faraday, a nineteenth-century scientist. Faraday grew up in a very intense Scottish Christian community. He had a working class family so he didn’t get formal training. He did a little bit of schooling but most of his education came from reading books. In fact, for 12 years he worked as an apprentice to a bookseller. During that time, he read a book by Isaac Watts on training the mind, which shaped the rest of his life.
Faraday applied Issac Watt’s principles on training the mind and he applies it to his life. By the way, this is the same Isaac Watts that was a great hymn writer. Faraday educates himself and becomes a research scientist. Eventually, he’s able to apprentice himself to a formal scientist. Over the course of his life, he becomes one of the most important scientific discoverers. The physicist Ernest Rutherford has stated, “When we consider the magnitude and the extent of his discoveries and their influence on the progress of science and industry there is no honor too great to pay the memory of Faraday, one of the greatest scientific discoverers of all time.”
He is researching and studying science as an expression of his faith because he’s discovering the wonder of the world that God has created. Now he’s not trying to evangelize in the lab, he’s doing real work as a scientist, but he’s doing it as an act of worship unto his king, to look at the great wonders that God has discovered. In the course of his life he becomes the first person to liquefy chlorine. He isolated benzene; he did important practical research on the alloying of iron. He’s most known for his research into electricity and his discovery of electromagnetic induction.
He does a lot of research with fields. Now if you’re familiar with field theory, this is some of the initial work in field theory. He does a lot of work in fields and the fields of force rather than material substance as the underlying reality. At the end of Faraday’s life, another Christian comes along named James Clerk Maxwell who is a formally trained scientist. He’s actually a mathematician. He’s much, much younger than Faraday but he looks at Faraday’s research and he begins to apply mathematical formulas to it. These two men together have a pivotal impact on Albert Einstein. Einstein had 3 pictures on his desk: Issac Newton, Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell. Both of these Christian men who were trying to work out their faith in the lab played a fundamental role in our world.
Einstein describes Clerk Maxwell’s work as, “The most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton.” Two devout Christian men working in a scientific field and yet their witness reverberates around the world.
Everywhere we turn, God’s people are revealing his witness in the world. We are testimonies to the living Christ and often in the very mundane places where we work, in the relationships where we live. Not all of us may do research like this but all of us play a significant role in this small set of relationships. All of us can be like the Mark on the shore who extends his fist to Brice and encourages him. The Spirit of God has placed us and is raising us up and making us witnesses so that we are witnesses both to the risen Christ but also to his glory on the earth. In Christ, all that we do is effecting the world, reverberating around the world.
Then as we think of the future, we think of the state of the church today, we think of the future of the church, our hope is not in our strength or weakness, our hope is in the risen Christ and his Spirit that has been poured out in his people. He will continue to pour out his Spirit and he will continue to transform the world until the times are complete and Christ fully unveils his kingdom.
Thank you Father, for the witness of your people across the ages. Thank you for you Holy Spirit that has been poured out in us, that has sustained us. Thank you for those who have led us to faith. May we ourselves become witnesses to the risen Christ. May the Spirit of God work in and through us to reveal your glory on this earth. In Jesus name, Amen.
 The Power of the Other: The startling effect other people have on you, from the boardroom to the bedroom and beyond-and what to do about it. Henry Cloud. HarperBusiness: May 3, 2016.
 Here’s a short but rich homily Pope Benedict XIV offered about St Ignatius of Antioch – https://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/audiences/2007/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20070314.html.
 The former President of Ireland Mary McAleese recently produced a documentary on St. Columbanus, “Mary McAleese and The Man Who Save Europe” is available to watch on Youtube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lduaqQ2uqBg.
 For a richly textured overview of Count Zinzendorf and his influence, read the first issue of Christian History magazine (available for free to download or read online at https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.com/magazine/issue/zinzendorf-and-the-moravians/).
 For an excellent introduction to Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell, read these short life summaries by I.H. Hutchinson (MIT Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering): Michael Faraday – https://silas.psfc.mit.edu/Faraday/. James Clerk Maxwell – https://silas.psfc.mit.edu/Maxwell/.