Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"Setting your mind on the Spirit"

Message preached March 17, 2002
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon  Romans 8:6-11

Order of Worship

            It was a rainy day, and I was just leaving our childrenís elementary school a few years back. Just doing my part as a parent manning a booth at the annual health fair during school hours. It was soon time for the children to go home and some of the buses were already lined up on the narrow drive in front of the building. As I walked between two of them I came across a woman in a car who had mistakenly tried to make her way around the buses on that drive. The only problem was, there was no room for both the buses and her, something she didnít realize until too late. After she scraped a bus, she tried to get out of harmís way, which only made things worse. Her car became lodged on top of the asphalt curb, unable to move.

            It sure didnít help that the young bus driver was yelling at her for her stupidity, claiming that she was a "hit-and-run" driver. Like she was really doing a lot of "running" at that moment. Pardon me, but he was acting like a real jerk. I guess he was worried what his supervisors might do about the scratch on his bus, which is all that it was. The womanís car didnít fare as well. She wasnít doing too good, either. She was so upset herself that her hands were trembling.

            I recognized her from the fair. She had been at another table, a health worker sent by the county who probably was not very familiar with the school and where - and where not - youíre supposed to drive during certain hours. She was obviously very frightened. I went to her driverís side door and sought to calm her down. I donít know what made me do it, but I asked if she was a Christian. Thatís not something you take for granted these days, if you ever could. "Yes," she said, and with that affirmation she began to calm down a bit. I then just reminded her of the power she had as a believer to handle this situation. "Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4, KJV). "You are not alone. God is with you. The Holy Spirit is your strength. Iíll stay here as long as you need me..."

            One of the most important ministries in the church, one of the most significant things we do - all of us - as believers, is to help each other remember who we are, whose we are, and what resource we already possess as those who are alive in Christ. Remember, bring to mind, set your mind upon the Spirit. In every situation we face, every day of our lives, we need the encouragement to set our minds upon what we already "know" deep down, those of us who have responded to Christís call with our own "yes," our own "Amen," our own placing of all that we are into the hands of the One who died to set us free.

            Now, I know that in the New Testament certain individuals were especially gifted in the area of "encouragement," persons like Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21-22, Colossians 4:7-8) and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 3:2-3, 2 Timothy 4:1-2), themselves following in the footsteps of the apostle Barnabas, whose very name meant "the son of encouragement" (Acts 4:36). Indeed, within the church today, certain persons seem to shine when it comes to encouraging others. Who in this fellowship, for instance, would you say is especially good at encouragement? (anyone want to share?)

            However, such ministry is not only for a few. Itís something we all are called to do. The apostle Paul elsewhere wrote. "encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing" (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Funny thing about that very verse - Paul was providing encouragement, himself, as he was calling the folks in the church to which he was writing to encourage one another. "Indeed you are encouraging," he wrote, reminding them of what they were already doing.

            "To encourage" is really to help persons keep focused upon the source of their courage. An encouraging person doesnít "give" someone else courage, does he or she? No. The English word "encourage" has as its prefix those two little letters "e" and "n," which point to the inside, not the outside. The courage is found "within" the person being encouraged by another. Set your mind upon what is already there within you.

            Now, you might say that there is a lot of other things within us, and some of it is not all that good. I suppose there is a negative form of encouragement, which pushes people to focus upon things that ultimately tear down rather than build up. The bus driver whose vehicle was "scratched" by that womanís car, for instance, certainly was "encouraging" in just such a negative way. His words elicited fear and anger, which are powerful emotions. Every day we are bombarded with all sorts of negative encouragement which seeks to focus us upon inner greed or jealousy or lust or ... (all of which is quite powerful stuff) in order to sell us something - whether it be a product or a belief.

            What you set your mind upon when you look within matters. What is the real source of your true courage, that which helps you to keep on keeping on? Well, we probably wouldnít be here this morning if we didnít know deep down the answer to that question. We have gathered, in fact, to encourage one another, to remind each other of the source of our strength, to set our minds upon ... the Spirit. "Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world" You have the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, Godís Spirit (all of which mean the same) within you.

            We sometimes call this Spirit the "helper" or "comforter." As Iíve said before, the English word "comforter" does not refer to a warm and cozy blanket that makes us feel good. There are times, though, that this is exactly what we need, and the Holy Comforter of God - the Spirit - surrounds us with such love and care. However, the Old English word, like the Greek word it originally translated in the King James Version long ago, speaks of the "fortification" this Spirit provides - the inner strengthening, the building up on the inside which we have already received from the One who is our mighty fortress. The Holy Spirit is such a com-fort-er.

            I think itís very appropriate that Karen shared with us during the childrenís time about "Tiffany," the dog who will next week accompany her to church. This animal is an encourager, if you will. As a "helper" it canít do what Karen, herself, needs to do. Unless Iím mistaken, I donít think they have taught this canine how to cook a meal, or how to take care of a toddler, or how to teach a class in public school - have they? No, Tiffany just helps Karen "hear" what she needs to hear. The rest comes from within, as Karen lives her life, not as a "disabled" person, but as an "able" person. Maybe every time we see this dog, and we will see her every week starting next Sunday, we will be reminded of the source of our strength, the helper who is in us, who is "greater than the One who is in the world."

            "You are not in the flesh," the apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, "you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you." He wrote this by way of reminder, as an encouragement. Of course, there is always that pull in the opposite direction. "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love" ("Come, thou font," #521). We sang those words earlier, and how true they are! But remember, if Christ is in you, "even though you still experience all the limitations of sin" (The Message), "even though your bod(y) must die because of sin" (CEV), still the Spirit within "is throbbing with life" (Cotton Patch). In fact, you are "dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ" (Romans 6:11). Remember that, I encourage you. Set your mind on the Spirit. For, "if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you" (Romans 8:11).

            Yes, set your mind on the Spirit. Focus upon the One who is in you, who makes you able. Say, with the apostle Paul, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). Along the way, encourage one another... I was impressed to hear of a student-led prayer group that meets every morning at Loch Raven High School. Here is a reminder every day of the source of your strength, right Caitlin? Itís absolutely necessary to set your mind in the right place, isnít it? What, with all the negative encouragement around us. Where would be without the regular reminder that, as Paul said, "the Spirit of God dwells in you."? You are not alone. God is with you. The Holy Spirit is your strength. God says to you, "Iíll stay here as long as you need me..."


            O God, who knows us better than we know ourselves, whose Spirit speaks for us even when all we can do is sigh (Romans 8:26-27), who comforts/fortifies us 24 hours a day 7 days a week, making us able for all things in every circumstance - we thank you.

            I confess, O Lord, that I stumble and fall when it comes to encouragement. We all do, especially toward those who are closest to us. I am so thankful for those among us who seem especially gifted when it comes to such reminding - helping others to set their minds upon that which they already possess: your inner strength. Thank you, especially, for when these others encourage those I love the most: my own family. Help me to grow as an encourager. Help us all.

            We are mindful, God, that these mortal bodies do not last forever. Some of us are more aware of that than others. While I canít say Iím fully thankful for the process of getting older - "age" brings with it a reminder that life is more than this earthly existence. The more we seek to hold on to the things "of the flesh," the more they slip through our fingers.

            Thank you, God, for the elders among us who, though their bodies are slowing and, in some cases, breaking down, their inner spirit shines ever more brightly. Even those whose minds find it harder to focus and remember. It is your Spirit in them that shines, growing brighter even as other things grow dim. Help us not to fear the ending of this earthly existence, the death of these mortal bodies, but rather to live as encouraged people who know the power of the resurrection, and the Spirit within whose flame will never be extinguished. Help us, God, to set our mind upon this Spirit.

This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

For commentaries consulted, see Romans

©2002 Peter L. Haynes

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