(Significant Scriptures: Acts 2:1-21)
Narrator: Loralee lay in bed, exhausted from all the busy-ness of her son’s sixth birthday party. It had been a lot of work planning and preparing for this day and finally pulling it off. Eric was so excited to have all of his friends there with him as he blew out the six candles on his strawberry swirl cake with the bubble gum icing. Exclamations of “O wow!” and “This is fantastic!” and “O mom, look what Jared gave me!” exploded from Eric when each present revealed itself from beneath a flurry of flying wrapping paper. Loralee had thought for a long time about which toy to buy for Eric, and when she saw the remote controlled red Corvette race car, she knew that she had found a gift that he would like. She carefully wrapped it in some brightly coloured boy’s birthday wrapping paper and she watched with anticipation as he tore the paper off of her gift to him. Eric was on top of the moon when he saw the picture of the bright red Corvette on the outside of the cardboard package. For the longest time, he just stared at it. As long as he could remember, he had always wanted a toy just like this. He had seen a real life Corvette once when he and his dad went to the Vancouver International Auto Show at BC Place. And now this one was his. He couldn’t believe it.
Eric’s buddies, impatient with his reverent awe, quickly asked, “Well, aren’t you going to open it?” Eric smiled and began to open the box. Loralee was as excited as Eric was. Eric gently removed the car from its cardboard cradle, set it on the floor, picked up the controls and great joy and anticipation, he purposefully pressed the acceleration buttion…. Nothing. He pressed it again. Nothing. He pressed every button and wiggled every toggle switch and the car never moved. It just sat there, still and silent. Loralee rushed over and picked up the box the toy came in, only to read in fine print on the back “Batteries Not Included.”
Eric was so disappointed. Loralee felt like she had really let him down. Batteries Not Included. What a dumb thing to do! Make a toy or an appliance that needs batteries and then not include them in the package. A battery-powered toy without batteries was not much of a toy. It would be equivalent to a stick or a rock in terms of what it could do, only it cost a lot more.
Loralee sighed to herself.
Loralee: “Batteries Not Included. That is the story of my life. I work as hard as I can and I never seem to get anywhere. And I am always tired. I work four days a week as a teacher’s aide, I take care of the house and my two children and my husband, Grant, …
Narrator: (Loralee glanced over at the snoring lump beside her in the bed)
Loralee: …and each night I fall into bed exhausted. And as if I don’t already have enough things to do, at church there is always someone asking me to teach Sunday School or help out in the kitchen. And I always feel so guilty whenever someone asks. I feel like I have to say yes because when someone from the church asks you to do something it’s like God is asking you to do something. So you cannot say no.”
Narrator: If she had the energy, Loralee probably would have continued this conversation with herself, but she didn’t. And so, without knowing how or when, she fell asleep.
The next morning, Loralee got up and got everyone else off to school or work. It was Friday, her day off, and she was going to have coffee with her best friend, Ellen. She admired Ellen. Ellen and Bob’s second oldest child, Zoe, was diagnosed with leukemia when she five. Three hard years of tests and procedures and treatments followed, but now, at age ten, Zoe was in remission, and Ellen and Bob were still together through it all.
As Loralee inhaled the aroma of the fair trade Mexican dark coffee, she felt a sense of invigoration that was soon reinforced by the sensation of caffeine gently coursing through her veins. Oh, how she loved that first coffee of the morning. She savoured her coffee again, then lifting her head, she gently quizzed her friend,
Loralee: “How do you do it?”
Ellen: “How do I do what?”
Loralee: “How do you do it? How do you do life? I mean, you and Bob have had so many challenges in your marriage and Zoe was so sick and yet you just seem to carry on! How do you do that?”
Narrator: Ellen paused for a moment before setting her own cup of coffee down.
Ellen: “It’s Jesus.”
Ellen: “Yes, Jesus. Jesus is the one who got me through Zoe’s illness. Jesus is the one who got me through that time in our marriage when it felt like Bob and I were strangers living in the same house. Jesus is the one who gives me the strength that I need to get up in the morning and face each day as it comes. Jesus is the one who does all of that for me and without him I could do nothing.”
(Loralee is silent for a moment.)
Loralee: “But Ellen, I still don’t understand how all that works. I know that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. I know that Jesus rose from the dead. I know that because I believe in Jesus I will go to heaven. But it doesn’t seem to make any difference in my life. Last week, one of the readings talked about receiving power when the Holy Spirit comes upon us and about being witnesses. Well, I don’t feel very powerful and I certainly don’t feel like being a witness.”
Narrator: Ellen pulled a little pocket Bible out of her purse.
Ellen: “Well, let’s take a look at that verse. Oh, yes, here it is. Acts 1:8. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Is that the one you are talking about?”
Loralee: “Yes, that’s it.”
Ellen: “Well, let’s look at some other verses that might be helpful to us. Let’s see. Oh yes, here it is! John, chapter 20, starting with verse 19:
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of anyone, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:19-21)
Ellen (speaking gently): “Loralee, the Holy Spirit is not a power or an energy. The Holy Spirit is a living person and he comes to us as a gift from Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the one who gives us the power to believe in Jesus and to trust in the forgiveness and the life and the salvation that he gives to us. That is the power of the Holy Spirit… to enable us to live in grace. (pause) “So whose power are you trying to live in? Your own power or the power of the Holy Spirit? Are you living in a performance trap or are you living in grace?”
Loralee: “What do you mean by a performance trap?”
Ellen: “A performance trap is that idea that surrounds us and is built into us that says that we have to perform up to a certain standard before others will accept us and love us and we also have to continue to meet that standard or they will turn against us and reject us.”
Loralee: “Well, what is so odd about that? It is reality!”
Ellen: “Unfortunately it is a reality in many human relationships. But it isn’t God’s plan for human relationships and it isn’t the way that God relates to us either. God’s love for you, Loralee, is unconditional and infinite. There is nothing that you could do that would make God love you anymore than he already does. And there is nothing that you could do that would make God love you any less. God loves you. And it is not because of anything that you did or did not do. It is because of God and who he is. God is love. And we see that love most clearly in the face of Jesus. Jesus loves you so much that he gave himself for you on the cross. Even if you were the only person in the world, Jesus would still have died for you. That’s how much he loves you.
“He has taken all of your guilt and your shame away from you and he loves and accepts you just as you are. You don’t have to earn his love. You don’t have to repay him for his love. He just loves you.”
(Loralee thinks for a moment.)
Loralee: “I don’t know Ellen. It is hard for me to accept that Jesus loves me just as I am. I know all the screw ups that I make in a day. I can see every spot in my house that isn’t clean. Everyone else in the world seems to have things all together, except for me. How can Jesus love me?”
Narrator: Ellen smiled at her friend, took a sip of coffee and stared for a moment at the funny monkey in the palm tree in the corner of the coffee shop. Then almost absent-mindedly, Ellen spoke, still studying that funny monkey,
Ellen: “Loralee, do you love your son, Eric?”
Loralee: “Of course, I love Eric, Ellen, you know that!”
Ellen: “Yes, I know. But did Eric have to do anything before you loved him?”
Loralee: “No, of course not!”
Ellen: “Do you love Eric only because he loves you back?
Loralee: “No way. I have loved him with my entire being from the moment that I first laid eyes on him. I even loved him before he was even born!”
Ellen: “Loralee, Jesus loves you just like you love Eric, only he loves you infinitely more. In
Isaiah, chapter 49 (verses 15-61a) God tells us these words: “Can a mother forget the
baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may
forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;”
Narrator: Tears began to well up in Loralee’s eyes.
Loralee: “Ellen, I have been trying so hard to be good enough and to do good enough and I don’t know if I can do things any other way.”
Narrator: Ellen put an arm around her friend’s shoulder.
Ellen: “You can’t, dear. That’s why you are so tired. But the Holy Spirit can. Jesus gave you His Spirit so that you could live each moment of each day knowing with all of your heart, soul and mind that you are completely forgiven and unconditionally loved. The Holy Spirit lives in your heart so that you can be free to follow Jesus moment by moment as you listen to the still small voice of the Spirit of God whispering to your spirit.”
Narrator: Loralee smiled through her tears.
Loralee: “Thank you!”
Ellen: You’re welcome! How are you feeling?”
Loralee: I feel like a burden has been lifted from my shoulders. I feel lighter and free-er than I have felt for a long, long time.” (pause) “But now I have to go home. I have to go back to all of that busy-ness.”
Ellen: “You have to go home, Loralee, but you don’t have to go back to living your life based on performance. Jesus has set you free to make choices about how you live. And the Holy Spirit will guide you so you can say no to those things that draw you away from God and say yes to those things that build you up in the life of grace that you have in Jesus.”
Loralee: “I am so not used to this, Ellen, and I don’t even know where to start. Any suggestions?”
Ellen: Sure! First of all, begin a conversation with God by reading his Word and by praying to him. And set aside a time each day to do this. Maybe it is in the morning before everyone else is up, or maybe it is at night after the kids go to bed, or maybe it is over the lunch hour when you go for a walk.”
“Second, surround yourself with a support network. And the best way that I know of to do that is to join a small group. Bob and I wouldn’t have made it without the love and support that we received from the people in our small group.”
“Third, immerse yourself in a community of faith. That means worshipping in that community. And that means serving in that community, in freedom, as the Spirit guides you. When someone asks you to serve, it is better to say “No” than to say “Yes” for the wrong reason.”
Loralee: “Thank you Ellen! I really appreciate all that you have done for me today!”
Ellen: “That’s the Holy Spirit working in me to help you.”
Narrator: One year later, Loralee slid into bed beside her husband, Grant. Today was a great day! For Eric’s seventh birthday, the whole family went to MacDonald’s. Eric enjoyed all of his presents, especially the baseball glove that his dad gave him. That night, after Grant had tucked in the kids and said their night-time prayers with them, Loralee went into Eric’s bedroom to kiss him goodnight. He wrapped his tiny little arms around her neck and gave her a sloppy, big, wet kiss and said, “Thank you momma for a great birthday! I love you!”
After Loralee said her own night time prayers, she silently thought to herself,
Loralee: “So much has changed in the past year. I was trying to do it all by myself before. It is much better living in the love and the freedom of the Holy Spirit. (Pause) That’s the difference about following Jesus. Because God poured out his Spirit on all believers, this is the one way of life where the batteries really are included.”
(Preached at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church 11 May 2008 )