Bible Readings: Psalm 104:26-35 & John 15:26-16:15

Lucozade and God

I wonder how many of you have seen this advertisement for the sports drink Lucozade. I first saw it a couple of weeks ago on the bill board on the station car park. I wonder how it makes you feel, what you think about this Biblical account being subverted and used to sell fizzy sugar water. I guess from the way that I’m describing it, you can tell a little bit about how I feel. But, beyond the immediate, maybe knee jerk, negative reaction, I have been doing a little bit of thinking about what it’s doing, and a couple of challenges that it think that it surfaces for us, especially at Pentecost. I think that they can be summarised in two questions.

Is Lucozade God?

and

Is God Lucozade?

So, firstly, is Lucozade God? Of course the answer is No, and for me, the problem with this ad is not so much the co-option of the story for commercial purposes, distasteful as I might find that. In fact I think that there’s actually a back handed compliment there that the ad company believe that the account of David and Goliath is well enough known for the ad to make sense to people. No, I think the big problem here is that it is putting something in the place of God.

Let’s look back at the original story, briefly.

It’s a couple of hundred years after God had brought the people out of slavery in Egypt, through the wilderness, to the promised Land. They had come in, under God’s protection and direction and settled the land. They’d lived as confederation of tribes under one judge or another, until finally they decide that they wanted a King. So, the first King, King Saul was chosen by God and is on the throne. It isn’t going that well for him and the Philistines have invaded, and the two armies are camped opposite each other. Each day the Philistine champion, the giant Goliath, comes out and taunts the Israelite army, daring them to come and engage in 1 on 1 combat with him. A young shepherd boy, visiting his brothers in the army camp, sees this and is indignant at the offence offered to God by this threat. He offers to go and face the giant. The king hears of this and offers the boy his armour and weapons, but they are too big, so he goes out, armed with nothing but a sling and some stones, and slays the giant.

But I’ve missed a bit out, haven’t I. What enables David to do what he does? This is what he says to Goliath in the midst of the conflict,

“I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts … this very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand.”

David’s confidence is in the Lord, in God. But I wonder if we can’t say a bit more than that.

Years later, when David is king, he commits a horribly sinful crime, and is challenged about it by Nathan, God’s prophet. Feeling the weight of his guilt, David cries out to God to forgiveness, a poetic rendering of which we can read in Psalm 51, “Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.”

On another occasion David is reflecting on the way in which God’s presence has been with him all the way through his life, in good times and bad, in celebrations and in challenges, and he writes this, in Psalm 139, “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence.”

It seems to me that in David’s understanding God was present with him by the Holy Spirit. It was God, the Holy Spirit, that was working through him on that day of battle, that gave him courage, that had taught him to trust God in the battle, that enabled him to face the enemy and to prevail.

It wasn’t Lucozade. It was the Holy Spirit.

So far, so finger pointy. But, the problem with pointing a finger at somebody else is that I usually end up with three fingers pointing back at me.

So, I find myself facing the question, “what is it that I tend to put in the place of God, and especially of the Holy Spirit?”

Each of us will have own temptations and tendencies in this area of life. For me, I have a tendency to rely on my intellect and learning, working hard and believing I can solve problems and fix things for myself. When things have gone well, I tend to think that it’s because I’ve found a solution, worked hard, done a good job, rather than to acknowledge the work of the Holy Spirit in that situation. When I face challenges, do I pray first, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide me, to act, to go before, or do I attack it with my natural resources – my brain and my energy? Worse still, sometimes I am tempted to despair, and because I cannot see a solution or way out of a situation, I believe that it’s unsolvable and there can be no good outcome, because I can’t sort it out. How arrogant is that? All because I have put other things in God’s place in my life, and those other things cannot fill that space, they are not God, I am not God. Only the Holy Spirit can do the Holy Spirit’s work.

It’s no good us getting grumpy about the world giving Lucosade the credit for what God did. The world doesn’t believe in God, it’s following its nature. But what about us. We do believe in God. Do we point to God at work in the face of an unbelieving world?

You see, it’s not the first time that the Holy Spirit has been mistaken for a beverage. At the first Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on all the believers, as Jesus had promised, many in the crowd thought that they were witnessing the effects of too much wine.

And what was Peter’s response? He pointed people to God. This should always be our response when people ask us what motivates us, what is energising our lives, what gives us hope in the despair, light in the darkness, joy in celebrations. Let’s not put things in the place of God, let’s give the Holy Spirit the credit, let’s point to him.

So, those are my reflections on that first question – Is Lucozade God? What about the second question, Is God Lucozade? In other words, do we sometimes treat the Holy Spirit as a sports drink? Something sweet and fizzy that picks us up, gives us some energy, gives us a bit of pep? Something to have a swig of when we’re facing a particular challenge or in trying circumstances, but otherwise to be left on the shelf. One of a variety of options to be tried when we’re thirsty or need a sugar hit. I’d like to suggest that to do this is as big a problem as leaving God out of the picture altogether. Of course, the answer is no, God is not Lucozade, the Holy Spirit is not the spiritual equivalent of a sports drink.

How do we know that’s not what the Holy Spirit is? Because we are told about the Holy Spirit is in the Bible. We’ve read about some of the things today.

What did the Psalmist write? – “When you send your Spirit they are created” Right from the beginning of the Bible, we see the Holy Spirit at work in creation. In Genesis we read that the Spirit hovered over the waters of chaos as the work of creation began. We don’t know how this works, but the Biblical witness is that God the Holy Spirit is intrinsically involved in the process of creation. Just contemplate creation a moment. From the beautiful simplicity of a daisy to the majesty of sun drenched mountains. From the expanses of desert to the stretches of ocean. From the golden greens of spring to the ruby reds of autumn. God called all this into being from nothing, what imagination, what power, what love – this is what the Holy Spirit is like.

What about John? What does he write about the Holy Spirit? John quotes Jesus saying this, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me.”

The Holy Spirit is the advocate. The Holy Spirit is the one that Jesus sent, from the Father, to help us, to stand with us, to encourage us, to help us to make the case for Jesus in the world. I’ve never been personally involved in a court case, so I am working off what I’ve read in too many John Grisham novels and from watching court room dramas from Ironsides to Suits, but my understanding is that one of the jobs of a barrister or advocate is to prepare people for giving their testimony. That might take them through possible questions and help them think through how they would answer them, keeping their cool and presenting their evidence in the best possible way. From the fact that this is what Jesus goes on to talk about in the next verse – his disciples testifying, it seems to be most likely that this is what Jesus is saying the Holy Spirit will do with and for his disciples. The Holy Spirit enables us and encourages us in our witness to who Jesus is and what Jesus has done.

But more than that, Jesus goes on to say that the Holy Spirit will prove the world to be in the wrong – in the wrong about sin, about righteousness and about judgement. The world says that sin doesn’t matter, that we can live good lives on our own, and that no-one has the right to judge us. It is wrong, it is untrue, it is a lie. And these lies lead to death.

The glorious news is that we have not been left alone. We have not been abandoned to these lies that lead to death. We have been given the Holy Spirit, whose very creative nature is one of life. It is the Holy Spirit of truth who leads us into all truth, who reveals to people how short we have fallen of God’s holiness, it is the Holy Spirit that shows that we cannot do well in our own strength, and it is the Holy Spirit that convinces that Jesus is going to return as judge.

And what happens when the Holy Spirit does this? We’re shown on that first day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came to the disciples as promised. And the first thing they did was to go out into the market place and start testifying about what God had done in Jesus. Peter stands up and declares all this to crowd, the Holy Spirit is at work and they cut to the quick. “What must we do to be saved?” they ask. “Repent and be baptised” Peter says – turn away from the lies, change your minds, come to the truth, be washed off all the muck and filth, die to the old life and be raised to a new life, a life of walking Jesus’ way, and receive the Holy Spirit to enable you to testify about this to others.

This is the Holy Spirit – not just a refreshing drink to revive – but a life giving fountain of new creation. As we celebrate Pentecost this morning, and live our lives in the fulness of the blessing of the gift of the Holy Spirit, let us always be ready to turn to God first, to point to God in all things, and to testify, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to the things that God has done in our lives so that we can see others enjoying the life that we have been given.


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