Patterson: Sermons are “dry sponges” without the Holy Spirit

The “perfect expository sermon” is like a dry sponge, Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Seminary, said during the first chapel service of the spring semester Jan. 12.

Holding up an oversized, dry sponge, Patterson said that, just as the sponge was hard at its core yet soft on the surface, a “perfect” sermon is organized, centered on firm truths, and yet tender toward its intended audience. The sponge was only the first part of the sermon illustration.

Turning to a large, blank writing tablet, Patterson said the tablet represented the usual crowd of “disillusioned” people who come to church. He uncapped a marker and scribbled on the tablet. He said the scribbles were the hurts, fears and concerns that listeners harbor in their hearts.

Patterson wiped at the scribbling with the dry sponge --“the perfect expository message” -- but nothing was erased from the tablet. Patterson said that his perfect exposition lacked one vital element.

The capacity chapel audience watched as Patterson walked over to a blue bucket and dipped the dry sponge in water. He said the water represented the Holy Spirit.

Patterson lifted the dripping sponge out of the water.

“When your sermon literally is full of the Spirit of the living God, like that sponge is full of the liquid in the bucket, then and only then are you ready to walk into the pulpit,” he said. Even the most perfect message or ministry is powerless and “dry” without the Holy Spirit, he said.

He then wiped the saturated sponge over the tablet and the scribbling disappeared.

“Look what happens when the Spirit of the living God is present,” Patterson said.

Patterson presented this illustration during the first of 10 messages on the Holy Spirit that he will preach throughout the spring semester. Among other topics, the sermon series will examine the Holy Spirit in relation to the inspiration of Scripture and prayer, Patterson said.

“No doctrine is any more misrepresented today in our world than the doctrine of the Holy Spirit,” Patterson said. As a result, “more orthodox” Christians often neglect the doctrine. This has led to a lack of “spiritual energy” among churches and individual Christians, he said.

Patterson discussed the implications of Jesus’ statements on the Holy Spirit from John 14, 15 and 16, emphasizing Christ’s promise of “another helper.”

Teaching from the Greek text, he said that the phrase referred to “another helper” of the same kind as Jesus. This means that the Holy Spirit is a person, Patterson said.

“(The Holy Spirit) is not just a blind wind of chance out there somewhere. He is not just merely a power of God, but he is part of the Godhead … a person with whom we have interpersonal relationships,” he said.

One can only grieve, blaspheme and sin against a personal being, Patterson said. Scripture uses each of these occurrences to describe what people can do to the Holy Spirit.

Scripture also describes the Holy Spirit as one who “evaluates situations and guides in circumstances.” Patterson said these were actions of a personal being.

Patterson said that the Holy Spirit is God, just as Jesus is God.

“What our churches are in need of, what you are in need of, what lost people are in need of is an experience of the Holy Spirit of God. It is God the Holy Spirit with whom we have experiences,” he said.

Christians must relate with the Holy Spirit “in the current age,” he said. However, the Spirit will “always call attention to Jesus.”

During the chapel service, Craig Mitchell, assistant professor of Christian ethics, signed his name to the seminary’s book of confessional heritage, a symbolic act indicating his agreement with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Mitchell was a U.S. Air Force B-52 flight test engineer and ballistic missile systems and satellite technology engineer prior to obtaining his doctorate in ethics at Southwestern Seminary. He served under presidential appointment as an instructor for three years, and was elected to the faculty by seminary trustees last fall.

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