The Spirit's Neither Stranger in our World Nor our Lives, Sermon 05.27.12

The Spirit's Neither Stranger in our World Nor our Lives, Sermon 05.27.12

Ezekiel 37:1-14 and Acts 2:1-21

I was talking with a group of people last week. The subject of the Holy Spirit came up. Ok, so, when you are a minister, you end up having conversations that others may not have to have!

So, somehow the subject of the Spirit arises. And all of a sudden there was this awkward pause. Everyone got all weird.

I didn’t get it at first. I added something to the effect, “Sheez, experientially, the Spirit is the aspect of God we know best.” That sure didn’t help!

One of the brave souls offered to the clueless clergy in the conversation that she just wasn’t so sure about this Spirit:

“Jesus — like him or not, you know who he is.

Even God, well… you can’t exactly put your hands on him, or even put it all into words, but you’ve heard enough about him, you feel like you know him.

But the Spirit, I don’t know. I mean, the whole concept is just so fluid, who can be sure? And that’s a sure recipe for discomfort. It’s all just a bit too weird, and that’s saying a lot considering that we’re already talking about religion, which is sort of the realm of the weird.”

I’ve felt sorry for the Spirit since that conversation. The third person of the Trinity, it turns out, is sort of like gay people back before anyone knew they knew any of us!

I thought we were sort of in the Age of the Spirit. Oh, not like the mainline has gone charismatic or become Pentecostal. But that we were getting more comfortable with the otherness of God.

That along with the popularity of angels these days, the Spirit had earned a certain Zeitgeist sort
appeal — not so specific to offend anyone, and in our times where everything feels subjective, loose enough to allow us to understand her in even fairly radically different ways. I mean, when the Spirit shows up in different ways in different people’s experiences, how many of us are really going to be surprised, much less bent out of shape over that?

I thought the loosey=goosey-ness of the Spirit was making people today a bit more comfortable with her.

Christ is a claim you got to commit to. I figured, the Spirit’s an image of God that’s ecumenical, even interfaith, just right for people who are always saying they are spiritual, but not religious.

Anyway, apparently, I was wrong.

Everyone in the room, all of a sudden took the position I thought was about 50 years behind us. Back then, Christians acknowledged the Spirit as unquestionably, traditionally — almost from the beginning of the church — a member of the Holy Trinity. But back when she was more often called “Holy Ghost,” people shied away from her, not so comfortable with any intangibility or formlessness that challenged reason. Folks weren’t quite sure what to do with her. And, therefore, kept their distance. Or so they thought. Let’s just say, whether she came into the room or came up in conversation, she sort of creeped people out.

I’ve been thinking about that all week. Sort of scratching my head. And what I have to offer, I wrote in Thursday’s E-pistle:

“….for this age between Jesus’ ascension and his return, the Spirit is our most common experience of God. The familiar one. How we see God show up and work in our lives and in our world.”

Church, let me try this:

When Jesus time and again, resisted acting in his own interests or defense, and instead, threw his weight into trusting in God, that’s him exercising the Spirit.

~ So too, when we sidestep our fears and aim for something deeper, broader, highter than self-reliance, when we are willing to lose our lives…

When Jesus reached out to, touched, cared for, healed the Lepers, he was plugged into the one who the Bible calls our Comforter.

~ Likewise, when people buck taboos against today’s untouchables, even risk their own position to be with someone who’s looked down upon, sick, ostracized, a pariah…

When Jesus gave the most undeserving AND unpromising second chances, invested them not only with his love and confidence, but also with the future and all the fruits of his work, there again the One who Scripture says is our Advocate.

~ I know someone who “without any pollyanna,” recognizes the real story about how fragile and broken we all are, but finds the resources — faith, vision, hope and love perhaps — nonetheless to choose, believe and act on who people can become. For this friend of mine, we are all already who at our best we could be. It’s incredibly empowering to see yourself and others through his eyes.

When Jesus transgressed the social conventions of his day, talking to women he wasn’t related to or speaking with Samaritans, that was the Spirit of God connecting.

~ Same even now: when people feel compelled to live beyond all the boundaries our world would cordon us off with and conquer the inhibitions of race and class, tribe and clan…

When Jesus took on power and privilege and establishment, even though he knew full well he couldn’t win in the short term… When he did what was right because it was right, even if it wasn’t going to make him popular or in any worldly sense successful, he was working through the Spirit of God.

When Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead…

When he preached good news of God the Father and the Kingdom coming…

When he suffered the loneliness of Gethsemane and the agony of Calvary…

When he died for others and when he was raised from the dead…

When you or I minister to the outcast of the alone,

When we heal someone who is sick or walk someone back from the dead.

When we have compelling, uncompromising good news to share.

When we suffer for God’s sake.

When we will dedicate our lives; when we with Jesus rise to new life….

I’ve kept scratching my head about why the Spirit is so hard for people, what about her makes us feel uneasy, even queasy?

It occurred to me by the end of the week, I could ask if any of you all have experiences of the Spirit to share. So I posted on FB, and invited you in this week’s E-pistle. This is what I got back:

Hey Michael!
I feel God’s spirit every day…in my morning prayers…in my sobriety and in the everyday little miracles that happen…it just requires me to be really conscious, but it presents itself gladly…

* * * * * *
I’m not one to announce it for the whole world to see, but I have experienced God. Imagine that? Sensible me having such spiritual experiences, revelations, epiphanies really!

I understood it after the fact, not so much while it was happening — maybe because some of it was really HARD. Not all, there were glimpse of grace and joy too, but overall in the face of loss.

Still, we kept on, through a succession of losses really, as this church community saw Bill Phillips through ALS to the end.

Old Firsters just showed up, over and over. No one asked them to. Among us a doctor, more than one nurse, and others who just stopped by to watch a video or bring food that would be tasty and eatable for Bill. My triumph was root beer floats! Most often we just sat with Bill hoping to provide a little break for Bill’s partner Joseph.

Only later did I come to understood later that this is what “abide” means. (PAUSE)

Bill was the one who said “you’ve got to join now.” It was my second visit for worship! And he is Old First’s Founding Father of Open and Affirming, our commitment to the inclusion and equality of gay folk. If you want to see a grown man cry, have a congregation vote overwhelmingly to approve something he worked so hard to make happen.

This is my story. I want to be anonymous of course, but maybe it can be useful for your sermon. Hope so anyway.

* * * * * * * *

Holy Spirit is the sea in which we swim.
The air we breathe.
In whom we live, move and have our being.
However or wherever we experience community — even just the relation between two people — we know she is there.

* * * * * * * *

And finally, from one of the newest members of our community:

I have been thinking about Heaven on Earth, from your last sermon on “delayed Earth Day.” I have slices of Heaven on Earth each day, thankfully.  

Here are some examples, and thanks for the e-pistles. They make me feel connected during those “in- between times” of church attendance (we’re away camping this weekend!). And thanks for asking me to think about these experiences:

When I feel grateful or express gratitude, this is an experience of God’s gifts.
When I overcome my impatience with others and myself, and carry myself gracefully, this is an experience of God.
When I am quiet and thank God for blessings, I feel God’s presence like a gentle hand on my shoulder.
When I am fearful and I ask God to stay close, I hear a whisper– not physically, audibly exactly, but hear unquestionably, “It will all be ok.  I am by your side, no matter what happens”.
When I feel joyful, I am mindful of God’s hand in my delight.
When I feel despair, I do not feel alone, I sense footsteps… right next to me.
When I watch my children — run, hug, grin, color/create, eat with gusto, share a kind word, listen intently, write a poem, pray, play their instruments, introduce themselves to someone with a friendly
handshake, or confront a challenge head-on — I know God’s presence in my life.
When we sit down to a noisy dinner almost every night, as a family, vying to talk about the events of our days, we thank God for our bounty, in so many ways.

* * * * * *

Beloved, Spirit’s not foreign to us at all. In fact, I bet she’s with us, working in and on and through us more often and more thoroughly than we usually realize. And she just keeps on, quietly, going about her work, even if sometimes she can be strange! Amen.