Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Pentecost Message

Sermon notes for Pentecost Sunday (5/24/2015)
(I rarely write my sermons completely so I don’t have a precise script of what I said during my homily. What I offer here are “Sermon Notes,” recollections of what I said, wanted to say, or should have said, all in retrospect.)

The European adventurers who traveled the world in the 15th century were explorers looking for new lands. I greatly simplify the history and the process, of course, but these explorers would leave the safety and security of land, venturing by the power of wind and current into the unknown. The Trades, blowing from the northeast, would take them into the far reaches of the Atlantic, sometimes depositing them in the equatorial doldrums where they would wait for a new wind to arrive. Eventually, that wind which blew them away further away from their land – away from their home and that which they already knew - away from a worldview in which they were stuck - away from unimaginative ways. And it would blow them towards new places and new possibilities.

Now, without attending to the moral side of what such exploration would lead to (i.e. imperialism, colonialism, cultural genocide), the model can be a suitable metaphor for the acceptance and cherishing of the uncertainty of the Spirit, which is critical to keeping our minds from the delusion of omniscience. Indeed, like the explorers who were willing to encounter the unexpected winds, when we are willing to encounter the Spirit, even in unexpected ways, we can free ourselves from the constraints of fear, emotional barriers, and unimaginative thinking. We can begin to imagine the unimaginable, being blown to new and wonderful places and possibilities.

Recently, I was carrying my one-year old niece, Molly, along Stanford Avenue in Bartow. It had been a long day of playing, swimming, and eating at Aunt E’s house and it was getting on towards evening. Molly was tired. So I, the good uncle that I am, took Molly for a walk away from the hustle and bustle of sisters and cousins playing in the pool. As we were walked Stanford Avenue, Molly would put her head on my shoulder and I would think she was asleep. But then she would pop up and point at this big house or that funny cat or some noisy dog. Several times this happened until we stopped at an intersection, Molly having noticed yet another cat on a porch. Then she looked at me and put her down, closing her eyes and burying here face in my shoulder. At that moment, a gentle breeze blew and Molly was fast asleep.

While it took a little time, Molly eventually found her way to comfort and rest (and gave me a good metaphor for the work of the Spirit). You see, Molly was unable to find her rest or even feel the gentle breeze until she decided to let the distractions pass her by. I think it is like that with the Spirit. If we want to know the Spirit’s breath – if we want to feel the gentle breeze – we have to let the distractions pass us by.

Finding some disciples in Ephesus when he came there, Paul asked them,
"Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “We have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." (Acts 19:1-2).
The Holy Spirit is too often the great unknown, even in our own day and even by those of us who profess belief in the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. But the Spirit is a key, making our life in Christ with God even possible and giving power to our mission as Church.

Indeed, in the very baptismal rite that makes us as daughters and sons of God, we pray,
"Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen." (BCP 308)
Notice that it is by water AND the Holy Spirit that we are raised to new life. And then, after having received the waters of baptism, the baptized is anointed with holy oil, 
"N., you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever."
As Church and individually as members of the Body we invoke the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide. We should be seeking constantly to grow in our docility to this highest gift of God, allowing ourselves to be sustained in the Holy Spirit so that we might assuredly be adventurous in the faith and at rest in the love God.

But how are we to go about this? Three things come to mind..


"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words." (Romans 8:26).
The Holy Spirit not only teaches us how to pray but intercedes with and for us in ways incomprehensible and beyond our own communication. By this I do not mean that the Spirit will put words in our minds and mouth. Rather, I think that the Spirit will transform us as we pray, making us aware of who we have become in baptism. In other words, the Spirit makes us conscious of our reality as beloved daughters and sons who can confidently cry out, “Abba, Father!” Do we allow the Holy Spirit to guide our prayer?


"For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit." (Romans 8:5)
Life according to the Spirit is what authentic Christian spirituality ought to be. To be spiritual, for Paul, simply means to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This means seeking the Spirit’s guidance – searching for the breath of the Spirit – in all that we do throughout the day. It means allowing the Spirit to rest upon us as it did upon the shoot that came "out from the stock of Jesse" – the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and awe (Isaiah 11:1-2). It means demonstrating love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, and faithfulness as fruits of the Spirit in us (Galatians 5:22). It means consciously allowing the Spirit to guide us as we make the choices we make, recognizing that each of us has been given a "manifestation of the Spirit" for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7). Do we allow the Holy Spirit to guide our daily living?


"Nevertheless, on some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ. Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written,
'Those who have never been told of him shall see, and those who have never heard of him shall understand
.'" (Romans 15:15-21).
We need to be cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s work to make us witnesses of the faith. The Holy Spirit was sent upon the first members of the Church as tongues of fire so that they could proclaim the Gospel with confidence and ardent love. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit who would teach us all things, lead us to all truth, and remind us of everything he had taught us, precisely so that we could give this witness. Our sanctification is our cooperation in the Spirit’s work – allowing the Spirit to blow us like the wind where it wills. It is ours now to join with Paul to stand in service to the gospel of God in word and deed and by the power of signs and wonders. It is ours now to join with Paul in the power of the Holy Spirit to "fully proclaim the good news of Christ." Do we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us as witnesses to the faith? 

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