May 23rd Worship

Below is the worship bulletin for May 23rd, along with an audio recording!

Today’s sermon comes to you from me with help and words from Mary Hinkle Shore, a seminary professor of mine, and a devotion from Dan Dick, posted on the United Methodist web, shared by Carolyn.

Today is the day the church celebrates the Holy Spirit. It’s a bit difficult to do, of course, since we know virtually nothing about it. We can’t see it, smell it, hear it, taste, or touch it – hardly even imagine it. The Bible describes the Holy Spirit as a wind, a flame, a love.  In the Gospel of John, the risen Jesus breathes on the disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” 

As we have been made painfully aware between the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd, where there is breath, there is life, and the breath that enlivens Christ in the resurrection is his gift to those he loves. His risen life becomes their life. What was in John a gentle exhale, becomes in Acts the rush of violent wind with tongues as of fire coming to rest on the assembled followers of Jesus. All of the New Testament reports of the Spirit have two things in common: (1) they identify the Spirit as specific and specifically tied to the identity of the risen Christ, and (2) the Spirit’s work is to draw human beings into a relationship with God like that shared between the Father and Son.

In popular culture, “spiritual” is a generic term that describes any mystical experience or otherworldly sense. If I were to ask you what being spiritual means, I imagine I would get a wide variety of responses. Something akin to the blind men and the Elephant – the part we have in front of us, the elephant’s ear or tail or twisting trunk – our experience – is all we can claim to know. But in John, Acts, and Galatians, the Spirit that Jesus shares with his followers is his Spirit, his life. And as such, it is known.  I love verse 6 from today’s reading, “6 And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”  It’s an exclamation of joy and recognition and deep belonging.

Abba is better translated as Daddy in our context, or Papa. It is a word of tenderness and intimacy. Paul must like it, too. It shows up again in his letter to the Romans.

When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:12-17)

Both the identity of the Spirit and the Spirit’s work are specific, known and shown. Christ’s living presence is knitting human community back together and bringing humanity back into a relationship of love and family commitment with God. In John, Jesus breathes on his disciples the Spirit so that they may continue his work.  In Acts 2, the gift of tongues is not an ecstatic display that leaves the people excluded from the spiritual experience of the few; but rather, the disciples speak in languages not their own precisely so native speakers of those languages may hear the good news of Jesus Christ addressed to them directly and come to be included in the family.

The work of Father, Son, Holy Spirit is to fulfill God’s vision and will to reconcile all inclined people into one beloved household.  We are family (whether we like it or not!) and as long as we live in God’s house we are expected to live up to the house rules. And what are they?  Well, gleaned from Old and New Testaments, here’s a list: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.  Do nothing from selfish ambition but consider others more highly than we think of ourselves.  Rejoice in the Lord always, and whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, and commendable – think on these things. 

In Galatians, Paul posts more guidance on the fridge:

5:19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: adultery, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, murder, drunkenness, sexually unprincipled behavior….. and things like these that destroy community and break relationships. By contrast, he writes, “22the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Paul’s message is not to be missed: “if we live by the Spirit, let us also walk in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). We are, indeed, children of the living God. But transformation into the family resemblance of God and the Son by the Spirit doesn’t occur by accident. It can’t actually be legislated. That was Paul’s argument against the Law. It transforms us, calls us out, is evoked, drawn out of us by the Spirit -we put ourselves in the way by actively following in the footsteps of the Son. It’s not to earn our salvation, but to demonstrate it.

By the very nature of God, our experiences and gifts are varied. Paul says in another letter that there are many gifts but the same Spirit is giving them, that to each person is given the particular manifestation of the Spirit according to each of our unique natures. God comes to us, among us, in ways particular to our own constitution and character and that the Spirit works these gifts in us, using us for Christ’s work in the world.

So the Spirit of God using us through faith will not look the same; faith is not one thing, it is everything. Faith does not look a certain way or produce a generic fruit – it is mysterious, organic, living, maturing, wisening. It changes and grows, challenges and confounds us – each stage of our lives is the testing ground for the next. 

Perhaps for you, faith has worked itself into your being gradually, almost imperceptibly, like a steady drizzle softening hard ground; or perhaps you have been felled, stopped in your tracks like having your knees give way; or perhaps is has been for you an awakening – like the dazzle of sun after a spring shower awakens us to a world we know but have never seen in quite this way.

Our inheritance as a child of God is the Holy Spirit manifested, made real, in love. So what does the Spirit look like? It looks like love – love acted out toward the earth and creation – nurturing, stewarding, protecting – love acted out toward our families and neighbors and even our enemies and our own selves – love acted out toward the things and the people whom God, the Father, Abba, Papa, loves and entrusts to us. The Holy Spirit is the working of love for the sake of a story, a remembering, a witness, a relationship between God and you and all people. The Holy Spirit is certainly a mystery, but we celebrate it, when we claim our inheritance as a child of God and let it take us wherever the wind blows.