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Awakened by a Roar

(a sermon for May 27, 2018, the 1st Sunday after Pentecost, based on Romans 8:12-17 and John 3:1-17)

It has long fascinated me that sound – or more accurately, our experience of sound – is something very relative in nature.

For instance, as I was at home writing this sermon yesterday, the windows were open and I was hearing all the noise that’s fairly commonplace on Mountain Road, especially on a weekend: the steady stream of cars whizzing by (usually too fast!) or the roar of motorcycles headed up to the mountains;  lawn mowers, weed whackers and the buzz of an occasional chainsaw doing yardwork off in the distance; the snatches of music and conversation emanating from throughout the neighborhood; and this is to say nothing of the constant roar of traffic that floats up from nearby I-93!  It’s this ever-present droning of sound – like I say, not at all unusual, especially this time of year – but the thing is that most of the time I don’t even notice it!  Quite honestly, most times it takes a siren or a clap of thunder to get me to wake up to all the rest of the noise that’s going on around me!

Actually, the thought of this takes me back to my years growing up in Maine.  East Millinocket, the town where I grew up, was in those more prosperous days a huge paper mill town; and so the constant whirring and clanking of paper machines at the mill, along with the roar of all the other varied kinds of equipment used to move around pulp and paper, was a regular part of our lives 24/7… so much so that from day to day we hardly ever noticed the noise of it!  In fact, every morning around 7:45 there would be three blasts of the fire horn signaling the end of the night shift (and, as it turned out, to let us kids know that school was starting in a half-hour!); but let me tell you that when I was in high school, I could sleep through that fire horn blasting with no trouble whatsoever and be late for class as a result!

Contrast this, however, to what we experienced every summer when we went “uptacamp” at the lake; when without the noise of the mill filling our ears every night, the silence those first few nights could almost be deafening!  And when you woke up it wasn’t to the sound of paper machines, but rather to the sound of loons calling to one another from the far end of the pond; birds singing their songs high up in the trees behind the camp, and the first hints of a morning breeze rustling through the leaves.  Or maybe it’d be the putt-putt of a little outboard engine bringing one of the old men out to Barker Rocks in hopes that the fishing might be particularly good that morning.  Perhaps you’d even hear your parents out in the kitchen talking about putting on a pot of coffee, or hear a screen door slamming as one of them down to the spring for a jug of water.  These were no less than the quiet, gentle sounds of life “going on,” all of that which, unbeknownst to you, had pretty much been drowned out by the clamor of school, work and the routine of daily life!

And what I remember more than anything else is that whereas I could easily sleep through the blasts of the fire horn, all those sounds at the lake were almost like an alarm clock for me.  I’d hear all this from my bed and I’d want to get right up and see what was going on; to find out what the weather was going to be and get started on whatever adventure was waiting for me that day!  It was a new day, a brand new season full of possibility, and as such, I was new as well; part of a time and a place in which something wonderful was going to happen that I definitely didn’t want to miss!

Actually, if you think of that as a parable of sorts it’s not all that different than that which our epistle text for this morning sets forth: what it means for you and I to live in and be led by the Spirit of God!  You see, in his letter to the Roman church Paul speaks about this incredible power God has unleashed into the world in Christ’s resurrection; a Spirit of life that empowers all who call upon it in the same manner it empowered Jesus in the midst of his own suffering and death, to the extent that his glory becomes our glory as well!  Paul is very specific in saying that by that same Spirit “bearing witness with our spirit,” we are “children of God,” and as such “heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,” and all the good things that come with that.

Think about that with me for a moment, because that’s big!  What that’s saying is that because of the Spirit and out of love, God has not simply made us his children, but views us as his children in the same way that he views Jesus himself!  Do you ever remember hearing someone refer to a child born to a family very late in life as an “afterthought;” meaning that this family thought they were long since past having any more children but then there was a baby on the way who was the “afterthought?”  Well, what we’re told here is that you and I are not to be thought of any sort of divine afterthought; but in fact, fully and wholly children of God and co-heirs with God’s Son Jesus.  And because of this, we’ve entered into this brand new style of life that comes to us by virtue of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is why Paul is also very quick in our reading today to make a distinction between the old time and place when we were “debtors… to the flesh,” that is, living a life wholly caught up in the ways and means of the world, as opposed to now, as we’re living the new life of the Spirit in which we are regarded as Children of God!  Living in that Spirit, you see, brings us a whole new perception of life and living, in which we see and hear and experience things so much differently than we ever did before, thus changing how we live forever!  Once again, I found myself smiling at how The Message words this: “This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike ‘What’s next, Papa?’ God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are.”  In the more traditional translation, “…you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption.”  You’ve been given a spirit that is a living force dwelling within you, and it shapes who you are and what you do; and because of this, it’s a new day and a brand new life full of possibility, one that you don’t want to miss out on!  Yes, it might well lead to challenge and suffering, as it did for our brother Christ, but it’s also a life that inevitably gives way to wonder, and glory, and divine purpose.

As Paul proclaims it here, it’s an amazing gift; not to mention one of the central truths of our Christian faith.  But the question is… it always is… whether we’re ready and willing to embrace that gift as our own.

Our second reading for this morning is that passage that John that leads into what is arguably the most oft-quoted verses of the gospels: that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  But what we don’t always acknowledge is that this verse is actually the culmination of a longer (and, might I add, covert) conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus; a conversation which begins with Jesus speaking to this Pharisee about the need for being born again, not of the flesh but of the Spirit, or as our translation of scripture puts it, being “born from above.”  What’s interesting is that Nicodemus, despite being a Pharisee and, as such, a knowledgeable man on matters of faith and theology, responds with questions that sound almost like riddles: “How can anyone be born after having grown old?  Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

There’s a spirited back and forth between Jesus and this Pharisee; to the point where in the end, it’s really not a lack of understanding that holds Nicodemus back (because as Jesus says it, he is a teacher of Israel; surely he understands that “what is born of the Spirit is spirit”), but rather, I suspect, the sheer reality of what it means this same Spirit – God’s Spirit – start one’s life all over again!  Nicodemus, being a Pharisee and being a tireless purveyor of the Law, would have to know that such an understanding would mean following God along a new pathway; and that the things of heaven – the things relating to God’s plan, God’s kingdom, God’s love – would have to take precedence over earthly things, even some things relating to the law!  It would have to mean that you might well find yourself living a new kind of life, a life in which would have to trust God’s Spirit to give you courage, and strength, and love in order to witness to that truth in the world.  And make no mistake, friends, that was a daunting prospect for Nicodemus; and it continues to be for us as well.

But the good news is that we are given the kind of Spirit that empowers us to be God’s children in the here and now, even as we lay the groundwork for the kingdom to come in its fullness. As Paul also said, this time to in his 2nd letter to Timothy, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”  (1:7)  And here’s the challenge that goes with that good news:  by the power of this Spirit given us, we are to wake up to this brand new day and truly live!

Not long ago I read something very interesting about the psychology of lions; which is in truth, part folklore and part the result of years of studying prides of lions and their habits of life and survival. But what seems to be true amidst the folklore is that lion cubs, despite what we all know to be true from watching “The Lion King,” (!) basically come into the world pretty much stillborn; and that they are “awakened to life” by the roar of another lion.  The legend inherent in this is the reason why lions have a roar in the first place: it is to awaken young lions who are asleep, because otherwise they can never be born, and thus live and grow and take their proper place in the pride.  Lions are never able to truly fulfill their destiny unless they are awakened to the possibility of it by a roar!

It’s really not too much of a stretch think of ourselves in the same way.  After all, there are so many people who come into this world, who live their lives and do their jobs and go through their days as though stillborn, without really having life as it is meant to be.  Maybe there’s somebody here today who does everything they’re supposed to do in this life, and yet deep down feels as if they’re merely going through the motions; like there’s supposed to be something more to who they are and what they’re supposed to be:  a deep passion, a holy rage, a joyous aggression that fulfills everything that life and living is meant to hold.  But something holds that back.

Well, beloved, the good news is that once in the town of Galilee there was a lion who roared: a lion who roared to life those who were yet stillborn; children who by the sound of this mighty roar of life became sons and daughters of God, heirs of God and brothers and sisters of Christ.

That lion’s name is Jesus, and if we will only attune our ears to sound of his voice, which truly roars above the din of human anxieties and fears, he will awaken us to things we never heard, or seen, or done, or have been before.  He will give to us a Spirit that dwells within us and allows us to truly live with wonder, and purpose, and incredible joy manifest in divine love.

May this be the day we’re awakened to that Spirit… and as that happens, may our thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Posted by on May 27, 2018 in Epistles, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Life, Maine, Paul, Sermon

 

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To Become Part of the Wind

(a sermon for May 20, 2018, Pentecost Sunday, based on Acts 2:1-21 and John 20:19-23)

Dr. Ron Lawrence is, at 92 years young, a retired professor of neurosurgery at UCLA Medical School; but he is perhaps even better known as a devout long distance runner, having run over 200 marathons in his lifetime, many of these even as he was well into his 80’s; an impressive achievement by any standard, so he’s also become something of a guru amongst marathoners.  I mention him today because some years ago, I read a magazine article he wrote about his running regimen that, though I’ll never be confused with someone who has ever had any kind of running regimen (!), it really hit me where I live.

The piece actually had to do with the various mental images that Ron Lawrence himself used to help him with the stamina and mental focus it takes to get through a difficult marathon.  He wrote in the article that “if [for instance] I’m going out for an 18-mile run, I will use a mental image in which I see my body as a collection of separate molecules.  [As I’m running] I’ll actually envision the air rushing through my body, until it’s as if I’ve become part of the wind.”  It was this image that not only fueled but enhanced his experience of running the marathon; and I remember reading that article and immediately thinking to myself, Yeah!  I get that!   I understood what Lawrence was talking about there, because that’s exactly how it is when I’m sailing!

Now, I know I’ve shared with you a few of my sailing stories over the years, but understand that most of my sailing experience has been on lakes as opposed to the ocean; and since most of our lakes in this part of the world are surrounded by hills and notches, the wind by which we sail tends to be rather gusty, whipping down around the hills, through the valleys and across the lake.  Sometimes, quite literally, the wind just seems to come out of nowhere; it makes for great sailing, but the thing is, you have to pay attention lest you be caught off guard, and you and your sailboat end up capsized in the water!

Let me tell you that some of these gusts of wind are so intense that you literally begin to feel the force of that wind pushing the boat both ahead and to the side.  You hear the sound of the bow slicing through the waves and the shudder of the bilge boards as you pick up a bit of speed.  And before long, you’re experiencing the sheer power of it:  the job and mainsail lines are pulling at your hands and making them burn; your arms growing tense and tired as you work to trim the sails; your whole body aching from having leaned out over the high side of the boat to keep it from heeling over too far!

But more than something merely physical, in that moment of what I would consider to be perfect sailing it’s almost like you’ve been picked up and carried by some invisible force!  You want to yell – and trust me, you do (!) – but mostly, you just keep focusing on the task at hand, doing what you have to do so that the wind will take you where it will.  You’re in control, but at the same time you’re not; in that moment, you really do become part of the wind!

Of course, the other side of lake sailing comes in those moments when the gusts disappear, the wind dies as quickly as it arises and now you’re out on the lake seemingly without a breath of breeze!   And when that happens – trust me again (!) – you either start paddling, or you wait, sometimes for hours at a time (!), for the wind to return.  But even then… even when you’ve been sitting out there on a glassy pond all afternoon thinking there’s nothing more that’s going to happen today, you look up and notice that the sails have just begun to move; first they flutter and “luff,” then they begin, ever so gently and slowly, to billow out.  Then you look down and see that your boat is just beginning to cut through the mirror image of the water.  Understand, it’s barely perceptible, but you are moving; there is a breeze at work and you’ve just become a part of it!  Just a little breath of hope, but I can vouch for the fact that those little wisps of air can bring you home in a way that’s every bit as incredible as the rushes of wind you experience on a gusty afternoon.

Two different kinds of experiences, but the same wind; the same source moving us in one direction, but with a different kind of intensity that blows us along in a different way…

…which actually, when you think about it, is an apt description of the Holy Spirit; for after all, isn’t this how God comes to us, both on the rush of a mighty wind as well as on the breath of a single breeze?  Friends, I’m here to tell you this morning that this is the dual nature of this amazing gift of Spirit that God bestows upon his people; and this is what this Day of Pentecost is all about.

It’s all borne out in scripture, of course.  The “mighty wind” of the Spirit is described for us in the Acts of the Apostles as “a sound like the rush of a violent wind” coming from heaven itself!  In The Message, it’s described as a “gale force” wind (a sailor’s reference, there!) so pervasive that no one could tell where it came from, but which could be felt even in the upper room where the disciples themselves were gathered.  And it wasn’t to be dismissed or ignored; we’re told that “like a wildfire, [this Spirit] spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.” [The Message] And before any of them could even begin to understand or process what was going on, here were all these people on the streets, all these devout Jews staying in Jerusalem for the festival, suddenly bewildered and dumbfounded that they’re hearing the “God’s deeds of power” declared in their own mother tongues!

Now, some would dismiss it as drunken behavior; others were so confused they couldn’t begin to make sense of it; but a few of them somehow knew that this strange occurrence had to be of God.  They listened with awe to the proclamation given by Peter that God would “pour out [his] Spirit on all [people], that [their] sons and daughters [would] prophesy, [their] young men [would] see visions, and [their] old men [would] dream dreams.”   It was the stuff of high drama, no doubt; as literally and spiritually, God’s own Spirit came to them with the power of a hurricane.  And best of all?  All those who would let that raging wind touch them, blow through them, and carry them became a part of that Spirit; they became a part of the wind.

It’s an amazing story, no doubt; but compare this to the other account we have of the Spirit’s “gifting” from John’s gospel.  It’s a real study in contrasts, for whereas Luke tells his story in Acts with excitement and electricity and vigor, John’s account is quiet, serene, a bit understated and well, rather mysterious.  You know the story:  it’s Easter night, the disciples are still hidden away, fearful for their lives; and yet reeling not only from everything that had transpired in the past few days, but from the very real possibility that Jesus may have actually risen from the dead!

So think of it for a moment: it’s quiet and dark, there’s this group of grieving, fearful people huddled together because they had nowhere else to be, no one else to go to… but and now, suddenly and without warning, there in the midst of them is Jesus, standing among them, greeting them, as most certainly he always did, with the Hebrew greeting of Shalom“Peace be with you.”  So, as opposed to the rush of a mighty wind out of heaven, we’re told here that Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit,’” giving these scared disciples life in much the same manner as God breathed life into clay at the time of creation; and when that happened, immediately, hopelessness gave way to assurance and joy!  It was the gentle breeze that blows across what seems to be a dead calm; the almost imperceptible momentum moving you from sea to shore and home.  Jesus breathed the breath of God upon them, and the disciples became part of that breeze, imbued with power to forgive and to heal as they had been forgiven.

Two different kinds of experiences, but the same wind; the same Spirit moving us in one direction, but with a different kind of intensity that blows us along in a different way…

Now I realize that these two stories offer up the kind of contradictory biblical conundrum that both skeptics and biblical scholars love to debate!  But I would suggest to you this morning that the point is not whether one version of the story is of more accuracy or importance than the other; rather it’s the abiding truth that God’s Spirit does come, with creative and renewing power!  It’s how God’s Spirit was given to us in two different, yet entirely unified ways; but then, that’s how it’s always been with God.  It’s there in Holy Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, and it’s the resounding theme of our Christian faith: that God comes to his people in a variety of ways and means, and those people are moved and changed in their encounter with the living God.

And friends, the good news is that continues in you, and in me.

So yes… God comes to us like a mighty wind, making us part of God’s own powerful presence of love.  God storms us at times like fire, with rough and cleansing gusts:  the addict who bottoms out; the couple who suddenly recognize in sharp detail the tensions that are pulling their marriage and family apart; the cancer patient who somehow garners the fighting spirit he or she needs to live.  These are people who just might have experienced the gale force of God in their lives in a truth discerned in the midst of the fray, or a presence discovered while the wind is blowing strong around them.  Maybe it’s a mountaintop experience when in one, incredible moment, all of life just seems to come together at once; or perhaps, more likely, it comes in the times spent meandering in the valley, the moments we feel so low that only a great stirring could ever possibly lift you up.  Either way, friends, these are the doors, the windows, the cracks and the crevices through which God’s Spirit pushes through, carrying us to freedom; and making us aware that we’ve become part of the wind.

Yet, God also comes to us quietly, at times almost imperceptive, in a way as unnoticed yet as intimate as breathing itself:  the realization that finally, after a long siege of life’s challenges, the struggle is… over!  The beauty of a sunset setting the sky ablaze in orange, the magnificence of a star-filled sky in mid-summer, or a precious early morning moment of quiet before the day begins; those times in which, much to our surprise and wonder, we’re suddenly seeing things in perfect clarity, and maybe for the first time it all makes sense!  Even when it doesn’t make sense, but still you know it’s going to be okay, because you’re palpably aware that you have that peace that the world neither gives nor takes away.  These are the treasured moments of our lives in which for reasons we can’t explain or describe or rationalize away, we know in deepest part of our souls that we are embraced, lifted, sheltered and loved; the times in which we’ve become part of the quiet Spirit of God; we’ve become part of the wind.

Two different kinds of experiences, but the same wind; the same Spirit moving us in one direction, but with a different kind of intensity that blows us along in a different way…

That’s the message we need to take home with us on this Pentecost Sunday.  The Holy Spirit is God’s divine gift, and we need to open ourselves to receiving it with gladness and in anticipation of what God wants to do in and through our lives.  Perhaps the storms that blow in our midst are more than storms; and, maybe the profound silence we’re experiencing at the moment is much more than it seems as well.  It could well be that for each and all of us, God is moving, stirring… blowing.

That’s our good news, beloved, so let us open ourselves to God’s stirrings, not only now as we worship together, and but most especially as we head out into the challenge and uncertainty of another week.  Who knows how God’s wind will blow through us this week, and how we might find ourselves becoming a part of that wind?

Come, Holy Spirit… Come!

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2018 in Holy Spirit, Jesus, Maine, Sermon

 

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Spirited People, Surprising God

(a sermon for June 4, 2017, Pentecost Sunday, based on Acts 2:1-21)

The story goes that in a small village located along a South American border there lived a little boy whose name was Angelo.  And it seems that every morning Angelo crossed the border to the neighboring country and that later on that day, just as regularly, crossed back; but this time always carrying a wheelbarrow full of sand.

Now, Angelo was never questioned as to why he always crossed over in the morning; but as you might imagine, upon his return there was always some level of suspicion on the part of the customs inspector.  “Young man, what are you smuggling in that sand?” he’d always ask, and Angelo’s answer was always the same:  “Nothing… it’s just sand.”  But the inspector was never convinced; so every evening, all of the sand would be poured out of the wheelbarrow and sifted through a screen before Angelo was permitted to go on.

Believe it or not, this went on, pretty much day in and day out, for the better part of five years (!); every time the same: the customs inspector interrogating young Angelo before sifting through the sand in his wheelbarrow.  And they never, ever found anything!  But the inspector would always explain himself by saying, “I know that someday if we’re careless, that’s when he’ll smuggle something across.”  And that’s how it went; every day Angelo appearing at the border crossing with a wheelbarrow full of sand and every day the customs people pouring and sifting through the sand before letting him pass… until finally, one day it just stopped.

Well, as the story goes, years later the inspector, now long since retired, met Angelo – now long since grown up – on the street.  Angelo was now well known in the village as one who had prospered; he’d opened a thriving business and bought a big home in the tiny village. And so of course, the inspector was still more than a little suspicious; and so he asked him point blank: “Look, I have to know; how could you have possibly become so wealthy when you spent so much of your time as a youth hauling worthless sand across the border?”   Angelo just smiled and replied, “You see, my friend, during all those times when you paying so much attention to the sand, I was smuggling 1,593 wheelbarrows into the country!”

Now, I’ve heard that story told in a variety of ways so I can’t vouch for the veracity of it; but I do know that as a parable it points up an important truth of human life: namely, that we are often so accustomed to seeing things in a certain way that we fail to see what’s really there before us!   The fact is, life is full of easy misconceptions and surprising revelations; it’s only as we go along – or at least hopefully so (!) – that we are apt to discover that there are a whole lot of things in this life that are much more than what they seem!

How many of us, for instance, have encountered someone in our lives who we more or less “wrote off” as being somehow less than what they eventually turned out to be?  I’ve been thinking about this lately as the 40th anniversary of my high school graduation approaches: thanks to the miracle of social media and the planning of a  class reunion, I’ve been getting little bits and pieces of what’s become of some of my classmates, and it’s been fascinating; in the sense that all these people that back then we (myself included!) so blithely pigeon-holed as perennial athletes and cheerleaders, popular and outcast, winners and losers (!) have gone on to have these full, rich and meaningful lives that tell stories that I couldn’t even have imagined back in the day!  It’s been interesting (and a bit humbling!) finding these things out, and a wonderful reminder of how if we get beyond all of our surface impressions of one another, we might just discover something far deeper and greater that we could ever have possibly seen before.  The point is by only seeing people, things or events in a limited way we end up missing the whole, glorious picture!

And isn’t it true that this is so often how we approach God as well?

Ask a child, for instance, to draw a picture of God sometime and odds are good that he or she will create some kind of image of a saintly Santa Claus without the red trim or the reindeer; a long white beard to match a long white robe.   And even as adults, in what I pray is a more inclusive time, when we think about God we still tend to fall back on those familiar images of “the man upstairs,” of a father in heaven with the face of, depending on our generation, a Charlton Heston, George Burns or Morgan Freeman!  Ours is the God of the booming voice, the roaring thunder and crashing sea; ours is the God of star-filled skies and dew-drenched mornings; God for us is what’s out there and what’s inside here… all of which is true, but none of which tells the whole story.  There’s always more to God, you see, than what there seems!

The truth is that we grow so accustomed to thinking of God in a certain way or to looking for God in a certain form that we risk being caught off guard when God in all of God’s creativity and power is revealed!  And this is what lay at the heart of this day of Pentecost: the proclamation that God is ever and always “doing a new thing;” that God will come to us unexpectedly and in ways that may not always be recognized as coming from God!

One of the first things that’s clear from our text this morning is that as the disciples were gathered together “in one place” on that morning of Pentecost they still had no idea that God was coming to them in the way that God did.  Certainly, they knew something was going to happen; after all, as we’ve been talking about here over the past couple of weeks, Jesus himself had promised them a Spirit to guide them: an Advocate to teach them, bring them comfort and to empower them for the way ahead.  But you see, like all of us they too had their preconceptions; ways of relating to God that were familiar and patterned (which is actually pretty amazing when you think about it, especially given all they’d been through with Jesus!).

So even now there was no way for their being fully prepared for the Spirit’s coming to be like the rush of a mighty wind [that] filled the house where they were sitting,” nor could they have anticipated “tongues, as of fire,” appearing among them and resting on each one of them; indeed, in their wildest imagination they could not have possibly conceived the idea that everyone on the streets of Jerusalem would be hearing good news of “God’s deeds of power” each in their own language.  Understand that these were people for whom dreams and visions were little more than the faded, hopeful memories of generations long past; and yet now, here was Peter speaking boldly the words of the prophet Joel:  “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

Even some 2,000 years later, we who are the church still wrestle with the wonder and the mystery of what happened that day on the streets of Jerusalem.  But whatever else we still can’t comprehend, one thing is for certain: this was not the act of a predictable, categorical God, but rather a surprising God who refuses to be limited by the human mind and heart.

In the words of John Macintyre, the day of Pentecost is “the wholehearted expression of the almost unlimited imagination of God.”  Isn’t that great?  Today, as the church we celebrate no less than the triumph of God’s Holy Spirit over all the vast differences of language, race, gender, class and culture that exist in our world, but moreover the triumph over all the limitations that we of this world have placed on who God is and who we are in relationship to God.   Our God is the God who speaks all the languages of the human heart; who comes to us in the midst of the pains of life as well as its pleasures; who exists in the mighty winds that occasionally rush through our lives and living, but who also is palpable in the gentle breezes that whisper in and through each day.  The miracle of Pentecost is that when God’s Spirit moves, each one of us will hear God speak in our own language, be that language one of love and joy and laughter, or one that offers comfort in the midst of grief and pain.

And it’s a miracle that continues to be revealed… as God’s Spirit is still poured out on us in unique and powerful ways; we are, by definition and by the grace of God, a “spirited people,” a covenant community of faith.  This is one reason that the day of Pentecost is often referred to as the “birthday” of the church, because we are the recipients of God’s Spirit, and as such the carriers of God’s good news, as well as the purveyors of dreams and visions for a world in need of both.  As the church, we are literally and spiritually “moved” to participate in the promised kingdom that’s to come, working in love, faith and stewardship unto the ever-widening purposes of God in our life and living.

I guess the question before us today is whether or not we truly believe that.

I suppose our answer to that question comes down to whether dreaming dreams and having visions is something that for us was “once upon a time” when our idealism matched up with our hope, but which has now faded away with age and the disillusionment that life sometimes brings; or whether we can still say today that what we’re doing for ourselves, our families, our communities and our world is what we know in faith God will someday bring in fullness, just as He has promised.  The answer comes down to whether we set ourselves forth as a church that is wholly “spirited,” enthusiastically alive and well, serving people and being witnesses to the risen Christ in everything we say and do, truly living out of  our prayer, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10)

Do we believe this, friends?   Are we ready to embrace a surprising, unpredictable and limitless God for our own lives and living?  Are we ready to dream dreams and have visions for the future; for God’s future?

If we are, then we should also know that we have placed ourselves in the midst of a life where amazing things can and do happen in and through our lives and the life of the church in which we are gathered together!  Of course, such a life tends to be unpredictable, shaking up regular routines and more than occasionally challenging valued traditions along the way; but then again, that’s also the incredible wonder and the transformative power of the Holy Spirit; and why wouldn’t we want to be a part of that?

After all, what is it that Ralph Waldo Emerson said?  “The power of the Gulf Stream will flow through a straw if the straw be placed parallel to the Gulf Stream.”   Such is the power that works through us as we open ourselves to God’s own leading.

Oh, come Holy Spirit, come!  Come and blow your mighty winds through us today.

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2017 in Church, Holy Spirit, Pentecost, Sermon

 

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