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Category Archives: Pentecost

After the Spirit

(a sermon for June 16, 2019, the 1st Sunday after Pentecost, based on Acts 2:42-47, 3:1-10)

“…and they lived happily ever after!”  And… Amen!

Now that’s how the story really ought to end, right (?); at least as it pertains to those first few verses of our text for this morning.  I mean, consider the “narrative arc,” if you will, of this part of the biblical story; think for a moment about everything that brought that group of twelve disciples from where they were – that is, as this rather motley assortment of fishermen, tax-collectors, and other assorted outsiders who’d left everything to follow Jesus – to what they are now, the Spirit-filled and Spirit-led Apostles in whom “many wonders and signs are being done,” and by whose proclamation of good news a new church is growing exponentially, to the point where once there were little more than a handful of believers and now – in a single day, no less (!), the day of Pentecost  – “about three thousand persons were added;” and as Luke goes on to tell us, “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

And it’s at this point in this sweeping narrative that Luke began in his gospel and now continues his “Book of Acts” that we’re given this incredible description of Christian community as it was truly lived out in the life of this new church.  We’re told that the believers were all gathered together and that everyone was filled with awe about all the signs and wonders they were witnessing; and along with worship and prayers and “devot[ing] themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,” they also gave to one another as any had need, and – I love this part – “ate their food with glad and generous hearts.”  It’s worship, it’s fellowship, it’s compassion: from the very beginning these were the marks of the Christian life and to this day remain our model and the ideal of what the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to be.  Or, to put it another way, if I might quote Laura Truman of the Forum for Theological Exploration, “Oh my goodness, it is beautiful.   They are doing theology, they are living together, they are eating together, they are praying together – this is the kind of community that most church leaders would give their left foot for… This story of the beginning of the Church,” she writes, “is just glorious.  This is the Church alive.  This is the Church on the move.”

And so, do you see what I mean when I say that this might well be the place to end the story; that now we’re at the part of the gospel in which we can gaze upon this amazing new church – formed by Jesus Christ himself, crucified and risen, and gathered, led and empowered by his Holy Spirit – and know that from this point on, after everything those apostles had been through and more to the point, through what God had done in the person of the Christ (!) that they could indeed “live happily ever after.”  I mean, if I’m making a movie about this (I guess technically, given it’s about the apostles and their journey after the resurrection, it would be a sequel!), about the time the Spirit has come in all of its power and the believers are “praising God and having the goodwill of all the people,” it would be time to fade out and roll the credits; as I said before, that’s where the story ought to end, right?

Well, if we understand scripture, not to mention the mission of the church, the answer there would be… no.  In fact, it can well be said that “after the Spirit” is when the story begins anew; and in many ways, it’s the place where our story and truly, our mission as believers really comes into focus.

Actually, from a narrative point of view, it’s interesting to note that following this very grand and idealistic view of the beginnings of the Christian church, Luke in his telling of the story sort of pulls back a bit so to tell the story about how “one day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, about three o’clock.”  So, you see, already there’s a routine developing in the life of the church; and I don’t say that as a negative, nor am I in suggesting that the “wonders and signs” done by the apostles were in any way diminishing, because if you read on in the Book of Acts, you’ll know that this is not the case.  If anything, this “going up to the temple” every afternoon tells us that a discipline of prayer and worship was from the very beginning, as it continues to be, essential to the Christian life.

And so it is on this particular day, we have Peter and John on their way to the temple for afternoon prayer – for “prayer meeting,” The Message calls it – and as they pass through the gate of the temple known as the “Beautiful Gate” they encounter a man “crippled from birth,” [The Message] “asking for alms;” that is, begging passersby for any kind of handout they might we willing to offer him as one poor and needy.  Now, we don’t know much about this man: he’s not given a name nor is there much of a backstory about what’s brought him to this station of life; all we really can glean from the text is that being “lame from birth,” he’d been carried to this gate and placed there for the purpose of begging, and that apparently he’d been doing this for quite some time, because later on we find out that all the people who entered the temple by this so called “Beautiful Gate” had recognized this  man as one of “those people” who were always there on the fringes begging for whatever spare change anybody might give him.  And so likely what he was doing that afternoon was what he always did, which was with eyes to the ground and arms extended crying out… crying out again and again and again for alms… for money… for something, anything that might help.

But whereas most people going to temple that afternoon sought to ignore the beggar’s cries and probably did everything they could to avoid any encounter with him altogether, we’re told that Peter and John heard the man’s cries and stopped; but even more than merely stopping to hear the request, Luke tells us that “Peter looked intently at him, as did John,” and said to this beggar, “Look here…” “Look at us…”   which, as even you and I in these times, was a pretty radical response!   I remember years ago someone I went to school with describing to me of her experience one summer living and working in New York City.  Now, this girl was not only still pretty young, she was also from Maine; and her first instinct on the streets of Manhattan was to smile and say hello to everyone she passed on the street!  But, she explained, that exuberant spirit was short-lived, as very quickly her more streetwise co-worker informed her that the first rule of walking down along a New York City street was not to make eye contact; this, after all, is not Bangor, Maine!  And we understand that, don’t we; especially as it applies to those in this life and in this world that in all honesty we’d rather avoid: from that person across the aisle at the market who makes us feel uncomfortable to the one who’s standing there with the handwritten cardboard sign on the median of Fort Eddy Road; just keep your head down and keep moving, and there’s no problem.

Sadly, that’s too often our attitude, but not Peter and John; they look this beggar square in the eye and pretty much demand that he look back at them in just the same way; thus treating him and engaging him as a person… as the child of God that is rather than the nameless beggar that the world has always perceived him to be.  And then Peter says something very interesting: he says, in the very poetic language of the old King James Version of scripture, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” (Or, if you’d prefer a more contemporary translation, how about this from The Message: “I don’t have a nickel to my name, but what I do have, I give you.”) Either way, Peter then reaches out to this man, this man crippled from birth, pulls him up (!) by his right hand, “and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.”  So strong, in fact, that the beggar immediately starts leaping and dancing for joy; praising God for all he’s worth and, might I add, totally disrupting any semblance of a serious prayer time that afternoon and astonishing everybody who’d witnessed what happened to this now former beggar there at the Beautiful Gate!

This story from Acts serves to tell us that “after the Spirit” came on the Day of Pentecost and filled them up with its power, the disciples’ story begins anew; with their being called to and given the gift of healing in the name of Jesus.  And moreover, writes Craig Barnes, it’s also a reminder that ultimately, in a multitude of ways – not just physical, mind you, or even financial; but also in the emotional, relational, even spiritual sense – “we’re all beggars, and it’s only in the name of Jesus that we’re going to get back up on our feet again” and we, as believers, have the ability, the call, the power to proclaim that name “that gets people back up on their feet.”  But even beyond all that, friends, what this story proclaims is that all of us – you and me and everyone in this sanctuary, all of us who count ourselves as believers – do have this ministry of healing and of life in Jesus’ name.

After the Spirit, you see, there’s the church of Jesus Christ… and we are the church.

In the end, you see, it’s not about the almsgiving, though in Christian love and creativity, we do do that, and we should; reaching out to those in need, however that may happen, is always to be at the very center of our mission as believers.  But it’s not just about that; likewise, it’s not only about the acts of healing, though I know that there are many of us in this very room, myself included, who can tell the stories of how healing prayers and words and gestures and creative, Spirit-led, actions led to the healing of mind, body and spirit.  It’s not even about the miracle, per se: because, you know what, miracles are not always what they at first seem to be, or not to be; sometimes the miracle with that overwhelming sense of the holy in our midst; in that peace Jesus spoke of that the world can neither give nor take away.  In the end, it’s about this Spirit that all of us have been given and this ministry we share; this calling to be witnesses to all we’ve seen and heard and received, sometimes by what we say, but always by what we do.

And the thing is, we never know exactly how that might unfold until it happens:  we’re having this random conversation with a friends or a co-worker, maybe someone we hardly know, but suddenly they’re pouring out their pain and grief in all its intensity and suddenly the “small talk” has become something much deeper and wholly cathartic.  You’re running an errand or taking care of a long-dreaded chore, and all of a sudden you get this idea that what you’re doing in that moment could be helpful for somebody else whose pride has long prevented them from asking for any kind of assistance.  You’ve been wrestling with some sort of big decision in your life, and trying to weigh how what you’ll do changes things for you; but then you wake up in the dawn of a new day and you’re seeing that choice from a different point of view: maybe that of your children or your family or even how it might affect a hurting world.  Or, could be you’re sitting in this sanctuary this morning, you’ve been singing the songs, you’ve prayed the prayers, you’re wondering if the minister’s ever going to wrap this thing up (!) so you can go to lunch… and in that moment you’re inspired… moved, somehow, to call somebody to go to lunch after worship with you, and maybe then invite them to come to church next Sunday….

…who knows? 

Give alms to the poor; feed the hungry; clothe the naked; visit those in prison; love, cherish and nurture all of God’s children; be kind, for Jesus’ sake!  Just know, beloved, that however it takes shape and form this is our ministry, yours and mine together, and that God’s Spirit comes as we do what we do.  And it is in that ministry that beggars become leapers, and that miracles happen.

I hope and pray that now that Spirit has come, we will be bold to embrace its power to do God’s work in this place and time… always in the healing name of Jesus.

And in that holy name, may our thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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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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A Fresh Capacity to Listen

holy spirit image(a sermon for May 22, 2016, the 1st Sunday after Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, based on  Genesis 11:1-9 and Acts 2:1-21)

It occurs to me that in this age of sweeping technology, “Google Searches” and the computerized guidance of someone named “Siri,” this might seem like ancient history, but those of us of a certain age (!) will remember that there was once a time that in order to get a phone number we simply had to dial (that’s right… dial!) “0” on the telephone to speak to an operator for information!

Not that this was without its problems:  in fact, the story goes that a woman once called information because she wanted the phone number for Theater Arts Magazine.  And after a long pause on the other end of the line, the operator replied, “I’m sorry, but there is no one listed under the name Theodore Arts.”   “No, no,” the woman answered back.  “It’s not a person, it’s a magazine.  Theater Arts.”  But the operator said again, “I told you, ma’am, we have no one listed under the name Theodore Arts!”  Now, by this time the woman was becoming quite exasperated, and with the tone of voice to match she said, “THEATER!   I said Theater!   T-H-E-A-T-E-R!” To which the operator coolly replied, “Madam, that is not how you spell Theodore!”

It’s true, no matter what the technology happens to be – or, for that matter, what the situation happens to be – so often in this life, it all comes down to that line from the old movie: what we have here is a failure to communicate!

Would you not agree that at the heart of most of our problems lay issues regarding communication, or the lack thereof?  As a pastor, I’ve seen this countless times; when the core issue of some disagreement or conflict between couples, amongst families or even church members comes down to miscommunication and misunderstanding; you know, the old story of “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize what you heard is not what I meant.”

In truth, there is much that confounds our hearing and speaking and thus our understanding of one another: the tone of voice we use, our body language, the underlying emotion that shows forth the words we choose, not to mention our own preconceived notions of what’s being said to us!  All of this contributes to an occasional failure to communicate; and when you combine this with the fact along with the fact that because we’re all different kinds of people who approach things in different ways, it’s no wonder that sometimes it seems as though we’re speaking totally different languages!

I remember years ago when our son Zachary was little going with his class on a field trip to a farm where maple syrup was being made.  Now this farm was owned and operated by a couple who’d been tapping trees on that land for years, and the first thing that happens is that the wife leads us all down a pathway to one of the big maples and shows the children how the sap is collected; she tells them about how native American children used to drink the sap like it was Kool-Aid; and then she pours some of the sap from that tree into paper cups so they could all taste it for themselves!  And I remember that the kids were enthralled by what she was teaching them.

Well, from there we walk up to the sugar shack where her husband is waiting to tell us all about how the sap becomes maple syrup; and he proceeds to tell these 2nd grade children about the relative yield of syrup in relation to the sap collected, about the boiling point of sap and the type of firewood necessary to provide optimum and consistent heat, and even about the gauge of the stainless steel used in building the sap storage tanks!  The man went on and on with this litany of technical data related to maple syrup production, even as the children’s eyes just sort of glazed over!  In fact, I’ll never forget it; when it was finally done, and the man asked if there were any questions, one little boy just raised his hand and said, “You know, that’s a really big fire in there.”

Now the great irony here is that now, as an adult, my son lives for that kind of information (!); but back then, though I know he meant well, that man might as well have been speaking Greek to those kids: they just didn’t understand!  It goes to show how easily it can happen that we fail to understand what’s being said to us; and moreover, how it is that so often, we fail to be understood!  It happens in the ways we communicate with one another; so often it’s what can make or break any semblance of community we might have together; and let’s not even talk about the effect this has on the level of political discourse, especially during this particular election cycle!

But it’s especially true, I think, as regards the church.  We talked about this a couple of weeks ago; that given all the diversity of thought and emotion and experience that exists amongst God’s people, it’s a wonder we even understand each other, much less have the kind of unity we seek!  The question is, how can we truly be a community of faith if we don’t communicate with each other, and how are we to communicate with each other if we can’t hear and understand each other?

That’s why it’s good news indeed that God has given us that which we need to understand; what Walter Bruggemann refers to as “a fresh capacity to listen,” that is, a new ability to truly hear and to respond.  It comes in God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, the miracle of Pentecost, that day which Bruggemann describes as “a veritable festival of listening,” involving people from the four corners of the world and every walk of life, each of whom hear in a clear and unalloyed fashion the good news of God’s love.

What’s interesting about our two readings of scripture this morning is that they are pretty much mirror images of each other; the same story but with opposite conclusions.  First, there’s the story of the Tower of Babel from Genesis, in which human arrogance and sin leads to a judgment of separation and confusion.  Simply put, “in the beginning” God had given his people a common sense of understanding and the ability to speak the same language; it was ever and always God’s intent, you see, that we truly understand one another and that our lives be built from that understanding.  But when those same people became wholly attuned to the sound of their own voices rather than to listening to each other and most especially to God (as evidenced by the building of “a tower with its top in the heavens,” which was built solely as a monument to themselves), God rightly determined that this “speaking the same language” thing could never end well.  And so God “confuse[d] their language… so that they [would] not understand one another’s speech,” and then divided and scattered the people “over the face of the earth,” making it all the more difficult to understand and be understood! So what we have here is the judgment of God upon our own human tendency toward self-centeredness, isolation and alienation!

But then, you see, in the Book of Acts we have God’s reversal of that judgment, when the Holy Spirit comes down from heaven with “a sound like the rush of a mighty wind,” through the streets of Jerusalem that were filled with “devout Jews from every nation under heaven,”  all speaking all their varied languages unknown to each other.  Except that now, by this miracle of the Holy Spirit, they heard… and they understood.  All of them – no matter their background or experience or prejudice – had that “fresh capacity to listen” to the good news told by the disciples, to hear “in [their] own native language… about God’s deeds of power;” about God’s intention that his Spirit be poured upon all flesh.  It was truly a miraculous day and a vibrant new beginning for God’s people!

One of the central gifts of the Holy Spirit is that because it is the real and living presence of God – one part of that “blessed Trinity” of Father, Son and Holy Spirit – it enables us to truly hear and understand God’s Word with a spiritual clarity unlike ever before; I dare say that in many ways, it is that “fresh capacity to listen” that makes us the church, in that we are called together to attune our ears and our hearts to that Word.  But what I want to tell you this morning is that there’s another part of that gift, one that we don’t always recognize: that in hearing and understanding God, by extension the Spirit also enables us to hear each other more clearly.

Maybe you’ve heard of the concept of “active listening.” It’s an essential component of all manner of caregiving, and what it means is that if we are truly listening to someone, then we need more than just our ears; it takes careful and special effort to be attentive and sensitive to the person speaking.  In other words, active listening requires a “third ear;” one that listens with love in order to sense what’s really going on with that person; to go beyond the words spoken to get to the heart of what’s being said!  To put this another way, and I suspect that most of us can vouch for this, when somebody truly listens to us, not just with the ears but with the heart, we are given a message that we matter; that we’re not alone in whatever it is we’re facing; and that we’re loved.

That’s what the Holy Spirit gives us; that third ear, that fresh capacity and great ability to listen to those around us with love. For you see, as our hearts are opened to hear God’s voice through his Spirit, we begin to listen to each other with a spiritual sensitivity; we begin to understand the language of the heart; a language much deeper than words as it proclaims the truth of the gospel even as we show forth our love for one another.

Friends, how many times in our relationships with each other when we’ve come away from some kind of conversation or conflict thinking  that we totally understand each other, but in fact we’ve only heard a small part of what’s been said; how often does it happen that we’ve heard only what we want to hear and little more?  And how often have we been guilty of “turning a deaf ear” to those who stand in the need of love and healing, even and especially those who are the closest to us? And why is it that all too often we’re far more set on what we think we have to say than what we need to listen to?  It’s that “failure to communicate;” but the good news is that God is not content to allow us to “babble” on without any understanding; and sends us his Holy Spirit that we might truly listen, with understanding, and respond in love.

On the day of Pentecost, the people of God were made to truly hear and understand, and in doing so became the church of Jesus Christ.  And in this time and place, you and I continue to be the Church as we seek to be attentive to that same Spirit in our lives: actively listening for the many ways we can reach out in love and ease one another’s burdens, striving to dwell in unity as we are about the work of God’s kingdom; on earth as it is in heaven!

But friends, our actually being the Church and our living as true Christian disciples… all this starts with listening for, and then listening to the voice of the Spirit.  And the beauty part is that despite all the other noise in this world that threatens to block it out God has given us what need – our ears and our hearts – to truly hear and understand what matters.

So who knows what the voice of the Spirit will be saying next!

For whatever it might be, thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2016  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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