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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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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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