Sermons on Holy Spirit
We are celebrating the season of Easter, when our scriptures open up for us the many ways Jesus will continue to be revealed to us, through a new perspective on scripture, through the bread and the wine, through our love given and received. The scripture lessons during this season also present the framework for the way to be church. As our gospel story reveals to us today, Jesus, the grace of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, is the vine, that which connects us, that which gives us nourishment and life, that which draws us into one being, one Body of Christ. This connection can heal our soul and body, provide us hope in our times of darkness, reveal to us our belovedness, move us from despair to hopefulness, from fear to courage, from loathing to loving.
The good news is that we don’t do it alone. Just as Jesus claimed that the Spirit of the Lord has anointed him, which was true in a very particular way for Jesus, yet it is also true for us – for this happened for and with us at our baptism. We have been anointed by the Spirit of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, which enables us to be guided in this Advent work of preparing our hearts for Jesus,…
Because Jesus stayed in the tomb, contained with the earth, with the massive round stone rolled across its entrance, Jesus sanctified, made holy, saturated with the presence of God, the darkened container he was put in, and therefore sanctified all the darkened containers we put ourselves into. But the point of the story of Jesus is that he didn’t stay there. And his resurrection invites and implores us not to stay there either. God’s mercy, love, and compassion draw us into these places of alienation and disconnect. We resist going there often, sometimes by saying, “We’ve always done it that way” as a reason not to move into that place of uncertainty, where the old begins to fade away before we can see the new. Or sometimes we resist the draw into exile because it’s easier to fortify the sides of our containers with bolstered arguments or fiery threats. But the pattern of faithful living, that paschal mystery we often speak of, moves us into a place of exile, of self-reflection, of noticing the places of disconnect between what God has asked of us and what we are doing, to the land, or in our lives, or in our relationship with God, for they are all connected, of acknowledging what we have done or left undone that has caused harm. But then the Spirit turns us again toward God, when God’s mercy, love, and compassion can strip from us all that we have falsely created, to return us to what God has created within and around us. If we listen closely enough, in these times of exile, which our own lives may be in now, or our country may be in right now, we can hear God’s voice saying, “Come and see, I am bringing you to a new way of experiencing me. Come and see.”
There are times when I get exhausted from the constant pull of the Holy Spirit to shape and remake my heart and soul, so that I can be more aligned with the will of God. I imagine you do too. There are times when I wish I could escape for just a moment back into my Sunday school faith and believe it is as simple as believing Jesus loves me. I imagine you do too. There are times when I want my life to be simpler, when I wish I could compartmentalize my life into church on Sunday and the rest. I imagine you do too. But I know that’s not my life as a Christian. Rather it is to be deeply fed by times of silence before God and in spiritual retreats, by receiving the prayers of our healing ministers, by finding a group of spiritual friends with whom I can wrestle with the issues of today set within our three-legged stool of scripture, tradition, and reason, so I can continue the hard work of discernment of God’s new revelation among us that instructs me how to faithfully live in response to the movement of the Spirit.
Pentecost is a time of celebrating God’s surprises in our lives. Often, it’s fun and exhilarating to run and catch up with the Spirit who is leading us into new life, new ways of being, new callings to answer, new ways of being church. And sometimes, it’s hard, and we feel out of breath, and we want things to slow down, or return to what was. I think this is a very natural reaction because surprises are unexpected and we can be thrown off by the lack of our control, or by the direction the Spirit is moving us toward, one that we may not have chosen ourselves. The Holy Spirit is a wild and crazy thing and yet it always empowers us to join with the first disciples in witnessing to the truth of the risen Christ. I think this is one of most helpful things for me to remember when I’m feeling exhausted by the changes the Holy Spirit is demanding of me – it’s for a good purpose. It’s so I can be a more faithful witness to what lights up my life, to what offers me joy, to what gives my life purpose, what inspires me to become the best I can be – the presence of Jesus in my life.
I pay attention to those who come last, for often some of my most important conversations are with people who come “at night,” people who are afraid or feel unworthy to come to me or to our church in the light of day. It is often from the darkness of night, don’t you think, that we bring our deepest questions, or search for some purpose to our lives, other than our mundane existence or routines.
Jesus’ baptism sets loose the Holy Spirit into the world, inspiring and strengthening Jesus for his baptismal ministry, of bringing in the Kingdom of God, through healing, teaching, and preaching. The same Spirit that anointed Jesus anoints us in baptism, and this baptism immerses us into the same service and ministry in the world. One way to look at baptism is divine empowerment so that we, like Jesus, can make meaningful contributions to our church and society. Baptism immerses us in service and ministry in the world.
We come to church to be refreshed, restored, renewed, and it happens because we go around the carousel. We go through the service, again and again, and our hearts anticipate the forgiveness, nourishment, and the abiding Spirit we receive each week. This is good; one of the purposes of our liturgy and one of the gifts of being a part of the body of Christ. Comfort through the familiarity of being renewed to meet the world again, only to return the following week, is part of the gift the Church offers us. However, the startling and fiery message of John the Baptist we heard in our gospel story today is calling us into something else, something deeper, something which prepares us for our connection to Jesus’ resurrection. For this is also what we come to church for: tapping into the resurrection of Jesus and being changed, being offered new life, seeing life in a brand-new way. This goes beyond refreshment, restoration, and renewal. Resurrection involves complete change and is included in John’s message through the word repentance.
In our reading from Book of Proverbs today, as the character of Sophia, Woman Wisdom, or the Holy Spirit is introduced, she is personified to help us have a clearer understanding of who this first creation of God was and how she lives and moves and has her being within, among, and beyond us. Our reading is a way to flesh out the nebulous word we often attribute to the Holy Spirit: sanctifier, for what does that really mean, to make us holy? For often we must wonder, what does it look like for holiness to reside within our lives? And because the Holy Spirit is so difficult to get a grasp on in terms of what might this look like in our lives, we often ignore this part of the trinity. We find we can pray to God, the Godhead, the whole of the divine, and we can pray to Jesus, for we can comprehend our common link to Jesus through our shared humanity, but the Holy Spirit is so mysterious, so mystical, we often ignore her integral part to the Trinity, and thus diminish our experience of God.
With the power of the resurrection made manifest through the healing offered by the apostles, we first know that healing is what the resurrected Christ is all about. The apostles were given this power so that they could continue Jesus’ primary mission: to heal the world.
And through the smudges of the oil, nearly dripping down her forehead into her eyes, we open her third eye, the one the mystics speak about, the one in the middle of her forehead, and the one that allows humans to see spiritual reality. Her soul has been awakened, ready to join her discerning heart, her ever expanding and inquisitive mind, and her energetic and loving body; awakened to find the courage to will and to persevere, to engage the spirit to know and to love God, and to embrace the gift of joy and wonder in all of God’s works. Something is unlocked. The closed is opened. Her soul awakens in this moment. From here on out, she has the capacity to look both ways, to the eternal, infinite, and transcendent, and to the temporal, finite and immanent.
This is what John the Baptist speaks of in our lesson today: the baptism of the repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It’s actually not the sins themselves that he wants to wash away, for God has already done that. It is our repentance of them, our turning away from them, our stretching our minds beyond them, our conversion to a life which no longer allows them. John the Baptist wants us to release ourselves from whatever prison we find ourselves within, which keeps us from the love of God. This is what we’re called into today by the prophetic voice of John the Baptist. Our actions, or our failure to act, the attacks, wounds, insults and slurs we have inflicted upon others or which have been inflicted upon us, these can stay with us for years, even though God has long ago has washed them away. For grace comes first. God shows up. God invites us to repent, to “go beyond our mind”, so the mountains we construct to protect our souls, can be torn down and washed away.