Friday, May 28, 2010

Sweet, Sweet Spirit

Sermon preached Pentecost Sunday May 23, 2010

Texts: John 14:18, 25-27; John 20:21-22; Acts 2:1-21

I don’t usually do this, but I want to add a couple more verses of Scripture to what we have already heard. Here we have some words of Jesus from John’s Gospel – first from chapter 14, then from chapter 20. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you…. I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid….” Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
I will not leave you orphaned. When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting…. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Not being left alone. But sometimes that is just what I want and maybe need. On the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory I am an “E” - - - an extrovert on the extrovert/introvert scale, but only slightly on that side. I also appreciate alone time. There are days when my favorite time of the day is that time after everyone else has gone to bed and I just have some time. Alone time can be a good thing sometimes.
One time, traveling to Arizona for a work-related workshop, I was seated next to a chatty woman. She was flying to Arizona to see friends as she recuperated from sinus surgery. I had not even told this woman I was a clergy person – that usually invites conversations about why the person hasn’t been to church much in twenty years, or how active they are in their church and do I think it is right of their pastor to do such and so, or questions about “the end times.” But I had not mentioned that to this particular woman, yet she felt the need to unburden herself a bit, which was fine, except some of the details of her sinus surgery were a bit much. A little alone time would have been a good thing.
While we may like alone time, and we are different in our desire for that, I think, at a deep level, none of us wants to feel alone in the world. We want to know that we are connected with others. We want to know that our lives matter to others, at least some others. We want to know that someone loves us.
Barbara Brown Taylor in her book Gospel Medicine shares the story of her babysitting experiences as a youngster. She was the eldest of three daughters, so she had plenty of opportunity to babysit. First my father would sit me down and remind me how much he and my mother trusted me – not only because I was the oldest but also because I was the most responsible. This always made me dizzy, but I agreed with him. I would not let the house burn down. I would not open the door to strangers. I would not let my little sisters fall down the basement steps. Then my mother would show me where she had left the telephone number, remind me when they would be home, and all together we would walk to the front door where everyone kissed everyone good-bye. Then the lock clicked into place, and a new era began. I was in charge. Turning around to face my new responsibilities, what I saw were my sisters’ faces, looking at me with something between hope and fear. They knew I was no substitute for what they had just lost, but since I was all they had they were willing to try. And so was I.
Taylor did all the right things – played games, made snacks, reassured her sisters that their parents would be home later, but did she really know that? Something awful could happen. It was hard being the babysitter, because I was a potential orphan too. I had as much to lose as my sisters, and as much to fear, but I could not give in to it because I was the one I charge. I was supposed to know better. I was supposed to exude confidence and create the same thing in them.
But Taylor’s story isn’t just about babysitting. We are Christ’s elder children in the world, the one’s he has left in charge. We are the responsible ones, the ones he has trusted to carry on in his name, and everywhere we go we see the faces of those whom he has given into our care…. It is hard, being the one’s in charge, because we are potential orphans too, only he said we would not be.
That is what this Holy Spirit stuff is all about, about the God we know in Jesus not leaving us alone. We are not orphans cast adrift into an uncaring universe. We are part of the family of God, the family of Christ. We are known. We are loved. We are forgiven. Yes, there is work to be done. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Earlier in Acts, Jesus tells the disciples “You will be my witnesses.” There is work to be done, but we are not left alone to do it. We have each other. We have God’s Spirit. Sometimes She arrives like the rush of a violent wind, shaking things up, taking us on a wild ride. Sometimes He arrives with the quietness of breath. However the Spirit arrives, we are not alone.
This good news is meant to give us a sense of peace. It is also meant to help us live differently, to be differently in the world. Knowing we are not alone, knowing we are loved is intended to help us live more openly, less defensively.
Just last week, I was presented a great illustration of the way many of us live, at least some of the time. Here we have the “Passing the Peace Protection Kit.” It includes a protective mask, a hair net (more useful for some than for others), a latex glove, passing the peace cards and a sanitizing towel. The directions for use are simple:
1. Remove all the items from the package before the service begins
2. Place all the items in a place where you can reach them quickly (hymnal)
3. Scan the bulletin for passing the peace to determine the best time to put on the peace protection items
4. Put them on – failure to do so may compromise protected peace passing
5. Shake or hug with confidence
6. Safely pass Peace Cards to unprotected worship participants
7. Wash hands with moist towelette just in case

And that’s how we sometimes live – encased, well-defended, closed, fearful. The Spirit works to sweep away our over-protectiveness. The Spirit rushes in to open us up to ourselves, to each other, to the world, to God. It is not always an easy place to be. Opening to ourselves we see places where we are not where we want to be, places where we need forgiveness. But then forgiveness is there for us. Open to others, we become vulnerable to their hurt and pain, but we don’t bear the burden alone. Open to the world, the sorrow and pain of the world are our concern because we have been sent by Jesus to make a difference in the world. But we don’t go alone. Additionally, open to ourselves, we see beauty within. Open to others, we know the joy of friendship. Open to the world we see grace and beauty there, too.
One story about this openness of the Spirit before I close. Most Thursday mornings finds me meeting with some local clergy colleagues discussing our plans for preaching on Sunday morning. In all honesty, we sometimes don’t get around to talking about the sermon. This last week was one such week. For the first time since their son, Ben, died during the Haiti earthquake, April and Judd Larson were at this clergy group. Their journey over these past weeks and months was the focus of our discussion. They shared a little about how important it has been for people just to be with them, even when they don’t know what to say, or even if they say something that isn’t so great – like the person who told them that God was using Ben’s death to call attention to the needs of Haiti. Being with people in the midst of grief and tragedy can be difficult. April shared the words of a counselor to them – “no one likes to be around someone who has lost a child.” Harsh, but real. We are uncomfortable with death and dying, tragedy, grief and loss. Maybe it reminds us of our own mortality.
One important work of the Spirit in our lives is to let us know that we are not alone, so that we can then be there for others who need to know they are not alone. We are called not simply to be Christ’s elder children in the world. We are called to be Christ in the world, but we don’t do it alone.
Receive the Holy Spirit. You are loved. You are forgiven. You are sent. You are not alone. Amen.

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