"Sensing The Spirit"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 5/23/1999
I Corinthians 12:3b-13; Acts 2:1-21
The most difficult transition we human beings have to make is the shift in our thinking from our reliance on what is visible in physical form to our complete reliance on those qualities of life that have no form. What an abstract thought!
As we observed last week, the qualities we most want in life do not exist in the physical world. They have no form whatsoever. For example, no one has ever observed peace. What we see are people who have learned how to prevent any person, event, or unexpected circumstance to trick them into surrendering their preferred state-of-mind. When we are with a peaceful, tranquil person, we experience only a result, we do not see peace. Peace has no form until we give it expression through our bodies.
The method of learning how to do this appears challenging to master because it has to do with Spirit and not with the forms that most of us have given great significance. The disciples, for example, had relied on Jesus to direct where they went, what took place when they got there, and the quality of their message. Jesus' verbal skills and his ability to heal the sick was the center of their perceived power. They had internalized very little. Everything that was empowering them remained external.
When the disciples traveled together without Jesus, it was very obvious. They frequently argued among themselves. While the disciples were in their fishing boat, they panicked when they saw a ghostly figure coming to them on the water. They were unable to heal the boy with epilepsy shortly after they descended the Mt. of Transfiguration. They did not know what to think when strangers were healing in Jesus' name. Without the presence of his physical form, they had few abilities to behave as he had taught them.
This is our difficulty, too. The problem should be obvious but it is not. The forms in which we have placed our confidence change constantly. When forms refuse to stay just the way we want them, we frequently become disappointed, frustrated, and hurt. People die. Marriages dissolve. We lose our health. One might think that by now we would have gotten the message. By their created nature, the forms of everything are constantly changing. Yet we go on investing our energy, trusting and hoping that this time change will not occur. It always does.
News reports have indicated that the 15-year-old sophomore who began shooting his fellow students in Conyers, Georgia was depressed over a change in his relationship with his girlfriend. We can multiply this response across everyone's experience. In every newspaper there are stories about people who have not learned how to control themselves when faced with changes they do not like. Constant change should teach us to anchor our trust in the qualities of life that will not change. Few have learned how to do this.
Jesus' ability to do this came from the part of him that has no form -- his Spirit. All of us are eager to get to the same place ourselves. What prevents our arrival is our lack of resolve and willingness to select patience over our desire to confront someone verbally whose people skills remain undeveloped. Frequently we will not choose peace over insisting that we deserve something more than what we have. We neglect to choose perseverance when confronted with a life process that appears to be defeating us constantly.
During the latter part of his ministry Jesus was preparing the disciples to make this shift in their thinking. In the Gospel of John Jesus said this, "I did not tell you these things at the beginning because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me. It is better for you that I go away, because if I do not go, the Helper will not come to you. When the Spirit comes, it will lead you into all truth" (John 16:5f).
Jesus was intentionally refocusing the vision of the disciples from the external to the internal. With his departure from the earth, Jesus would test how effective he had been. That moment came at Pentecost. In our lesson this morning we heard these words, "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit..."
Notice that something the disciples could not experience with their five senses filled them and gave them powers to do extraordinary things. This moment would validate and give credibility to everything Jesus had taught throughout his ministry. With the discovery of their inner world, the disciples experienced the part of themselves that communicates to and interacts with God. They would learn how effortlessly they could move mountains, calm storms, and heal hurts.
Everyone of us can have the experience of Pentecost once we make this shift in our thinking. No, there will be no tongues of fire or the sounds of rushing wind. That would not be necessary because the point had been made. That experience drove the disciples' center of power inward. The disciples would no longer look to a human form to give them direction.
What the disciples reclaimed were the dormant qualities they had since their birth. They began to experience boldness, confidence, courage, trust, and enthusiasm. Having at last conquered fear, the Spirit led them to spread "the way of Jesus" across the face of the earth. St. Matthew's would not be here today had Pentecost not transformed the disciples.
Remember, the word transformation means to change in form. The new form was spiritual, a form that remains invisible to human senses. No one could see the source of the power that communicated through their bodies. This is also true for us.
If you want to experience this power, you have to use it. For example, we cannot say, "I love God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength" and not tithe our income. Such a statement represents a conflict. I'm not talking about the budget of St. Matthew's. Give your money to cancer research or to the Boy or Girl Scouts of America. Part with 10 percent of your gross income and watch what happens. You will be extending a grateful, generous spirit, a decision that will change how you order your life. Money is form and when we hold on to it tightly, we are communicating its value to us. Cling to money and we become as dependent on it as the disciples were on the physical form of Jesus.
If you want the Pentecost experience, refuse from this day onward to want something more from your spouse or children than what they are capable of giving. Trust that God is in charge of their lives and will guide them according to purposes about which you could not possibly know. Stand in their midst as a source of loving energy, accepting what you perceive as their failures and shortcomings as examples of where they are. Read to them. Talk to them. Comment when they are doing things that are wonderful. Spice up your advice with words that nurture and are kind, that support as well as teach.
If you want the Pentecost experience, let go of your expectations of the world and its people. Look at reversals as opportunities for you to give form to your character, integrity and faith. Accept challenges with the knowledge that there is nothing that you and God cannot accomplish. Place no judgment on the form that something takes. By not making any critical analyses, you will be capable of bringing a consistency to your healing responses.
At first, we may believe that such a change in thinking will be the toughest assignment we have ever accepted. Our decision to proceed is difficult because it demonstrates how wedded we are to the forms that we have assigned great meaning. Had the disciples not succeeded at doing this, they would never have been able to use what Jesus had taught them.
I have used a particular story many times during our Tuesday Bible study. This week I found its source. The story comes from a book called, The City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre. It features what happened to the spiritual health of a woman who had learned how to transcend her attachment to her physical form.
In the city of Calcutta was a Polish Roman Catholic priest. When circumstances of his ministry overwhelmed him, the priest would visit this woman who was in the last stages of leprosy. The priest always felt blessed and renewed in her presence. Her body was grotesquely deformed and the disease had made her blind. Each visit, the priest would find her curled up in the corner of her poorly ventilated hut. Behind her on the wall hung a crucifix, the symbol of her faith.
What set this woman apart was the number of neighbors who tended to her needs. Many were Hindus which meant that they were breaking their religious laws to minister to her. Hindus are forbidden to enter the home of a leper. They came anyway. The priest recalled that the Hindu women called her, "A holy person." They knew that her body was decaying greatly but they told the priest, "She radiates eternity."
She would always sense when Father Kovalski was coming. She would attempt to tidy herself by smoothing her hair with the stump of her hand. She would smile and say, "Good morning, Father." After one of his visits, he wrote in his journal these words: "She instinctively knew that there was still work for her to do. Her earthly work was almost completed. What was left for her was to carry her leprosy with peace and joy. That made the difference for everyone. She was a woman greatly affected by leprosy, but she was never a victim. Victims seldom carry anything well. She was a woman who knew that God was in charge, not the leprosy." What helped her transcend her body? What helped her make this shift in her thinking?
When the well-known psychologist, Carl Jung was dying, one of his former students asked, "Do you believe in God?" Carl Jung said, "No, I do not believe in God. I know God very deeply in my spirit."
What happened for the disciples after Pentecost was that they henceforth would know God. Once we learn to access the profound awareness of God's presence we, too, will no longer need to merely believe in a God. We will graduate from a belief to a knowing. Only a knowing will energize life from God's loving inner presence.
God becomes such a powerful force in us that fears do not have time to take root, let alone torment us with their seemingly endless parade of ridiculous, twisted images and thought forms. Only a knowing allows this to happen.
Do you remember what happened to the disciples during the final week? These were men who definitely believed in the God about which Jesus spoke. They fled when Jesus was arrested. They remained in hiding after his crucifixion. They only believed in God. They did not know God.
After Pentecost, they walked into the streets proclaiming the Word with verbal fire and conviction. They were arrested, but the prisons and chains could not hold them. They had a message to get out. And so do we! Have you experienced your Pentecost?
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
We marvel with gratitude, O God, at what our spirits allow us to do. What a great gift to receive, for with it we have the power of discernment, a gift that inspires us to take the high road, the road less traveled, a gift that lifts us above the struggles of the physical world, a gift that allows us to dream about the qualities of life that are not yet in our experience.
All of us pray that we might learn to use more fully this aspect of ourselves that most resembles you. Lead us to develop the qualities that would make us more understanding of each other, more patient in our listening skills, more caring with our use of words, more eager to establish new friendships, more accepting of those whose lives are much different from our own. Help us learn that each person has their own song to sing, their own story to tell, their own autobiography to write and that each of them will be as unique as the flakes during a winter snow fall. Inspire us to celebrate our differences knowing that you surround each of us as the students of this life that we all are.
When we have the opportunity to sow seeds of peace, may we not hesitate. When we are faced with people whose lives are troubled, help us seize the moment to be a friend. So blend your spirit with our own, O God, that we will quickly learn why and how all the healing that comes through us is from you. May the day come when we so identify with you and all that you create, that our spirits will become one. May we move toward that day with every choice we make. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .