"Spirit Flows From Its Source"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - May 19, 2002

I Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 7:37-39


     Since today is Pentecost, the day when the Church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit, I thought it might be helpful to spend some time attempting to expand our awareness about this event. What is it that we are celebrating?  Are there some conclusions we can draw that will take a topic that is relatively abstract and make it useful for living?  

     I want to begin by considering an episode that took place in the third chapter of John.  Here Jesus addressed this topic long before his followers experienced the events of Pentecost.    

     Jesus was talking to Nicodemus about what it means to be open to the Holy Spirit.  Jesus explained it this way, "The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going."  And then he said,  "It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8)  Initially Jesus' statement makes no sense.  Was Jesus saying that people who are "born of the spirit" are no longer in control of their lives? 

     Understanding Spirit has been surrounded by a lot of confusing thoughts.  The Church has contributed to this by not making clear that it was referencing an aspect of our lives that all humanity shares in common.  We are spirit-beings.           

     The study of Spirituality has been the "property" of the Church for thousands of years.  One day it may assume its role among other disciplines such as Psychology, Philosophy, and Medicine.  I certainly hope so.  Once humanity has a better understanding of who we are, a new age will dawn. 

     Currently, examining the spirit by which a person lives is a challenge because Spirituality has been closely associated with various religious beliefs and institutions.  A person who may not be that interested in religious beliefs might not take the time required to learn about the power they possess.   

     Today there is a refreshing openness to spirit which is manifesting outside of the various bodies of believers. Those who practice medicine, for example, have been researching the connection between a person's spirit and their mental and physical health. By helping people grow beyond attitudes and expectations that prevent healing, professionals other than priests, rabbis and ministers are helping people recover their health.       

     Keep in mind that when Jesus discussed Spirit, he was not addressing the claims of Christianity. Jesus was never a Christian.  While instructing Nicodemus about the Spirit, he said, "It is like this for everyone who is born of the Spirit."  Jesus used no religious labels.  Being born of the Spirit was available to everyone.        

     What does "being born of the Spirit" mean?  It means to become acutely aware of something extremely powerful about us that we cannot see, nurturing it and allowing it to take us to a destiny we cannot now know, just like the wind in Jesus' illustration.   

     If we divided ourselves into groups this morning and talked about Spirituality, we would no doubt come to several similar conclusions.  Ever since we were children we learned that some people were pleasant to be around while others were not.  Some people knew how to make us feel safe and comfortable while others inspired caution and reticence.  We knew, but we did not know how to identify what it was that helped us recognize such differences in people. 

     How many of us had a course in public school that taught this? None of us did. Because of Spirituality's historic linkage to religious faith, educators will not go near the topic.  "Spirituality is still in the realm of speculation," they will say.  It is proper to talk about it in our respective religious institutions but not in a public forum particularly if that setting is receiving state or federal dollars.  Since this is frequently the case, what is the rest of humanity to do?  If people only knew the power they could harness, everyone would want to study it in order to develop it within themselves.              

     Individuals who have never entered a religious institution in their lives know that the words people use make who they are quite visible to everyone.  For example, we may hear a person say, "I hate this!"  Or, "I cannot stand being around her.  She is so stuck on herself.  She thinks the world revolves around her.  I've got a message for her, the world does not!" Or, "One of these days, those idiots are going to get what they deserve," Or, "He's such a jerk!  Every time I see him, he's doing something even more stupid." 

     What do such observations and analyses inspire in the people who hear them?  Some of us who delight in using such expressions believe that those listening care about our opinion.  Words reveal only the judgments of the one speaking.  Our words advertise where we are in our spiritual evolution.  They reveal very little of substance about anyone else.  

     Try this: Learn to listen to intolerant people.  Listen to people who have no patience with others.  What you will find is that they are revealing a spirit that finds it difficult to allow for differences in others. This is fine. First we have to crawl before we walk.  Yet if people do not take the time to understand Spirit and its growth potential, they may crawl for the rest of their lives.  

     What are we to think about Spirit and of our study of it?   Jesus was very specific about how our spirit can originate from two distinct sources. One source is when our spirits are in harmony with the creativity of God.  The other source is when our spirits come from a self which focuses on acquiring, getting and wanting more. One spirit wants to give while the other one is satisfied only when it receives.  

     While Jesus was instructing Nicodemus, he said, 

This is how judgment in this world works:  the light of understanding has entered the world, but many people choose darkness rather than the light because their deeds are self-serving.  Those who do evil things despise the light and refuse to come to the light.  They do not want the true nature of their deeds to be made public. 

    Clearly Jesus understood that not all spiritual energy flows from the creative source of God.  Spirit can also flow from a heart that finds value in using every means possible to get something for the self.  

     When some of our workers returned from the tornado clean up efforts in La Plata, they told a number of stories about their adventures.  As was mentioned several weeks ago during our joys and concerns, disasters can bring out the best in people and also the worst in people. 

     While many volunteers were doing everything possible to help people get their lives back together, others came to La Plata with a spirit that flowed from a source that needed to receive. One example of this came from one of the volunteers who owned a small landscaping business.  He loaned all his chain saws to several people who offered to help cut branches and remove trees.  These men worked alongside the others for several hours and when they were out of view, they disappeared along with the chain saws.  

      People who engage in such practices clearly communicate where their treasure is.  Jesus taught that when we find what a person treasures, their spirit is on stage for everyone to see.  Some people do not care about what others think.  However, where do such people believe they are going with their treasure?  What will their treasure make of them?  People can have everything and have nothing. 

     It is easy for us to become disgusted when hearing about such behavior, but again, many people spend their lives crawling because they have remained closed to the power of Spirit.  This is why Jesus was teaching Nicodemus that a person has to be born of the Spirit,--people have to know about it in order to develop it.   

     If we are not open to using a new tool for living, we will conduct our lives equipped only with what we have.  This is one of the reasons why there are significant differences between people.  Some are growing and changing while others are not. 

     Jesus and his followers in the early Church used the word "Holy" to connect Spirit to its original source. Every life form on the earth is filled with creative energy, in the exact image of God who brought everything into existence.   

     Shrubs produce flowers and seeds.  Trees produce everything from acorns to plums. Men and women can create sculptures, blueprints, vaccines, space stations, research submarines, and children.  What we dream about we will one day create.  It is the invisible part of us that reaches beyond the known horizons which expands our awareness of possibilities.  When we are engaged in creating what enhances life, everyone around us knows it.  We cannot hide it.

     Likewise, when people are making pipe bombs, inventing computer viruses, making plans to destroy, disrupt or hurt people, they are creating as well.   Their spirit, however, is communicating that they have no clue who they are and what their purpose is for living.  Their identities often presume a hero status yet they destroy rather than create. Such beings, who are completely without harmony with everything else in nature, will crawl throughout eternity until they awaken. God is very patient even for those of us who have not developed beyond being like a caterpillar.

     In light of this, what are some thoughts that will help us understand the meaning of Pentecost? First, Jesus taught that all of us have an invisible part of ourselves that enables us to create what will enhance the lives of those around us.  Our spirits radiate through the thoughts and emotions of our personalities. 

     Second, Pentecost is the birthday of the Church.  Enormous power has developed within the Church.  In spite of its numerous faults, a spiritual family brings people together for the purpose of developing, nurturing and empowering each other to become more loving and peaceful men and women. 

     Yesterday, the St. Matthew's Housing Corporation work crews were busy at both Alpha and Beta houses. In spite of the morning rain, they were painting and fixing up our two properties because of wanting to help others with marginal incomes to have a better place to live. 

     Here at the church, people were busy moving furniture, organizing, cleaning, tossing and setting up specialized areas like our Music, Christian Education and the Altar Guild. As we moved from the older building into our new addition, we accomplished our many tasks together. 

     In the beginning Jesus spoke of the Spirit as being like the wind.  We do not know where it came from or where it is going.  And Jesus said, "It is like that with everyone born of the Spirit."  In both settings that I just mentioned, people came and worked together to offer opportunities for others.  But much more was happening between them as they were creating together.  A team spirit was present.  

     The Church keeps us together and moving forward in a spirit that makes being alive something truly worth celebrating.   How do people survive whose only primary group is their families, their colleagues at work, or their golfing partners? So many people are alone, yet they are yearning to live more meaningful and purposeful lives.  Very few people are teaching them how to accomplish this.  Meanwhile, America's pharmaceutical bill is between 30 to 50 billion dollars in any given year. 

     What makes the Church so unique is that it is unashamed to name the process.  Jesus Christ awakened humanity to the infinite possibilities that await. Developing our creative, loving spirit is the "narrow door" Jesus said only a few will find.  This is why we celebrate Pentecost!  It is the Holy Spirit that breathes into us the breath of what it means to be alive.  We are alive only when we are creating.  We must teach this understanding to everyone we can. If we do not, who will?


    God, we come before you humbled by our abundance.  It is not of things that we speak.  Rather our thanksgiving comes for the vast array of talents and abilities you have given us.  Guide us to use them wisely and often.  Lead us away from fears of what we lack.  Strengthen our resolve to remain courageous in the midst of uncertainty.  While we cannot see your Spirit, we trust you will lead us to those who need a friend, to heartaches that need healing and to conflicts that need resolution.  We cannot see tomorrow, but we can lay strong foundations today.  Create in us the desire to remain an inspiration to generations not yet born.  Thank you for allowing us to be a part of creation itself.  Amen.     


    Eternal God, how grateful we are for our worship experience.  These moments allow us to bring into your presence, our needs, desires, our hopes and fears.  We come knowing that always there will be greater truth that we can learn. 

    We thank you for moments when we experience emptiness.  They cause us to reach for fulfillment.  Thank you for our fears that cause us to seek understanding.  Thank you for failed communication which offers us the opportunity to work more fervently on how to use our words.  Thank you for the mistakes we make.  Very often they become the rungs on the ladder which take us to our next level of more thoughtful living.

    Help us, O God, to stand as better guardians of our thoughts.  You created us to experience joy and peace, gladness and vision, enthusiasm and creativity.  We confess that often we focus on the flaws in others and we appear to search endlessly for new circumstances of life about which to worry. Lead us by your spirit, so that our trust of you will help us realize that no mountain exists that  we cannot climb together.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .