"Spirit Flows From Its Source"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - May 19, 2002
I Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 7:37-39
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
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
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'
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
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
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
If we are not open to using a new
tool for living, we will conduct our lives equipped only with what we
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
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
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?
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
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.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
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 . . .