"The Many Faces Of Spirit"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - May 11, 2008
Psalm 104:24-34; I Corinthians 12:3b-13
PENTECOST One of the
impossible tasks we humans are always attempting to do is to understand
how God creates. People the world over, who are involved in one
religious belief system or another, are fairly convinced that they know
enough about God to develop meaningful patterns of worship, rituals, and
sacred observances. We believe truth was revealed through
Siddhartha, Jesus or Muhammad.
One of the impossible tasks we humans are always attempting to do is to understand how God creates. People the world over, who are involved in one religious belief system or another, are fairly convinced that they know enough about God to develop meaningful patterns of worship, rituals, and sacred observances. We believe truth was revealed through Siddhartha, Jesus or Muhammad.A greater truth may be that we are not close at all to understanding how God works through the material universe.
One of our handicaps is that we bring baggage to every moment of life, baggage that represents all our learned points of view, sensitivities, prejudices and values. Most of us have experienced talking to people and not communicating with them at all. We believe that “If we can put someone in possession of how we think, they will understand our point of view.” Often this is only wishful thinking.
Had Jesus been successful at doing this, Judas would never have betrayed him, Peter would not have shown up in the garden wearing a sword and the disciples would have never argued about which one was superior to the others. Apparently all of them missed the heart of what he had been teaching. Each disciple had his own version of how he understood Jesus and that was where Jesus had to exercise great patience.
If we humans have a challenging time understanding each other, think of the challenges that God faces. Try to imagine God acting in history and having over six billion interpretations of what just happened. Each one of us could furnish dozens of examples of how God has been active in our lives. How many of our experiences would represent a correct interpretation of God’s activity?
A number of years ago I was told a story by an acquaintance of mine whose name was Buddy, a young man who grew up in my hometown of Cheverly. One night while he was somewhere in a rural setting, Buddy was attempting to break into a car. His goal was to find some spare change so he could purchase a couple of beers. He was a real character, who really did not possess a vicious bone in his body. He was always into expedience, i.e., a path of least resistance. He forgot that such a path is what makes rivers run crooked.
A thunderstorm moved into his area while he was using a coat hanger to gain entry to the car. Lightening began to streak overhead followed by loud claps of thunder. He worked feverishly to get the little loop he had made in the hanger to fit over the top of the lock on the door. He told me he could smell rain coming. Now he hoped he could get into the car until the storm passed.
As he was meticulously working twisting the hanger this way and that, trying not to damage the car, the thought came over him that God was watching him. He knew he was trying to break into someone’s car. He also knew that he would not want anyone doing this to his car. He tried to ignore these thoughts by telling himself that God is very forgiving. But his thoughts about God watching grew more intense and would not go away.
Suddenly a streak of lightening hit a tree shattering a large limb that was very close to the car. Debris fell all around him. Buddy said, “Dick, right then and there I sank to my knees in the pouring rain and said, ‘Okay, God, I got your message. There will be no beer for me tonight and I promise that I won’t break into any more cars.’”
There are plenty of people who would say, “God does not work like that.” And yet, there are others who would say, “He got a message that prevented him from stepping outside the law.” There are others who would say that Buddy’s guardian angels were speaking to him in a dramatic form that only Buddy would understand.
When it comes to understanding how spirit works, we sometimes hear the strangest stories coming from people who are absolutely convinced that it was God who intervened, it was God who sent them a particular dream, it was God who caused someone to hear the hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness being played by the carillon from a distant church steeple, a hymn that was a favorite of her mothers and was sung at her memorial service. Hearing that hymn could also be a reminder to the woman that her former pew on Sunday morning has been empty for quite some time.
There was one couple that believed that it was God who caused a fender-bender car accident. As the man and woman were exchanging insurance information, he noticed her address and said, “You live in my apartment complex. Could we talk about this over dinner tonight?” This was one of those instant chemistry things. She looked into his eyes and said, “I would like that very much.”
The two fell in love on the spot and they were standing in front of me right here in our sanctuary 8 months later. No one would ever convince them that it was mere chance that brought them together. Just as there are some people who believe they are tuned into the flow of God’s spirit, there are others who cannot bring themselves to think that way.
I am currently reading a book called, Ask Your Guides, Connecting to Your Divine Support System, by Sonia Choquette. In it she writes:
She called me and it did not take me long to identify her problem. She had a severe case of what I call psychic anorexia, or starvation of the spirit. All the activities she loved doing she had set aside because of her husband’s work. Her spirit was dying.
A funny thing about your spirit is that when you become sensitive to it, choose to pay attention to what it is communicating to you, and follow what it is telling you to do, everything in you becomes calm and clear.
In our lesson for today, the Apostle Paul was explaining to the small group of Jesus’ followers living in Corinth how God’s spirit works. Paul wrote:
My point is that the only way God can communicate to us personally is when we are receptive to it. If we are not tuned in to God at all, we will not receive anything. Paul was aware of this. What Paul was doing was providing a specific meaning and purpose to the skills that they were observing in each other, e.g., healing, speaking God’s message, discerning between gifts of God and skills that were learned from the material world.
Sometimes the only thing that separates a victim from a student, who is learning from life’s many classes, is the interpretation each has made of what is happening. There is no greater illustration of this than the crucifixion of Jesus.
Some Christians look at the method of killing Jesus as a hideous example of cruel ignorance on the part of people who believed that Jesus was a threat to their way of life. Other Christians look at the crucifixion as a blessed event, so much so that that they wear the symbol of the execution device as jewelry. The cross has become one of the major symbols of our faith.
Jesus had a very different interpretation of the cross from the one held by most Christians. While dying, he chose to radiate his love for those who had driven nails into his hands and feet. He demonstrated that people can overcome everything this world and its people can hurl in their direction simply by choosing to do so. Jesus was teaching, ”Bloom where you are planted and you will always be in heaven.”
One frosty evening a woman was coming out of a Nordstrom’s department store when she noticed a young boy standing barefoot on a grate in the sidewalk. She said, “Young man, where is you coat and where are your shoes?” He said, “I don’t have those things. My family cannot afford them. I’m fine. I’ll bet I am warmer than you are. Feel the heat coming up through the grate.” She said, “I am not interested in keeping warm by standing on a grate. Come into this store with me.” He said, “Am I in trouble? Did I do something wrong?” She said, “No, honey. I want you to go shopping with me.”
She had him pick out a pair of shoes that he liked and several pairs of socks. Then she asked him to pick out a nice warm coat that he liked and she bought everything he had picked. When they got outside, he ran off. In a very short time he came back and said, “I am sorry I ran away from you, but I wanted to show my mom what you bought me. Besides I forgot to say “Thank you.” He paused and then asked, “Are you related to God?” She said, “No honey. I guess you might say that I’m just one of his helpers.” The boy said, “I have never had a new pair of shoes and coat in my life. I want to show them to my Mom.” With that, he was gone.
Do we really know how God works? Do we really know who is blessed by one of our blooms? The woman was blessed by being labeled a relative of God and the young boy came away so imprinted by her kindness that he wanted to run straight home to show his mom. Who can analyze where the influencing concentric circles radiating from that one deed might travel?
We tend to think of Pentecost as a time when winds and tongues of fire came to followers of Jesus. Pentecost is the traditional birth of the church, but Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who gives you a drink of water because you belong to me will certainly receive a reward.” (Mark 9:41). By concentrating on one manifestation of spirit over the countless other sightings and the forms in which the spirit comes, we might miss so much that could nourish and inspire us.
It is intriguing that Pentecost should arrive on the same day as the one where we celebrate Motherhood, the person who frequently represents yet another form of how love comes to us. Again, are we open to the many forms in which love comes? Remember Buddy’s feelings that God was watching as he was trying to break into the car? Then the lightening exploded a large limb on a tree near him. He got the message. Sometimes we do not get the message and would not recognize love’s presence if we stumbled over it.
I remember a time when a teenager was complaining to me about how controlling her parents were of her life. She told me that she was not permitted to wear skirts that were “too short” by mother’s standards. All the other kids were wearing them. She told me that her mom was a prude. Further, her mom would not allow her to apply lipstick, blush, eye shadow and mascara the way she wanted. Her father called the make-up on her face as “adolescent war paint that makes you look like a two-bit hooker.” Her Dad had an intriguing way with words.
Since Karen and I had a good relationship, I sent her a note of encouragement reminding her that the days would soon come when most of the decisions in her life would be made by her. I also enclosed a Dear Abby column that had some timely advice that might make her think. In that column was a paragraph that read, “Teenagers! Tired of being hassled by your stupid parents? Move out. Get a job. Pay your own bills. Act now while you still know everything.” She got my point.
The absolute miracle of life is that the Spirit of God can bless us, guide us, inspire us, instill confidence in us but only when we are not preoccupied, worried, fearful, feeling victimized or despondent that life is not the way we want it. Self-absorption is like a blinding cancer; the only aspect of life we understand is how defeated we are.
In Peterson’s translation we find these words, “God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is. Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the spirit, and to all kinds of people. The variety is wonderful.”
All we have to do is choose to understand our experiences as an aspect of God’s energetic flow of spirit and an entire galaxy of possibilities will become visible to us. It’s letting go and allowing God to open the windows to our souls. Only we can cause that to happen.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Thank you, God, for having such compassion for us that you cannot let go of any of us. We marvel at how your spirit equally accepts the powerful and the lowly as part of your family. We cannot resist labeling each other. You only have one label – we are all your children. You have called us to be your family when self-interest separates us by ethnicity, religious beliefs and economic barriers. Many people are lost in their human storylines and have no awareness of the infinite spirit that lies asleep within them. Stir us, O God, to understand that this is why Jesus came into our world and why he called us to help others awaken to their true identities. You have given us remarkable insight into understanding our spiritual nature. Enable us to awaken the same gift in others. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Always loving and ever faithful God, this morning we come with so much thanksgiving in our hearts and minds for your giving us such deep, rich and infinite spirits. You have given us the capacity to teach, to nurture, and to give guidance to others in ways that we could never measure. Within each of us is a remarkable treasure trove waiting to delight us when we use what we find to shepherd others along their journeys.
From our spirits also comes our appreciation for the woman who carried us until we experienced life in this world. Today, we honor her in a special way, as our entire society pauses to recognize our collective gratitude for all the songs she sang to us, for the nights she stood vigil until our fevers broke, for the thoughts and attitudes she tried to impress upon us, for the tears she shed when we were hurt, for the times she corrected us when we strayed from the values that she hoped would one day become our automatic pilot once we were grown and on our own.
Lord God, may all of us learn to radiate the kind of love that does not count the cost, that does not think of itself as sacrificial, but goes on and on in expressing itself because this is who you created each of us to be. We are grateful for your Son, Jesus, who came into our world to show and to teach his listeners who they could become when each chose to follow him. It is through his loving spirit that we now pray the words he taught his listeners to say when they prayed . . .