"Why Spirit Separates People"

Sermon Delivered By Reverend Richard E. Stetler, May 23, 2010

Romans 8:14-17; John 14:15-26


     This morning is Pentecost, the Sunday when the Church celebrates what the Scriptures refer to as the coming of the Holy Spirit.  The experience was described in the second chapter of the Book of Acts:   

Suddenly there was a noise from the sky which sounded like a strong wind blowing.  It filled the whole house where they were sitting.  Then they saw what looked like tongues of fire which spread out and touched each person there.  They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to talk in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak. 

     While the Christian Church declares this event as the birthday of the church, this one-time experience has focused the attention of believers on something that most of us will never experience.  Christians through the ages have sought this experience for themselves, perhaps as a way of feeling validated by God.  Historically, there was always a danger of separating the “Haves” from the “Have Nots” when it came to what became described as the baptism of the Holy Spirit. 

      When Jesus taught his listeners about the coming of the Holy Spirit, his words had nothing to do with an experience that would produce sounds like a rushing wind or a phenomenon that looked like tongues of fire touching everyone in the room or people speaking in foreign languages.  Nothing Jesus taught ever urged people toward experiencing spiritual ecstasy. 

      Jesus taught something that was very consistent with his message throughout his ministry.  He taught that God’s spirit resides within people.  (John 14:17)  The people who choose to govern their lives by following Jesus’ teaching will find the Holy Spirit flowing through them. Those that never access that spirit will not light up their environments with the values that make love visible.   The spirit by which individuals choose to live separates people. 

      Even those of us who follow Jesus need to be reminded from time to time of what is important in life and what is not.  Verse 26 of our Gospel lesson says, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom God will send in my name will teach you everything and help you to remember all that I have told you.”  Through what we do, the Holy Spirit connects with people when we remind people who they can become.   

      For example, last week I returned our Honda mower to Home Depot for repairs.  It was less than a year old and was still under warranty.   It came back in a timely fashion with a report that there was water in the gasoline and the air filter was clogged.  None of that was true but I let it slide because the mower now works perfectly. 

      What they returned with the mower was a dirty filter and about a half of cup of debris in an attached plastic bag.   My filters are white and the one they returned was green.  I reasoned that the response was a standard answer that would save the technicians from having to give a mechanical explanation that many customers might not understand.   

      I took a second mower to Home Depot the following day.  The report came back once again that there was water in the gas and the filter was clogged.  I became irritated by this diagnosis because this second mower had no gasoline in its tank and I had replaced both the spark plug and the filter before sending it.  I read Cindy the riot act over the phone and challenged the credibility of the vendor Home Depot uses and how they had ignored completely what I had asked them to do with the second mower.

      I told our son what I had said and Steve’s response was, “The poor woman; she has to sit there all day listening to opinions of unhappy customers.  You could have said, ‘First, I want to thank Home Depot for getting our first lawn mower back in two days. The mower now works perfectly.  Would you be kind enough to provide me with the telephone number of the place that does your repairs? I have some questions for the mechanic who worked on it.’  Dad, that’s the way I would have handled it.”

     When I heard Steve’s words, I instantly remembered the passion I had brought to a mower repair and how unfair my comments were to Cindy. Basically, I was verbally shooting the messenger.  I had chosen to respond as though I had been a victim of some unscrupulous repair shop when what I needed was clarity on why the shop had ignored what I had asked them to do. Steve’s reminder to take a higher road is one of the many ways God’s spirit works in reminding us of what is important in life and what is not.    

     No matter how many times I create sermons that describe the responses that Jesus taught during his ministry, I am also aware that there are occasions when my passion causes me to overturn the tables of the money changers just as he did.

      What saves us from continuing down the path of becoming toxic personalities --people that become angry at everything and everyone when their world is not the way they want it -- is our remembering how easily we allow issues in our world to manipulate our spirits so that the light from our spirits becomes so dim that it is no longer visible to others.

     Jesus understood how easily fear, frustration and resentment can pull us away from the Kingdom consciousness where love reigns.  We have to remind each other to take the high road when we find ourselves caving into the child within us that wants his or her way.  This is why Jesus took the cup of wine and a loaf of bread during his last supper with his group of disciples.  He wanted his disciples to remember everything they experienced during their ministry together when he could no longer be there to lead them.

     When we lived on Capitol Hill, one of the young mothers in our church was a local realtor. She frequently took her six-year-old daughter with her when she was checking on various properties.  Anna was quite a precocious child. When they were preparing to cross the street at an intersection, Anna watched a street person throw his large McDonald’s coke container into the gutter.

     Without hesitation she said, “Mister, you are littering.  Please pick that up and put it in the trash can over there.”  Anna’s mom was mortified.  The man bent over, picked up his discarded cup and put it in the trash can.  Anna said, “Thank you!”  With a smile at Anna’s innocence, the man replied, “No, thank you!”  Spirit can remind people that they have the power to order their lives differently.

     My grandma Fisher was washing her dishes in the kitchen when a young man walked in the unlocked back door and put a knife to her throat.  He asked, “Where is your purse?  I want your money.”  She responded, “What would your Sunday School teacher say?  What would your mother say if she saw you doing this to an old woman?  Have you had anything to eat?”  He lowered his knife and said that he had not eaten.  My grandmother fixed him supper and they visited for over an hour – an activity the two of them engaged in for quite some time following the incident.  He became a friend.  God’s spirit can change the direction of people’s lives when we let it show.

     A couple of years ago there was an article in the Washington Post about a robbery attempt.  The incident took place on Capitol Hill.  The housing on the Hill is quite unique.  Many of the row houses were built between 1880 and 1890.  With some of the homes there are little alleys that separate one house from another.  Those alleys often open up to lovely decorated courtyards where people entertain their friends.

     Three couples were having a barbecue when a gunman came through the alley.  He stood there with his hand-gun pointed at them demanding their wallets, purses and jewelry. The group was in shorts and blue jeans and they had nothing of value with them.  One of the women had the presence of mind to say, “Why don’t you sit down and have some wine and cheese?  The burgers will be done in a few minutes.  Please join us.”

     The gunman was taken aback by her comment.  He put the gun away and had dinner with them.  After he left he came back to thank them for their kind hospitality and he told them that he had made a mistake.  He had wanted to rob another house. Even though spirit separates people, spirit can also touch people by interrupting a potentially violent moment through our simple kindness. 

     What Jesus possessed and wanted to pass on to his disciples was an orientation toward life that would allow his listeners to focus their love on those around them in spite of the circumstances.  Jesus frequently mixed with the much hated tax collectors. There was a woman who was caught in adultery. He prevented her from being stoned.  

      There was another woman who claimed that she did not have a husband.  Jesus said, “You are right. You have had five husbands and the man you are living with now is not one of them.”  (John 4:18)  He loved them all.  Pointing a finger in judgment would have done nothing. Demonstrating to them that in spite of their behavior, they still were of value to him – that got their attention.   

     A few people have commented through the years that a number of my sermons paint Christianity as a warm, fuzzy and a feel good religion.  I suspect to some extent that may be true.

     Most of us, however, want an orientation toward life that will allow us to experience a sustained enthusiastic spirit, one that exudes happiness and compassion.

     How many of us have experienced committed Christians who had very little about them that are warm and fuzzyPeople that give themselves away in love, even to complete strangers to Christianity, will always experience a sense of joy for doing so.  This happens because those who direct their loving energy patterns toward others are already filled with the spirit of compassion, kindness and understanding.

     How did followers of Jesus develop these gifts of spirit?  They did not become like this without a lot of wrestling with themselves.  They had to overcome “I” and “me” with a passion for allowing God’s spirit to communicate through them.   

      Jesus could not save anyone from being controlled spiritually by the events in their lives; all he could do was point to attitudes, values and a spirit that allowed God’s spirit to show up within their circumstances.  A lot of people are unaware of how to stop being controlled by all the life-reversals that come to all of us.   

     The spirit by which we live has nothing to do with noisy winds, tongues of fire and speaking in foreign languages.  The Holy Spirit has to do with the loving quality of our energy, personality and spirit that other people experience.  If this quality is not there in some people, it is their spirit that separates them from those who have it.

     I have a cartoon that I clipped years ago featuring several lions that were resting in a little alcove within the Roman Coliseum.  One of them was in great pain.  That lion said, “Eating Christians gives me indigestion.”  Another lion responded, “Christians give all of us indigestion.”  I saved it because I resonated with the stereotyped-image of how some Christians choose to relate to others.

     I think Jesus felt the same way about the religious-minded people of his day.  Once he said, “You lock the door to the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces, but you yourselves do not go in, nor do you allow anyone to go in who is among those trying to enter!  (Matthew 23:13c) After reading the Gospels, we do not get the impression that Jesus ever carried himself with a sense of spiritual superiority.  One cannot be a servant to all and feel arrogant about it.

     What makes the Holy Spirit visible in us is when we step into situations and allow God’s spirit to work through us.  Jesus said the same thing, “The teachings you have heard from me do not come from me.  God who remains in me does his work.” (John 14:10c)  We are the only ones who can prevent that by showing up with an attitude of “my will be done.” The Holy Spirit has never left any of us.  All we have to do is let that spirit show and the lives of others will be changed. 


     Thank you, God, for having such compassion that you chose not to abandon any of us.  We marvel at how your spirit equally accepts the powerful and the lowly as part of your family. We, however, 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 often separates us by ethnicity, religious preferences and economic differences. Many people become lost in their human storylines.  They have little awareness of the infinite spirit that lies dormant 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 to awaken to the power of spirit. We ask that you inspire us to understand why our skills of spirit control our destinies. Enable us to awaken the same awareness in others.  Amen.


     Always loving and ever faithful God, this morning we come with gratitude for equipping us with such deep, rich and infinite spirits. You have given us the capacity to teach, to nurture, and to provide guidance to others in ways that we could never measure.  Help us to follow your example, O God. Guide us to learn how to give even when no one is asking us to help.  Shape our responses so that we find ourselves encouraging others to learn their lessons by accessing the abundant resources you gave them when they were born. How many times have you done that for us?  You have allowed us to struggle through many unanswered prayers just so we could strengthen our spiritual musculature.

     Teach us to be gentle with people who look for answers in the constantly changing material world.  Help us to have more patience with each other, realizing that we mature in our understanding not only at a different pace but also during different periods of our lives.

     Yet, when the scales fall from our eyes and the wax melts from our ears, we discover you were there during all of life’s constant changes.  You always come to us in many different forms, encouraging us to crawl, to walk, to run and finally to fly.

     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, and that expresses itself because we have learned that this is who you created each of us to be.  We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .