This sermon was prepared for Wesley United’s Sunday morning service on May 20, 2018, Pentecost Sunday. Scriptures are based on John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, and Romans 8:22-27.
Today the global church celebrates Pentecost Sunday, except for our Orthodox family which will be celebrating in a few weeks. Pentecost, often called the “Birthday of the Church”, historically has celebrated the Spirit descending on believers in Jerusalem following Jesus’ ascent into heaven.
But, Pentecost can be a little complicated for the United Church—we have a ‘big tent’ theology that includes folks who have strong opinions on the Spirit, soft opinions on the Spirit, and no opinion on the Spirit at all.
However, we’ve also been blessed in receiving a variety of rich traditions from the various Biblical authors, which mirrors our own internal diversity.
Sometimes she is Wisdom, at God’s side during creation; or dancing in the street, calling wise men and women to follow her.
Other times, it is a still small voice speaking after the storm; or a cloud that descends from the heavens to rest on someone. The popular story in Acts talks about tongues of fire licking the heads of the disciples when the Spirit descended on them.
For the author of the Book of John it is the “Paraclete”—which we clumsily try to translate as “advocate”, “comforter”, or “counsellor”.
Do you have a name that that you call her? Is there a story that has always struck your imagination?
I was struck, this week, by Paul’s description in the Romans text we read today.
He calls it… “that very Spirit that speaks with sighs too deep for words”.
This image moved me because it felt the closest to the Spirit that I know.
I grew up in a charismatic community where it seemed like the Spirit was stirring, and moving, and doing somersaults in everyone but me. I thought that I was broken for a long time—that I wasn’t really a Christian because I didn’t experience what everyone else seemed to.
Little did I know that the spirit had been stirring me all along; she just spoke in a hushed voice—sending me Morse Code messages.
Later, in university, I joined a liturgically oriented community that was more into contemplation than hallelujahs. They taught me to listen, to appreciate those unintelligible sighs of the spirit. They showed me that we’re all wired differently and that God will speak to us each in our own way. For me, it wasn’t very dramatic, but it worked.
And, this new orientation called to mind a very strong memory I had from when I was a kid. I was walking home one afternoon from my friend Madison’s house, down a back alley lined with large trees. I walked underneath the canopy and noticed that the asphalt was sun-dappled. It made me look up. And when I did I saw the brilliant yellow sunlight drenching this domed ceiling of leaves turning them lime green. I stopped walking and I just stood there. I had the strangest sensation—I felt overcome because it was beautiful and I was at peace.
Have you ever felt the Spirit stirring you? Maybe when you were out for a hike; working in your garden; holding an infant in your arms; or creating art?
For me, it was probably less than a minute, but that moment has stuck with me my whole life—it still gives me goosebumps. It’s a special memory, of feeling like I wasn’t alone in the world, that there was goodness.
And, she has continued to speak to me through nature, sometimes using her own voice; and other times, often speaking through someone else—a loved one, a poet, or a mentor.
Does she speak to you in whispers or sighs? Does she use her own voice, or the voices of others?
Returning to our Romans text, for Paul, the Spirit represents kinship and liberation—particularly liberation from sin and death.
To paraphrase, earlier in chapter 8, Paul writes that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear; rather, the Spirit you received brought your adoption to Christ’s kinship.”
This Spirit, he says, is one of “life and peace”; it affirms our status as Children of God.
Paul tells us, in the passage we read together, that when we are weak this same Spirit also intercedes for us. It is our lifeline to God—an umbilical cord that connects us.
It is personal, and it is present in our joys and our suffering—as we develop and grow.
For Paul, we are gestating right now but will be birthed to new life in Christ. In that far off time, Paul says that our bodies will be made new, flesh turning into spirit. Now, whether you subscribe to his thought or not, it’s important to remember that this new life to come doesn’t preclude us from getting to work here and now.
We are not gifted the Spirit for nothing—as the saying goes “God didn’t give you a head just to hang a hat on!”
No, where some people might rest on their laurels, waiting for their spiritual birth, Paul has always been about business—the “in’s and out’s” of daily life. Paul’s letters are filled with endless suggestions on how to live out this earthly life while giving glory to God with your every breath.
So, how can we live our lives giving glory to God with our every breath? Well, we’ve got a great resource to call on:
Because the same spirit that moved over the formless void in Genesis, who brought all these things into being by imagination and evolution, is the spirit our Gospel stories tell us was given to each of us.
The spirit of a God who created, and is creating, with the chaotic energy of volcanoes, forest fires, hurricanes and floods. The spirit of a God who orchestrates the eternal changes of seasons, and planetary rotations.
This same spirit is within us.
We celebrate God both in our very being—as creatures—and in our creativity. We’ve been endowed with the freedom to do so many marvellous things, and they all honour God.
We also celebrate God when we affirm that same spirit dwells in one another—by honouring our neighbours we also honour God.
Last, we celebrate God when we care for the whole of creation and make space for it to breathe and grow. We are not the only imaginative beings in this universe! Our world is evolving and changing in marvellous ways—bringing us brilliant colours, intelligent animals, and beautiful geological formations—this whole world is absolutely marinating with creativity! We honour God when we stop to appreciate it, and work to preserve it.
Are there other ways you honour God in your living, and allow the Spirit’s creativity to flow through you?
I’d love us to take a couple minutes to share some thoughts with one another. Feel free to share with your neighbour an image of the Spirit that is meaningful to you; a moment in your life you felt her stir you; or, a way you honour God and the creative Spirit in your daily life.