Sunday, May 31, 2009

Every Time I Feel the Spirit

Romans 8:18-27
18I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Pentecost is my favorite church holiday. It’s the day when the church was really born – the day that 120 disciples were given the ability to speak the good news so that everyone could understand. It is also the anniversary of my first sermon as your pastor. I had spent two weeks carefully crafting a sermon, agonizing over every word. But when I woke up on the morning of Pentecost 2003 I realized that what I really needed to do was throw that sermon away and speak of my hopes for our future together. Every Pentecost since then I’ve had the same experience. I have something prepared and I wake up with something entirely different in my heart – usually something that doesn’t lend itself well to being written into a manuscript. I wonder sometimes why I even go through the motions of writing for this Sunday, when I believe that whatever I write will end up in the trash on the day. Chances are excellent that what is written here is not what will end up being preached.

On Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples for the first time, opening their hearts and minds, moving and working in them, leading them to do things they’d never considered before. They’d had to wait for 40 days after Jesus ascended into heaven, and they weren’t sure how long they would have to wait or even exactly what they were waiting for. As we all know, people just don’t wait very well. We’re not all that good at being patient and living in the moment. We’re always looking forward to the next thing that’s supposed to happen and anxious for it to get here. If we’re doing something new we want to see results right away, and are disappointed if nothing seems to change when we’ve only been doing the new thing a short time.

According to this portion of the letter Paul wrote to the church in Rome about 25 years later, the entirety of creation was eagerly waiting for change to come. All of the world was groaning in labor pains, heavy with anticipation for the day when everyone and everything will be free from the bondage of our past and ushered into a new way of being in Christ. It had become clear to him that Christ was not returning immediately as they had all believed, and that everyone and everything was going to have to wait for that time to come. And so he spoke of the difficulty of waiting for change to happen, when the change was something as eagerly anticipated as the transformation of the entire world into God’s kingdom on earth. Almost 2,000 years later, we’re still waiting.

On Thursday evening twenty-some church leaders, teachers and theologians from a dozen or so different denominations were gathered at the Claremont School of Theology to discuss Contemporary Theology for Social Action in Churches Today. The audience asked a number of tough questions which the forum participants then addressed.

There were a few things they said that really struck me. Sort of examples of what the Kingdom looks like when it is being lived. One spoke about Incarnational Compassion – not a feeling but action. Compassion that is embodied and acted upon person to person. For example, the Anglicans in Palestine operate schools and hospitals open to all, regardless of religion, culture, language – if someone has a need, they will be served. Another reminded us that we are all related through Jesus Christ. We don’t have to like each other in order to work together as was proven by the many who showed up to help in aftermath of Katrina and every natural disaster. And yet another said that, since we can all work together to serve God’s children in times of crisis then we can work together always. One even quoted Rodney King, asking plaintively, “Can’t we all just get along?”
Another reminded us that laws do not equal justice. True justice is always a result of love.

One challenged us to do ministry in places we do not want to go. She was talking specifically about prison and military chaplaincy, but we each have a place we don’t want to go. What would it mean to us to do ministry in that place?

They spoke about new ways of being church, and of doing church. Ways to reach those who somehow are not drawn to our churches, but want to be. They talked about technology and education and ways of being Christians in a world that seems not to care about other people or the environment, a world that puts laws before justice.

It seems to me that this is the same kind of world Jesus did his ministry in, the same kind of world the disciples preached to, and the same kind of world Paul traveled through and warned the new churches against. And that world is still waiting, groaning in labor pains, for the change that is to come – what ever form that change is going to take. We have hope for the future even though we have no idea what that future is going to look like. We do know that the world will not change, justice will not prevail, because laws are passed, or because the rationale and logic for making change is inescapable. The world can only change as hearts are changed through faith, and that is the work of the Spirit. So we wait, and we pray, and we carry the Good News. We teach about the justice that love brings. We speak of God’s purpose in the world, which is always shalom, peace and care for each other. And we try to act always with love and care, so that we can help make those changes that bring God’s glory into the world.

God is waiting, as patiently as only God can wait, for each of us to hear the words, “Behold, I am about to do a new thing . . . . through you.” God is waiting for each one of us to become open to the Spirit so that we can learn what new thing God is going to do through us. The Spirit shows up at unexpected times and moves us in unexpected ways, and it is up to us to listen for what she has to say, whether those words come as a still small voice or a shout. Let us seek and find the quiet center of our selves that we might hear the Spirit of God telling us about the new thing that God will do . . . through us.

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