That Holy Spirit (Sermon for June 9, 2019)

For the last few weeks, we’ve been reading snippets of Paul’s letter to the believers in Rome.

Three weeks ago, we heard Paul introduce himself. And he didn’t give the believers in Rome a summary of his resume. He simply told them a fact and a story. He wrote, “I am Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ,” and he told them the story of Jesus.

Two weeks ago, we heard a summary of the gospel of Jesus Christ. While the world was still broken—while we were still sinners—God loved us. While the world is still broken—while we are still sinners—God loves us. 

While we were still weak, while we were still sinners, while we were still enemies of God, while the world was still broken, God became one of us. God was born in a manger in a backwater province of a great empire. God lived a life. God taught and preached and healed. God performed signs and wonders. God showed us a better way. And after we took the side of that empire and nailed him to a cross and laid him in a tomb, God got up again and looked at us and said, “I am not done with you, yet.”

And we didn’t have to do anything. We couldn’t do anything. God doesn’t love us because of who we are. God loves us because of who God is.

And God calls us to believe that about ourselves and about others. God calls us to live in the faith that we are loved and worthy of love. God calls us to live in the faith that our neighbor, and the stranger, and even our enemies, are loved and worthy of love.

And last week, we heard Paul ask the question that follows naturally: If God is going to love us anyway, why not live in sin?

And we heard Paul’s answer. Once, we were slaves to sin, and we are not yet who we are meant to be. And who, having tasted freedom in Christ, would voluntarily go back to being a slave a sin? Who, knowing that sin no longer has power over them, would voluntarily go back to the shame and guilt of sin?

Who, having tasted abundant life in Christ, would do anything else than strive with every fiber of our being to live in Christ?

And, it turns out, the answer is ‘us’. We are still weak. We are still broken. Having tasted freedom in Christ, we still wander toward sin. We need help.

Last week, there was this thing going around Facebook. A colleague of mine had written that seminary is like culinary school. You learn the basic foundations, and some cool party tricks, and, at the end, you can cook a gourmet meal.

Ministry, however, is like waking up every day in a new episode of Chopped. The ingredients are completely random, and you’re expected to do something with whatever you’re handed, and there are people around you watching and commenting. 

And occasionally something explodes.

And that’s true. But it’s not just true for me. It’s not just true for the people who went to seminary and took ordination vows.

It is true for everyone who has been baptized… and for everyone who has affirmed their baptisms through confirmation… and everyone who has felt God’s claim on their lives. It is true for everyone in this sanctuary.

All of us have been called to live in Christ. All of us have been called to love God… and our neighbors… and strangers… and our enemies… and even ourselves. All of us have been called to ministry.

Some of us went to culinary school. Some of us have taken a cooking class or two. Some of us remember a home economics class, or our mom teaching us to bake cookies, or our dad showing us how to barbecue. Some of us have learned from recipe books and explainer videos and experimentation. Some of us just took a job in a kitchen one day and figured it out under high heat.

But every single one of us wakes up every day in a new episode of Chopped. Every single one of us wakes up every day with a thousand opportunities to love. Every single one of us wakes up every day with a thousand opportunities to minister.

And believe me, I know, that can be overwhelming. We are still weak. We are still broken. We need help.

There was a time, when I used to travel a lot, when I was sitting at the gate of some airport waiting during a long layover or a flight delay or something. I was sitting there reading or writing or surfing the internet, and I noticed this girl a few rows down from me who was talking on the phone… and who looked like she was wiping away tears.

And I ignored her and went back to what I was doing.

A while later, I looked up again and she wasn’t on the phone anymore. She was just sitting there, looking at the floor a few feet in front of her. And, every so often, she looked like she was doing that thing where you wipe away a tear before it gets out of your eye.

And I ignored her and went back to what I was doing.

And I felt that pull. I heard that little voice saying, “Something is wrong, and you should at least say something.” I heard God saying, “Go do some ministry.”

And I heard that other voice saying, “This is an airport. That would be creepy.”

And after I spent a while debating with myself, I got up and walked past her. And as I passed her, I paused for a second and said, “I don’t want to intrude, but is everything okay?”

And she nodded, and said, “Yeah,” and did that thing where you wipe away a tear before it gets out of your eye. And I went off to get a snack before my flight.

And maybe that made a difference. Maybe she needed someone to just ask and I had done that. Or maybe she was embarrassed that anyone had noticed. Or maybe everything was already fine and I didn’t make a difference at all.

But here’s the thing: I went to seminary. I learned to minister. And the simple act of asking a stranger in an airport if everything was okay was hard.

And if that was hard… well…

How hard would it be to share a meal with someone who is hungry? How hard would it be to demand safe clean water for everyone? How hard would it be to welcome the stranger no matter where they’re from or how far they’ve travelled or what brought them here? How hard would it be to deliver clothes to someone who needs them? How hard would it be to visit someone who was sick or in prison and say, “You are loved and you are worthy of love?”

How hard would it be to proclaim good news to the poor and freedom for the prisoner, sight for the blind and freedom for the oppressed, a time of God’s favor?

How hard would it be to interrupt a confrontation on the street? To leave water for immigrants walking through the desert? To speak truth to power?

There is a hard truth here: we have been called to hard things. We have been called to impossible things. We have been called to follow Christ… to be conformed to Christ… to love the world.

And believe me, I know, that can be overwhelming. We are still weak. We are still broken. We need help.

And so we have this. We have today. We have Pentecost.

On this day, long ago, the believers were all together in one place. It was fifty days after Passover. It was fifty days after their friend and teacher had said, “This is my body… this is my blood.” It was the day when these Jewish believers, along with their whole nation, gave thanks for the first fruits of the wheat harvest. It was the day when these Jewish believers, along with their whole nation, remembered the day when God gave the law to the Israelites at Mount Sinai.

And while the believers were all together in one place, the sound of a violent rush of wind came from heaven and filled the house they were in. And tongues of fire appeared and rested on each of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Today is Pentecost. It is fifty days after Easter. It is the day when we remember that when we were still broken, when we were still weak, when we were still helpless, God sent that Holy Spirit.

While we are still broken, while we are still weak, while we are still helpless, God sends that Holy Spirit.

God sends that Holy Spirit for all those times when we are lost looking for answers to the big problems.

God sends that Holy Spirit for all those times when we do not know how to pray.

God sends that Holy Spirit for all those times when we can’t find the strength to say, “You are loved and you are worthy of love.” God sends that Holy Spirit when we can’t find the faith to say, “I am loved and I am worthy of love.”

God sends that Holy Spirit for all those times when God calls us to do hard things. God sends that Holy Spirit for all those times when God calls us to do impossible things. And with that Holy Spirit… with God… all things are possible… thanks be to God!

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