Sermon for Sunday, May 19, 2013
Pentecost, Year C
John 14:8-17, 25-27
The Rev. Adam Thomas
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus makes one of his biggest promises ever. He is in the middle of his discussion with the disciples, which takes place on the night of his arrest. You can tell from their questions that they are worried, anxious, and fearful. So Jesus promises them this: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth…[the Spirit] abides with you, and…will be with you.”
Jesus made this promise, and if there’s one thing I can believe in, one thing I can rest my weight on, it’s that Jesus never breaks a promise. The Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, has been and will be active in the lives of God’s people forever. But the trouble for us followers of Jesus comes, rather paradoxically, in the very constancy of the Holy Spirit’s presence. We humans are so much better at noticing the things that change. The constant things tend to fade into the background of our lives.
Take breathing, for example. Breathing just happens. I’m breathing right now, and I’m not giving my breath a second thought. I can be unconscious all night, and yet my breath keeps going, independent of my control. For the better part of each day, I am completely unaware of my breathing, and yet my respiratory system continues to function with constant efficiency.
But in one of God’s marvels of human engineering, if I decide to, I can focus on my breath. I can choose to take in a deep lungful of air, or I can choose to hold my breath underwater, or I can choose to let my breath out slowly to calm myself down. Breathing is an unnoticed constant in our lives until we decide to focus on the air entering and exiting our lungs. Then the act of breathing becomes something that we consciously participate in.
Do you know what is the same word as “breath” in the ancient biblical languages? You guessed it. Spirit. Just like our breath, the Holy Spirit is a constant presence in our lives, active within and around us. Because of this constancy, we have a tendency to overlook the Spirit’s presence and to allow the Spirit to fade into the background. But also just like our breath, we have the opportunity to focus on the Holy Spirit’s presence, to breath in a deep lungful of the Spirit, so to speak. When we do this, we actively participate in the transformation that the Spirit is subtly working in our lives.
I’d like to spend the rest of this sermon speaking about several ways the Spirit moves. This won’t be an exhaustive list by any means, but I encourage you to listen for a way in which the Spirit has moved in your life, or a way you pray the Spirit will move.
If you’ve ever had the impulse to create, then you’ve felt the Holy Spirit move in your life. If you’ve ever penned a poem or sang a song or played an instrument or stepped a dance or planted a garden or written a love letter or experimented with ingredients or built an imaginary world or raised a child or made a dream a reality, then you’ve participated in the Holy Spirit’s movement.
The Spirit connects with us via the creative spark, which God implanted in each of us. Being made in the image of God means that God gave us the gift of imagining. The Creator made us to be creative. And just as the Holy Spirit was with God, brooding over the depths at the moment when God spoke creation into being, the Holy Spirit is also with us when we access our own creativity. In fact, the Spirit catalyzes the creative process in us. God has never stopped creating; therefore, one of the ways the Spirit keeps us in relationship with God is keeping us creating too. In my own life, whenever I sit down to write a song, I know the Spirit has prompted me to do so and will guide me as I create new music. So that’s number one: the creative impulse.
If you’ve ever sensed which direction to go, then you’ve felt the Holy Spirit move in your life. If you’ve ever been lost – not on the map, but in your heart – and then felt a subtle beckoning down a new path, and at the moment you took the first step in that new direction you felt your heart shine with the rightness of it all, then you’ve participated in the Holy Spirit’s movement.
The ancient biblical languages use the same word for breath and spirit and for another word: wind. The Holy Spirit is the unseen wind, which subtly pushes us in one direction or another. The wind is both constant and unpredictable, always blowing, but perhaps blowing in a direction we might not expect. When we are lost, the Holy Spirit is present, and we have the opportunity to trim our sails and catch the wind. In my own life, I’ve experienced the Spirit’s presence in this way at the rare times when I have actually been able to give up control. That’s number two: sense of direction to go along with the creative impulse.
If you’ve ever had a sudden sense of peace wash over you, then you’ve felt the Holy Spirit move in your life. If you’ve ever been rushing around, moving to and fro, trying to keep up, trying just to keep your feet in a maelstrom of activity, but then something prompted you just to stop, take a deep breath, then you’ve participated in the Holy Spirit’s movement.
Each time Jesus gives his friends the gift of the Spirit, he also gives them his own peace. Peace is not just the absence of conflict; rather, peace is the soil in which new wholeness grows out of old fragmentation. The Holy Spirit nurtures this growth in us, always pushing us away from brokenness and towards wholeness, towards peace. In my own life, the Spirit has encountered me in this way when I have stopped doing, stopped acting, and have just existed for a spell, just abided in the Spirit’s constant presence. That’s three: sense of peace. Sense of direction. Creative impulse.
Finally, if you’ve ever felt deeply connected to another person, then you’ve felt the Holy Spirit move in your life. If you’ve ever held another’s hand or embraced or laughed together and known in a place deeper than normal knowing that your two souls are connected, woven together, then you’ve participated in the Holy Spirit’s movement.
The Holy Trinity is the perfect relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — so perfect, in fact, that there is only one God, though we name God as three persons. There cannot be a Father without a Son, nor a Son without a Father. Nor can there be the perfect relationship without love. This love connecting Father and Son in perfect relationship is the Holy Spirit. Whenever we feel a deep connection to another person, we are participating in our own small way in the divine relationship of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit makes our loving connections possible. In my own life, I’ve felt this deep connection since the day I met Leah, and I expect I’ll feel it again when we have our own children. That’s four: deep connection.
The creative impulse. Sense of direction. Sense of peace. Deep connection. These are only four of the vast expanse of ways the Holy Spirit is moving in our lives. Like breathing, the Spirit is active whether or not we recognize the Spirit’s movement. But God engineered us to be capable of focusing on our breath and on the Holy Spirit. So I invite you this week to celebrate the Spirit’s movement in your life. Engage in an act of creation. Catch the wind blowing you in a new direction. Stop for a moment and embrace a sense of peace. Rejoice in the deep connections in your life. And know in the place deeper than normal knowing that God the Holy Spirit will abide with you forever.