Pentecost a, June 8, 2014

June 9, 2014

I’ve included in this sermon a story that I didn’t hear from the original teller of that story, but I trust the source from which it came, and I remained true to the way I remember hearing it. That’s all I know to say.

The Holy Spirit Narrative
I Corinthians 12:3b-13

3b No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

We live in a world that is full of information. I would say we are bombarded by information, and what you understand to be the truth depends on who is providing that information. The truth is an illusive entity, but there is not a shortage of voices out there presenting their particular version of the truth.

The most obvious manifestation of the varieties of truth that are offered might be the way the news is presented on various cable networks. You get the right-wing perspective on what’s happening in the world by watching Fox News. You get the left-wing perspective by watching MSNBC. And of course if you think the missing Malaysian airliner is the only thing that’s happened in the world this year you can watch CNN.

This recent story of the POW exchange with the Taliban is a great example of the different ways the truth is presented. There are a variety of narratives about this US soldier named Bowe Bergdahl, who was held captive by the Taliban for 5 years. It doesn’t even seem like the Democrats are on the same page with President Obama, but the Republicans certainly have a different perspective on that event. There are a lot of different people portraying that situation in a wide variety of ways. I’ve heard Sargeant Bergdahl described as everything from a war hero to a traitor. There are a number of narratives that describe the truth about this event. How it is portrayed probably reveals more about the agendas of the people who are telling the story than what actually occurred, and I’m guessing this is usually the case.

The narratives we get in regard to what is going on in the world come from many different directions, and those voices are often better reflections of the values of the people who are providing those narratives than the actual circumstances. Certainly some narratives are more accurate portrayals of the truth than others, but it’s hard to keep our political persuasions out of the way in which we interpret reality.

But it’s not just our political persuasions that inform the way we define the truth. I guess the very nature of a religious community is to pass on it’s particular narrative of reality. I think the essence of a faith community is to declare what it believes to be the truth about the big picture. This is what religious communities do. People are nourished by these big picture narratives – people are destroyed by them as well.

History is filled with stories of the way in which the church has continued to define reality in ways that defy the facts on the ground. Perhaps the most amazing example of that is the way in which the Roman Catholic Church refused to acknowledge the heliocentric or Sun-centered design of the universe for about 300 years after Copernicus revealed his understanding. They made some gestures of acceptance after 200 years, but they didn’t remove all statements of resistance to this model of our solar system until 1835, which was a good 300 years after this truth had been revealed.

Unfortunately, religious institutions are known for not letting the facts interfere with their view of reality, and this often plays out in bad ways. I don’t believe spiritual truth is ever at odds with scientific truths, but I believe there are truths that come to us from beyond the reach of scientific discovery. There are these messages that come to us from God’s Holy Spirit – that powerful messenger that reveals the agenda of God. An agenda that changes the directions of people’s lives and alters the course of human history. In my opinion the Holy Spirit is a force that surpasses all other forces, but it’s undetectable to any scientific instrument or observation.

And while the way the Holy Spirit works is incomprehensible, there are these things that happen that can only be described as the work of the Holy Spirit to transform lives and to redeem the world.

I heard a story not long ago about something that happened in the church where Rev. Frank Shaefer was the pastor. You may remember that Frank Shaefer was the UM pastor in Pennsylvania that was defrocked for conducting the marriage of his son to another man. But before that trial ever took place there was another situation in his church that was equally compelling.

In to this relatively traditional United Methodist church came a couple of women who lived together as a married couple. They were older women, they didn’t hide the nature of their relationship and they were not well received by some of the more conventional members of the church. I don’t know exactly how that manifested itself, but there was one woman in particular who didn’t approve of their relationship, and she didn’t hide her feelings. This traditionalist woman was a person of strong convictions, and she was genuinely troubled by their non-traditional relationship.

Well, one of the women in the same-sex couple had a stroke, and it affected her ability to walk. She was in rehab. for a period of time, and when she got out she was only able to walk by speaking the word, step, each time she wanted to take a step. The first Sunday that this woman returned to church was a communion Sunday, and she was determined to walk down to the communion rail to receive the elements. She had been sitting at the back of the sanctuary, and as she made her way to the front she spoke the word, step, with each step she took.

The traditionalist woman was also in church that day, and as she sat and listened to the woman make her way toward the altar, her heart melted, she started crying, and she was moved to get up and help the woman get to the bread and wine.

It’s as if that word, step, repeated over and over turned in to a type of mantra that opened this woman up to the work of the Holy Spirit. And I think that’s always what the Holy Spirit does. It enables us to take those small steps that move us in entirely new directions.

Today is the day we celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit in to our midst. It’s a wonderful gift that God has provided for us. I love the fact that we have this divine voice that seeks to provide us with a whole new perspective on what’s really going on in the world. It’s the source of a redeeming narrative regardless of what seems to be happening on the ground.

The Holy Spirit is not the loudest voice in the room. And too often we stay so tuned in to those more conventional voices that define the world in such familiar ways that we don’t even know that there is this other way. In fact I think it’s a rare moment when we let go of the usual narratives that define who we are and how we see others and allow God to reveal the truth about ourselves and our neighbors.

It’s easy to get stuck. It’s hard to take those unfamiliar steps in new directions, but we aren’t on our own. The Holy Spirit isn’t a bully. It doesn’t force it’s way in to our lives, but it’s a relentless advocate.

It may use the sound of a simple word, step, step, step, … to creep in to our hearts and turn the world upside down, but you can trust that the Holy Spirit is out to exploit every little crack we have in our concrete viewpoints.

When Paul describes the body of Christ as being made up of people who have these different gifts and abilities he is describing what the church would look like if we were able to turn off those shallow narratives that define who we are, and to hear who God is calling us to be. I think we all have an abundance of gifts that remain hidden until we are able to let go of those voices of oppression that limit our understanding of ourselves and our universe, and we are able to hear that still small voice that reveals the truth about who we are and how life can be.

Thank God we aren’t limited to the narratives of the right or the left, the traditionalists or the liberationalists. The good news is that there is a larger narrative than any of us can imagine, and we are invited to be a part of that story. We have this offer to abide in this world as unique members of the body of Christ – informed and empowered by the Holy Spirit to become truly alive.

I believe it was the power of the Holy Spirit that enabled Copernicus to figure out that the sun didn’t revolve around the earth. It took the Holy Spirit another 300 years to convict church of this truth. The church can be a little slow to get it sometimes, but the church can’t contain the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to redefine the narratives of our lives, and to move us toward true life. The church is a little slow, but it has a role as well, and we shouldn’t underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to transform it as well.

It’s a beautiful thing we are celebrating today. We are not just defined by familiar narratives. We are caught up in a much larger story than we even know. A beautiful story of the way God is seeking to redeem our world, our church, and our very lives. Thanks be to God.


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