Adapted from a previous sermon series at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas
and inspired and using ideas and content from the Rev. Chris B. Herring
preached at Westminster Presbyterian Church of Saint Louis. Original citation lost.
Our family doesn’t always do a good job keeping a family calendar.
We have one. Its up on the wall in the family office.
But it is a 2015 calendar, and I think it still is on December.
That might tell you something about the life of parents these days.
Maybe its because we’re more technologically saturated.
Brook and I keep our calendars on our phones and computers.
The kids keep their calendars, such as they are,
in their heads:
When is the next play date?
When do the pools open for the summer?
And they trust the big stuff, such as it is, to us.
Kids keep a different rhythm.
Particularly during the summer.
And in a way, so do we in the Church.
Today we’ve moved everything back to Ordinary time.
After the season of Lent, Easter Day and the SEASON of Easter,
after the celebration of Pentecost and then Trinity Sunday last week,
we’re now in a new season, stretching all the way to November.
The church keeps time, as you know.
It does so a bit differently than the secular world,
and it thinks that the rhythms of the year are theologically significant.
And so the white and the red paraments, for Easter and for Pentecost,
here on the pulpit and on the communion table,
are now the familiar Green of the Ordinary season.
We sometimes get confused by that name, Ordinary.
Its not that the other days are extra-ordinary,
and that these days are, by comparison, plain.
Its that these days in between our grand celebrations of Easter and Christmas,
our preparation during Lent and Advent,
these days are Ordered days, following God’s time.
They are Ordered, and therefore Ordinary.
That’s the intent, at least.
These are the days where some of the richest parts of God’s story can be told
where we can explore in depth some of those other elements of our faith
that make up who we are.
But truth be told, I like the designation “Ordinary Time”.
I like the connotation, even if its not intended, that this time is for regular people.
That our God is someone who takes Ordinary people,
in Ordinary places,
in Ordinary times,
and empowers them to do extraordinary things.
People like you and me
in your everyday places, even this one in South Kansas City.
So we’ll keep it again this Summer, too.
Ordinary time for God’s great gifts to people like you and to me.
But before we started calling this time Ordinary Time
before we went to the now familiar green…
we used to call these Sundays “Weeks after Pentecost.”
Some of you might even remember those days.
There was something nice about that designation, too.
That notion reminded us about the abiding importance of the Holy Spirit.
For the past several weeks, and every Easter Season,
I’ve stressed what it means for us to be an Easter people
how our whole lives are transformed
by what God has done for us in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ
how we stake our whole selves on living in the glow of what
that great deed of love teaches us: truth-telling, grace-sharing,
hospitality-offering, death-defying, courage-risking,
however you want to describe it.
But we are also a PENTECOST people,
changed forever by the gift of God’s spirit to us and among us,
which alone enables to us look beyond ourselves
to look toward a community of discipleship.
Talk of this Summer time as a “week after Pentecost” helped us remember that.
Two weeks ago we heard an account of Pentecost.
We read from the book of Acts,
and Luke told us about the birthday of the church,
the pouring out of the Spirit on those who were waiting, longing, for it.
That Pentecost story, on purpose,
uses language and imagery that reminds the reader
of the creation story in Genesis
where the wind from God, you might remember,
swept over the face of the waters
a preparation for God’s six-day activity of creating the cosmos.
When we hear the Pentecost story, we can hear that same wind,
we can feel its mighty power,
when Luke writes of the “rush of the violent wind”
that accompanied God’s action that day the church was born.
Genesis tells us a story about
how God formed human beings from the dust of the ground,
and breathed into our nostrils the breath of life,
the BREATH that made a lifeless clump of clay a living being.
The Hebrew word used for breath in Genesis, RUAK,
is the same word for wind,
is the very same word we translate as Spirit.
God breathed BREATH into us. God breathed WIND into us.
God breathed SPIRIT into us. And thus we are ALIVE.
Just as spectacular, and just as important, Acts would argue,
was God’s sending the Spirit, the holy breath, in creating the church
and pouring RUAK out on all people,
making it possible for us to become new,
filled with the ability to prophesy,
to dream dreams
and to see visions,
all these words code words for the ability to be connected,
INTIMATELY connected, with our creator and with one another.
So connected that humanity would never be the same again.
Luke used words like AMAZED and ASTONISHED and PERPLEXED
to describe the reaction of those
who observed God’s mighty action that first Pentecost.
Such a reaction makes sense, maybe
when God’s spirit is poured out upon God’s creatures…
I’d be amazed and astonished and probably a bit perplexed too
But then we remember this thing we call Ordinary Time.
When you think about it, there’s quite a contrast between
calling something Ordinary Time and Pentecost Time.
Pentecost left those first observers Amazed, Astonished, Perplexed.
and those are anything BUT Ordinary words.
And sometimes we think that the wind of the spirit
can ONLY be experienced in ecstatic, esoteric, bizarre sort of ways.
I have no doubt that the early church was astonished and perplexed
but if that’s the only way we think the Holy Spirit is experienced
then we’re maybe worried, or sad, or fear we’re missing out
FOMO for the Spirit.
Or maybe we aren’t, since we see that so many people
claim to be enraptured by something that they call the Holy Spirit
but which seems, upon observation, to be anything but Holy.
But there is another account of Pentecost in scripture,
and this one comes from Paul.
I know he doesn’t mention the event or describe the occurrence,
but, the reality of Pentecost, the wonder of the outpouring of the spirit,
is that it keeps happening whenever folk are open to its transformation.
Pentecost is not just a day; it’s the wind that keeps blowing,
the breath that keeps reviving those who
are willing to allow God’s spirit to fill their lives.
So it is that Paul writes about how the Fruit of the SPIRIT, how the fruit of God,
is cultivated in those who are receptive
to the amazing power of God unfolding in their own lives.
“The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Or, read another way…
The transformation of Pentecost is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
To a people who yearn for the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives
what a gift it can be for us to realize that the Holy Spirit
is indeed surrounding us, not just in wild gyrations
but indeed in the Power of God
to enable us to love and care for one another.
The Holy Spirit grants love, joy, peace, and on and on….
The Fruit of the spirit.
So we’re going to be looking more closely during this ordinary time
at these other gifts of the Holy Spirit: gifts that we ALL can experience.
Now, the Bible says so much about that fruit that Paul mentions first—love.
Its hard to know just where to begin.
Almost all of my sermons are about Love, in one form or another,
and that’s because Jesus taught more about love than about any other topic.
What can we say about this familiar quality,
this well-known component of Christian life
this word that is both noun and verb,
what can we say that will help us appreciate it anew?
Well, maybe we just need some good reminders.
And for that, lets turn to the central thoughts of the letter
of first John that Karen read this morning.
Here’s what she read:
“God is Love…
We love because God first loved us.”
I know we hear these words often,
but do we ever REALLY get our heads
around the idea that the creator of all that is,
that great, mighty, powerful God at the center of the cosmos,
loves little ol’ me? Truly loves ME? Truly loves YOU?
But that reminder, that voice that speaks to us
that reminds us that YOU are loved, that you matter
that is a gift of the Spirit.
It is so important.
It reminds us of our place in the universe.
It reminds us of our calling to return that love to God and to others.
And during a time where people are more isolated than ever before
it is so easy for us to forget.
But we are loved. Each one of us.
My father, who is also a Presbyterian pastor,
was once emptying his theological library
when he was preparing to retire and move to the area.
So he sent me some books,
including one written by Henri Nouwen,
a Roman Catholic priest who died some years back.
It was a very personal book, written to a long time friend,
with the purpose of helping the friend come to a spiritual life
in the midst of a very secular world.
The heart of Nouwen’s deeply felt meditation
was captured in the book’s title: Life of the Beloved.[i]
Nouwen opens this book for his friend this way:
Ever since you asked me to write to you and your friends
about the spiritual life,
I have been wondering if there might be one word
I would most want you to remember when you finished
reading all I wished to say.
Over the past year, that special word
has gradually emerged from the depths of my own heart.
It is the word “beloved”…
I first learned this word from the story of the baptism of Jesus.
“And a voice came from heaven: You are my Son, the Beloved:
my favor rests on you.”
All I want to say to you is “You are the Beloved,” and all I hope
is that you can hear these words as spoken to you
with all the tenderness and force that love can hold.
My only desire is to make these words reverberate
in every corner of your being—“You are the beloved!”
A little later in the book, Nouwen talks about how the busyness of our world
makes it vital to stay focused on the powerful affirmation of God’s love:
“When I think about your life and the lives of Robin and your friends,
I am quite aware of the pressures you undergo.
You and Robin live in the middle of New York in a small apartment;
you have to keep working to earn enough
for your rent and your food;
you have thousands of little things to do,
from making phone calls to writing letters,
buying and cooking food,
staying in touch with family and friends
and remaining informed about what happens
in your city, your country, your world.
All of that seems quite a lot for one person…
The question ‘How are you doing?’…seldom…
leads to deep thoughts about the origin and goal of our existence.
Still, I am thoroughly convinced that the origin and goal of our existence have everything to do with the ways we think,
talk and act in our daily lives.
When our deepest truth is that we are the Beloved
and when our greatest joy and peace come
from fully claiming that truth,
it follows that this has to become visible and tangible
in the ways we eat and drink…play and work…talk and love.”
We love because God first loved us.
We are empowered to love,
we are driven to love,
we are compelled to love because we know ourselves to have been
OVERCOME by the love of God.
The Author of First John
then reflects a bit on how human beings react when they truly understand
what it means to be God’s beloved.
Are we ALONE God’s beloved?
No. Not only are we loved, but the person next to you is loved, too.
All of us are God’s creatures.
All of us have the breath of God in us.
All of us are made in God’s image.
And so the author of First John goes on:
“Those who say ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers and sisters are liars:
for those who do not love a brother or sister they have seen,
cannot love God whom they have not seen.
The commandment we have heard from him is this:
those who love God must love their brother and sister also.”
God wants our love.
God expects us to return the love that God gives us.
And the best way to love God is to share our love with those around us.
In fact, Jesus taught that the Great Commandment
was to love God with all our being and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Love of God flows into loving our neighbor
and love of neighbor flows into love of God.
Love that springs from God is one stream
that has within it currents of love for the divine,
and currents of love for our brothers and sisters.
Our love is not to be reserved for our lovable brother or sister down the street
who looks and acts and thinks like we do.
Our love is to be as broad as is God’s love,
having no boundaries, no restrictions.
If it is hard to imagine how much God loves us,
it may be equally hard imagining ourselves being able to love
with anything near the capacity of God.
Love requires the willingness to be vulnerable, to be spent,
to endure pain for another person.
This is becoming more of a challenge for us.
In a world that grows more complex, more confrontational,
more divided into camps of various sorts,
particularly during a political season
more likely to turn others into objects whom we value principally
on the basis of what they can do for us,
the OPENNESS to bear the Spirit’s fruit of love freely, for all people,
becomes more and more the exception than the rule.
On the contrary, Paul says,
the gift of God among us in the Holy Spirit
will encourage us to see EVERYONE we encounter
as a valuable human being too
no matter what.
Once Dorothee Soelle shared a story of an old rabbi
who once asked his students how they could recognize the time
when night ends and day begins.
“Is it when, from a great distance, you can tell a dog from a sheep?”
asked one student.
“No,” was the teacher’s reply.
“Is it when, from a great distance,
you can tell a date palm from a fig tree?”
“No,” said the holy man.
“Then when is it?” the students asked.
“It is when you look into the face of any human creature
and see your brother or sister there.
Until then, night is still with us.”[ii]
God loves us so much that God gives us SO MANY other folk to love.
To which I’ve often prayed to God: Have you MET some of these people?
But, in loving them, in all their need,
we become more fully human, even more God like.
In losing ourselves, we gain our very life.
Exception rather than the rule or not,
a commitment-that-the-world would understand or not,
Paul suggests bearing such fruit is the very first manifestation
of the Spirit’s power in a faithful life.
“They will know we are Christians by our love!”
On this first Sunday back in Ordinary time
Let us welcome the Spirit’s power.
Let us remember, it is an invitation that we can accept every day.
Let us not allow enmity, jealously, selfishness, party spirit, envy,
or other works of the flesh keep us from being a Pentecost People.
Instead, let us hear the wind and feel the breath
as we look into another’s face,
wherever we might meet it and see in him or her
the breaking through of dawn:
the opportunity to love them as God has loved us.
Let’s amaze and perplex some folk in our world
by how this fruit blooms in our living.
Let us know, in the very core of our being, that we are loved
and because of that, let us love others.
Let it be so. Amen.
[i] From Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved: Living in a Secular World (Crossroad Publishing Company; New York, New York, 1992)
[ii] From Soelle’s The Strength of the Weak: Toward a Christian Feminist Identity, quoted in The Living Pulpit, July-Sept 1992.