A Plan for Following Jesus.
Faithful Living for Hard Times: Rejoice in the Power of the Holy Spirit.
The last in a ten part sermon series on our community charge:
Go out into the world in peace;
hold on to what is good;
return no one evil for evil;
strengthen the fainthearted;
support the weak,
and help the suffering;
honor all people;
love and serve the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Last night was a loud night at our household.
For many of you, that might a party with friends
Or blasting the latest Ed Sheeran album throughout your place.
Or the kids running circles around your couch
As you are trying to corral them towards bedtime.
I don’t mean any of that.
I mean that thunderstorm that came through. Still is coming through, apparently.
We have a dog who will pretty much sleep through anything
And she was barking last night at some of that thunder and lightening.
If, as they say, thunderstorms are the best evidence that God likes to host a party
At the heavenly bowling alley
Then she was throwing a really good game last night.
All that power and energy.
A typical Midwestern Thunderstorm.
It had me up later than usual, and gave me fits trying to sleep.
Like Annie, our dog, I generally like sleeping through rain.
It sounds good. There’s ordinarily something comforting about it
But not last night.
Maybe its because we’re one of those people who were impacted
By those major rains in late July and August
And so I was thinking overnight
if we’d wake up again to a few inches of water in our basement.
Thankfully, not this time.
Maybe its because I was reminded,
As loud as the storm was,
As annoying and as costly as a few inches of water have been in my basement
That its nothing like Houston.
That its nothing like the Florida Keys, or worse, Barbuda,
and the US Virgin Islands.
Where for some islands every single house was impacted.
And there is another storm approaching some of these same Caribbean Islands.
For some of these communities, where tourism is the name of the game
And every season matters
This doesn’t portend very well for residents there
Hit once or maybe twice by a hurricane
And then unable to make a living during the busy season to come.
And I thought about not just the dangers and the worry all that causes
But also the way that the storms of life inspire good people to do good things.
–Whether it’s the so called “Cajun Navy” of volunteer boats
Driving down to Houston to help with rescue operations
–Or the Response Teams that Presbyterian Disaster Assistance
Dispatched to Houston and Southern Florida
To coordinate our collective effort on the ground
Alongside forty other National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance will take the Eleven Hundred dollars
you have generously given for these hurricanes
along side the Fifteen Hundred Dollars that our Outreach Committee
has pledged for the same purpose
and will pool that with gifts from ten thousand other Presbyterian Churches
and those with the offerings of Methodists and Lutherans
Catholics and Muslims and Jews
And good hearted secularists
And together they will be there ready to rebuild
You know, when the waters recede
And the Red Cross’s immediate work of shelter and a warm meal is done
and they leave town.
They will be there, a visible and lasting and committed presence
Through some of the hardest times following a natural disaster.
–Or I thought about Heart to Heart International,
Through which a facebook friend,
and member of a local Presbyterian Church, Volunteers.
Heart to Heart is a medical organization.
But they don’t see their primary mission as providing healthcare,
Though they do.
They send doctors and medics and professionals to these areas,
To Houston and to Florida, where they are needed
And they administer immunizations and healthcare.
But their major mission, their primary goal, is to provide hope.
“We care for the forgotten. He says.
Those who may have had marginal health before the disaster.
Those who are pushed from their homes with no place to go.
Those who fall through the cracks.
What kinds of problems are we treating?
There are very few problems that are unique to disasters.
Yes we see some minor injuries, skin infections and diarrhea from the water.
And yes, we see a lot of people with stress.
But most of the patients that we see are those
whose support system had been removed by the floods.
These are those who have been forced from their homes,
living with relatives or living in shelters.
These are those whose support networks are been disrupted by the hurricane.
We see people whose diabetes is out of control
because their medications were lost in the flood.
We see people with cardiac chest pain
whose physician’s office was closed due to flooding.
We see suicidal teenagers with plans and means to act
whose social support network disappeared in the storm.
We see many people with routine medical problems
who have no other access to healthcare.
But we also see those for whom we can’t do much
much except to hold their hands and pray.”[i]
Maybe the most powerful reminder for me of the goodness of humanity this week
Was shared online, a story about Presbyterian Pastor of Beloved Memory
Mr. Rogers used to talk about his mother, and how she helped him
Cope with the thunderstorms of his life, the scary news on TV.
Whether it was news of a hurricane or a violent terror attack somewhere
Or protests gone awry by a community yearning for justice and for peace
Fred sought comfort and safety from his mother, he said.
And his mother would hold him in her arms,
And would tell him that life was indeed scary sometimes.
But “Look for The Helpers,” she would say.
“You will always find people helping.”
“To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my Mother’s words,”
“and I am comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—
so many caring people in this world…”
It was Remembering the Helpers that helped me finally get to sleep last night.
Fred Rogers still calms me, even as an adult.
But he is right: there are still so many helpers in this world.
Why is that?
Why do so many people pull together when danger comes
Or disaster strikes?
Sure, you can maybe say, cynically, that they’re helping their own,
That it’s about pride for country or city or what have you.
But not really. That’s not what this is about.
There is no small amount of altruism among these helpers
People helping for no other reason than because they see need and respond to it.
Or among the scores of others who help THEM
By giving desperately needed and so vitally useful financial gifts.
What is it?
Have we all just learned to be Good Samaritans,
Ready to jump in and put ourselves in harms way to help the wounded around us?
I’m not at all sure that’s it, either.
There’s still plenty of self-centered, me first, gonna take advantage of this situation
Sell that case of water for $20 bucks shenanigans going on.
But even so, Rogers is right. So many others rush towards these things
Literally, or symbolically with their gifts.
Always look for the helpers. They are there, standing in the gap.
Let me tell you what I think.
I think its the Power of the Holy Spirit.
Its the way that God moves among the people
How God helps us see HUMANITY in the face of our neighbor
How God tells us, in our hearts, that we are ABLE to help
That we can do it, and if we don’t, who will?
How God reminds us that being the bearer of Hope is a really awesome thing
And to get to do that is maybe one of the most wonderful feelings
in the whole wide world
and that yes, that you can be that bearer of Hope too.
The Power of the Holy Spirit.
God moving among us, present wherever two or three are gathered
The voice of our conscience, the comforter and the instigator rolled into one.
We Presbyterians aren’t known for our Pneumatology
Which is the fancy word for a Theology of the Spirit.
We are known for our fancy words, that’s true.
But, as a way of practicing the Christian faith,
A robust, central place for the Holy Spirit isn’t really what we’re known for.
Sometimes I think that’s because we put the Holy Spirit in a box.
I don’t mean we domesticate the Holy Spirit, though sometimes we do.
I mean that we THINK the Holy Spirit is best understood in its wild, uncontrollable
And sometimes it is.
But that worries us.
We’ve seen people CLAIM to be inspired by the Holy Spirit
Go off and do some bizarre and even dangerous things, some hurtful things
Quite dangerous things: pull people together into cults
Run away from family
Engage in a life of crime
The mind can get quite active and imaginative here
All this stuff that is about as far from what God is doing in Jesus Christ as possible.
And because some people CLAIM that to be from the Holy Spirit, God’s doing,
And we know that it just cannot be so,
We dismiss them. Often rightly.
But then we also tend to put the Holy Spirit in a box
Maybe getting it out during Pentecost or when a New Pastor comes
And we all wear red and make jokes about hot salsa
You know, tongues of fire, and all that.
But the problem, it seems to me,
Is that our vision isn’t deep and broad enough to understand
That this isn’t what the Holy Spirit is about.
The Holy Spirit is God’s PRESENCE among us.
The Holy Spirit is God’s mighty Ruah,
that’s a Hebrew word that means spirit or breath or wind
It is God-That-Moves through a community
Helping it grasp its potential and envision its possibilities.
The Holy Spirit is that spark that you feel when you are visiting a friend in the hospital
Or at their home, because they are sick, and they smile at you,
Because they know that they are loved because you are there. And you feel it.
The Holy Spirit is the way you sit down at a table with people
And you talk about your day
And maybe you’re at a bible study so you read a little scripture
And you think about how it might feed your life
And you slowly build friendships with these people
Who are all so different
Some of them just like you
Some of them so annoying
Some of them the most generous, kind souls you’ll ever meet
All of them beloved children of God.
And you wonder how you got there, at that table, this particular morning.
The Holy Spirit is that reminder, when you’re down,
that God’s very image is implanted within you
That you matter, just because you do,
As God made you
And that God wants nothing but joy for you
And for you to help cause joy and health and wellbeing for others.
All of that: The Holy Spirit.
Its not just 24/7 prayer sessions at IHOP down the street.
Its not just those spirited moments where your preacher pastor gets really excited
Because of some glimpse of God that he sees.
The Holy Spirit can be gentle. Can be quiet.
Can be that still small voice that helps you pray when you can’t find the words.
Can be the thing that calms you during a stressful, thunder filled night.
THAT Holy Spirit can be powerful.
We’re wrapping up this sermon series
That I’ve called “Faithful Living in Hard Times: A Roadmap for Following Jesus”
This Charge of ours has given us much to think about
As we reflect on some of the unique ways
that we are inspired to follow God on the way of Jesus.
You can roughly break these ten phrases that make up the charge
Into three parts.
The first part contains the overarching themes, so to speak.
Some of the broad strokes of the faith:
Go out into the world in peace:
because God, the peacemaker, teaches us the importance of shalom
shalom is that state in God’s realm where justice and reconciliation meet
where the hungry are filled with good food
the thirsty, water
the imprisoned, company and liberation
the hopeless, hope.
Because its not easy. And sometimes you’ll want to just not deal with it
Or won’t know how to deal with it
Or think its not your deal to deal with
But just as love is inherently risky, and vulnerability is essential for relationship
Courage is at the heart of all we do.
With God’s help, we might say. Thank you Holy Spirit.
Hold on to what is Good: because the Good is what its all about
All that is right and true and beautiful in our world.
Return no one evil for evil: because rejecting vengeance is hard
And we protect our own humanity by refusing to take it from
Those who perpetuate evil against others.
Those are broad themes. And how do we do them?
Well, the charge then gives us four more concrete suggestions:
Strengthen the Fainthearted
Support the Weak
Help the Suffering, and
Honor All People.
Specific ideas for how to be PEACEFUL, COURAGEOUS doers of GOOD
and rejecters of EVIL in our world.
Strengthen the Fainthearted
Support the Weak
Help the Suffering, and
Honor All People.
But you could get through all of those without following God on the way of Jesus.
And many people do.
There are good-hearted people out there
Who do all these things without any sense of being inspired to do
so because of their faith. Thanks be to God for each one of them.
But these last two phrases of our charge,
These encourage us, you and I, to see all of these, in truth,
As inspired by God and as encouraged by God
And, in fact, in us, as empowered by what Jesus Christ himself is doing here.
Go out into the world in peace! Yes, because Jesus.
Have Courage. Because of Jesus.
Hold fast to what is Good. Thank you Jesus.
By doing this, we Honor and Serve the Lord: the very one who showed us how
Who stooped down and washed the grime and muck off of disciple heel and toe
And told us that the greatest commandment was to love each other.
Today, its Rejoicing in the Power of the Holy Spirit.
That power that, according to Acts,
Jesus promised his disciples would come when he left them.
That Holy Spirit that moved among them and formed them into a community
That drove them out to engage not just their own people
But Gentiles from every nation, Samaritans and Romans,
Parthians and Elamites and Cretans and the rest.
That told them it was ok to try something new, something different,
To stop calling profane what God was calling sacred.
That same Holy Spirit that comforts Paul in a jail cell
A dank roman jail cell
So he can write words of comfort to his friends back at Philippi
And tell them to Rejoice! Rejoice! Again, I will say, Rejoice!
That Holy Spirit that cannot stay in a box
But enlivens the world and inspires the helpers
and shares hope with prodigal abundance.
None of these things would be possible without God animating them.
None of it.
And while human beings call many things Godly that really aren’t,
And the same is true for what people sometimes say
about the ecstatic nature of the holy spirit.
Meanwhile God doesn’t mind.
God keeps on being God
Picking up the broken pieces
Sending the Cajun navy
Helping people find new ways to be impactful
For the good, for hope, for Jesus.
Sometimes, when you LOOK at all that’s happening in the world, in our lives,
It can be quite overwhelming.
Sure, hurricanes and floods, but also cancer, or car accident,
or stress at work and school,
or the hundreds of things we have to figure out.
But, when you look again, you can see it!
You can see the helpers!
You can see the movement of the Holy Spirit!
Right there! God! Alive! Working to make all things new.
And when you see it, Rejoice! For God is with you.
What a sight for sore eyes.
When Isaac Watts wrote his poem Joy to the World in 1719,
Little did he know that
he was putting together what would be perhaps the most popular
Christmas hymn of all time.
Instead, for him,
Joy to the World was a statement about what he saw God DOING in the world
Where every heart prepares room for the love and presence of the Lord
Where that love and presence rules the world with truth and grace
Where the whole world, rocks, hills, and plains
repeat the sounding joy of what God is doing among us.
When we pause,
and look around at God’s ongoing Power to pull us together for Good
Joy fills our hearts, and we marvel at the wonders of God’s love.
We’re going to sing it, here in a minute, maybe a bit out of season,
But just so, a reminder of the animating power of the Holy Spirit in our midst.
And so, today,
Dear friends, as we seek to go out from here following God on the way of Jesus,
May we rejoice at this Power of God through the Holy Spirit
And may we look for it,
Not as we are afraid of it
But as we already see it, moving though-out our sometimes quite staid lives
Enlivening and inspiring and empowering and uplifting
And challenging us to follow.
And lets get going.
May it be so.
[i] Facebook post by Rick Randolph, originally shared on September 9, 2017, and accessed September 16, 2017.
Image: Presbyterian Disaster Assistance work crew.