Sunday, May 15, 2016

"Signs of Your Presence" Pentecost Year C 2016

“Signs of Your Presence”
Year C Pentecost 2016
St. Thomas’ Episcopal, Richmond, VA

A Prayer for Mission
“O God, you manifest in your servants the signs of your presence: Send forth upon us the Spirit of love, that in companionship with one another your abounding grace may increase among us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.(From the Book of Common Prayer, Evening Prayer, Rite II, p. 125)

Apples do not fall far from the tree, or so the phrase goes. Walking around with my daughters, one is told that she looks like her mom, the other one is told she looks like me. It is a comfort and a joy. Sometimes when I look at them, I will see an inkling of my parents in them, too. A glance, the eyes, a cock of the head. It is miraculous and wonder-filled. The same could be said of the Holy Spirit. If God the Father is the Holy Other, Creator and God in Heaven, and Jesus is God the Son, God Incarnate, Immanuel- God-with-us, then the Holy Spirit is God-in-us, the Advocate, the Comforter. Better than Jiminy Cricket I mentioned a few weeks ago, and just like that recognition of me or my parents in my children, the Spirit makes her presence known, in what we say and how we say it, in what we do and our attitude around it.

As we look at the wondrous story of Pentecost and our parallel Gospel reading in which what was to come was promised, we see a few things that are signs of maybe what the church can be, and maybe what the church should be.  Like in the prayer that we just read, we need to “manifest in [God’s] servants,” US, “the signs of [the Spirit’s] presence.”

What are some ways that can happen? Looking at Acts 2, I think there are some easy take-aways.

The Holy Spirit in us enables and encourages us to speak so we can be heard.  In Acts, that was about differing languages to observant Jews and believers from all over the known world. But what about now? It can be language. One of the formative pieces of solidifying language usage and spelling was the consistency of King James’ Bible, the Authorized edition in English and Luther’s translation in German. Speaking a language that can be heard and understood is a Holy Spirit thing. But that is not all, culture and approach both play huge roles. Even though some people may have a common tongue between them, how one uses that speech and attitude with which one shares makes a huge difference. It has always been this way. The Apostle Paul said, “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.” I Corinthians 9:22b

Communicating in a way to be heard, with cultural and attitudinal differences appeased, there is more. Your faith should bring you joy.  Exuberance and joy at that. Now exuberance can take the form of running around with hands in the air, but that is not me or how I show my exuberance. Have you ever been telling a story and you get excited, leaning into your hearers and your pace picks up and your voice gets filled with energy? That can be exuberance, too. The apostles and followers that day were accused of being drunk at 9 o’clock in the morning, “filled with new wine” Acts says. Their exuberance was so great that people were mistaken. Andre the Giant, the humongous wrestler and actor, so loved new wine, the Nouveau Beaujolais, that he had cases flown in while filming The Princess Bride and proceeded to drink several of them, yes, cases, one night and passed out on the lobby floor of the hotel where the cast and crew were staying. They put a rope fence around him because he was too big to move. But when we are filled with the Spirit, not the spirits like Andre the Giant, we do not pass out. We are exuberant and joy-filled. Our beloved deacon Frank always reminds us, if you are not in joy about what you are doing, God wants you to do something else. Joy is a sign of the Presence of the Spirit.

Prophecies, Visions, and Dreams are promised as well. Now prophecies are when God speaks to us. It can come from a person, a newspaper article, and from a still small voice prompting us to do something different. It probably is not about the future. Too often we hear Prophecy and we think it is about what is to come. It can. But it probably isn’t. Prophecy is about living out our faith in the here and now. And the Spirit is all about showing up in those daily nudges to be more on God’s team than our ego’s.

Lastly, speaking of attitude, from the Romans passage, St. Paul encouraged us to have a spirit of Adoption, not slavery. Adoption here is an unbelievably empowering act. According to the Roman law that St. Paul knew so well as a citizen of the Empire, adoption was an intentional choice. It was a forever act; you could disown a kid you birthed, but someone you adopted was yours forever. A sign of the Spirit at work in us is acting like we belong, in our skin, in this world, and in the places God sends us. As God said in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, that is canonical, right? God said,  “Stop your snivelling!” Too often we forget whose we are. We are not made to be timid. Humble, yes. Timid, no. We are co-heirs with Christ, chosen and enabled to be in God’s family, forever. A more biblical way of saying it, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”Romans 8:31 When I have to walk into an intensive care unit, I have to remind myself, “I am as needed here as that nurse or that doctor. I have an important job to do.” Too often I do not feel that way, but God is there before me and I am needed to shine a light pointing out God, even in those dark scary places so that God can be seen there, too.

Jesus said in John 14:12 “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater work than these, because I am going to the Father.”

The signs of the Presence of the Spirit in our lives take a unique form and shape in each of us. But people know it when they see it. A relative of one of our families came up to Bishop Shannon and me during his visit a few weeks ago and said, “I am not Episcopalian, but I definitely felt the Spirit here today.” Bishop Shannon was very kind and said, “And you would feel it here most Sundays. This is a good church with a loving community.” The relative smiled and nodded. Those signs of the Presence of the Spirit are active, and vibrant, and beautiful. And most of all, they are here. May it always be so. Amen.

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Blessings, Rock