Sermons

Guest Preacher, Rev. Jean Crist Thompson; June 6, 2021

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts lead us to
encounter your presence, God. Be with us all as we seek to hear your word for
us today. Amen.

As the scriptures and the rhythms of the church year guide us, we move beyond Jesus’
departure from this world. We begin to explore what comes next—-what is our part to
play in God’s plan. Have God and Jesus left us alone, on our own? What do we do now?

Surely that must have been what Peter and the other disciples wondered after Jesus left
them. They had been followers, learners, depending on Jesus to teach them and show
them the way. Then suddenly, abruptly, that physical presence and leadership were taken
away from them. They were on their own—until the Holy Spirit was given to them.

According to John’s Gospel, just before Jesus left them, he gave them a promise that a
spirit of power, God’s life-giving spirit, would come. As one contemporary translation
puts it, Jesus told his disciples: “Do not despair. Wait in trust; the Holy Spirit is coming.
God will make you persons of power. I am returning to God, and YOU will be my body,
my presence in the world. You may wonder how you will ever be able to do that, but
reflect on what that may mean while you wait. I will send the Spirit, the life-giving
power necessary for you to become me. Then live in that Spirit.” (John 14: 26ff)

That’s what Jesus said to his disciples just before his arrest. And after his resurrection
they began to find out what he had meant, and finally, 50 days later, on the day that we
call Pentecost, it was revealed more fully. As that experience is described to us in the
book of Acts, it was exciting, it was powerful, it was overwhelming. And we call that
Pentecost phenomenon the birthday of the church, the moment when a Spirit was
breathed into Jesus’ followers, empowering them to be God-Bearers, and to come
together as a community of faith.

Well, that was then. This is now, more than 2000 years later. What is it that we believe
and experience? Is it Spirit alive among us? Or is it “So long, now you’re on your
own?”

Is the presence of Holy Spirit something we recognize and actually encounter, both as
individuals and at moments in our life together as church? Or it is something we just
assume and take for granted that it MUST be there. After all, Jesus said, “Wherever two
or three are gathered in my name, there I will be in the midst of you.” So we may assume
that Spirit is here among us—but how do we experience it? Are we looking and listening
for that presence or might we be overlooking it?

In a book on prayer and spirit presence, Louis Evely says, “Too many Christians look on
God as pilots look at their parachute: good if needed, but better if they can get along
without.” But that’s surely not what God intended or wants.

How then do we make ourselves aware of God’s presence, God’s Spirit, with us? I’ll put
it quite simply:
Stop! Look! Listen! In other words, Pay attention!!!
God doesn’t want our words. God wants our attention. God wants us to be aware at
every moment and in every situation of God’s presence within and among us.

This reminded me of Bishop Spong’s description of prayer—and his lifelong wrestling
match with what prayer meant and how to do it. What started him on a new path was the
emergence of a different understanding of God, not as a separate being out there
somewhere but as the very ground and center of life and being itself, within and all
around each one of us. He says:

“Prayer is the offering of our life and our love through the simple action of
sharing our friendship and our acceptance. Prayer is my being, calling to the being of
another and thus offering that other (person) the courage to dare, to risk, and to be in a
whole new way. Prayer is also my active opposition to those prejudices and stereotypes
that diminish the personhood and the being of another. Prayer is taking the proper
political action to build a society in which opportunities can be equalized and no one will
be forced to accept the status quo as his or her destiny. Prayer is the active recognition
that there is a sacred core in every person that must not be violated. Prayer is the facing
of life’s (difficulties), which involves us all in the realization that we live subject to a
wide array of circumstances over which we have no control. Prayer is not cowering
before these circumstances, but rather being willing to meet them with courage. Prayer
involves shedding the delusion that we are the center of the universe. So praying and
living deeply, richly, and fully have become for me almost indistinguishable.” (Why
Christianity Must Change or Die, pp. 143-44)

Is this how YOU think of prayer???

This certainly isn’t prayer in the traditional sense—-
of words or even time spent apart with God.
Rather it is life, lived in awareness of God’s presence in all things. It’s paying attention
to God at some level in everything we do.

Again I say, what God wants most from us is our paying attention. Looking and listening
and being aware of something deep within ourselves, which is at the same time beyond
us—beyond our egos, beyond our automatic responses to life. Life is not meant to be
divided into God’s time and worldly time. All of our time and all of our actions are
meant to be brought into harmony with God’s call and intentions for us. And the way that
process begins to happen is through paying attention. Always looking for and wondering
what God is trying to do, to bring about, through what is happening at this very moment.
Stop! Look! Listen!

Another way of putting it is practice, practice, practice. Marcus Borg calls practice “the
heart of the matter.”

“What does it mean to love God?” he asks. “It means paying attention to God and to
what God loves. Practice is how we “belove” God.” (Heart of Christianity, p. 187)

Jesus didn’t just assume that the Holy Spirit was with him and go on his merry way. The
gospel stories describe how Jesus often separated himself from the crowds and went off
by himself to pray. To get back on center, “on line,” so to speak, with God.

As some of you may be aware, I am not always regular and faithful about picking up my
email messages. Sometimes people call me and say, Hey didn’t you get my message?
It was there, on my e-mail, waiting for me, but I wasn’t going on line to access it.
And that, too often, I think is the way we are with God. We go on line with God to send
a message, often an SOS when we want God’s help. But we aren’t necessarily alert to the
messages God is trying to send to us. We need to go on line with God regularly as a way
of focusing our attention, and demonstrating our INtention to be God’s person, to seek
God’s presence and to allow God’s Spirit power fill and lead us.

Everything in our lives has the potential to deeper our relationship with the sacred. All
our experiences, both the wonderful and the terrible, contain the seeds of spiritual growth.

To the extent that we learn to pay attention to our life and let it teach us, we move
forward in our spiritual journey. Some spiritual traditions call this mindfulness, or
reflection, or discernment, but all point the importance of staying awake spiritually.

When we pay attention, something new can emerge—a new perspective, a new feeling, a
new idea, a new insight.

We can TRY to run our lives and our church by our own efforts, and stay safe and secure,
maintaining the illusion, at least, that we are on solid ground. Or we can stop! Look!
Listen! We can pay attention to all that is going on around us and within us, seeking to
discern God’s message and meaning through every single aspect of our lives.

Spirit of the Living God, please fall afresh on all of us.
Make us open to your Spirit so that you can melt us, mold us, fill us, use us. Spirit of the
Living God, fall afresh on us. Amen.