The Spirit is on the loose

This was my sermon today, my last Sunday at St. Andrew Lutheran Church.  I preached on Acts, because it’s such an incredible story.

John 14:8-27

8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

15”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace and the wind of the Spirit to you this day, from our empowering God through Jesus the risen Christ.  Amen.

Even though I’ve never met your new pastor, Pastor Jeffrey Nelson, I know why he really wanted to start his ministry among you on this day.

You couldn’t wish for words as inspiring as these, if you’re a pastor just starting a call in a new place.  Not the words of the gospel story, though they are very inspiring too.

I’m talking about our story today from Acts.  This wonderful story of the Spirit coming in

no uncertain terms and rushing through those gathered.  “Spirit” in Hebrew is ruach and it’s pronounced while breathing out.  Very much like a breath.

But let’s be a bit honest here: this story might be great, but it might make us uncomfortable too.  People speaking in tongues?  Little tongues of flame sitting on their shoulders?  Seems more like one of those Pentecostal kinda churches than a gathering of faithful Lutherans.

A stereotype, yes.  But in many places, it’s absolutely true.  We are a little afraid of the Spirit.

And maybe we associate the word “Pentecostal” with a definition of “weird and out there” but I want to make a case that the Spirit is moving in our world in more places than we can possibly count.

And St. Andrew is one of those places.

The action of assembling a call committee and embarking on a call process is an action that invites the Holy Spirit to come into that process, into this place, and stir in us what she will.

I am here to tell you, the Spirit has been at work at St. Andrew.  And I think I’m also here to WARN you that the Spirit has been at work, and continues to work, at St. Andrew.

The Holy Spirit of God will never work in a way that harms you.  This is a promise we have from God, who keeps promises.  The Spirit WILL, however, generally move in a way that draws you out of dark places, places that are safe, and places that keep you from being fully who God created you to be.  Because that is the deep and powerful desire that God has for each and every one of you.

One of the realities of living in Southern California is that it isn’t hard for us to hear another language spoken around us.  Our geographical reality dictates that we most frequently hear Spanish:

Nuestra realidad geográfica dice que con más frecuencia escuchamos español.

So consider what it must have been like for all those gathered “in one place” as our Acts lesson tells us.

Instead of everyone having to learn one particular language, God spoke through the disciples, to those gathered, in their language.  In a way they could hear and understand.

For us, this might be the equivalent of finding someone in a foreign country who speaks English.

I’ve had some interesting experiences with language.  I have something of a natural lingual ability and one of these days I’m going to invest in Rosetta Stone and bring my languages back up to fluency.

I remember being in France, working on using my 7 years of French classes, and being THRILLED when I understood the folks I spoke with and they understood me.  Well, after I said “parlez lentement s’il vois plait” (speak slowly please).

And I recall being in Mexico and adding to my Spanish vocabulary every day while we were out fishing on our captain’s boat.  Como de side en español?  He added to his English vocabulary as well.  Como se dise en ingles?

In these situations, when the comprehension, the understanding happened, things immediately jumped to a deeper level.  Relationships formed.  Walls crumbled.  In the Mexico example, more than ten years after the last time we fished with that particular captain, he happened to be on the beach in front of our hotel one afternoon.  We didn’t see him, but he shouted “amigo!”  And just like that we were reunited with this old friend.

That is how the Spirit prefaces everything the Spirit does with, to, around, in, and for us: “amigo!”

I wonder – if we keep that in mind, that the strange and amazing things the Spirit seems to bring to us might not seem so off-the-charts.

After all – as the Scriptures say, God knew us in our mother’s womb.  God has counted the number of hairs on our head.  (I lose enough hair each day that I must be keeping God pretty busy.)  God’s infinite ability to know us doesn’t put limits on who God calls us to be.

God and the Spirit are calling us into the fullness of our identity in God.  Which involves being pulled out of comfort zones, out of unhealthy patterns, and into life.

Life lived fully is what God desires for us, dear friends.

I have been honored to be able to spend the last six months with Elyse and Natalie as they made the final lap of their journey towards confirmation.  Affirming their faith, the faith in which they were baptized.  Taking on the promises their parents made long ago, for themselves now.

And it’s been a fruitful time together as I’ve watched these young people lean into the identity God carved out for them.

When I read their faith statements this week I was struck by how perfectly each reflects its author.  And I realized that sometimes the Spirit is at work in very quiet ways, as well as big and noisy ways.  Whatever it takes for us to experience life lived fully.

[pause]

I have been told by many of you that you feel very fortunate that I have been here for the last several months, with my particular skill set.

There are a few things that I need to make quite clear:

I had no idea that St. Andrew would need a bridge pastor.

I had no idea what was going on in your lives and on the property.

I thought that my previous careers were more marking time than anything of any importance.

It was not until I stepped foot on this campus that I began to understand how my work in the past would become incredibly valuable as you navigated a varied assortment of paths.

Bishop Andy did not recommend me based on my work experience.  He simply thought I would be able to help you through a transitory period.

Dear people, the Spirit was at work in Bishop Andy, in me, and in you. 

In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

God is at work here.  You are on the precipice of what is to come.

And so of course I understand why Pastor Jeffrey would have wanted this to be his first Sunday with you.  To be able to read those words from Acts:  Prophesy.  See visions.  Dream dreams.

But I am thrilled that he gets to walk into a situation where this is already happening.

Where you’ve seen visions, and dreamed dreams, and supplied an impressive number of quilts to folks worldwide who need some warmth.

Where you’ve seen visions, and dreamed dreams, and developed an after-school Homework Club.

Where you’ve seen visions, and dreamed dreams, and figured out how to use a land-locked part of your property for a beautiful and bountiful community garden.

Where you’ve seen visions, and dreamed dreams, and opened your doors for a wide variety of community groups.

Where you’ve seen visions, and dreamed dreams, and took a huge step into the unknown to lease a part of the property to the preschool.

And what God has in store for you next, I of course cannot say.

But if it bears any resemblance to what you’ve shown me, the Spirit is surely leading you to a place of service to this community in ways deeper and more varied that you could ever have imagined.

I have been with you for the time that God has determined.  Now Pastor Jeffrey comes alongside you to walk with you on this journey.

I pray for you on that road.  Traveling mercies.  An easing of the path when that is needed.  But I also pray for you, traveling challenges.  An intensity of the path when that is needed.

Because you have shown me tremendous resilience, determination, and deep, deep compassion and care for one another.

And I think it’s very likely God is calling you to bring that to the community on this path.  Whatever you choose, you have my prayers.  Amen.

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