Every Time I Feel the Spirit Moving

11351387_10206888036862045_103796870199822216_nLooking back at it all, I can see the broad movements of the Holy Spirit in my life, beckoning me forward. At the time, I wasn’t always sure; often I was confused, or full of angst, or desirous of another path.

And I now find myself praying a prayer of humble gratitude for all that has transpired.

Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my life I will pray.

***

As a matter of traditional church doctrine, to be Christian is to believe in the trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Nonetheless, the truth is that there are non-trinitarian Christians. There are non-trinitarian UCCers.

For me, I find the language of the trinity useful in thinking about God but I don’t believe it — or any other theological construct — can accurately and fully describe the divine mystery that we call God.

In other words, the way we think of the trinity is at best an approximation of the nature of God.

[pause]

Despite what it says in the header of your bulletins, today really isn’t Pentecost. Pentecost was last week but, well, we had 4oh!4. Today is Trinity Sunday. I know so because it says so in my official UCC calendar.

Just the same, for us it is also Pentecost. Pentecost is such a foundational day in the church that we couldn’t just skip it. We could move it, we are Congregationalists after all, but we couldn’t ignore it completely.

Well, I couldn’t ignore it, anyway.

***

She was laughing and smiling. It was a good day. The sunshine. The shades of yellow and orange sprouting as spring flowers. All of this and more buoyed her sense of well-being.

A moment later, she was in a full throttle sob as she released all the pain of her journey thus far.

Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my life I will pray.

***

So what do we know about the Holy Spirit? What do we know about the Spirit, the most neglected part of the doctrine of the trinity?

God the parent, the father is the creator. Jesus is the son, the redeemer or savior. But who or what is the Holy Spirit? It is as if even the definition of the Spirit is a mystery or secret. William Paul Young, in his fictitious work The Shack described the Holy Spirit this way:

“As she [the Holy Spirit] stepped back, Mack found himself involuntarily squinting in her direction, as if doing so would allow his eyes to see her better.

But strangely, he still had a difficult time focusing on her; she seemed almost to shimmer in the light and her hair blew in all directions even though there was hardly a breeze.

It was almost easier to see her out of the corner of his eye than it was to look at her directly.” (The Shack, pg.84)

It was almost easier to see her out of the corner of his eye than it was to look at her directly.” (The Shack, pg.84)

Wow, that part rings true to my experience. The Spirit is always around — but a little hard to perceive — just as Jesus promised and implied in the fourteenth chapter of John:

“I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion,[a] who will be with you forever. 17

This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you. John 14:16-17 CEB

Likewise, Luke promises in his gospel that the Spirit will be present with us. Then, in his sequel Acts, the promise becomes reality. Despite this, we have a far less developed sense of who the Spirit is than our Pentecostal, orthodox, and even our Catholic sisters and brothers.

Who is the Holy Spirit? Scholar Gordon Fee, says that “In dealing with the Spirit, we are dealing with none other than the personal presence of God.” (Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, loc. #631)

Think about that a moment. If, as the doctrine of the trinity implies, the Father, Son, and Spirit are equally and fully the one God then of course that would be true. It also has the effect that we ought to be a little more alert to that presence and voice in our lives.

***

They looked at one another. How could their plans be coming together this way? It seemed, if not too easy, at least too obvious a path that was unfolding before them. Once they’d stopped fighting for their own visions, a vision that made sense had miraculously appeared.

Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my life I will pray.

***

So what can we learn about the Holy Spirit from our scripture readings today? That is, what can we learn from our ancient kindred who wrote the Acts of the Apostles and the letter to the Romans?

Let’s start with Acts.

In verse four, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit…” The result was that they could all speak in the languages of one another.

The sense of the word translated from the greek as filled has to do with being supplied or equipped by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit gifts people in such a way that they might be in relationship with one another.

The Father/Mother created. Jesus taught and pointed a way out of sin. And the Spirit equips and sustains us in our journeys.

***

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. 4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak. Act 2:1, 3-4 CEB

Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my life, I will pray.

Now, What does the Apostle Paul in his letter to Romans tell us about his understanding of the Holy Spirit?

In verse twenty-six of our reading, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” and “intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26 NRSV)

I love this verse! It really takes the load off for me. We don’t have to get it right. Part of God helps us communicate — pray — to another part of God.

Our God really is an awesome God!!

In his accumulated letters, the epistles, the Apostle Paul does more than simply suggest that the Holy Spirit helps us and intercedes on our behalf.

Paul believed that a Christian life is integrated with the Holy Spirit. That is, to live a life as a follower of Jesus, we must also listen for, listen to, and follow the Holy Spirit’s beckoning. The Holy Spirit, according to Paul, must be embedded in our very lives.

Writing about the early church, scholar Gordon Fee says,

But their success…lay with their experienced life of the Spirit who made the work of Christ an effective reality in their lives, thus making them a radical alternative within their culture. (Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, loc. #xxx)

***

She trusted her child and the Holy Spirit to work out their own relationship. Though she talked about spirituality, she allowed space for her six-year-old to think it through herself.

One day, the child said to her mother, “I don’t believe in God.”

Instead of panicking, the young mother nodded her head and said, “hmmm.” The child continued, “But I believe in the parts that I think are true. And our hearts are actually God.”

Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my life I will pray.

***

I think Paul would be appalled at the lip service that the mainline church gives to the Holy Spirit. I think Paul would be writing us one of his terse, “get your act together epistles.”

Imagine if you will an excerpt from Paul’s Epistle to the American Mainline Church:

“My friends, your steadfast endurance has been a blessing to your communities across your nation. I had hoped to visit each of you but so far have been unable.

I remember each of your churches in my daily prayers. Your commitment to social justice work in the United Church of Christ, for example, has been and continues to be a witness to others. I urge you to continue this.”

“It is clear to me that your well-thought out theologies have helped you to reach a place where you’ve made a connection between the teachings of Jesus and the actions you take in the world.”

“As admirable as your commitment to thinking and reasoning are in helping you to understand Christ’s redemptive powers in the world, you must diligently guard against turning thinking and reasoning into idols.”

“Many of you have failed at this already. Your worship has become hollow lacking in passion or joy. Friends, I cannot state this too strongly: you cannot think your way to God.”

There are many beyond your cavernous buildings who yearn for and need the Good News. Turn your hearts, your whole beings toward the shimmering one promised and delivered to your predecessors in the faith. Turn toward the  Holy Spirit, the sustainer of your faith.”

“Did not your Savior himself pray regularly? Did he not even pray for others as he suffered upon the cross? Did even the Christ need guidance from the Father and the Spirit at times?”

“So why has the Holy Spirit become something only your more Pentecostal kindred embrace? Why are you so afraid of getting out of our heads? I implore you embrace the Father, the Son, AND the Holy Spirit who remains with you as our Lord and Savior promised.”

“When you do, you will glimpse the advocate, the companion beckoning you to become the community of faith needed in your time. Embrace the presence of the one among three! She is with you already; you’ve only to perceive and follow.”

Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my life I will pray.

___

Rev. Tim Graves preached this sermon at the Condon United Church of Christ, Condon, Oregon on May 31, 2015.

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Tim strives to share God’s extravagant love for all–no matter what & without strings. Seeking to follow the lure of the Spirit, Tim writes about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in an era where Christianity has come to be associated with hatred and political wedge issues. “Heinous things have been said & done (& still are) in the name of the One who breathed in the Divine,” notes Tim, “but Jesus shows us that God loves extravagantly.” Following the teachings and life of Jesus is about inclusion not exclusion. It is about compassion, grace, and admitting no one has all the answers. It is about responding lovingly to the best of our human ability. It is about people not institutions. It is about social justice. It is about caring for creation. It is about being who we were each created to be. Tim is a former early childhood educator, a runner, a hiker, a devoted husband, father of two adult children and their spouses, and a grandfather of two perfect babies. The former pastor of the Condon United Church of Christ, Tim recently began serving the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Albany, Oregon. He writes from home, from the coffee shop, and wherever the trail leads him.

Posted in Acts, Acts 2, Acts 2:1-4, Days of the Church, New Testament, Pentecost, Romans, Romans 8, Romans 8:18-39, Sermon, Trinity Sunday

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All materials by Tim Graves unless otherwise noted. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

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