When the Holy Spirit Shows Up — in the Form of a Bunch of New Englanders

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Sometimes the Holy Spirit shows up looking like this! 🙂
Photo: our 2016 picnic at the summit of Mt. Holyoke to celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord — happening again this year on June 3. Email Pr. Anna at oslcpastor@comcast.net for more information!)

Acts 17:22-31
John 14:15-21

Since moving to New England, it’s becoming clearer than ever to me how the places that we occupy shape us, and how God shapes us through those places.

Just for example, when I lived in the South, I was largely not in tune with the temperature outside. It mostly went from “cool,” to “kinda cold,” to “warm,” to “really stinking hot,” but I didn’t have to pay much attention to it other than turning on the central electric heat and AC at the right times and occasionally opening a window when it was really nice outside. I also had to pay attention to it in order to dress correctly (especially while I lived in Atlanta and often traveled via foot or bike). But indoors? It didn’t really affect me. If the weather got really extreme, and by “really extreme” we meant a really hot day or an inch of snow, we just stayed inside.

These days, however, I live differently. Here, in a place where air conditioning in every building is not a guarantee, and where about 1-4” of winter snow is no more worth commenting on than a spring rainstorm. Nothing really stops here unless the weather really does get pretty crazy — which looks less like an inch of snow and more like fifteen with snow blindness.

It was pretty intimidating when I first moved here. To move one’s whole life across the country and come to a town where I knew no one except those of you that I’d met once or twice before — in a place where the weather does crazy things and it was going to be my responsibility to survive — was a little scary.

Jesus said, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” (John 14:18)

Our Gospel today is Jesus talking to his disciples before the crucifixion. He promises to send the Holy Spirit — which he calls this Greek word “paraclete” that doesn’t have a good translation in English. It means “advocate,” which is how our translation rendered it, but it also means “comforter,” “counselor,” “intercessor,” “consoler,” and a number of other things.

And Jesus says, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”

We’ve often imagined this as Jesus sending us a spirit of inner peace. And it’s certainly that.

But I remember something different about when I moved here. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you,” was about you as much as it was about a simple feeling, maybe even more.

This doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit didn’t show up. Quite the contrary. The Holy Spirit showed up big time.

It just happened to show up in the form of a bunch of New Englanders. In having an already-stocked pantry when I moved in, in meals delivered to my doorstep, in lessons about how to deal with snow and ice and cooling my house even without the aid of AC.

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”

Through you, I learned to acclimate to the crazy weather and I learned about the area and I found a home I’ve grown quite fond of. I became more connected to the weather outside. Where I once was a Southerner addicted to air conditioning, I now look at overdressed Southerners who complain about the heat like they have four heads: of course you’re hot, honey. You have on long sleeves.

For sure, the places that we are in shape us — at least in part because the Holy Spirit is always after us: “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”

The Greeks in our first reading had also been shaped by the space they occupied — a story which Paul tells like this: “I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”

We need each other. As Nadia Bolz-Weber says, “The hearing of the Word implies having someone right there doing the telling.” (1)

Often, the Holy Spirit shows up in us. 

I admit that I struggled with what to talk about this morning after the week we’ve had in the news. We established long ago that telling you what to think about the facts of politics is not only deeply theologically wrong but also above my pay grade, but at the same time, it is also part of my job description to help you make sense of the world and figure out your place in it and our place in it as Lutherans and as Christians.

As we say in the South when faced with a nearly impossible task that we still must find a way to solve: Welp. Get out the duct tape and here we go.

We talk a lot about “fake news” these days, and we’ve got so much information getting thrown at us that that a portion of what we see every day is bound to be objectively false. On top of that, a shocking number of us lack the basic skills necessary to distinguish between verifiable facts and these entirely fabricated untruths. This is true of people on the right and the left — we’re anxious and drowning in a sea of information and we’re mired in controversy and the only thing we know right now is that we’re here together.

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”

Remember: sometimes the Holy Spirit shows up in other people. In this divided nation, this is a place where die-hard Republicans and blue-blooded Democrats and independents and third party folks and people who don’t or can’t vote come to the same table and eat the same bread and worship the same God every single week. This is a place where liberals and conservatives eat dinner together and hold each other’s children and giggle with one another’s grandchildren.

And that seems really nice, but it doesn’t always mean it’s easy or comfortable. It doesn’t mean that sometimes we don’t have wildly different interpretations of the news or even what it means to be the Church these days.

You see, the Holy Spirit has a way of stirring things up. The images at Pentecost for the Holy Spirit aren’t exactly cute and fuzzy: tongues of fire. Rushing wind.

The Holy Spirit has a way of stirring things up, of turning things upside down, of pushing us to be more than we were before.

Now, make no mistake: the Gospel has political implications. However, one of my pet peeves is when people use the word “Gospel” when they clearly don’t mean “Good News.”

The Gospel is Good News. For for all people. If it’s not Good News for all people, it’s not the Gospel.

If there’s one thing we must resist, it’s the politicization of values. We must speak up for the voiceless. We must include the un-included. Christianity is not partisan: it demands that we care for and love and serve all.

We must love each other and the world, even when it’s hard. Because God is love. Because love, even and maybe especially when it’s difficult, is the work of the Holy Spirit.

And it’s not always easy or comforting, but this kind of love is Good News for all people.

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”

Jesus shows up in bread and wine. Jesus shows up in baptismal water.

Jesus shows up in the Word of God proclaimed — and that means that sometimes, Jesus shows up in us.

“Hearing the Word of God implies someone right there doing the telling.” (ibid)

One way or another, Jesus always shows up in love.

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”

So let’s continue to remind each other. Let’s continue to look for the ways the Holy Spirit shows up here, especially in each other. In this divided nation in this divided world, it won’t be easy. Life together with other people is always hard work, and it seems even harder these days. We will fight and we will struggle and we’ll mess up and offend each other and sometimes, we will have to deal with the all-too-familiar discomfort of having someone we love deeply occupy an entirely different reality than we do. But we will love, and God will be here.

Theologian Fredrich Beuchner put it this way:
“Wherever people love each other and are true to each other and take risks for each other, God is with them and they are doing God’s will.”

So let this be a place where we love each other and are true to each other, where we take risks for each other both by having hard conversations and by speaking up for those in danger and defending the vulnerable — and by trusting each other that each of us is trying to follow Jesus the best way we know how.

And you know — the places that you occupy really do shape you. Just as I came to get used to ice and snow and heat without AC because of you, just as some of the Athenians were open to Paul’s message because they had left space open in their minds for an unknown god — this place and this environment can shape us, too. If we can find a way to continue to live together here and do good in the world despite our differences, maybe it’ll shape how we live out there. And maybe, just maybe, this place can help shape our little corner of the world. Maybe, because of us, the nation and the world can be just a little less divided than they were before.

Jesus said, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”

May love find you in this place: no matter who you are, where you came from, whom or what you love, or what you hold as a political reality. The bread and wine are for you. The love in this church is for you.

You are invited into the mystery of the unknown — of figuring out what God would have us do and be in the world. And the best part of all is that the Holy Spirit, one way or another, always finds us. God will not leave us orphaned in this crazy world: God is coming to us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

1. Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints.

One thought on “When the Holy Spirit Shows Up — in the Form of a Bunch of New Englanders

  1. So glad to read this sermon since I didn’t get to hear it in person!
    Great messages!
    Here are the words to a song I sang with my Leverett chorus this spring. Someday, I’ll sing it at church.

    To the Holy Spirit (a poem by Wendell Berry). Arranged by Malcolm Dalglish

    O Thou, far off and here, whole and broken,
    Who in necessity and in bounty wait,
    Whose truth is (both) light and dark, mute though spoken,
    By Thy wide Grace show me Thy narrow gate

    (p. 107–The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry)

    Liked by 1 person

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