Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sermon: Celebrating the Holy Spirit

Pentecost Sunday, 2016
The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
#holyspirit #pentecost #lutheran #meditation #interfaith 

The Holy Spirit does not often take center stage in the Lutheran tradition.  We focus a great deal on God and Jesus, but rarely is the Holy Spirit uplifted.  Other denominations place a great deal of emphasis on the Holy Spirit.  They’ll talk about the movement of the Spirit in their lives, or they’ll invoke the name of the Holy Spirit often in their worship services, Bible studies and prayers.  There is one denomination that even bases its name and identity on the work of the Holy Spirit – the Pentecostals.  Their services are characterized by shouts of Hallalujah, clapping, dancing, and even being taken over in their bodies by the Spirit to the point where they speak in tongues, like on the day of Pentecost that we read about in our lesson today.

Lutherans, of course, are not comfortable with this style of liturgical expression.  We prefer to keep our expression of the Spirit within the bounds of quiet, respectful piety, with an occasional nod of the head, maybe once in a while voicing an Amen! at the preacher’s prompting.  Maybe clapping our hands during Youth Sunday.  But that’s about it.

That’s not to say, however, that the Holy Spirit is not active in our lives and in our church.  So I wanted to find out how this church experiences the Holy Spirit.  Earlier this week I posted a question to the congregation on our Facebook page.  I said that I would be preaching about Pentecost this Sunday, celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit. So how have you or do you experience the Holy Spirit in your life? What words would you use to describe the Holy Spirit in your experience?

One person said that for her, the Holy Spirit was an experience of peace in her body and soul.  Another described the Holy Spirit as forgiving, peace and love.  One woman said that she experienced the Holy Spirit as overwhelming peace. “I experience the Holy Spirit when I am deep in his word, listening to a bible study via radio broadcast, tv, and at church. Also through music!”  And another person share one word that captures an important aspect of the Holy Spirit:  POWERFUL!

Last year’s Confirmation class also wrote some reflections on the Holy Spirit.  You can see their work here:

So how do you experience the Holy Spirit?  If you’re Lutheran, and particularly if you’re a Central Pennsylvania Lutheran, chances are it’s probably not something you think about on a daily basis.  But I encourage you to begin to think about the Holy Spirit, to invite her into your life, into your breath, into your church.  I want to offer to you three ways to think about how the Spirit is working: 1) in your life, 2) in your church, and 3) in the world.

First, I want you to think about the Holy Spirit when you breathe.  That’s right – at the very basic level of your existence.  Spirit comes from the word spiritus and in Hebrew is the word ruah, which can mean wind, air, mother bird, and breathe.  So with our Confirmation students last year and with our meditation groups during Lent, as well as with one of my college classes I taught this spring semester, I had them take part in a meditation exercise that helps to connect our bodies and breath to the Holy Spirit.  Let’s just try it briefly.  Sit comfortably in your pew with your back straight and your hands in a comfortable position.  Take a slow, deep breath in, and release it.  In and out, three times.  Feels good doesn’t it?  

Now if you feel comfortable, I invite you to close your eyes and listen to this mantra as I guide you with my voice.  On the in-breath:  Holy Spirit fill me; out-breath: Holy Spirit cleanse me.  In: Holy Spirit fill me. Out:  Holy Spirit cleanse me.  Repeat three times silently to yourself as you breathe.

Now how do you feel?  When I do this with small groups and ask this question, I hear words like: peaceful, relaxed, stress relief, focused, clearing my head, centered.  This is a prayer to the Holy Spirit and this is something you can do at almost any time or place – before you get out of bed in the morning, before a meal, after a stressful day, before going to sleep at night.  You can do it in church during the time of silence at confession at the beginning of the service, or during communion.  The breath of God, the Spirit of God is all around you – you need only to take that power into your body through your very breath.  So that’s one way to experience the Holy Spirit.

But another way is through the energy that the Holy Spirit generates.  Remember that it was wind and fire that came into the room where the disciples were gathered.  There’s incredible power in the Holy Spirit, and we experience that in our own church.  Our Youth have this energy which they share in their worship services, in their mission trips and service projects, and in their fellowship that is filled with laughter and joy.  

We also experience that energy in our OAKs senior center.  The Spirit has blown out into the community and drawn in people from all over to experience the fellowship, care, food, and learning that this ministry provides.  Every month there are new faces, which tells us that the Spirit is working and moving among us and through us out into the world. 

And then there’s the Rich Huff Chinese/Silent Auction extravaganza that happened this past weekend.  How poignant that the fire that tragically took the life of Rich has been transformed into the life-giving fire of the Holy Spirit through the work of this church.  In the last four years nearly $20,000 has been raised and children in need have been supported in this community, including a new scholarship given to high school seniors who exemplify the ideals embodied by Rich.  I have a feeling that the Holy Spirit has something even more in mind for this ministry. 
You don’t get this kind of response of over $8000 raised in one weekend without the energy of the Holy Spirit filling all the volunteers who have put in countless hours to make the event a huge success.  The Holy Spirit has something big in mind for this ministry and this church, and I am excited to see where the wind will blow next!

Finally, I want you to think about the Holy Spirit in her other aspect, in terms that Jesus described as Advocate – the one who acts for justice and righteousness.  This is the role of the Holy Spirit out in the world bringing people together across cultures and religions and languages, just like on the day of Pentecost when 3000 people from across the globe were brought together by the work of Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. 

Where do we see that kind of power happening today?  Let me share with you something The Rev. Claire Burkat, Bishop of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, shared with me:

There is an Islamic mosque in Philadelphia at the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society.  In December of last year a severed pig’s head was thrown at the door of the mosque. Just imagine coming to your house of worship and finding a pig’s head on your door step.  But support, care and outrage was expressed to Imam Mohamed Shehata through letters that Bishop Burkat and others sent People surrounded not only the Al-Aqsa Mosque but also the whole Muslim community in Philadelphia with concern and expressions of solidarity. Their Religious Leaders Council, along with the Interfaith Council of Philadelphia was particularly attentive to supporting their Muslim neighbors.

So in January at the Religious Leaders council, the interfaith group composed of a variety of faith leaders from all religions and neighborhoods, Muslim Christian, Jewish, Ba’hai, Sikh, Mormon, Unitarian, Hindu gathered at her invitation at the Lutheran Seminary for a discussion about fear and insecurity. (There’s that Holy Spirit Pentecost moment!) Imam Sheata was there as were several Imans.  Once again he thanked everyone for their support. 

Then Rabbi David Straus spoke up to give a sort of testimony. He said he woke up the day of the picnic sponsored by the Muslim community and did not want to go.

“It was Shabbot” he said, “It was my day off, I had had a hard week. I didn’t want to get dressed and go to West Philly to mingle with people I did not know. But my wife Debbie said. ‘Get dressed, of course you have to go - the Jewish presence is critical at this time.’”

So he dressed and went. Then he told the group that he was so glad he listened to his wife. He had a wonderful time and was thanked constantly from so many from the neighborhood but especially the Muslim community. Sometimes, he said, you have to listen to that other voice, that says go even when you don’t want to.

Then Bishop Burkat said, ”You may call that voice Debbie, but we Christians call it the Holy Spirit.”  Every shared a good laugh!

This is the work of the Holy Spirit, my friends.  In your very body, laughing with you.  Giving you peace through deep breaths of her calming effects.  Gracing our church with energy and power for our ministry. Build loving relationships with our neighbors, and standing with those in need against the ones who would harm them.

I pray that the Holy Spirit will touch you this day and move through your breath and heart and mind and body to feel the power of God in Jesus Christ.  Amen!

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