I’m planning to write a post on Pope Francis and the reaction he’s getting from progressive Christians. Until then, I share this sermon from 2004. It was written during a pretty challenging time in my life.
“Waiting to Inhale”
Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-16
Lake Harriet Christian Church
June 6, 2004
I had plans to share with you a deep, theological sermon about the role of the Holy Spirit and what it should mean for this congregation. When I talked with Terry last week, I shared my ideas and together we planned the service. However, something happened between last week and now, that is, my life. As most of you know, I was laid off from my job a month ago. It was all rather sudden. There had been rumors that our office might be let go, but the management said we were going to be moving to our new digs and we all prepared for the move. Then on Monday morning, we were called in and told we were no longer needed.
This was not an easy thing for many of us. Many people had made big purchases including myself, buying houses and cars not knowing that they would soon be out of a job. So, for the last month, I’ve been busy looking for work. While it maybe true that the economy is picking up, I can attest the job market is still sluggish. I’ve sent out hundreds of resumes and haven’t heard much, though there are some glimmers of hope. Being unemployed is probably one of the worse things one can go though emotionally. In a culture where one is defined by what they do, to not have a job makes you feel worthless. It’s even worse when you have all the education needed for a job and you are not given a second look by companies. If there is ever a time that one can feel abandoned by friends and by God, that is now.
In today’s text, the Apostle Paul talks about boasting in our sufferings. He states, suffering produces endurance, endurance leads to character and character leads to hope. Now, on its face, this seems like Paul is not taking suffering very seriously. Paul sounds like one who has never known suffering and is offering silly self-help dribble to people who need much more than that. However, Paul ends this statement by saying that hope does not disappoint us because the Holy Spirit has poured God’s love into our hearts.
What does the Holy Spirit has to do with all this? In today’s Gospel text, we get to listen in to Jesus’ “farewell speech.” In chapter 16 Jesus starts talking about going away, meaning his death and his ascension. He tells the disciples that God will send a Paraclete or advocate to them who will remind them of his presence. Jesus is stating that the Holy Spirit will come and serve as witness to Jesus, make the case that God through Jesus came into this world and saved it out of love.
The Holy Spirit is a living reminder of God’s work in Jesus, which is still active today. We saw that reminder on the first Pentecost when the disciples were infused with the Spirit and began spreading the good news of liberation and salvation in Jesus. However, the spirit is not limited to just the four walls of a church, because the spirit can’t be contained. Jesus talks about the Spirit as one that reminds the world of God’s justice. Therefore, we saw the Spirit at work during the civil rights movement. We saw the Spirit at work in South Africa as many South Africans rose up against the racist apartheid regime. We saw the Spirit at work as communist regimes in Eastern Europe fell one by one. The Spirit serves as witness to God’s justice in the world.
However, the Spirit does not only work on a grand scale. Let’s go back to my situation. There are times when I just feel worthless because I don’t yet have a job. Even then, the Holy Spirit is present “pouring God’s love” on me as Paul says. I’m reminded of that love in various ways and many of those ways are right in front of me. You see, the Spirit works in this community called the church. I am reminded that God loves me because I know that many people are praying for me and have concern for me. The love that you show is a powerful reminder that God loves me regardless of my station in life. That is the work of the Spirit.
I don’t think I am far off in saying that I’m not the only one here this morning who feels abandoned by God. What I can say is this: allow yourselves to receive the love poured out by the Spirit. Inhale the love, take a big breath and be reminded of God’s love for you. Be reminded that God cares for all of God’s creation so much that he came in the form of Jesus to live, suffer and die for us. Being a follower of the Risen Christ doesn’t mean that we get to skip the personal hells that we sometimes fall into. However, the hard times can produce hope in Christ through the Spirit.
As a congregation on the corner of 50th and Beard in Southwest Minneapolis, we have must be empowered by the Spirit to go out and bring this message of hope to those who are in crisis and there are many. Many people are looking for work or dealing with divorce or some other private tribulation. Some are wondering where there next meal is coming from or maybe they are refugees moving to a new culture or maybe it’s someone that has to deal with discrimination because of who they are. Let us go out from these walls empowered by the Spirit reminding these folks that God loves them. Let us do this not only in word, but also in deed, in acts of justice.
One of my favorite writers, Fredrick Beuchner, one said this of pastors and the sermons that they give:
“The trouble with many sermons is not so much that the preachers are out of touch with what is going on in the world or in books or in theology but that they are out of touch with what is going on their own lives and in the lives of the people they are preaching to. Whether their subject is hope or faith or charity or anything else, let them speak out of the living truth of their own experience of those high matters. Let them have the courage to be themselves.”
I hope I was able to be myself today. Even though I don’t feel it, I am reminded that I am loved by God because of what Jesus did on the cross. The Spirit reminds me that no matter how worthless I might feel right now, I am loved by God. I hope you can go out beyond these walls and be yourselves as well.
Hope does not disappoint us. I’m glad that God has not given up on me. I hope you remember that too. Amen.