Sunday, May 28, 2017
Biblical Text: Galatians 3:1-9, 23-25
I saw Trina again today. I had just left Starbucks with a fresh hot cup of coffee sitting in my cup holder as I turned the corner on Market Street at the Malcolm X Library. She was shaking out her shirt on the corner. I pulled to the corner and reached for the cash I wanted to give to her yesterday, as I saw her dash for the bus on Kelton Road.
“Trina,” I called. And a bright smiled appeared on her face as I fumbled in my wallet deciding if I wanted to part with Jackson or Hamilton. I placed the cash on her hands—and whispered a hope-filled prayer that she would have a good day. I watched in my rearview mirror as she walked on….
Today was the third time I saw this woman this week. We met on Wednesday afternoon, as we sat on the bench outside the Fellowship Hall and talked for a good thirty minutes. She shared with me her story. A story that has become all too familiar these days.
Her family’s betrayal.
Her struggle with addiction.
Her struggle with depression.
Her fight through abuse.
Her current status as jobless and homeless
Her current health crisis.
Her struggle with faith.
Her struggle to pray—her struggle with church.
What drew Sister Trina to the church was the banner at the entrance–I banner that we’ve kept outside for nearly 5 years: “Jesus didn’t reject people. Neither do we.” The language is not owned by our church, but is the denominational language of the United Church of Christ–language that speaks to the theological underpinnings which guard and shape the kind of inclusive welcome of all persons that is at core what it means to be United Church of Christ congregation.
Trina and I sat on the bench and rested together, before I returned to my office to prepare for bible study. We watched the wind move the palm trees back and forth. We saw the birds glide carelessly through air. I shared the Good News of God’s awesome love, and invited her to join us for the Wednesday evening meal and bible study.
The Spirit was at work. IN ME. IN HER. IN US.
For the next few weeks we are going to be talking about the Holy Spirit. In this sermon series to spend some time demystifying the Holy Spirit. I want to spend some talking answering some questions about the Holy Spirit. What is the Holy Spirit? Do you have the Holy Spirit? When did you get the Holy Spirit? How do you know you have the Spirit? How does the Spirit manifest itself in our lives.
As we move to celebrate Pentecost–the day the church given life in the Spirit we are going to focus on the Spirit. The Holy Spirit one of the most controversial, difficult, divisive and often misunderstood doctrines of the Church–especially between Mainline Protestants on the one hand and Pentecostals on the other. So often the experiences of the Holy Spirit and talk within the Church about the Spirit—especially within old school Black worshipping communities induce more fearful following than faithful following. That is because so often in our circles we talk less about the Holy Spirit and more about the Holy Ghost. It is utterly amazing what a simply shift in language is able to do widen the reach–and broaden the wide expanse of the Gospel in our lives.
Many of us on the mainline side–are a little Holy Spirit resistant. In the way that many from the Pentecostal church tradition run to the Holy Spirit–spend time in worship tarrying with and for the Spirit’s presence there–while those on the mainline side of the church –those who are Congregational, Episcopal, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, often run from the Holy Spirit. The problem, as I’ve come to explore and identify it, it not so much that there is lack of the Spirit’s presence–but there is lack of understanding in the workings of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Too much of our knowledge has been shaped and contoured by what we have been taught to name as the manifestations of the Spirit, those outward signs of Pentecostalism: talking in tongues–that can’t nobody understand, worship services that are filled with charismatic chaos, folks dancing in the aisle, mothers jerking and quickening in the pew, people passing out after having been prayed over, nurses of the church scurrying around to find white sheets to cover skirts that have risen above the knee, and worship services that move well beyond the noon-time hour. And what we say of those persons who find themselves caught up by these spirited expressions is, “That’s good for them types…but that’s not for me. We don’t carry on like that.”
Too much of our thinking about the Holy Spirit, and its manifestation within the life of the church revolves around the Pentecostal charismatic expression that has been impressed upon our memory–and what we hear of those spirited experiences is that “they had church” in an effort to diminish, downgrade and altogether lessen the manifestation of the Spirit in other settings of the church.
The Pentecostal Church does not own the Holy Spirit.
The Church of God, Assemblies of God, nor the Church of God in Christ have a copyright claim on the Spirit. The Spirit belongs to all who claim its power and presence in their communnal and individual lives.
You cannot judge the presence of the Holy Spirit by what you see in worship, but judge the presence of the Spirit by how ones life is lived and what one does with the life they are have been given. Jurgen Moltmann writes,
“People do not only experience the Holy Spirit outwardly in the community of their church. They experience it to a much greater degree inwardly, in self-encounter–as the experience that “God’s love has poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
I hope I see Trina again this week—cause I want to feel the Spirit alive in me, challenging and provoking me to love somebody other than myself, in Jesus name.
In preparation for this extended series on the Holy Spirit, I’ve been doing a great of study of church history–and I’ve especially been paying attention to the way in which the early church fought together in the faith. We experienced, in our Narrative Lectionary last week, a church fight that Paul had about whether or not he, as Jew by birth, should sit down eat with Gentiles because if violated the religious law. Paul vigorously argued in last weeks readings that the unity of the community–the idea of bring the entire body of Christ at one single table–was more important than separating people in an effort to maintain a lawful tradition. The Spirit was at work in Paul, because Paul had spent time at work with the Spirit.
These kinds of church fights happened–fights that crystalized the doctrinal beliefs of the church. Paul argued, not simply that Gentiles ought to be able to sit at the table–but that because Christ consistently modeled a way of welcome and inclusivitiy, because Christ consistently modeled a way of love and grace–even when it meant standing in contradiction to the letter of the religious law, Christ consistently choose people over the promulgation of the law.
Lord, I hope we see Trina this week!
Lord, please send Trina to each of us this week!