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Posts tagged ‘Holy Spirit’

The Breath of Life

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  John 20:21-23 (NRSV)

The Sunday following Easter is traditionally “Doubting Thomas” day.  It’s when the majority of churches talk about Thomas the disciples who demanded to see the marks of the nails in Jesus’ hand and touch the wound in his side.  Thomas wanted “proof” in order to really believe that Jesus was resurrected.  Well, who can blame him!

But the passage hold so much more than the relationship between doubt and faith.  It also talks about the Holy Spirit, and it is the writer of this gospel’s type of Pentecost when Jesus “breathes on the disciples” and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit.  If we want to see it as a metaphor, we can say that it was Jesus commissioning them to carry on his work in the world.  He breathed into them the breath of life through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Look at the last sentence above:  Jesus reminds them that they have the power to forgive sins.  That is part of what the resurrection brings to all humanity.  God forgives us; therefore, we are to forgive others.  So, what does it mean when he talks about retaining them?

When we lack forgiveness toward others, we hold onto unhealthy feelings, stuffing them inside and creating a negative environment in our spiritual, mental, and emotional lives.  It doesn’t mean that we have the power to retain them; rather, Jesus is reminding the disciples (and that includes us) that forgiveness is the way of following Christ.  We have life because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and forgiveness, grace, mercy, compassion, kindness, and love are all part of how we treat others.

Having new life in Christ means that we are transformed and then have the opportunity to find ways to offer hope and transformation to others.  We rise above the unforgiving world and offer life in the midst of chaos, fear, uncertainty, and worry.  The breath of life that Jesus gives even us is the imparting of the Holy Spirit who helps us to live in Jesus’ ways and to forgive others (and even ourselves).

This is hard work!  Yet, we aren’t alone in the journey Jesus has also breathed into us the breath of life, provided the companion for the journey, and given us partners in ministry to do the work we are called to do.

How will you share the breath of life with others?

In what ways has Jesus empowered us to BE the church?

Who do you need to forgive?


Wind and Fire

Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them.  They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.”  (Acts 2:2-4 CEB)

God certainly made a powerful entrance through the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost!  One could hardly ignore the fierce wind and tongues of fire that ushered in the presence and power of the Spirit in the life of the disciples, and thus, the life of the Church of Jesus Christ.

We often call this the birthday of the church – at least it’s the remembrance of the birth of the Church in the world.  As in many families, the Family of God has had it’s share of in-fighting, disagreements, divisions, and angry exchanges over the centuries.  Even back to the Council of Nicaea, the church founders argued over what was the correct interpretation of the scriptures and doctrine of the Christian Church.

There are times today when I just long for the Holy Spirit to “fix” it.  As my mother used to say rather loudly at times, “Why can’t we all just get along?!”  I suppose it’s still human nature to believe that our way is the only way, so that becomes translated into church polity, theology, and Biblical interpretation.

Yet, there are many, many signs that the Church is still doing the work of Jesus in the world.  In spite of our differences, we see many ecumenical gatherings and efforts to communicate with respect, honoring each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.  After all, it IS Christ who is the head of the church and the one who draws us together into the family of God.

“We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord . . . and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” is from the song They’ll Know We are Christians by Our Love by Peter Scholtes (found in the United Methodist Faith We Sing, #2223).  It is that unity (not uniformity) that keeps us moving forward as the Church of Jesus Christ.

That is the wind and fire that continues to flow through the world through churches (the people) who are working in the world to carry on Jesus’ work in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving a cup of cold water to the thirsty, visiting those in prison, caring for the sick, showing compassion to the outcasts, ministering to the needy, etc.

WE make a difference, not because of our differences, but because of our unity in Christ.  Let us celebrate the diversity of gifts we have in the variety of cultures, nations, denominations, and beliefs, knowing that we truly are “one in the Spirit,” and that we can bring Christ to the world through BEING the church in the world:  wind and fire, come to empower us over and over again!

Where have you seen the church at work?

How have you been part of it?

Companion on the Journey

The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.”  John 14:23-29 (CEB)

In John 14:23-29, Jesus was preparing his disciples for his departure.  I totally confused them, and they didn’t understand much of what he was saying until after his death, resurrection, and ascension.  We often put the pieces of the puzzle together after something has happened, and we don’t always see the blessing in our life events until we look back over the timeline of what happened.

As I think about what Jesus tells the disciples in this passage, I take comfort in his promise to not leave them without a powerful resource for living in his ways.  When I attended seminary, I remember wondering how all the pieces of history, ethics, worship, communication, Bible studies, and a number of other areas would fall into place.

Obviously, I couldn’t take my professors with me throughout the time I have been serving churches, so how was I going to put all this together and serve effectively using what I had learned?  To be honest, there were some courses that I questioned their help in my journey, but as I have moved through the twenty-plus years of ministry, I am discovering that everything really DOES mesh together.

Maybe what I’ve learned the most is that the pieces become a whole here and there.  I truly is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.  All of a sudden, a piece fits, and the picture is one step closer to being completed.  Of course, in ministry, let’s face it, the picture is never completed until that day when we see Jesus face to face.

Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would be with the disciples on their journey.  The Spirit would help them to remember what he had taught them, and they would also be able to piece together a larger picture of what it meant to carry on his ministry.

So, how do we, as followers of Jesus in this day and age figure out what it is like to have the Holy Spirit as OUR companion on the journey?  Well, when I think about my professors in seminary, I believe that the Holy Spirit worked through them to teach me about Jesus, the Bible, being in ministry, and so forth.  They were outstanding human beings who were dedicated to helping us learn and grow and become all that we could as pastors.

What I try to get across to the congregations that I serve is that the Holy Spirit works through a variety of ways to speak to us:  scriptures, prayer, friends, church folks, and a whole list of other possibilities.  Our job is to be alert and watching for the Spirit to move, to guide us, to lead us, to help us.  We are only a breath away from our Companion and the companions that God has sent to be with us on our life/faith journeys.

So often people figure that this has to be complicated, and that the Spirit will arrive in some fantastic way (like on the Day of Pentecost).  Yet, when we remember that God spoke to Elijah through the sheer silence in a still small voice, we also can be assured that the Spirit will also speak to us in many ways.  Developing or tuning our hearts so that we are receivers of those blessings will lead us in the right direction.

We are never alone.  Thanks be to God!

How do you “hear” the Holy Spirit at work in your life?

Where are some of the unusual places you have experience the Spirit at work?

How will you share that with others?

What If . . .

And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  Acts 2:2-4 (NRSV)

This coming Sunday is Pentecost when we remember the bold entrance of the Holy Spirit on the disciples.  They had no idea what to expect, and I’m sure they were far from prepared for the scene that unfolded, but then, the Spirit of God doesn’t care about proper entrances or meeting our expectations – thank goodness!

For years I missed the word “violent” when referring to the sound of wind.  I remember being on Cape Cod when Hurricane Bob “whirled” through.  We had boarded up the house and sat with the radio on (since there was no electricity).  My friend’s dogs were quite anxious and agitated and panted through the whole event.  In the end, the hurricane force, violent winds, hadn’t damaged our neighborhood as much as it had other places.

The church I was serving had not been damaged, but the effects of “Bob” were much more visible since the hurricane had traveled up the Cape Cod Canal.  I remember the sound.  The wind was so strong that it shook the house, brought down trees – actually uprooting some – and it left some destruction in its wake.  Fortunately, no lives were lost because, for the most part, people paid attention to the weather people who kept informing us about how to deal with a hurricane and to be sure we were prepared.

At one point, when the eye of the hurricane was overhead, we stepped outside.  The sky was an eerie yellow color, and it was so calm that we could have heard a pin drop.  When the back end of the hurricane came through, the winds were even stronger.  We were thankful that we only lost power for a short amount of time, and it gave me the opportunity to travel to the church to see how things were there.

Because we didn’t have electricity in the entire area, we ended up getting the word out that people could come to the church where we would pool our food and grill whatever people wanted to bring.  The church’s kitchen had a gas stove, and several people brought their gas grills.  One woman brought everything she had from her freezer because it had thawed, so we gathered as church and community to share a meal by candlelight in the basement of the church.  Community was built, and laughter filled the room.

I wonder.  What if the hurricane had not come through.  Would we have found the same connection somewhere along the way?  Or did the “negative” of the hurricane open doors for people to share and laugh and eat and enjoy together?  It seems to me that the latter is what happened.

What if the disciples hadn’t trusted what Jesus asked them to do?  The church wouldn’t exist today.  In spite of all the negatives in the news and from folks who see organized religion as an outdated institution that has little to offer, “Church” really boils down to the people.  The Spirit is at work in our churches – at least a fair number of them.  The Spirit TRIES to be at work in others.

What if – what if we really embraced this Sunday’s message that the Church – that means all of us – can really share the powerful message in the world.  What if the rush of a violent wind were to sweep through our churches this Sunday and send us spilling into the streets, anxious to go home, to work, to our families, to our friends, to our other organizations and really live out our faith in the world?  What if we really believed that the Spirit would open doors for us to connect together and with others as we seek to be faithful in our walk with Jesus, the Christ?

What if we trusted Jesus’ instructions and teachings so that we can truly BE the church in the world?  What if we stopped being afraid of sharing our faith?  What if we allowed ourselves to be “blown away” by the Spirit?

What if?

Come, Holy Spirit

They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.”  Acts 2:4 (CEB)

There are times when I wish we could have the same experience as the disciples did.  Well, in many ways some of DO have experiences of the Holy Spirit that fill us and empower us to speak with wisdom and insight.  Yet, it seems to me that there are also times when we could use a good infusion of a powerful wind and tongue as of fire to wake us up and get our attention. 

One of my colleagues told about preaching on Pentecost Sunday, and he said something about the Holy Spirit coming in with a bang.  At that moment, a door banged shut very loudly as a gust of wind blew into the sanctuary.  It certainly got everyone’s attention!  He didn’t say whether or not he stuck to his planned sermon or really let the Spirit lead him a new direction, but what an opportunity!

Maybe my longing for the Spirit to come in with a bang is to wake folks up to God’s presence with us in this world.  It’s way too easy to sit week after week in the sanctuary and nod politely to what the pastor is preaching, but then not take it in so that it begins to change your life.  I’m not saying that the pastor even has that kind of power, but hopefully, the one who is preaching has invoked the Holy Spirit and prayed for God to speak through them.  Of course, we who preach have to trust that God IS working through us in spite of ourselves.

As I think about it, though, the Spirit really is at work in our churches in ways we don’t always recognize.  Opening our eyes and minds, and ears and hearts to the work of the Spirit is an important step to beginning to see the Spirit at work.  Maybe this Sunday as we celebrate Pentecost, we can have an attitude of being open to what the Spirit is trying to tell us and where the Spirit is leading us.  May it be so.

What Now?

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.  In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.”  (John 14:18-19 NRSV)

This is a passage that is read most often at memorial and funeral services.  The intention is to provide assurance and encouragement to everyone as they ask the questions about where their loved one went and will they every seem them again.  Perhaps the most familiar part of John 14 is at the beginning when Jesus tells his disciples, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” (verses 2-3)

The subsequent verses build on that promise.  Jesus has died and been raised from the dead, and he appears to his disciples over the following forty days to reassure them, to remind them of what he taught them, to help them bring it all together in their minds and hearts, and then to commission them.  Some of us might say, “Sure, it was easy for them, they had first hand experience and knowledge of Jesus; after all, they saw him in person.”  So what about us?

The passage from John 14:15-21 reminds us that, even though Jesus isn’t present with us in the flesh, he has sent the “Advocate” the Holy Spirit who reminds us of his teachings and calls us out of our fears and worries and challenges so that we reach out to others to share our own stories and experiences of the risen Christ.  People question and want proof, and there is proof right in front of them – through us.

Okay, so maybe our faith is a little shaky at times, maybe we worry that we won’ be able to witness to our faith in “the right way,” maybe we think we have to be confident and strong in our ability to quote scripture or speak just the right words or act in just the right way.  God doesn’t call us to be perfect (as in “flawless”), but God does ask us to be ourselves.  We are all God’s children, and as believers in the resurrected Christ, we have faith to share whether we speak about it or act on it (hopefully both). 

Christ commissions us to live in the world as his followers and to share our faith in ways that bring the presence of Christ to others.  Sounds like a huge job, but in essence, it is really living the faith that is already in us.  We aren’t sent forth with God standing at the door of the church waving good bye and telling us to have a good day; rather, the Spirit goes with us, along with the rest of the family of God who support, encourage, build up and help to keep us growing in faith. 

I joke with my congregations all the time about “my list.”  When someone asks me a question that I just don’t know how to answer (because many of those questions only God can answer), I tell them that it’s on “my list” for when I get to heaven.  Of course, once I get there, the list won’t matter anyway.  Jesus reminds us that we see God through him, and the Spirit’s presence with us keeps us in faith and knowing that one day we will see God face to face, just as we will see our loved ones again.

We can never fully experience God’s love because it’s far to large to even describe, but we can experience some of it, and we can share it so others experience it, too.  The power of God’s love flows through us in our willingness to show forgiveness, reconciliation, compassion, and kindness to others.  May we find our confidence in God’s love as we continue to walk the journey of faith with the power of the Holy Spirit in and with us.

The “Cost” of Pentecost

Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  Acts 2:21 NRSV

The Holy Day of Pentecost has been often overlooked or ignored as not that important, but it is important in that it recognized and signifies the birth of the church and issues a challenge to the church in all time.

We most often associate the powerful wind that roared into town and tongues resembling fire resting on the heads of the apostles.  In our churches we wear red, maybe bring in geraniums (for the red), have fans blowing to remind us of the wind, and retell the story with an emphasis on the first 13 verses of Acts 2.

Interestingly, the scripture readers for the day (sometimes including clergy) are terrified about all the names that are listed in those first 13 verses, so they miss emphasizing the remainder of the passage which contains Peter’s sermon and invitation to the assembly.

Just to back up a little, the apostles were given the ability to speak in different languages so that the ethnically diverse group of people in Jerusalem could understand the good news of the gospel in their own tongue.  This wasn’t a moment of what is known as glossolalia where people are filled with the Holy Spirit and speak in an entirely unknown language that has to be interpreted.  This is a gift of speaking in another language so that those who didn’t speak Aramaic would be able to hear the message in their own language.

Peter’s sermon reminded the listeners that the prophet Joel had envisioned this day when everyone – EVERYONE – would be able to praise and glorify God in Jesus Christ.  Peter’s boldness was nothing but a gift of the Spirit since he had denied Jesus after Jesus was arrested.  Peter’s newfound send of courage came from God and the church was born.

In our celebrations of Pentecost, we often concentrate on the church and the gift of the church.  Somehow it becomes all about us again, but the purpose of Pentecost and the birth of the church has to do with how the church points to God.  In the last verse of this section of Acts 2, which is written above, we are reminded that we are called to move outwardly – toward others, to invite others to know Jesus, to welcome him into their hearts and believe in him.

The United Methodist Church states that our work is to “go make disciples.”  So the church is not only called to nurture, teach, and grow together, but also to send each other forth in the name of Jesus, the Christ, in order to make disciples.  We open doors and plant seeds so that others can come to know Christ.  That is the purpose of the church.

Pentecost is a continuing event in the life of the church and in the world.  The Spirit is at work, and we are invited to partners with God through the Spirit’s work in the world.  May it be so!

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