Witnessing The Spirit

[]A few moments ago, I talked to the children about hearing the Holy Spirit like the rush of a violent wind, and we do listen for the Spirit in many ways. As adults we know that that is not the only way we might perceive the Spirit, but for kids it's a good start. At times while praying quietly at home or setting time aside to listen to the Spirit speaking to you, some of you may have heard that still, small voice. Others may have heard something more like the rush of a violent wind. I encourage you to continue to find daily time and space to hear and sense the Spirit in your lives. If you need a place to better focus and want to be in the presence of the church, please come by. There may be the sound of jackhammers outside during the road construction, but that does not mean that in this holy space you won't experience the Holy Spirit. One of the things that keeps us coming back to this space here at Grace is that the Spirit is present here, and at times it touches and moves us greatly.

Listening for the Spirit is a big part of who we are as people of the Spirit. In conversations with our Consistory on our recent retreat, we spent some intentional time in prayer listening for the Spirit, and then some intentional time talking about our faith, about our life here in the church and where the Spirit may be leading us. And the Spirit spoke to me in the midst of that gathering and sharing when some people said, "I'm very busy in the church, I do all these things, but I still feel like something's missing." I asked, "Do you feel like you want and need to be closer to God? and there was some resonance with that. And there's probably some resonance in all of us when we hear that. That may be because, in the Reformed tradition, we are known to be people who hold God in our minds, and some in our hearts. But we're not the most emotional people. I think that goes back to the German stoics who tended not to show or express feeling.

One of the reasons for the rise in contemporary music in today's churches is that in singing those praise songs you feel something different. You feel that presence of the Spirit, which is something that we feel here at different times, but maybe not every Sunday. One of the things that may be good for us in the future is to find ways to tap into that feeling of the Spirit in every service. How do we feel that Spirit? How do we sense that Spirit in our lives? But then the trick is to be able, after walking out of the doors of the church, to feel the presence of the Spirit going with us into our daily lives.

So feeling the Spirit is a big part of who we are when we witness the presence and power of the Spirit. We hear it in the sound of a small voice, the voice of a child, the person who says the most profound thing, or a thought that comes to our mind that makes us think, "I didn't realize that that was the Spirit speaking to me, giving me wisdom for something I couldn't figure out for the longest time and then there it was." So we can hear the Spirit. We can feel the Spirit in the things we do: the singing, the praying, the acts of charity, and the love that we give, and I see that. And I talked about our Consistory retreat and witnessing that something was happening in our church leadership. The Spirit is starting something new with us and there is movement afoot, and they will be talking about that in a few weeks.

But I see other things happening here in our community, and some of that is occurring at the Carpenter's Table. I noticed not only with our church members, but with some of the people arriving for the meal, that there's a difference from what I saw a year ago. There seems to be a few more people, a few more families, and I'm starting to sense a bit more desperation. But as the community came together and the people were being fed, I saw the Spirit in action right there through the hands of our members and friends who helped prepare the meal. And I saw the Spirit in the people who were called and moved to be there to present their need and to be filled. And the Spirit is growing in this particular ministry in Taneytown. Through Caring & Sharing, another church has said they would like to participate in this meal program so we'll be adding in a fifth church. And there's a sixth group trying to get started too. Perhaps it's the economy raising awareness in us that there will be more people needing assistance. Or perhaps it is the Spirit reminding us that at any moment any one of us could be in need, and that everyone around us who is struggling is truly our brother and sister. I have noticed that the Spirit has been moving not only in this church, but in other churches and other organizations in our area to do more and more. And that is exciting. I hope that when the economy improves, we won't lose ground to the way the Spirit has been moving us as a community and as a nation with people reaching out more and more to one another.

But the Spirit is moving among us, and we are witnesses to these very things that are happening today. We were not in that room to witness the tongues of fire and the rush of violent wind. I can't imagine how profound that might have been. The Spirit moved those early disciples to form the church and they organized themselves and ministered to all who had need, and today that tradition continues. But it is not simply something we do because it is a tradition; it is something we do because there is a Spirit in us that draws us to God. There is a Spirit in us that says, "Something is still missing. There is something important that God is calling me to do and I need to figure that out. There is to be something more profound in my life that maybe is not there or hasn't been fully achieved yet." That is the Spirit that moves us, calling us to discern what it is that God is calling us to do. We will figure that out by discerning the Spirit. We will figure that out as we understand what gifts each of us has. In coming weeks, we will be reading Scripture passages about the gifts of the Spirit. And when we get to that, I'd like you to be thinking about what spiritual gifts God has given to you. And if the word 'spiritual' gets in the way for you, just think of it as gifts or talents that God has given to you that might be used for the ministry of Christ that the Spirit might be urging you to use. You may not know what they are; you may just feel a sense of being called or drawn.

As I was reading about the season of Pentecost and how the Spirit comes to us, I recognized some words that I use frequently in worship: that the Spirit leads us, or guides us, or directs us. And in this church we very much sense that God is leading, directing and guiding us through the movement of the Spirit. But there were other words that we may not use as frequently: the Spirit inspires, the Spirit urges us to do the work of Christ, and the Spirit also empowers us. That is a very clear and key term for us, that when we are moving with the Spirit we will be empowered to do those things. They might be amazing and monumental things, or they might be simple things, but the Spirit will be there to empower us. And that is something we will focus on this summer in the season of Pentecost, about how inspiration and empowerment can move us to new heights in our own spiritual journeys and together as a church.

So hold onto the sense that the Spirit has arrived in our lives again today, and begin to fill yourself with hope that the Spirit has new things in store for the church and for your personal life so that you will feel more profoundly and closely connected to God.

Pentecost; May 31, 2009

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