Sermons That Work

We Talk a Lot…, Lent 5 (A) – 2011

April 10, 2011

We talk a lot about God and Jesus, but rarely do we take much time to talk about the Holy Spirit, the Holy Ghost. And yet, an entire industry has evolved in our culture to market something called spirituality, as if it is a commodity we can purchase, or that there is some body of knowledge about the spirit that can be somehow learned and appropriated. As a friend of mine once said, “You cannot fit the Spirit into a flow chart!”

Watch the snow fall. Each flake born upon the wind. Each flake dances through the air, taking no straight lines, to land just where the wind means to place it. Then remember the words Jesus spoke about the Spirit a few weeks ago when talking with Nicodemus. The spirit is like the wind. We cannot see it, only the effect it has on things like trees and leaves and hats and umbrellas. We know not where it comes from, says Jesus, and we know not where it is going.

So it is, says Jesus, with the spirit.

This Spirit dimension of God is by its very nature at least somewhat unpredictable. Makes one wonder why we desire so much “spirituality.” We tend to want to know where we are going before we agree to go anywhere.

In the Bible, the Hebrew and Greek words used for Spirit mean breath or wind: ruach and pneuma. This wind or breath of God is there at the very beginning of Genesis, at the beginning of creation. Nothing has life apart from this breath, this Holy Wind. We hear it rustling around a pile of dry bones in Ezekiel, bringing a people who were out of energy and inspiration – literally “to breath in” – while in exile, slowly but deliberately stirring them back to life.

And the life of the early church is depicted in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles as being a people who are blown on by the wind and sent to wherever God needs them to do whatever God needs them to do. It is always surprising and new.

So it is with this story of Lazarus. He has been dead for four whole days. In the tomb, wrapped up, dead and gone. While he is sick, his sisters Martha and Mary call for Jesus to come. It is surprising that Jesus, who we are told loves Lazarus and his sisters, does not hurry right over there. The Spirit of God has other plans, unlikely plans, plans that seemingly make no sense.

We desperately want things to make sense. We want to understand the Spirit so life makes sense. But Spirit is not concerned with making sense. Spirit is seemingly concerned with making new life – and making life new.

Surely no one expected Jesus to arrive after Lazarus had died. Surely no one expected him to stand outside the tomb and weep. Surely no one expected him to ask God for help. Surely no one expected him to call into the tomb, “Lazarus, come out!” And surely no one expected the dead man to come out. Just as no one expected the man blind from birth to see. Just as no one expected Jesus to talk with a Samaritan woman, or to hear news of a coming anointed one from such a woman.

And least of all do we expect Martha, the practical sister, the one who sets and clears tables while Mary sits at the master’s feet, to be the one, the first one in John’s gospel to proclaim, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

That should be Mary’s line. And we are also surprised to hear that it is Thomas, the one who throughout the history of the church is to be called “doubting,” who was the one disciple that, after they all acknowledge that to return anywhere near Jerusalem was to risk being stoned to death, suddenly proclaimed, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” How surprising that the doubting one turns out to be the courageous and believing one.

None of it seems to make sense. None of it seems to hold together. So it is with the life of the Spirit. You cannot fit the Spirit into a flow chart.

The practice of yoga is also concerned with spirit and breath. Yoga recognizes that we breathe in the spirit of life and calls us to be attentive to our breathing at all times in all places in all circumstances. Tich Naht Hanh, the revered Vietnamese Buddhist says, “We can be extremely happy just sitting and breathing in and out. We don’t have to do or achieve anything. We enjoy the miracle of simply being here.”

Jesus says Spirit, God’s breath, God’s wind, God’s life-giving spirit, is necessary to go with him that we might die with him. That we might die to our preconceived notions of the Spirit-filled life. That we might die to predictability and be open to newness and surprise. That we might even die to our preconceived notions of Jesus and be open to the surprising new things he says and does.

It seems that, like Lazarus, we tend to want to keep our precious ideas about Jesus entombed as if somehow they will last forever. When we all do this, the life of the church and the life of the Spirit wither and die. The Spirit calls us to roll away the stones from our tombs, unbind him, and let Jesus go. Only when we roll away the stones, unbind him, and let him go, can we be free. Free to follow him wherever he leads.

So we come here week after week to take breathing lessons. We resist change and newness and surprises, but we know deep down inside that we need this breath, this wind, this spirit of God to breathe on us and to breathe through us. We know somewhere inside that we are imago Dei, created in God’s image, and we are meant to be blown upon by the wind like the snow, and sent to places and people we do not yet know.

That is why it is so important that we come back here week after week after week: so that we can inspire – “breathe in” – the Holy Spirit, so that we can share the Spirit, so that we can take breathing lessons, so that we can share the love of God, the breath of God, and the Spirit of God with one another and then with the whole world.

Spirit is an invitation to a life of surprise, a life of new things, a life of new ways of doing things, a life of new ways of knowing God, a life of new ways of seeing others, a life of new ways of being with others and ourselves. Spirit seeks to bring us closer to God, closer to others, and closer to ourselves. It is a way of letting go and letting God.

“Make Us as the Snow,” by the Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek

The snow falls
As if it knows where it is landing,
As if it has direction, purpose,
As if it has been sent

Then blows the wind
Redirecting each flake
Re-routing each crystal
So that suddenly
Without prior notice
Each lands
Just there
And nowhere else

So it is he says
With spirit
For you
For me
For us

And yet
We feel so sure
So certain
So determined

We continue to kid ourselves
Into thinking
That we know
Where we are going

Come, Holy Ghost,
Our souls inspire
Make us as the snow

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Christopher Sikkema


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