a sermon by Lia Scholl
Last week we talked about John 3:8, and the Holy Spirit, and how she blows where she chooses, and you hear the sound of her, but you do not know where she comes from or where she goes.
And I compared the Holy Spirit in our lives to the wind that picks up a kite—and the balance between being tethered to the ground, like a kite must be, but also must be free to fly. If we are too tightly tethered, whether to the past, to conflict, or to control, we will not thrive.
But then I found myself asking, “How do you know when the Holy Spirit is working in your life?” And if you find that she is not, how do you invite the Holy Spirit to work?
Today’s text is found in Acts 19:1-12, and in it we find Paul meeting a dozen men in Ephesus who claim to believe in Jesus. When Paul asks if they have received the Holy Spirit, the men scratch their heads, confessing that they’ve never even heard of the Holy Spirit.
So Paul asks, “Into what were you baptized?” They respond that they were baptized under John’s ministry.
Paul sets out to explain the difference between a baptism of repentance (metanoia, in Greek) and the kind of baptism inaugurated by Jesus. A baptism of repentance signifies a change of mind that is at once intellectual and existential, which is certainly a step in the right direction, but it’s not all the way, according to Paul’s understanding.
So something was missing. One scholar says it this way: “The key element was the living presence of God in the life of the believers.”
Paul was asking, How is your life in the Spirit now? Did the Christ-followers live their lives aware of, open to, filled with, and guided by the Spirit of God?”
So I’m asking “How is your life in the Spirit now?”
Now I’m sure that life in the Spirit isn’t the same for everyone. That’s why the Bible goes back and forth about speaking in tongues… it doesn’t manifest for everyone in the same way. But there are signs that the spirit is showing up in your life.
Galatians 5:22-23 tells us “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control.”
In our world batted about by horrible news of children being ripped from their parent’s arms at the border, or left at school while their parents are being detained by ICE, are you experiencing joy?
In facing our deepest fears of death, whether by gun violence, terrorism, or super storms, are you experiencing peace?
In the busyness of your daily grind—working too hard for too little money— are you finding ways to practice kindness, generosity, and goodness?
In the minutiae of your life, cleaning the kitchen one more time, wiping someone else’s hair off the floor one more time, mowing the lawn one more time, facing traffic one more time, are you experiencing self-control?
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control…These are the marks of a life lived in the Spirit.
How is your life in the Spirit now?
And then when we look at our church—do you see the Spirit here? In our worship together, are you experiencing love? In our Sunday school classes, are you practicing kindness? Do our Council meetings bring you joy?
Y’all just looked at me like I’m crazy. Do I actually believe that our Administrative Council meetings and our Quarterly Church Conferences should bring us joy?
Absolutely. They should bear those same fruits of the Spirit.
So you’re looking at your life, and thinking, I’m not so sure my life bears that kind of fruit. I don’t feel joyful, am not full of love, in fact, I’m having a hard time right now. Maybe it makes you wonder, “How could I get some of that Spirit?”
I love to think about the Spirit as wanting to be a part of our lives—which makes it not so much about me needing to do something to get the Spirit, but instead to be open to her. Mary Oliver wrote, “The spirit likes to dress up like this: ten fingers, ten toes, shoulders, and all the rest.”
I also love to think about how different our church, our community, and our world would be different if we were able to be open to the Spirit.
I mean, I know some people who are filled with the Spirit—and they are the most joyful, the most loving, the most patient, while continuing to work for change in this world.
In fact, given that this is the 2nd anniversary of the mess that was Charlottesville—
I can tell you that I saw the Spirit working through the activists who were standing up against the white supremacists.
The one who sticks out in my mind the most is Rev Osagyefo Sekou, an activist, author, documentary filmmaker and theologian. With his Deep Abiding Love Project, he trained over 5,000 activists in militant non-violent civil disobedience.
He would say “The first rule of non-violent protest is “preservation of life.” The second is “live to fight another day.” He taught us how to lie on our right sides, to protect our one liver, and to lie on top of the person to our right, to protect their two kidneys. He needed us to understand that deep abiding love is hard in the face of violence.
But deep abiding love is what I saw from the clergy that day. Deep abiding love puts it body between hatred and innocence. Deep abiding love offers hospitality in the face of danger.
Rev. Sekou recalled that the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville were “yelling primarily homophobic slurs.” He said, “We would just sing, and it would change the atmosphere. we would get our folks to sing with those persons yelling at them, you could literally see a change that would bring the temperature down. So when we’re singing This Little Light of Mine and someone is yelling a homophobic slur, it would just so so off that they would just stop.”
That’s life in the Spirit.
Deep abiding love in the face of violence.
Joy in the face of homophobic slurs.
Peace in the onslaught of fascism.
Patience, which is knowing-we’ve-already-won in the presence of oppression.
Kindness, even when violence is threatened.
Goodness when it seems like bad-ness is everywhere.
Self-control, when there’s a whirlwind of out-of-control in the world.
And all you have to do is be open, because the Spirit wants to be embodied by you. She wants to fly your kite. She wants to dress up in YOUR ten fingers and ten toes, your shoulders, and all the rest.
If you want to be open, please pray with me.
Holy Spirit, breathe in me.
Holy Spirit, breathe in me.
Here are my ten fingers, and my ten toes, and my shoulders, and all the rest.
Holy Spirit, breathe in me.