The spirit is moving
among us in many ways this morning, and we continue in that spirit as we
share this text for reflection, from Paul's letter to the Romans, the
consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth
comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19For the
creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of
God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will
but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the
creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will
obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that
the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; 23and
not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of
the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption
of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is
not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we
do not see, we wait for it with patience.
the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as
we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for
words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of
the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to
the will of God.
I've preached on this text a couple of
times before, not that I would expect that anyone might remember that J,
but I never have in the context of Pentecost. And it is a text
typical of Paul, and especially the letter to the Romans, that is full
of meaning. It's a loaded passage, all kinds of deep theological
concepts -- impossible to completely unpack in 1 sermon. So this
morning I simply want to focus on the work of the holy spirit, and this
idea of creation waiting for redemption from that work.
Reading this text in
light of Pentecost, when the church was born and that spirit was poured
out onto the first disciples, casts this passage (for me) in a whole new
light that changes even the way that I see Pentecost. Typically, I
think we celebrate Pentecost in the church as a time of church renewal,
by and through the spirit. So we come this morning with all of our
bright red and yellow (I hope you noticed my color-coordinated tie --
you'd think that Leitha, who does our decorations, was in cahoots on
that, but that's the working of the spirit, you see, that it came
together so well this morning). But if I understand what Paul is
saying to us, such an understanding -- that it is the church's holiday,
that it's all about the church -- totally misses the point. So pay
represents the birth of the church, we tend to view the holy spirit as
the possession of the church. Something that is found
"in" church (we hope). Or that the church passes on to
new believers. When nothing could be further from the truth.
As Jesus tells Nicodemus - 'The wind blows where it will, you neither
know from whence it came or wither it goes'. So too with the
spirit. And Paul says that God knows the mind of the spirit,
suggesting that we cannot know it. When we are lost and
confounded, it is the spirit that intercedes for us with a sigh too deep
In other words, we do
not speak for the spirit, the spirit speaks for us.
Do you know the sound
of that sigh? I suspect you do. The sigh that unloads the
weight of the world and the worries of a lifetime. I'd like to try
that out this morning -- I'd like to invite you to sigh with me.
To simply take in all of the stress of work. All of the worries
(not yet, that looks like a yawn out there J)
that you have of the world, your family. I want you to just take
all of that in and on the count of three to let it out. Are you
ready? 1 - 2 - 3. Aaaauuuuugggghhhhh.
Doesn't that feel
You see that's the
sigh that's too deep for words. It says it all. Note -- what
did you have to do to express that sigh? You had to breathe!
You had to take a breath in, a big breath to then let it all out.
And what is breath? In the Greek, breath is the same word as
spirit. That is the spirit of God that we breathe in. It is
the wind that moves across the face of creation in the creation
story. It is the spirit of God that Ezekiel speaks about that
gives breath, new life, to those bones that are brought together in that
vision of the valley of the dry bones. That is the breath of life.
My thanks to JoAnne
Flanders this week that brought to my attention the interview in Eugene
Weekly a couple of months ago with Mason Williams, that intensely
creative son of Eugene who wrote music and poetry, comedy, and appeared
in many creative endeavors. Product of the baby-boomer generation,
I'm just curious whether or not our younger folk are aware. Who
can tell me (under the age of 30) the piece of music for which Mason
Williams is most known? Classical gas! And the T.V. show he
is most associated with? The Smothers Brothers! Kids are
going 'Smothers who?'. Great comedy show in the late 60s &
In that interview in
the Eugene Weekly, Mason Williams said: "I want to be more
like God was in the beginning. In the beginning, God had a
creative life, and along came religion, and then he had a career.
When you have a career, you are living your life through institutions,
not the full spectrum of living that's out there".
Now who knew in
addition to being a comedian and a songwriter, he's also a
theologian?! And I suspect that is a bit of the comedian in
Williams, poking fun at religion, this notion that God had a
career. But he has a good point. God is most alive in that
creative spirit which is not bound to any institution or limited by the
confines of career. The creative spirit of God is all about
bringing the full spectrum of living to life. I want to come back
to that point in just a moment.
But first I have to
take note of one more quote from the same interview -- I notice JoAnne
didn't underline this one J
-- later in the interview, when he was commenting on the sorry state of
television, and he said: "You're in this kind of stupor, just
sitting there absorbing things. It's kind of like being in
church". I sure hope he wasn't talking about this
church! If that's what church is like here, just take me out and
shoot me now, put me out of my misery.
The greatest sin a
church can ever commit, I am convinced, is not heresy, it's not
debauchery, it's not even blasphemy, but rather it is to be
boring. Which is the same as 'stupor', in that what it means is that
you have a lack of cranial activity, right? If there is one single
reason why the mainline churches are dying, I think that's it.
Because if you're boring, you have no creativity, you have no spirit,
you have no gift of life. I sure hope that's not us. I want
us to be engaged, alive, thinking Christians, filled with that spirit of
creativity and life.
And that is what
Pentecost is about. It's the spirit of life given to the church,
the fresh wind of creation, the breath of God, the spirit of fire.
Whatever you want to call it, I assure you that on that first day of
Pentecost, when it had blew amongst those disciples and they were so
caught up in it that people thought they were drunk, I guarantee you
that there was nobody there on that day who would have said "it's
So in that spirit,
let me pose this question, first posed by my good friend and biblical
scholar John Dominic Crossan (who else?!) -- it may be a little over the
edge, but it'll get us thinking -- "Is your Christian faith more
like sex, or more like politics?"
Oh, we don't talk
about that in church -- politics, you know J.
Don't look at me, they took my prostate out J.
I mean, that'll get
you thinking, right?! In other words, is it a private affair just
between you and God, or is it something that involves the whole public,
done out in the open in front of God and everyone? And I hope you
know that here I'm talking about politics, OK, otherwise we're in real
trouble and you better come see me J.
The problem is, I
think, we've made religion a private affair. It's just between me
and God, and rarely do we discuss it outside of church. Certainly
not something to do in public. And that's why I like those
comments that Robin made in that video, about taking your faith into the
And so in addition to
being boring, churches become an irrelevant activity of consenting
adults kept out of the public view. And if there's one person who
I think is trying to change all of that, among many who are, but one is
Bishop John Shelby Spong. He was here a week-and-a-half ago, and as
I said last Sunday, we had about 25 of us who went to hear his
lecture, and about 20 of those gathered on Wednesday evening to talk
about what they heard, and to de-brief it, and to talk about the
implications of that. And one of the outcomes of it is that we're
going to have a book study on his latest book, "The Sins of
Scripture". We're going to start that in the next couple
weeks, so if you're interested in that and haven't already E-mailed me
about it, let me know.
And that's a good
start. But a book study is not nearly enough if we are to even
take a small part of Spong's challenge to the church seriously. So
listen to what he has to say in his next-to-last book, "A New
Christianity for a New World", in which he confesses his faith, and
he outlines his hope and vision for the church:
is infinitely real to me. Jesus is for me, not only a
God-presence, but the doorway into the reality of God who is beyond my
capacity to understand. I am a person of prayer, which for me
means contemplating the meaning of God as life, love, and being and
acting that meaning out. I am a person with deep ethical
commitments, which for me means becoming an agent of life, love, and
being to every other person through both individual and corporate
behavior. My hope of heaven lies in the ability to share in the
eternity of God, who is the source of life and love and the ground of
this new understanding of God, churches will cease being
behavior-controlling institutions and become institutions dedicated to
the empowerment and expansion of life. Worship will become the
celebration of the power of God, who is present in the heart of
life. Christian education will become the search for truth
rather than the indoctrination of the faithful. Life in
community will be important because it will help free us to live
fully, love wastefully, and be all that we are capable of
Christianity becomes not something to be believed, but a faith
into which we must live a vision that stands before us, inviting us to
Sounds a lot like
Mason Williams talking about God before God became
institutionalized. And Spong concludes:
the agenda of the future of the church is not to impose its
"truth" on anyone, but to work for the realm of God in every
arena. To enhance the life of all. To expand the love for
all. And to encourage the being of all.
In the final
analysis, Pentecost, you see, has nothing to do with the renewal of the
church, really. Except perhaps as the first fruits of this new
creation of the spirit. Pentecost, instead, is about the
transformation of all creation. It's about the spirit of God
moving across the face of the world since the beginning of time.
To bring the most possible life and goodness out of all being.
It's not about us, about the church. It's about God's world and
the ways in which God is at work in it. Creating and transforming,
birthing and redeeming.
There was a time when
we could say the church was the first fruit of that work of the
spirit. Whether we are now, or will be in the future, depends on
our openness to that creative, life-giving spirit that blows with the
wind. That works among us like tongues of fire. That
breathes with a sigh that is too deep for words.
And if we truly are
open to that spirit, then we will be like God at creation -- working for
the realm of God in every arena, to enhance the life of all, to expand
the love for all, and to encourage the being of all.
May it be.