Posts

“Into the Potter’s Hands”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11

 

Acts 19:1-710

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied — altogether there were about twelve of them.

 

Mark 1:4-11

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

John the Baptist,

He preached repentance for sins and alerted the people to watch for the one more powerful to come – who will baptize them with the Holy Spirit.

Well, that’s what we’re told, and yet here in Ephesus, Apollo finds some believers who did not hear or understand that part of the message – the part about the One to Come and Baptism by the Holy Spirit.

– Doesn’t this sound familiar:  part of the message getting lost in translation? –

 

This is often what we experience in our relationships with one another.  We hear some but not all.  We remember this, but not that.

And in John’s day, folks weren’t recording his speech by phone or taking notes on their pocket-notebooks or planners.  They weren’t documenting events by email or even tablets.  His words were to be experienced.  The whole experience was one – not to be preserved but to be lived.

And yet, these believers are still doing the hard work.  They are doing that work of repentance.  And that means they are actively and intentionally making room for Christ in their lives – whether or not they know or foresee Christ’s coming.

 

Despite missing a significant part of John’s message, they have done what most find hardest:  repentance.  And for Apollo to be finding them, we know Christ has already been crucified.   Time has passed between their hearing John’s message and their hearing Apollo’s:  years, most likely.  So they have been LIVING John’s teachings…all this time.

Therefore they are in a position of readiness.  And when they finally DO hear the good news, when they finally DO learn about Christ and the Holy Spirit, they receive the Spirit fully – receiving the Spirit’s gifts! 

 

This story reminds me that it isn’t about getting everything just right or remembering everything just perfectly.  They were seeking God.  And God was seeking them!
GOD was seeking them.
And Christ himself taught us, “Seek and you shall find.”
Indeed they find what they are looking for!
What mercy!
What love.

The part of the message they had remembered and been practicing was repentance, and repentance is that returning to God.
It is that taking responsibility for our flaws and failures.
And it returns us to the only true and honest relationship we can have with God and one another – a relationship based on humility.
Humility.

Humility is a seeing ourselves AS WE TRULY ARE.
For if we are not humble, the truth is not in us.
If we think we are without sin, the truth is not in us.
If we think we SEE, then we do not see.
If we think we know, then knowledge is not in us.
And GOD is the TRUTH.

We see, only in part.
We know, only in part.
We do good, only in part.

To have any kind of right relationship with God, AT ALL,
The starting place is to humble ourselves.
And repentance is the beginning of humility…of TRUTH.

We cannot be a cup, open to the rain of heaven, unless we are empty. 
We cannot be taught, shaped by truth, unless we are open. 

 

I share with you this poem by Christine Lore Weber:  Mother Wisdom Speaks.

Listen for God’s words to you:

Some of you I will hollow out.
I will make you a cave.
I will carve you so deep the stars will shine in your darkness.
You will be a bowl.
You will be the cup in the rock collecting rain.
I will hollow you with knives.
I will not do this to make you clean.
I will not do this to make you pure
You are clean already.
You are pure already.
I will do this because the world needs the hollowness of you.
I will do this for the space that you will be.
I will do this because you must be large.
A passage.
People will find their way through you.
A bowl.
People will eat from you.
And their hunger will not weaken them to death.
A cup to catch the sacred rain.
My daughter, do not cry.
Do not be afraid.
Nothing you need will be lost.
I am shaping you.
I am making you ready.
Light will flow in your hollowing.
You will be filled with light.
Your bones will shine.
The round open center of you will be radiant.
I will call you brilliant one.
I will call you daughter who is wide.
I will call you transformed.

 

We do not live for ourselves alone.
We are not saved for ourselves alone.
We are not chosen for privilege but for purpose.
Purpose. 

When we return to God in repentance,
humbling ourselves before God,
God does this most holy work in us:
growing our hearts,
t
eaching our minds,
e
xpanding our capacity,

SO THAT our own mortal being might be shaped, more and more, into God’s divine proportions.
WE will never reflect God wholly in this world.
We will never perceive God wholly in this world.
But when we position ourselves, at the feet of God, in humility
w
e offer ourselves to be shaped as clay in God, the Potter’s hands.
And Christ shapes us to be vessels of God’s nourishment,
p
athways to God’s unending grace, expanses for God’s light. 

 

The more and more we humble ourselves in God’s presence,
the more and more God shapes us to be bright lights in the Kingdom of God.

 

So fear not, missing a part of the message.
God is not like that.
God is not arbitrary.
God does not expect us to be perfect, to be God.
That isn’t what any of this is about at all.

Fear only
passing up the chance
to be surrendered truly
and wholly
into the loving and most skillful
Hands of God.

 

And so may we, like these Ephesians,
Follow the truth we have received,
Trusting God to reveal more and more truth as we are ready,
Trusting Christ’s words that
when we seek God, we shall find God,
when we seek with all our hearts. 

Thanks be to God!!

 

 

 

“The More, The Better”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 2:1-21
Numbers 11:24-30

 

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 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 among them, and a tongue rested 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.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

 

Numbers 11:24-30

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.

Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.


 

Just before this part in Moses’ story among the people of Israel journeying in the wilderness, the people have been complaining.  For though God has been supplying them with manna – simply forming on surfaces early in the morning – for which they had neither to plant nor reap, some among them are disgruntled as they recall how they ate in Egypt: the fish, leeks, garlic and chives,…and on an on and on.  They feel sick of manna and want a change.  They crave meat.

And this sends Moses into his own complaint to God.  He rants:

“Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child, to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors’? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.”

 

Moses doesn’t hold back all!  This must be some trust – to be able to just throw his own tantrum on the floor, as it were, before God Almighty.  But God responds with compassion toward Moses and a measure of anger at the behaviors of those disgruntled and ungrateful among the people.

God tells Moses his will to have others among the people to also help carry the burden of the people.  Moses is to select 70 of the elders and officers over the people.  They are to gather with the Moses in the tent of meeting, and God will speak with Moses there, putting some of God’s spirit on the elders.

 

And so this is what Moses does.  He calls and gathers the elders and officers in the tent of meeting.  And when God’s spirit rests on the elders, they begin to prophesy.  This is the only time they prophesy.

But most surprising, two of those selected (but who do not make it to the tent of meeting) …they also began to prophesy…but in the camp, among the people.  And so, a messenger is sent to tell Moses of the goings-on in the camp – how the two are prophesying.  And before Moses could respond, Joshua, Son of Nun, is indignant on Moses’ behalf saying, “Stop them lord Moses!”

But to their surprise, Moses replies,

“Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

 

“Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” …

What a blessed desire.

 

Moses does not want to hoard or control the Spirit of God.  If he has any controlling tendencies in his bones, the sheer emotional and physical exhaustion at bearing the weight of responsibility for all the people is flat wearing him out!  He yearns for more to carry the burden with him.  He yearns for others to also hear God, for others to also prophesy, for others to also speak truth, discern solutions, resolve dissent, and lead this wandering people.

And so God’s response of putting the Spirit on the elders is in direct response to Moses’ human desire and limitation.  Moses needs help!!

So when this young man runs to alert Moses to the two elders in the camp, who are prophesying too, Moses is not threatened at all.  He is elated.  He only wishes ALL the people would be filled with the Spirit of God!

 

And how poetic, that this is exactly what God does, as Jesus returns to heaven.  God sends the Spirit out upon all God’s children – children not by blood, natural birth, personal righteousness, or position, but God’s children because the undeserved grace and mercy, love and redemption of Jesus Christ.  We have only to receive this unbounded gift, that we might enter into the joy and freedom and salvation of our God.

God pours out the Spirit on ALL God’s people. 

 

I am struck by this story.  For one, in all my years growing up in church and studying scripture, I’d never before noticed this passage.

  • I love how Moses rants at God.  I relate.
  • Complaining, venting, and ranting are quite often looked down upon in our Christian culture.
  • I am filled with gratitude that God does not shame Moses but helps him.
  • I appreciate seeing how another servant of God reaches his own limitations. I also relate. Moses give us an example of asking for help.
  • And in God’s response we see compassion and understanding. It gives me hope that we too can ask for help…even through our rants.

I love Moses’ response when Joshua wishes to restrain the Spirit, in order to preserve Moses’ status within the community.  Joshua is concerned that this prophesying might endanger Moses’ respected position.  But Moses is not at all concerned with this political move.  He does not play the game.  He does not grasp to control or restrain the Spirit.  He doesn’t discredit the two men who begin prophesying outside of his purview.  Rather, he is concerned that the people hear truth, receive guidance, and walk in God’s ways.  The more true guides, the better.  The more workers for the harvest, the better.  The more who are led by the Spirit of God, the better.

 

Do you know how many generations of Christians have sought to restrain the Spirit of God?  Though we might not call it that, that is exactly what we have done.  We’ve attempted to define and control who is in and who is out, just as the earliest Jewish Christians did when some required that all Gentile believers be circumcised, refrain from eating meat, and observe all the holiness rituals.  It is what Jonah did when he refused to follow the Spirit of God and sailed in the opposite direction, rather than go and preach repentance to the people of Nineveh.  It is what Peter was tempted to do, when he was called by a Gentile family to come and preach the gospel among them.  It is what the church has done, when it has placed ritual upon doctrine upon confession upon giving – as a requirement for salvation – diminishing the gospel, making it conditional, and in fact, not very good news at all!

Even if you and I, per say, have not participated in these particular efforts to quench and control the movement of the Spirit of God, our own Christian culture, our ancestors who came before, and generation after generation of believer has been tempted in this same way.  And I suspect that when we are truly quieted and listening, we too will discover ways in which we have participated in efforts to limit the expansive love of God, and God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.  For God is moving through-out the world, to seek out and save the lost.

 

Are we?

Are we listening?
Are we following?
Are we obedient?

 

Are there actions we have taken,
prejudices we’ve carried on,
things we have left undone,
words we have said or left unsaid
– even unbeknownst to us –
for which we need to ask forgiveness?

 

Will we set down our temptations to control?
Will we surrender our ego
and take on humility?

 

Will we take our cues from the movements of God by the working of the Holy Spirit, rather than expecting God to follow our strategic plans and secret desires?

 

“Would that ALL God’s people be prophets and that the Lord would put the Spirit onto them!” Moses imagines.

 

Thanks be to God!

For God has anointed you and anointed me!
God has put the Spirit into child and grandparent,…
Men and women and those non-binary,…
The powerful and the powerless,…
God has poured out God’s Spirit upon ALL flesh!

 

What wonder!  What goodness!  What honor!  What opportunity!

May we take this long-desired, unparalleled gift – this pouring out of the Spirit of God – and may we be about the work of our God:

Grateful to share in this gospel work,
Shining our light into the darkness,
Proclaiming freedom to those oppressed,
Doing justice, and thereby ushering in the Kingdom of our God, and
Announcing the mercy and grace of our God.

Thanks be to God! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Holy Spirit In Our Lives”

Rev. Katherine Todd
2 Kings 2:1-14
Galatians 5:1, 13-25

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”

Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

 

Galatians 5:1

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.


 

In these weeks leading up to and following Pentecost, we’ve heard stories of how the disciples learn how to listen to God’s Spirit directing them – on what to say and what to do.  It’s a prayerful way of being, where God is like your internal GPS – continually redirecting you.

 

Today we heard a story about Elijah and Elisha, when Elijah is about to be taken into heaven and Elisha asks that he might receive a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, as a parting gift.  In this Old Testament story it is understood that this gift of the spirit is how both Elijah and Elisha are empowered by God to do things such as parting the water, to walk on dry ground.

So we have heard these stories that show God’s Spirit to lead us, similar to an internal GPS, if we are of a prayerful mind to hear God’s voice to our spirits.  We’ve heard stories of how God’s Spirit gave the disciples the ability to speak in other languages they’d never even studied before.  We hear this story of how God’s Spirit empowered both Elijah and then Elijah to do things like parting the water in a lake – so they could walk across it on dry ground.  And in this passage from Galatians, we hear of how God’s Spirit grows within us all the best qualities – like patience, kindness, gentleness, love, and self-control.

This Holy Spirit life is full of surprises!  We don’t have to know the way to go; God can guide us.  We don’t have to know how to do everything; God can anoint us with skills we didn’t have before and cannot even explain.  We are not always bound by the rules of nature; God who has power over all nature can make mountains move and bodies of water part.  And we are not left to our own devices to try to be better and overcome all our demons and our temptations, but God’s Spirit grows within us patience and peace and love and self-control…

 

This is awesome!!!

 

Now for all you skeptics, I respect you.  I get that hearing these as nice stories is one thing but believing life can really happen this way is altogether another thing.  Perhaps God moved in one way back then and another way now.

But I do want to invite you to peer outside the boundaries of your belief system for just a moment and consider – what might you see and experience, if you only believe?

Believing opens us.  It opens us to outcomes we cannot fully control.  It opens us to the possibility of being amazed, and it opens us to the possibility of being disappointed or downright scammed.

We don’t want to be taken advantage of.  We don’t want to be scammed.  We don’t want to let our guard down, only to be disappointed.  And God’s Spirit is not like a genie in a bottle; we don’t just get whatever we wish for.  It’s not a ticket to unlimited blessing and prosperity.

But I do believe the Spirit is beckoning us toward our best lives.  I believe God is inviting us to step out of the shallow and into the deep.   God is inviting us into a fullness of life that we will never walk in, unless we let go of our illusions of control and open ourselves to God.

 

Listen to “Shallow” by Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper

Tell me somethin’, girl
Are you happy in this modern world?
Or do you need more?
Is there somethin’ else you’re searchin’ for?

I’m falling
In all the good times I find myself
Longin’ for change
And in the bad times I fear myself

Tell me something, boy
Aren’t you tired tryin’ to fill that void?
Or do you need more?
Ain’t it hard keeping it so hardcore?

I’m falling
In all the good times I find myself
Longing for change
And in the bad times I fear myself

I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in
I’ll never meet the ground
Crash through the surface, where they can’t hurt us
We’re far from the shallow now

In the shallow, shallow
In the shallow, shallow
In the shallow, shallow
We’re far from the shallow now

 

Do you want to experience all the blessings and fullness of life God has prepared for you?

Do you want to know the power and presence of God in your regular, everyday life?

Do you want to see the answers of God to your prayers?

Do you want to be a channel of God’s power and love into the lives of those around you?

 

Our God is good.  Our God is beckoning.  Our God is inviting.

But we have to take a risk.

We have to exercise our faith – put it into practice – let the rubber meet the road.

We’ll never know just what our God can do…

We’ll never experience for ourselves the depth and breadth of God’s love for you and for me…

We’ll never see the deliverance of our God in our lifetimes…

Unless we step out of the shallow and into the deep

Unless we open ourselves to the Spirit of God IN OUR LIVES

Unless we listen and watch and pray…

Unless we step out.

 

Listen to “Something Beautiful” by Needtobreathe

In your ocean, I’m ankle deep
I feel the waves crashin’ on my feet
It’s like I know where I need to be
But I can’t figure out, …I can’t figure out

Just how much air I will need to breathe
When your tide rushes over me
There’s only one way to figure out
Will ya let me drown, will ya let me drown

Hey now, this is my desire
Consume me like a fire,

‘Cause I just want something beautiful
To touch me, I know that I’m in reach
‘Cause I am down on my knees,

…Waiting for something beautiful
Oh,… something beautiful

And the water is risin’ quick
And for years I was scared of it
We can’t be sure when it will subside
So I won’t leave your side, no I can’t leave your side

In a daydream, I couldn’t live like this
I wouldn’t stop until I found something beautiful
When I wake up, and all I want, I have
Ya know it’s still not what I need

(Something beautiful)

 

You know what’s changed from the times of all these stories we read in the Bible?

So much has, indeed.  And thanks be to God for that!

But scripture actually says that in Christ, the Spirit of God has been poured out on all flesh.  Christ also said that we will do even greater things than he did

 

So may we, of little faith, grow.

May we begin to dream God’s dreams.

May we begin to see God’s visions.

May we begin to hear God’s voice speaking to us, more and more.

May we open ourselves to God, leaving the shallow, stepping into the deep, and personally experience God’s power and presence to do astonishing and amazing things in our lives.

 

Do you believe?

“Holy Spirit Growing Pains”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 16:9-15
John 14:25-29

Acts 16:9-15

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.  On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

John 14:25-29

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.


 

This story of the Apostles figuring out how to follow the risen Jesus, by the power of Jesus’ gift to them of the Holy Spirit – this is what fills the pages of the book of Acts.  Clumsily these apostles keep running into the borders and boundaries of God’s call on their lives.

They have been given this ultimate gift – to know the Lamb of God, Jesus – and to receive forgiveness of sins – what a gift!?!  The Spirit has been poured out on them, and they are all in, eager to share the good news with any who will hear, but they keep awkwardly hitting boundaries.  In the bit just before our passage today about Paul dreaming about a man in Macedonia begging him to come, Paul and Timothy try to go many places, but we read that the Holy Spirit limits them.  It says the Holy Spirit forbade them to go to Asia.  And then they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Holy Spirit would not allow them.

 

I wonder what this looked like.  How did they know it was the Holy Spirit?  We are not told if they both were given hunches or premonitions, we don’t know if they received visions forbidding them to go, or whether or not they deducted the Holy Spirit’s leading by which doors were opened to them and which doors were closed.  But I am very curious, because in our everyday lives, this is what we’re in the business of determining.

It is very easy to read these stories and to make a mental separation between what WAS and what IS.  It isn’t so very difficult to accept that the Holy Spirit led these two early disciples in spreading the Good News – after all, we are all here today because something they did worked!  We know about Jesus because of their good work and those who followed in their footsteps, generation after generation.

It can be another thing to believe that such things happen in our lives today.  So do you believe?  Do you believe that the Holy Spirit is still active and living in the world today, still speaking to our hearts today, still guiding our steps today, still interceding for us with sighs deeper than words today?

I certainly hope so!

 

It gets tricky because how can we be sure?  It isn’t a scientifically proven thing.  It isn’t black and white.  It isn’t something we can fully perceive or even begin to understand.

So in this modern world of facts and fiction, it can be hard to know when and if the Holy Spirit is active and moving.  How do we know?

Well, first off, as scripture says, “For now, we see through a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face.”  In this world, we do not see with clarity and breadth.  We cannot.  And so when it comes to the Holy Spirit, we must approach with eyes of faith.  It is by eyes of faith that we believe and then see.

 

Nicole’s mom Bonnie, Jayne’s sister is a praying person.  When she heard about the needs of a young family in our congregation, she wanted to help.  She offered to buy the baby girl her first pair of shoes and a new dress for her first birthday.  So she spoke with the mother who measured the child’s feet, and Bonnie set out to buy a new pair of shoes.  She went to a shoe store and spoke with the clerk.  She told the clerk about this family and how the child had never before owned a pair of shoes but that she wanted to get the little girl her first pair.  The woman was moved by the Bonnie’s story and said, give me your number, I have several bags of little girl outfits AND shoes.  I want this little girl to have them.  When the clerk dropped off the bag to Bonnie, the clerk explained, ‘The day before I meet you in the store, I was cleaning out all these old clothes from my daughter and preparing to store them.  My daughter, 3 ½ years old, came in and said, “Mommy, there’s a little girl that needs those clothes.  Don’t put them away.” ‘

 

Bonnie was so moved by this.  It was so clear to her that God had spoken through this child.  It was clear to her that God loved this young family.  It was clear to her that the Holy Spirit had directed this mother and was directing her.

And this gift freed Bonnie to put her money toward caring for the rest of the family, the mom and dad.  And even as she shopped for the parents, she prayed and paid attention.  Even the sales seemed so appropriately suited to the family, and Bonnie followed that trail – she followed the Holy Spirit.

 

How do we follow the Holy Spirit?

How do we understand when God says, “Don’t go there,” “Go here,” “Say this…,” “Don’t say that…”

I do believe that the Holy Spirit is still living and moving among us here and now.  I do believe that God is still speaking to us in ways that we uniquely can here.  Even now as I sit and write this sermon for you, I do not have a plan of what to say.  I’m not mapping things out.  No, I am praying and listening and following the trail.  If I am doing this well, it is because I am following the Holy Spirit as I serve in this way.

For the Spirit of God knows the deepest heart.  The Holy Spirit intercedes for us with sighs deeper than words.  The Holy Spirit can use any means by which to guide and direct us.

And so, I believe the key is to listen, trust, and follow.

 

Will we ever KNOW FOR SURE that we are following the Spirit of God?  Probably not in this lifetime, but when in doubt, I have prayed to God saying, “Lord, I hear you, but is this what you’re really saying?  Please confirm it to me.”  And as I’ve kept my heart open, as I’ve stayed alert, listening, I have heard confirmation, God has given me clarity.

Sometimes this clarity has come over years and decades.  Sometimes it has come in days or even minutes, but our God loves us.  Our God is good.  Our God has given us this precious gift of the Holy Spirit SO THAT we might follow God well – SO THAT we might continue to do the work of Christ, in the power of God.

 

Only God knows what’s going on in our secret hearts.  Only God knows the questions we dare not speak.  Only God knows the feelings we dare not acknowledge.  Only God knows the path that leads us to fullness and quality of life!

 

And so may we take this good gift!

May we, like Paul, bump into the boundaries and borders of this gift – trying out wrong paths and being redirected until we hear and find our way.  Scripture says, ‘…Whether you turn to the right or the left you will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way.  Walk in it.” ‘  We don’t need to know the way head of time.  We just need to set out, to start, and to listen as we go.

May we, like Paul, be alert and listen to the many ways God speaks to us – be it in dreams, or visions, friends, or facebook, strangers, or little children.

GOD STILL SPEAKS.

 

May WE be a people who are open – open to the Spirit of God, living and active, working and moving, calling and inviting, opening and closing doors – that the love of Christ might spread abroad in hearts and minds, setting captives free, giving sight to the blind, proclaiming God’s favor.

It is for this, that we are called!

“Following a Spectacular God”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 11:1-18
Revelation 21:1-6

 

Acts 11:1-18

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

Revelation 21:1-6

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.


 

Do we have what it takes to follow God?

By all logical and reasonable assessments, the answer is no.  We surely do not.

And yet God has a pesky habit of calling people to follow who don’t look like your usual suspects.  Jesus called Peter – a rash, impulsive, unfiltered, uneducated…passionate, risk-taking, bold, courageous man.  God called Paul – a legalistic Jew/Roman citizen who was passionately persecuting Christians.

 

God calls us.

God calls them.

God calls the them that we avoid and do not like…

God calls.

 

And who are we to stand in the way of God!??

 

We hear this story of Peter as Peter’s explanation of to the Jews of Judea who are appalled to have gotten word that this leader in the faith has broken the Jewish rules and eaten with Gentiles.  He has been called to account for his actions.  And so he explains to them why he broke the rules.

He had been praying on the rooftop in Joppa – famished, as he waited for a meal to be prepared – when God sent a vision to him.  It was a large sheet being lowered before him from heaven, with every kind of bird and beast.  And there was a voice saying, “Peter, get up, kill, and eat.”  But he replied, “No Lord, for I’ve never eaten anything profane or unclean,” for the spread of animals before him were those that Jews were forbidden from eating.  But the voice then said, “What God has made clean, you must not call unclean.”  This dialogue occurred three times before the sheet was pulled back to heaven, and immediately 3 men from Caesarea arrived asking for him.  Though these were Gentile men, requesting his presence, the Spirit of God told Peter not to make a distinction between them & the Jews but to instead go with them.

So Peter, trying out his new Holy Spirit capacities, listens and obeys.  He goes with the men.  When he arrives, the head of the house explains that he had seen an angel standing in his house who told him to go to Joppa and get the man called Peter – that Peter had a message for them by which his entire household would be saved.  And so he had sent his men to find Peter and bring him to them.

At this Peter begins to share the good news of the gospel, and even as he began to speak to them, the Holy Spirit fell on these Gentile people – in the same manner in which these Jews had also received the Holy Spirit.  And so Peter reasons that if God is accepting these people into the faith, then who is he to stand in the way of God.

Smart man.

 

Our God is unfathomable to us.  Our God is inconceivable.  Even our best imaginings of God fall dramatically short, for we cannot perceive our God.  Our God expands beyond our best understanding, our best knowledge, our greatest wisdom.  Our God is not contained in our books, in our words, in our hearts, in our communities, in our churches.

Our God is out and about!

Our God is continually surprising.

Our God is continually astounding.

Just when we think we understand, we go deeper and find new caverns and worlds to explore of God’s goodness, God’s mercy, God’s unfailing love, God’s fierce justice, God’s heart for the lost…

 

This is why we need to take care that we follow God – FOLLOW, not lead.

Usually we wouldn’t presume to LEAD GOD, …but we often presume to lead others.

 

And this is a beautiful thing.  Many, if not all, of us are called to lead in some way.  We lead in our jobs.  We lead in our families and homes.  We take leadership among friends.  And we take leadership in church.  This is called showing up and getting our skin in the game.  This is called investing in our communities and our community of faith.

 

But we must ever take care, that in every arena – home, work, church, friends – that we are FIRST followers. 

 

IF God were predictable.  IF God could be fully known and understood.  IF God were somehow contained in scripture or our churches…then perhaps we might could lead without listening to the Spirit.  Perhaps we could KNOW the way to go.  Perhaps.

But indeed God is far greater than we can begin to imagine or perceive or ever rightly anticipate.  THEREFORE, we are only right with God, insofar as we follow.  Follow.

 

We are not called to know all things.

We are not called to understand all things.

We are not called to see the future.

No.

 

We are called to follow the One who does.

We are called to follow the One who knows what is best.

We are called to follow the One who loves us with an unbreaking, never-giving-up love.

We are called to follow the only One who is worthy of our lives.

 

And what a sweet, sweet calling that is!

 

We get to be a part of what God is DOING, here and now!

We get to be part of the Spirit’s healing and saving work in our neighborhoods, in our friendships, in our families, in our homes, in our churches…

 

We are invited to join with the Maker of the Universe in making all things new!

 

And we are only powerful and effective, caring and well-cared-for, peace-making and peaceful, insofar as we are following. 

 

Now God does not guarantee us wealth and prosperity in this world.  God does not guarantee us happiness and success.  The pathways can be fraught with calamities and injustices.  But what we find in God is better than anything we could have bought or pursued, imagined or created for ourselves.

 

And so I ask you – are you getting in the way of God’s Spirit?

Are you fighting God?

 

Are you listening?

And are you following?

 

LIFE, abundant life, is what’s at stake.  That quality of life that makes life worth living is what God is offering us here.  And we open ourselves to this gift by following.

“I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly,” Jesus says. 

 

Will we live life abundantly?

Will we follow?