Monday, June 01, 2009

Sunday Sermon Notes 5.31.09

Happy Pentecost Sunday!

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.    Acts 2v1-4

Happy Baptism Sunday!

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."  Luke 3v21-22

This is a pretty special Sunday - the weaving together of the two themes of water and fire, of baptism and Spirit.  Pentecost Sunday reminds of the day when the Spirit of God descended upon each believer in the Upper Room - it felt like a thunderous wind blew through depositing flickers of light upon each of the Jesus followers praying in the room.  Pentecost was the fiftieth day (seven weeks plus one day) from Passover.  It is a Jewish harvest holiday.  And God used that holy day to spread his presence throughout the world by putting his Spirit-crop into all who would receive it.

Pentecost Sunday has become a traditional day of baptism, thus it is often referred to as Whitsunday, or White Sunday - since it is common for those who get baptized to wear a white robe as they enter the water.  Baptism on Pentecost - a beautiful mix of metaphors.  For Christians who have been baptized and received the Holy Spirit, they have a fascinating story to share - a story of water and fire.

The water of baptism carries layers of meaning: to be immersed in the water is to have your sins washed away, it is to be buried and then to be raised up born again, it is to be initiated into the community of Jesus followers, it is to have a new beginning.  The fire of Pentecost carries with it also multiple meanings: the flame makes you the light of the world, it's a lamp unto your feet, it is a blaze that consumes your impurities, it's a furnace that unthaws cold hearts, it's a fire that reminds us that God can bring good out of everything.

For those of us with these metaphors as part of our story, we know that being immersed in water, we know that letting the Spirit be at home in us, doesn't guarantee a problem free life. We know that having our sins washed away doesn't keep us from sinning again.  We know that having the Spirit guide us doesn't mean that we'll never stray again.  But we come to believe that the Same Spirit which prompted us to be baptized and welcome him is the Same Spirit that will sustain us on the long journey we call life.

We need more people to share their story of water and fire, their honest account of their life leading up to baptism, their life following baptism, their life before the Spirit, their life with the Spirit.  We're not looking for cute, inspiring, fairy-tale stories of faith.  We're yearning to be reminded that if the Spirit perseveres with you and your real-life journey, then maybe the Spirit will endure with me.

Part of my story of water and fire, of my starting again and of letting God bring good out of everything centers on the death of my brother Matt.  I know that many people go through far worse tragedies than what our family endured, but that doesn't lessen the pain in the moment. And in the moments and days following his death, I found my faith faltering, my anger raging, and my bitterness sending down deep roots.  When my youngest brother had died just before his fourteenth birthday in 1994, as sad and terrible as that loss was for our family, I/we kind of thought that we were immune from that kind of sadness in the future.  

So when Matt gets killed by a drunk driver at age twenty-three, just after Christmas 2001, the immunity was gone.  Now anything could happen.  A trip to the grocery store was accompanied by thoughts of possibly never coming home alive.  It became a constant companion - fear and anxiety about another sudden death.  And the God I had been believing in became a very confusing person.  I was not able to wrap my mind around the "reasons" for this tragedy.  I could not figure out why God let this happen - to us.

I began to feel my faith slipping away.  Here I am, a pastor, and I'm going to need to show up on Sunday with a message from a Lord that I'm really, really, really confused about, angry at, and deeply frustrated.  What am I going to do?  Out of integrity, I should quit.  But I need a job to feed my family - so don't quit.  At least not yet.  Where will I find resolution for my despairing faith?  I took several steps, one being that I decided to go back to school. I needed time to study/read/think/learn from others who had gone before me - brilliant thinkers and intelligent writers, honest believers and authentic followers - to help me build a new faith. 

Here I was, an adult, a pastor, a family man, and I needed to decide whether I was going to believe in Jesus or not.  At age four I had asked Jesus into my heart.  At age ten I had received forgiveness of my sins.  At age sixteen I accepted the call to become a pastor.  And now at age thirtysomething, I'm having to decide as an adult, not a kid, not a teen, whether I want to be a Christian or not.  I was baptized at age twelve - was I willing now almost two decades later, to let God give me a new start again?  At some point in my life the Spirit had come into my life - and now as an adult with fear and worry and despair and sadness attached to my soul - was I willing to let God's Spirit take me as I am?

I had gotten in the habit of trying to stop being afraid or worrying so that I could be a better Christian, a better person, etc.  But that tactic was only bringing frustration.  So then it seemed like the Spirit was prompting me to turn the fear and worry, the despair and sadness over to him, let him influence it's affect on my life.  And so that is what I've been trying to do.  On this side of that decision, it has proven to be the better tactic.

And so for you - and your story of water and fire - the things in your life that you want to be different - or the good in your life that you are trying to hang onto/milk for all it's worth - give it over to God.  Let him take what is good and not good in your life - and let him find ways of bringing more good out of it.  God doesn't need you or me to be problem free, to be worry free, to be sin free - he just needs you and me.  When we hand the stuff in our life over to his Spirit, we give the Spirit more to work with.  And when the Spirit has more to work with, the effect of the Spirit gets stronger and stronger.

Give the Spirit more to work with: keep turning your life, your relationships, your hopes, your failures, your frustrations, your job, your finances, your sins, your mistakes, your talents, your problems, your opportunities - keep giving it over to the Spirit.  How?  First you got to want to do it.  If you really want to do it, the Spirit will help you do it.

People need to hear your story of water and fire, of new beginnings and inspiring opportunities for good.  Turn more and more of your life over to His Spirit, give the Spirit more to work with, and be willing to share your story

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