Monday, June 1, 2009

Breathing In -- Breathing Out

Pentecost b.All Saints
Faith doesn’t make life easy,
but it does make life livable.
Faith opens the door of our heart
to strength and power from God.
Without that infusion of divine strength,
we cannot live with the kind of energy and confidence
that life demands.

Faith matters – not just on Sunday.
It matters at work, at home, and on the highway.
That’s why we need to know as much as we can
about the God we have faith in.
The better we know God,
the more faith we can have.

So, this Pentecost, I want to say a little about the Holy Spirit.
There is a lot of misunderstanding about the Holy Spirit.
Many people confuse the Holy Spirit with religious emotions.
They sing upbeat music; listen to an emotional sermon;
feel a surge of passion and think that’s the Holy Spirit.

I am all for religious emotions.
They can be good for us.
But our feelings are our feelings.
They are not God.
Our feelings are too flimsy, too flighty, too easily manipulated
to be the eternally faithful God.

We can’t have faith in our feelings.
Sometimes the holiest of people are depressed.
Sometimes they are overwrought with grief.
But that doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit isn’t with them
working to heal and redeem.
The Holy Spirit is bigger than our mood swings.
And the Holy Spirit is faithful,
always there to heal and empower.

So who is this Holy Spirit?
In the 12th Century, the poet Saint Hildegard of Bingen
described the Holy Spirit this way:
Holy Spirit,
giving life to all life,
moving all creatures,
root of all things,
washing them clean,
wiping out their mistakes,
healing their wounds,
you are our true life,
luminous, wonderful,
awakening the heart
from its ancient sleep.

The Holy Spirit is first and foremost the force of life itself.
In our lesson from Ezekiel, the Spirit restores the life and hope of Israel.
The Nicene Creed calls it “the Lord, the giver of Life.”
The Spirit is the breath God blew into Adam’s nostrils.
It is the divine force that raised Jesus from the dead.

Our catechism says,
The Holy Spirit is . . . God at work in the world.
And God is always at work in the world
– always as the giver and sustainer of life.
That’s something we can put our faith in.

But let me say more about how the Spirit works.
“Spirit” doesn’t mean something abstract or paranormal.
“Spirit” means breath – the breath of God.

God breathes in and breathes out.
These are the two movements of the Spirit.
First about breathing in:
That is God gathering us together, centering us.

We can get so scattered in life.
We do so many jobs and tasks, play so many roles,
we lose touch with who we really are inside.
We need to be pulled back to our true selves.

We want so many little things, worry over so many little things,
strive for so many little goals,
we lose touch with our basic desire in life.
We need to be pulled back to our purpose in living.
Just as our personal lives get scattered,
our community gets scattered.
We split off from each other.
We get distracted and don’t pay enough attention
even to the people we love most.

When we do connect with the people, who are like us,
we may cut off the rest of the world.
In his book, The Big Sort, sociologist Jim Bishop
says American culture today is becoming
more and more fragmented.

More than ever before,
we live near people like us.
We socialize with people like us.
We talk only with people like us.
We gather in groups of the like-minded,
listen to the like-minded,
and become increasingly small minded.
As a society, we are divided into little enclaves.
We need to be pulled back to each other.
That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is our connector.

When we defragment a computer,
it sweeps all the random pieces of data together
because when they are strewn all over the hard drive,
the computer doesn’t run so well.
That’s what the Holy Spirit does in each of our souls,
and it’s what the Holy Spirit does in our community.
It pulls us back together so we can live well -- together.

Now the outbreath.
The Spirit draws us together in unity.
But it also sends us out into the world in diversity.
We see that in our lesson from Acts,
when the Spirit empowers the apostles
to preach the gospel in many languages.

The Spirit makes us one in our love for God and each other.
The Spirit makes us many in that we are wildly different from each other.
If we have unity because we look alike, dress alike,
enjoy the same music,
and agree about everything, that is not life.
It’s boring as being dead.
If we have only diversity, each one doing his own thing,
that is too lonely to be life.

But when God given diversity meets in God given unity,
it’s like linking the positive and negative poles of a battery.
You get a spark of life.
When cultural and individual differences are honored,
but not set up as barriers to the gospel,
Christianity is most fully itself
and we are most fully alive.

So how can we expect the Spirit to act in our lives?
First, the Spirit pulls us together.
When we are scattered in the week’s commotion and demands,
the Spirit draws us back to ourselves
– most often through prayer and worship
but also in quiet moments each day.
“In quietness and trust will be our strength,” Isaiah says,
“in returning and rest, we shall be saved.”

When we forget about each other or get too caught up
in our individual goals and worries,
the Spirit reminds us to reconnect to each other,
first our families, then our church,
then to strangers in need.
The Spirit connects us to the world in compassion and delight.

The next thing we can expect the Spirit to do
is blow us out of our routines now and then,
challenge us with new experiences and relationships.
The Spirit is always calling us to do old things
in new ways.

And that brings us to the last point.
The Spirit has been moving in exciting ways at All Saints
these past few years.
There has been a flowering of growth and diversity.
All this has happened during Fr. Ed’s rectorate.
But now he has announced his retirement,
and it is natural that you may wonder
if this good work will go on.

The first thing to remember is that Fr. Ed is still here.
He is still the spiritual leader of this parish.
His ministry at All Saints is not done yet.
So if you just stay the course with him
during these coming months,
the ministry will go on.

The second thing to remember is that Fr. Ed
is a first rate priest but he is just acting
as an agent for the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Ed is going to Oregon,
but the Holy Spirit will still be right here with you.
This Church is rich in Spirit-filled ministry.
The people, priests, and deacons of All Saints
will keep this train on the tracks.
The Diocese of Nevada and I will be here to help.

So don’t let fear of the future
dampen your ministry today.
The Spirit is with you.
Rejoice in that. Live.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Come together as the Church.
Go forth as the Church in the world.
God is faithful.