May 31, 2009, the Feast of Pentecost
The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
Last week Fr. Daniel reminded us that Jesus is no longer here on this earth in any other human form than you and me. We’re it! In his Ascension, Jesus physically moves away from us towards God; simultaneously we are asked to be Christ in this world. It’s a precious gift and an enormous responsibility.
But Jesus knew that we could not, on our own, do this. And so, as we just heard in the gospel, he promised to send the Spirit. Today is the Feast of Pentecost, when the Spirit was first given to the disciples so that they could be Christ in the world. Today we celebrate the holy gift that helps us to be the same.
Today I’d like to explore who or what this Spirit is. How does he or she or it operate in our lives, in our community? How does the Spirit help us to be Christ in the world?
Let’s look at the remarkable passage we heard this morning from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. He said that in our weakness, when we don’t even know how to pray as we ought, when all we can do is groan in labor pains and wait with patience, the Spirit prays for us with sighs too deep for words. God searches the heart, knowing the mind of the Spirit, who, in turn, intercedes according to God’s will. This is amazing stuff.
Paul begins with the assumption that the Spirit already lives inside of us, at a level that is deeper than our conscious mind. We may not feel the presence of this Spirit, but that doesn’t matter. The Spirit is there, and not as a foreign agent, but intermingled with our being, our personality. There isn’t anywhere we need to go to get to God. God is already living within, as a part of us.
But we, of course, are not always in tune with this Spirit. We are often blind to God’s presence in us. We struggle and strive to get in touch with God, not really knowing how. All we can do is groan in labor pains, waiting with patience, hoping that something new might be born. And when we do this, the Spirit, who lives imbedded in our mind, our body, our soul, begins to stir. The Spirit honors our desire for communion with God, and begins to move. We may not be able to see or feel this stirring, but the great thing is we don’t have to.
Paul says that the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. What a striking phrase: with sighs too deep for words. You know, for millennia, in every religious tradition, people have identified the Spirit with the breath. The Spirit of God blew over creation, bringing what was dark and void into existence. Jesus breathed on his disciples and gave them God’s presence. Our breath that goes in and out of our bodies is the breath of God, the breath of life, and when it leaves us, our soul departs the body and returns to God.
So the Spirit sighs within us when we are too weak to even notice. This happens below our consciousness, at a level that is too deep for words. Like a person giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, God breathes for us spiritually when we cannot breathe for ourselves. And this breath, this unspoken prayer is, Paul says, according to the will of God. The Spirit breathes in harmony with God, saying “yes” to God’s will, saying “yes” for us, even when we’re ambivalent, to all the good things that God desires: love, harmony, peace, joy, generosity, and truth.
Paul says that God then responds to this Spirit-prayer. God, who is the Creator of all, who fills the universe, who exists whether we do or not, hears this stirring, feels this breathing, even if we don’t. God then searches our heart, as Paul says. Probing, God is looking for our hope for communion, our desire to become more faithful. Searching between our sin and our limitations, God is looking for the parts of us that want do to move forward into God’s ways, for those parts of us that are in tune with the will of God.
And there are parts to be found. Otherwise we wouldn’t be sitting here today. God doesn’t need a heart that is 100% dedicated. God will work with whatever we’ve got. Remember the father who wanted his child to be healed who pleaded with Jesus, saying “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Jesus honored his plea, even in his ambivalence. So God searches for our faith, however small it may be.
Finding that small mustard seed within us, knowing it can become a large and healthy tree, knowing that at some level we do desire communion, God listens to the Spirit within us who is sighing. Paul says that God knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because it is God’s own mind within us that is praying. As Paul said in another letter, We have the mind of Christ. Christ’s mind, the Spirit’s mind, is in us.
There is communion between our mustard seed of faith, the mind of the Spirit within us, and the will of God. This communion forms a kind of spiritual alchemy, and things shift within us. We move forward and later we discover that we have become a little purer of heart, a bit more loving, generous, and free. This is the moment of grace, when our desire and the will of God mix. It is the beginning of an invisible momentum. In my experience, and in Paul’s writings, I believe, it is how the Spirit cooperates with us to help us grow in faith.
This not only happens for us individually. It happens in communities of faith. It is happening right now, in ours. Over the last couple of years, we have felt the need for an evolution; we have groaned in labor pains to bring a new way of being community into being. We sensed that this new life has something to do with a shift from individualism to community. It has something to do with looking to one another and the things we do together for our strength, nurture, and inspiration. And it has something to do with living into our potential, becoming more clearly Christ in this world.
And so we asked for the help of the Spirit to help us in our weakness, to lead us into truth. And lo and behold, the Spirit sighed, breathed, prayed within us. God searched our heart and knew the mind of the Spirit. Our desire is, I believe, in tune with the will of God, and so things began to shift. An invisible momentum began, pushed along by the Spirit. How do I know this? What are the signs of it?
Several initiatives to help us have emerged along the way, all of them leading us in the same direction, toward the fulfillment of having a stronger sense of community, raising up lay leadership, and living as the visible Body of Christ in this world.
Soon we will be training and licensing Lay Pastors to augment what the clergy do in caring for one another. A group of us will explore for 9 months with other churches how we can deepen our spiritual life in every one of our meetings, gatherings, and activities. A Discernment Guild will help us identify and utilize members’ gifts for ministry. We will be taking what we do in the Food Pantry and expanding it out into community organizing in our neighborhood, through Albuquerque Interfaith. Our Vestry is taking seriously its role of supporting and coordinating all our ministries. And we will soon build a Ministry Complex that will house all these things.
All of these initiatives are about building community, and the remarkable thing is that we did not invent them by setting out a plan and then marshalling resources to help us accomplish it. They just showed up once we knew we had to evolve in this direction, once we became willing to change, and once we called upon the Spirit to help us in our weakness. We have not, we cannot, we do not have to manage this process. The Spirit responds to our groaning, interceding for us with sighs too deep for words, God searches our heart, and the alchemy of God’s will and our willingness is moving us forward.
This is the work of the Spirit among us. This is the gift that Jesus himself promised, which we celebrate on this feast day. You and I have this gift within us, and it is up to us to call upon it, to put all our trust in its hidden, alchemical work, every day, and drop this silly notion that we have to figure it out and then do it all ourselves. This is what we count on as a community as we groan in labor pains – that the Spirit will respond and birth something new among us.
Today, on this great feast day, we pause to give thanks for this unfathomable gift of God’s Spirit within us and among us. Without this gift we are lost. We are imprisoned by the limitations of our flawed humanity. But with this gift of the Spirit, we have a partner, an advocate; anything is possible. For we have the mind of Christ. We are Christ in this world.