Spirit Led

Let's take a few minutes and look around the room at the people that have gathered here. And, I want you to focus on just one person that you have known for awhile. It can be your spouse if need be, but I'd rather you find someone else whose life you have observed over a period of time. Try to think of one strength that he or she has been blessed with that has carried them or maybe you through the years.

For some of you this will be easy. You will see perseverance, courage, enthusiasm, wisdom, caution, insight, imagination, creativity, kindness, faith, etc. Often times, when asked to do this, people will identify something that they themselves wish they possessed. Perhaps a complementary trait that counters our own weaknesses and strengthens us overall. It would be interesting if we could take the time to jot down on a small notepad a character strength for each person in this room and then merge them all together to form a composite of our congregation. I think that we would find that as a whole, we are wonderfully gifted.

In fact, if we took this task seriously and not carelessly, we would ultimately paint a word picture of Jesus. Now, this is not a new concept. We have heard it said many times that the church is his body. But if you are like most people, we think of that in terms of doing something that Jesus would want done, like caring for an elderly person, taking food to the needy, donating money, lending a hand during a disaster, making sure the church building is clean and maintained. Yet, it is more than doing. Within this room, Christ lives and breathes through you without your conscious efforts.

It is not as easy or obvious to see as a deed lovingly accomplished. It takes those quiet times when our busy-ness doesn't get in the way of our subconscious reflection. It takes those moments when we aren't angry or upset with someone or an event that didn't go according to our wishes. We go beyond seeing things our way. It has to do with looking at another person as a recipient of the Holy Spirit and recognizing how the Spirit is moving in that person.

It has everything to do with a promise spoken years ago by Jesus himself. He knew that his time in our existence was coming to an end. He knew he had initiated something momentous that would go on without him present in the way that they had always known him. The disciples now had to connect with the Father's realm, connect with the kingdom to which he was going in order to become the men and women who would carry the Gospel to the world. If Jesus had simply departed, their lives would eventually have returned to what they had left behind three years before. We already saw a sample of that in the resurrection stories. They had returned to fishing, they were hiding, they were afraid.

But Jesus had promised that once he had left them, the Father would send the Holy Spirit to teach them everything and to remind them of the things he had already told them. Jesus would leave, but he would be coming again to them. He promised that for those who loved him, the Father and the Son would come to live with them. And they would be able to keep his word. To keep his word in spite of the trials that beset them. To keep his word in spite of the disappointments and the failures. To move beyond their own desires, their own reactivity. His word that was to be kept - was to love.

How easy it would be to look around this room, or our workplace, our schools, our city, our state, our nation, our world, and say, "yeah, but." And then we could list all the events that prove unworthiness, where someone has fallen down, or let us down, all the things they should have done, they should have known, they should have said - and we instinctively withdraw love. Or perhaps our well-intentioned efforts to love meet with seemingly brick walls. The person we are loving does not seem to be moved in any way by our love. We are rebuffed and we quit. But either way, in doing so, we are blinded from seeing Christ at work. When we focus on the bad and not on the glimpse of the Spirit we isolate ourselves from the work we are to do.

Can you imagine what the world would be like today if the disciples had sat around that upper room saying things like, "well Jesus didn't tell me what town to start in, so I'm not going anywhere." "Hey, Jesus didn't leave us enough money to spend the night in a hotel or even get a decent meal. I'm going home." "No way I'm talking to those people from Thyatira, they're so rich they'd just laugh at me coming into town without even a change of clothes!"

The thing is, the Holy Spirit equips us with exactly what we need to love and to be loved. It's like a jigsaw puzzle. We all have a piece of the eternal in us and we are called upon to go and fill up the empty spaces or the decaying spaces of someone else with our piece. By our love we help someone not only come to see the big picture, but to help them complete that picture within their own lives by focusing on the movement of the Holy Spirit - NOT the movement of the evil one.

The apostle Paul was skilled at the task. When the Holy Spirit inspired Paul, he didn't think, well, I'll weigh the situation and see if this is economical or if this is what the committee feels we should do and they meet in three weeks. When the Spirit laid it on Paul's heart that someone was in need, he did it. The reading from Acts tells us that he and his friends immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia after Paul had his vision.

On another well known occasion, Paul heard that the folks in Jerusalem were in desperate need. He went around to his Gentile congregations and gathered a collection for people who hadn't always liked him or agreed with his ways. But no matter, they were hungry and needed food.

In our own time, there was a humanitarian who spent her life working for human dignity and setting up tuberculosis centers in Kenya and Somalia. She was assassinated in October 2003 by rebels who objected to her work among the poor. Prior to her death, however, she had been interviewed and asked what gave her the motivation to devote her life to some of the poorest and sickest people on earth. What enabled her to be so positive and filled with such gratitude?

She responded, "the reason that more people don't feel peace and joy in their efforts is that they don't try hard enough. You have to give time, you have to be patient; and then year after year, you'll see that what matters is only love. But if you are impatient because people are not grateful or you were full of limits you will not be happy. You need time."

You need time. But then, you'll see that what matters is only love. Annalena Tonelli said it, and that is what Jesus said to his disciples, too. Keep my commandment. Love through thick and thin, day by day, year after year, and you will know the peace of God.

So, how do we obey Jesus' commandment to love over a lifetime without becoming grim, bitter, or simply falling away? After all, love is only easy on Hallmark cards. In actual life it can be quite demanding. It is important to stay focused on what the Holy Spirit is accomplishing in one another rather than on the fall out from our sin filled world. Sin and evil win when you look only at what is wrong in the world or what someone else has done that you hate. The battle will go on forever - and that's exactly what Satan is hoping for - keeping you from recognizing what God is doing in the world.

Instead remember what Jesus said, "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." Look around you here - and everywhere you go. What is the strength you have that can fill an empty place in someone else's life - then go and love them. And remember, when you do, you too will grow and be loved. For that person has a gift - a strength - and they will be filling an empty place of your own.


Read other sermons by Pastor Joan