Sunday, May 19, 2024

Watching for the Spirit

The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77450

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We are back to the beginning, the beginning of the book of the Acts of the Apostles. I have spent the better part of the Easter season preaching on Acts and in particular on the theme of the Spirit and this is where it all begins, or is it?

I have been asked by many, “So if the Holy Spirit is part of the Trinity, when did it start? Well, that’s a far more complicated question than you may think. Where the Spirit comes from has been an issue of debate among theologians for many years and is one of the reasons the Eastern and Western churches split in 1000 CE. The Western church says in the Nicaean Creed the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son and the Eastern church maintains the Spirit proceeds from only the Father.

Yet none of these debates answers the question of when. Now some believe that the Holy Spirit that is part of the Trinity starts on Pentecost but I want you to consider all the appearances of the Spirit before Acts 2. First of all, in the Gospel of John Jesus breathes on the disciples on Easter afternoon and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Many forget that the Spirit is there from the start of creation. We read in Genesis 1 that the Ruach, the breath, the Spirit blew over the waters of chaos to begin the process of creation. The word Spirit shows up 558 times in the Bible. Now sometimes its talking about our own spirit as in reviving out spirit but the books of the Prophets are filled with references to the Holy Spirit even if the word Holy isn’t in front of the word Spirit. The prophets looked upon it as the spirit of God or sometimes would link it with wisdom, which is always feminine in the OT. The angel Gabriel tells Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.” John says that he baptizes with water but one who will come after him will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit along with God and Christ all came into being at one time before the creation of our world. Our understanding has changed over the millennia, but the Spirit hasn’t.  And that is what I believe is at the heart of the book of Acts. I’m not sure why this realization about the centrality of the Holy Spirit in Acts is so prominent to me this Easter season, but it is. Now when that type of insight is so clear, then I have learned it is time to pay attention to it. This prompts me to ask the famous I wonder question from Godly Play. I wonder what the Spirit is trying to tell me. To start with this is a pay attention message.

I remember I was on a silent retreat at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville PA near Reading. While I was there Wendy’s mom had died after a long decline from dementia. The morning after she died, I went out for my morning walk and there was a red tailed hawk up in a tree. He gave a shake, and a large feather came floating down. I picked it up and thought, wow that was really cool. Now normally on a silent retreat you do not have contact with anyone but given the circumstances I was allowed to give Wendy a call later that morning. She said, “Oh a hawk, they are messengers. It probably means to look for a message.” Later that day as the sun was setting at the exact same place was a pair of cardinals. Now any of you who have watched me doing Morning Prayer will know there is a stained-glass piece behind me in front of the window of a big red cardinal. I made that piece for my mother-in-law because she loved cardinals. And there at the wrong time of day was a pair, male and female in front of me. I knew that this was a sign that my mother and father in law were back together. I was told to watch and then I got the sign. If I had ignored the hawk I might have missed the cardinals or at least the significance of them. So the first part is to be sure to watch, to look for the workings of the Holy Spirit.

As I was typing this, I remembered a change that was made in the Enriching our Worship series of alternative Eucharistic Prayers along with revised Morning and Evening Prayer. Now at the start of May the Mission St. Claire app that I use for morning prayer started using some of the material from EOW. After a scripture reading instead of “The word of the Lord” the lector says, “Here what the Spirit is saying to God’s people.” Now think for a moment what a huge change that is. “The word of the Lord” is a declaration of what the reading is. Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people is an invitation to listen, to engage and ultimately act on what we have heard.

In our Acts passage, the disciples, all the followers that had gathered in that upper room were waiting. Forty days after the resurrection Jesus ascended into heaven and, as was said in Luke, they were told to wait in Jerusalem. Jesus told them they would be equipped with power from on high.  In the reading from John for today he promises them an advocate. They have been waiting for something, they didn’t know what. The got their answer on Pentecost.

Waiting for what? A sign, a message, the coming of the comforter as promised in our John passage? Whether they knew it or not, they were waiting on the Spirit. Scared, they were probably still hiding at least according the synoptic gospels. In Acts 1 they are told to wait in Jerusalem.

Richard Rohr wrote the following regarding Pentecost:

“We still wait behind closed doors; fifty days (“Pente-cost”), fifty years, five hundred years, we are always waiting and hoping, but not really expecting. It is the day we are always waiting for but never prepared for, the day of the great outpouring of fire-laden love, the day that ties all other days together. Pentecost is actually every day, if we expect it; but, not surprisingly, this is the greatest forgotten major festival of the entire church year.  Most come to church expecting no new outpouring, or maybe not even remembering an old one.

Yet it is Pentecost, the day of the great gathering in and the great sending out. The Holy Spirit must get tired of waiting for us, always hiding behind our closed doors.”

So what are you waiting for. What keeps you behind closed doors. What causes or has caused in the past our parish to sit here behind closed doors. We are consciously opening those doors and venturing out. I believe ultimately that my hearing the message of the Spirit this Easter is a urge from the Spirit to urge you to look for and listen for the Spirit in your life, in this parish.

Something for all of us to consider is how are you seeing the Spirit at work in your life and in our parish? I would love how you answer that question. Take some time this week and send me an email, a text or heavens even call me on the phone. I know that’s no longer a thing but sometimes it is best to actually speak to someone. I really do want to hear what comes up when you consider that question even if the answer is “not much.”

I want to close with a Pentecost Blessing that Pastor Steve posted on Thursday.

May the mystery of the Holy Spirit dwell in you,
that you may hear the voice of grace
even in strange places and foreign tongues.

May the wind of the Holy Spirit move you
to cross boundaries and defy divisions
to love those who are different from you.

May the breath of the Holy Spirit breathe in you
to forgo all comfort and familiarity
to meet others where they are.

May the fountain of the Holy Spirit flow in you
with courage and humility to learn anew,
to be awkward and foolish for the sake of love.

May the fire of the Holy Spirit burn brightly in you,
that in all you do others may see in you
the warm light of the steady love of God.