Bidden or Not Bidden

Preached on 4 June, 2107 at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Snohomish, Washington
The Day of Pentecost, Year A

Bidden or not bidden, God is present.
That’s what it says on Carl Jung’s gravestone.

My sponsor gave me a plaque with this saying on the day I was confirmed; the day the bishop laid his hands firmly on my head and prayed, “Strengthen, O Lord, your servant Mary, with your Holy Spirit; empower her for your service; and sustain her all the days of her life.”  It hangs in the hallway right outside my kitchen where I walk past it many times every day.

Bidden or not bidden, God is present.

Whether or not we understand God or even believe in God, God is as God is and is present.
Just like whether or not we know or understand Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity or Newton’s Law of Gravity – gravity works and if we step off a cliff, we’re gonna fall.
Whether or not we’ve even seen an ocean or understand the tides, still, it ebbs and flows, twice a day, every day.  Whether or not we believe or understand about tectonic plates, the earth shakes when they shift.  The earth will turn and we will say that the sun rises and sets and we trust that the sun is up there, even when it’s obscured by clouds.

That which is true is true regardless of what we think or say about it; regardless of our personal opinion or our understanding of the scientific principles involved.

We don’t talk much about the Holy Spirit in the Episcopal Church.  I wonder if it’s because we tend to stay in our head, trying to understand and explain doctrines.  But of the three persons of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit may be the most difficult to understand.

Today is Pentecost, though, when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Barbara Brown Taylor has said that the Holy Spirit is not so much for us to understand, as someone we trust.

The Holy Spirit is someone we trust.  But what do we trust the Holy Spirit to do?  We can start by looking to the Scriptures for what the Holy Spirit does.  And then we can reflect on our own experiences of the Spirit.

In Acts, the Spirit draws people together into community and in John, the Spirit sends the people of the community out to spread the new of Jesus Christ.  In the church in Corinth, the Spirit activates the gifts present in the community to serve the common good; gifts for nurturing, sustaining, and building up the community.

We see the Spirit creating – in the Psalm, God sends forth the Spirit to create and renew the earth.  And in John, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into the disciples before sending them forth.  It is reminiscent of God breathing into the first human, Adam, in the Creation story in Genesis 2 ; and of Ezekiel calling the breath from the four directions, to breathe into the dry bones and give them life.

The Holy Spirit is for everybody.  Peter quotes the prophet, Joel, saying the Spirit is for everyone: young and old, sons and daughters, men and women.  And Paul writes that in the one Spirit we are all baptized into one body: Jews and Greeks, slaves and free.

We see the Holy Spirit acting in a variety of ways.  So, I think we can say that the underlying promise is this:  the Holy Spirit will, indeed, act – to affirm, invigorate, surprise, and even challenge our faith.

It’s important to keep in mind, though, that while we trust the Holy Spirit to act, we can’t count on the Spirit to do our bidding.  The Holy Spirit’s activity is not necessarily what we desire or want or even like.

We trust the Holy Spirit to act, yes, to come alongside us, to empower us for ministry, to sustain, comfort, and guide us.  That doesn’t mean that the Spirit will eliminate all danger and difficulty from our lives – even from what God calls us to do.

What does it all mean for our lives?  How do you trust the Holy Spirit to act?  Some ways spring to my mind from my own experience.

  • Peace in my soul – even when it’s not going to be all right. The peace that passes understanding, that allows me to do what I need to do.
  • Provide the words I need for a person who is worried or anxious or afraid, facing some kind of crisis or difficulty.
  • Or the courage to simply be present with them in their pain when there are no words.
  • Open our eyes and ears and hearts to see and hear and love our neighbor. And the same to see and hear and love God.
  • Inspire our prayer, not only in our speaking, but in our listening.
  • Inspire the creativity of a group.

We can trust the Holy Spirit to

  • Bring peace to Manchester and Minya and London
  • Empower us to speak up and act to protect the vulnerable and to change the systems of injustice.
  • Guide our path, opening paths before us or closing doors behind us.
  • Guide the search committee and the candidates for Rector to discern whom God is calling to serve with the people of St. John’s to continue Christ’s mission.
  • Draw people together and send people out.
  • Inspire each one of us to live into and embody our Spirit-given gifts.

The Holy Spirit is present in our loving and our forgiving, in our praying and discerning, in our proclaiming and healing and creating.

The Spirit is present and acting whether or not we recognize it, or agree with it or like it or accept it.

Bidden or not bidden; believed or not believed, God is present; the Spirit is active.

Thanks be to God.