First Sunday After Pentecost - May 22, 2016

Preacher: 
The Reverend Amelie A. Wilmer
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The First Sunday after Pentecost; Trinity Sunday

May 22, 2016

The Reverend Amelie A. Wilmer

 All Souls Episcopal Church

 

Jesus said to the disciples, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."(John 16:12-15)

 

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I wonder what your reaction would be if I began my sermon like this:

“There are things that are essential to our life in God, but I can’t talk about them because you would not be able to understand. They are far too complicated and way over your head.”

Oh, really? You might ask...

In the same way, you might also be a little put off when Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12) What things? we ask. Tell us. Don’t leave us hanging. We can take it.

And yet, we all know what it’s like to have to hold back information that we sense is too much for another person to bear.  We parents have much to say to our children that they cannot yet bear to hear.  Likewise, our adolescents have things to say to us that we simply cannot bear. It’s the same with teachers, with employers and doctors. There are things to be said about terminal illness, or grief, or childbirth, or even calculus that we cannot bear, cannot understand until we have had a certain amount of experience. 

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus doesn’t give us a clue about the many things he has yet to tell us, but we are told how we will hear of them – through the Spirit of truth who will guide us, speak to us, show us all that we need to know. Jesus says, “All that the Father has is mine….and the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you. 

And while neither Jesus nor any other biblical writer ever uses the word “trinity” to describe this three-fold relationship he has with the Father and the Spirit, it is words such as these that inspired early Christians to wonder who these three persons are and how they could possibly function together as one God.  It is this mystery of our life in a triune God that we honor today, and yet it is a mystery that won’t really be clear to us until, as Jesus says, “we are guided into all truth.”

So, the question I ask is this:  If there is more for us, more truth for us to hear, more than what Jesus revealed in his lifetime and is recorded in scripture, how do we know when the spirit is revealing it to us?  How do we tell what is of our own making from the truth that comes from God?

Well, if we look to scripture, it seems that the spirit of truth reaches us in a variety of ways – some quite familiar, and some very strange.  The spirit works through dreams and visions, through people with prophetic insight and unique communication skills.  To some the spirit gives knowledge, a way of knowing what we could otherwise not know.  To others, wisdom, the profound gift of discernment.  And through others, the power of healing or other actions that could only described as miraculous.  The spirit can work in each one of us with the gift of comfort or strength, in what otherwise could crush or cripple us.[1]

The spirit guides us into truth in all sorts of ways.  But there is, as far as I can tell, one necessary condition for being receptive to this guidance.  We need time - to be still and silent.  Still enough to hear, silent enough to listen. For God to be really present to us, we must be really present to God – this is only way we can take in the guidance of God’s spirit. 

The English word, “silence” comes from the Latin word that means “stop.  Without silence, without pausing, we simply cannot separate the wheat from the chaff.  What is important?  What should we attend to?  How do we claim, and compare and connect our lives’ experiences? 

We need, sometimes, to stop.  Silence is, for our life in God, a lot like punctuation is for language.  Without the silencing effect of punctuation, and without space between words, it all becomes gibberish.  And so it is with life.  We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with information and instant communication, slaves to our smart phones.  Without silence, without the pauses, our life becomes like a run-on sentence, which is crazy making, and it just doesn’t make sense.

As many of you know, our vestry committee spent some intentional time during this year’s planning retreat to pause, to make space – so that we could better discern where God might be leading our congregation as we head into the next years of our life together. The congregational meeting we had last month was product of that time, and a way to invite you and your ideas into this intentional way of discernment and planning.

We are a busy bunch, something that just seems to be a part of our DNA and our mission orientation - and it doesn’t come naturally for us to stop, to be still, to create some blank space in our schedule.  Our tendency is to place more things on the calendar, create new activities, ensure that we will not be sitting still.  So I am grateful that we are being courageous enough to resist this tendency, just a bit and take the time to pause and really ponder - What is it that we might hear that, as Jesus said, we could not bear to hear – last year, last month, even last week?

What inspires and nurtures our sense of community and commitment and how can we do a better job of supporting that?  How best do we learn and pray and serve?  How do we make connections with the community around us?  All of these are questions that can be Spirit led and Spirit answered, if only we will listen.

Which leads me to another important part of the equation, and that is listening.  We can pause and be still and clear space, but we also need to make the commitment to listen, to hear, to give the spirit that lives and breathes in and among us our full attention.  And the greatest obstacle to this is noise – not the traffic noise or the neighbors’ music or the person talking loudly in the room...but the noise in our own heads.  As Brother Curtis Almquist puts it, “sometimes the interior chaos going on in our heads is like a wild cocktail party in which we find ourselves the embarrassed host.” 

With this in mind, I offer you some tips that the brothers from the monastery of SSJE offered me, when I was on retreat with them.  I think these would helpful for each of us, not only personally, but as we try to listen together, as a community:[2]

The first is this:  Get on good speaking terms with yourself.  If you spend endless energy fighting yourself – scolding, correcting, cursing, blaming, comparing yourself.  Stop. This is deafening, it consumes a massive amount of energy, and it will surely drown out any revelation of God’s Spirit.  That’s the truth.  Stop the interior argument and say “yes” to your life.  Get on very good speaking terms with yourself.  You need you.  You’re the best you’ve got. You are worth it.

The other is this:  Forgive.  If you have a running interior argument going against someone or something in your past – someone who has disappointed or offended or terribly hurt you – you need to forgive them.  Not because they ask for it, or want it, or deserve it, or are even aware of their need for it, but for your own sake.  Otherwise you continue to give power over your life to this person or these people, and they continue to hurt you.  Forgiveness is your own liberation, a gift you give yourself, and it will quiet an incredible amount of interior, deafening noise, giving you the interior freedom to be still enough to listen to the gift of life today.  That is the truth of it.  You are worth it.

And finally, and I have said this recently, breathe. The word Spirit comes from the Latin root, spiritus, which means breath.  It is where we get words like inspiration. Use your own breath as a passageway to and from God’s spirit – exhale all the fear, the anxiety, anger, resentment -whatever debris is clogging your soul.  Inhale what you need of God’s light and life and love -the gift of joy, of hope, of peace, of courage.  Keep inhaling what you need from God. Keep Breathing. You are worth it, the community is worth it.

To know the guidance of God’s Spirit, we need to be still, to be silent, to just let the spirit breathe in us, the Spirit that is closer to us than our own breath.   This Spirit that Jesus leaves with us will lead us into all truth. If only we will listen.

 

Amen

 

 

[1] Brother Curtis Almquist, “The Spirit of Truth” SSJE Sermons online.

[2] Ibid

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