I Will Put My Spirit Within YouPosted: April 6, 2014
I Will Put My Spirit Within You
SLIDE 3: I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT WITHIN THEM
We live in a time, when many churches seem like shells, skeletons, near empty buildings where the few people who huddle together echo with hollow praise. God spoke to the Hebrew people in exile, in Babylon who could not see a way forward. Many of them had given up hope.
God said, “I will gather the dry lifeless, hopeless bones of this people and put my spirit within them.” And God kept the promise bringing the Hebrew people back to Israel, where they rebuilt the temple and produced the Messiah. God’s promise is good news for us as we think about the Easter hope of resurrection for ourselves one day. God is also holding out hope for our churches that one day we might rediscover the spirit of God and return to new life.
SLIDE 4: SPIRITUAL BANKRUPTCY
The Church has gone through phases of ebb and flow since the time of Pentecost. Often when the institutional church seems most powerful and wealthy it is a season of spiritual bankruptcy. One of those periods of great spiritual bankruptcy was at the beginning of the 13thcentury. The Pope had become the most powerful ruler in Europe. Even the Holy Roman Emperor had bowed to the Pope, who ruled much of central Italy directly as an earthly monarch. The church and its monasteries and convents held large landed estates throughout Europe. But the common people were desperately poor superstitious and ignorant of their own faith. The hierarchy of the church was corrupt and many local clergy were illiterate. They repeated the liturgy of the mass, but they could not read the Bible.
SLIDE 5: THE HOLY SPIRIT SHOWED UP IN FRANCIS OF ASSISI
The middle ages was a low ebb of the life of the church in Western Europe. But then God showed up in the form of a local dandy, the son of a wealthy silk merchant, who had failed as a soldier. And God spoke to him, and he took the name of Francis reaching out to the poor, teaching them the story and the way of Jesus, embracing poverty and sharing with the poor. His example and the order he founded was so spiritually powerful, the church was re-energized for mission and ministry to the poor masses of Europe.
SLIDE 6: ST. FRANCIS AND THE SULTAN – PEACE MAKING
The influence of St. Francis became international, when he journeyed to Egypt in an attempt to end the disastrous fifth Crusade. Courageously he crossed enemy lines and sought an audience with the Sultan. He did not convert al Kamil, but the Sultan was so impressed with Francis, he granted custodianship of all the Christian holy sites in the Holy Land to the Franciscan Order. To this day, the Franciscans are still in possession of those Holy sites. Francis came away from his encounter with the Sultan with a new appreciation and understanding of Muslims, and began to preach for the peaceful coexistence of Christians and Muslims. Francis died in 1226 and his example was so popular he was proclaimed a saint less than two years later.
SLIDE 7: PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS
Francis is credited with being the patron saint of the poor, the animals, the environment, and peace. The prayer of St. Francis is famous:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Slide 8: A New Francis
Now I have used this time reviewing the life of St. Francis, because as I said earlier in the sermon every once in a while in the life of the Church the Holy Spirit shows up. I believe it is not a coincidence the new Pope chose the name of Francis. He is humble. He reaches out to the poor and people of other faiths. He has even advised his fellow bishops to soften their rhetoric in relationship to many of the social issues that have estranged the church from Protestants and the young. Already we see a newly reawakened interest of young people in the church.
SLIDE 9: YOUNG PEOPLE – NOT RELIGIOUS
I believe the Holy Spirit is moving. Seventy-five percent of the Millennial Generation ages 18 to 35, claim they are “not religious.” Chief among their reasons for not affiliating with a religious community is their view that the church is homophobic. They want the church to spend less energy on doctrine and conservative social issues and more energy ministering to the poor. The Millennials connect with one another via social media and friendship circles, but they do not invest in formal organizations or institutions. The Millennials will be a hard generation to lure into the life of the church. Maybe if we start conceiving of ourselves as a community, a community of faith we might become more attractive to younger people. They seek community and authenticity, and that brings me back to St. Francis, because he was representative of both community and authenticity.
SLIDE 10: COMMUNITY AND AUTHENTICITY
Francis was the real thing — not Coca Cola but spirit. His humility, his devotion to the poor, his commitment to the way of Jesus were genuine. He also embodied faith in community. Francis was not some spiritual lone ranger, he lived out his faith in community, and we can lift up the virtue of faith lived in community in our life together as a congregation. After all isn’t one of the greatest spiritual challenges living with all those other people God has given us to work it out with in the life of the church?
SLIDE 11: LESS ANXIOUS ABOUT INSTITUTIONAL SURVIVAL
Pope Francis has a long way to go in trying to turn around the Roman Catholic Church – sort of like trying to turn around an aircraft carrier. But change is hard for all churches even congregations like United Church. One of the attributes that seems to make Pope Francis attractive is he less anxious about the institutional survival of the church and more concerned with following the way of Jesus. I believe that is an important lesson for our re-visioning. If we can let go of our fears and anxieties about the survival of the institution, and embrace the way of Jesus with authenticity, then God’s spirit will help us find a way to new life.
SLIDE 12: INVITING EVERYONE IS A GOOD START
Inviting everyone to the Sharing Table – no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here – has been a good start. Like St. Francis we can also seek to become peace makers – Lord make us instruments of your peace, where there is hatred let us sow love. We can also emulate St. Francis in his ministry to the poor – where there is despair hope.
SLIDE 13: COMMUNITY FOR ALL
“. . . . In this context we can understand Jesus’ command to his disciples: “You yourselves give them something to eat!” (Mark 6:37): it means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor, as well as small daily acts of solidarity in meeting the real needs which we encounter. The word “solidarity” is a little worn and at times poorly understood, but it refers to something more than a few sporadic acts of generosity. It presumes the creation of a new mindset which thinks in terms of community and the priority of the life of all over the appropriation of goods by a few.”
Like St. Francis we can become protectors of the animals and our environment. Has the world been given to us as a commodity to be exploited for profit, or is the earth a gift and we are God’s stewards to take care of it? Earth Day is a reminder of our profound vocation as stewards of the earth.
SLIDE 15: PREACHER YOU’RE MEDDLIN’
Now some folks might say, “preacher your meddlin’. This stuff is political.” Welcoming everyone to the sharing table, inviting everyone to become a steward of the earth is neither Republican, Democrat or Independent. And sometimes the way of Jesus is uncomfortable for all of us.
There is an old story about a young pastor in a southern protestant church who started out his ministry wanting to make a good first impression with his parishioners. His preaching was carefully crafted to be generally pleasant and low key. Two of the matriarchs of the parish decided to inform him that the little town was just chocked full of sin, ripe for a little hard line judgment, and therefore it was time for him to key it up a bit. So taking the word of these 2 righteous folk he made his foray into the dens of iniquity the next Sunday.
First he took on the gambling over ball games, and heard a whisper of “Yes” from his 2 patrons. Next on the menu came the dress code of all the local teenagers, and again came the refrain, “Preach On.” Finally, the young preacher brought up the topic of people whose tonic contained large amounts of alcohol, but there was only stillness and silence in response. Then one of the ladies leaned over and said to the other, “Now he’s quit preaching and gone to meddling!”
SLIDE 16: IN DYING WE ARE BORN TO ETERNAL LIFE
God says to us, “I will put my spirit within you and bring you to new life.” That is good news not only for the church as we continue our task of re-visioning but for each one of us as we approach the promise of Easter. For we should never ever forget the final words of the Prayer of St. Francis: “And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”