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The Gift of the Spirit

On the day of Pentecost we celebrate the gift of the Spirit—the birth of the Christian Church. The Apostles were gathered in Jerusalem 50 days after Passover. The Greek word: “Pentekostos” means 50.

Can we know if the Spirit of God has truly gotten ahold of a person or a community? Do they speak or behave in a certain way? Can we tell by the decisions they make or the actions they take? Do they have a kind of glow about them? My mom, Alice, used to say that when you see a person filled with the Spirit you just know—you just know. It will be as clear to you as the glorious view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the battery Spencer overlook after the fog has lifted. People who are full of the spirit, mom said, bring people together. They are hope creators—artists of goodwill—dream encouragers…and goodness pours out of them.

We need to be reminded that the Spirit of God which appeared at Pentecost is powerfully alive and at work in our world today since we live in a time when hope-destroyers, artists of hate and dream killers are everywhere.

I read about a person full of the spirit recently. I told my mom about her last week and it put the biggest smile on her face. My Mother recognized in the story of a young woman named Rachel Held Evans, a fellow traveler, motivated by the same Spirit which had always motivated her. The reconciling, healing, liberating Spirit of God.

No, they had not followed the same path in life, my mother and Rachel, but they had shared the same mission—to strive to live a life reflective of the spirit of God’s justice and love.

These two special women, almost 50 years apart in age, gave literally everything they had--until they had no more left to give. They both now live in the heaven of God’s eternal love.

Alice Crouch created a social space in her home in Thailand where women, Buddhist and Christian, could find common ground as mothers, as wives, as human beings. Rachel Held Evans created a social space on twitter for the forgotten, the ignored, the mocked, the injured, a space for them to find acceptance and renewed hope.

Jen Hatmaker, in an obituary to Rachel Held Evans published in Time Magazine just 20 days ago, on May 20th, wrote: “There is a wilderness space [on the internet] in which misfits who flummox the Christian status quo gather. That wilderness has lost a hero—one who challenged the hierarchy behind the city walls [and] the patriarchy under the steeples. Rachel insisted women, people of color, the LGBTQ community and the poor were the real elders of the church."

“Rachel Held Evans was a prophet and preacher, author and friend, and generous beyond all comprehension. A better ally [to all those marginalized communities] didn’t exist. When she died [last month] on May 4, at the shocking age of 37, the Twitter hashtag #becauseofRHE became a different kind of gathering place, for stories of outcasts she welcomed back in, doubters she comforted, friends she celebrated, careers she launched, critics she challenged, every last one a witness to her rare legacy."

“Our community,” says Jen Hatmaker, “believes Rachel received but one welcome as she entered eternity: ‘‘Well done, good and faithful servant, Enter into your rest.’”

Friends, people who are truly filled with the spirit of God experience a life-change—and then they find themselves, as Rachel did, helping to change the lives of others. That’s essentially what happened on the day of Pentecost 2000 years ago. Lives were changed, transformed, by the Spirit of God. People who didn’t speak the same language, literally or spiritually, suddenly found themselves on the same page. You could say that the transformation of these people was as dramatic as Luke’s description of the Spirit’s arrival.

We tend to focus on how the Spirit arrived—rather than on what the Spirit accomplished. Years ago I worked as an Assistant pastor in a combined Methodist and Presbyterian Church on the campus of USC. I kid you not. The reason I worked there was because of my admiration for the pastor of the church, The Rev. Dr. Patricia Farris. We became close friends.

She is one of a long line of mentors in my life.

25 years ago I heard Patricia speak about the transformation of people on the day of Pentecost. I got a copy of her message the following week. Said Patricia: “On that first Pentecost day, God’s people had gathered from all parts of the Mediterranean world. Left to their own devices, they would not have been able to converse with one another. They all spoke different languages. But the Holy Spirit acted like a great Heavenly Translator that day to open up to them a reality deeper than any limitation of human language and reveal to them their common humanity, their relationship with one another as children of God, and together as the Body of Christ.”

Friends, Patricia was absolutely right. The spirit of God brought new unity amid diversity—it still does. And I would add that the Spirit does not allow you to remain stuck in a theology or philosophy or worldview in which you view others from a safe distance.

The Spirit of God spurs in you a love and appreciation for the humanity of all people—and, at times the Spirit moves a person out of their comfort zone so they can bring people an experience of Christ’s love. That’s ultimately what the Spirit of God did with the lives of Rachel Held Evans and my Mom, Alice Crouch.

And you know what’s really amazing? The life-giving, life-empowering, life changing Spirit which was present at Pentecost--was present this very morning in the baptisms of Chris and Sheryl—and it will be present in the bread and cup of communion. With the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, I believe God says to each of us, I love you--now help me make this a better world. Move toward people rather than away from them.

Say’s God, try harder to understand a person—rather than accepting shallow stereotypes about them or relying merely on your first impressions of them.

I believe God says: For goodness sakes—be more forgiving. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Stop micromanaging. Slow down and marvel at the Sunset I just made for you over the Pacific ocean.

Says God, You have received the gift of the Spirit, just as my son, Jesus did at the River Jordan, just as those disciples did in that home, in order to be a gift of compassion and hope to others.

I close this morning with a true story of a woman named Nicolette Rohr, of Riverside, California, who, filled with the Spirit of God, to her surprise, moved toward people, toward strangers, even when she felt a pull to go the other way. Nicolette allowed God to take her out of her comfort zone. She overcame her fears and found the courage to love. May her story inspire you to continue to discover your own call and purpose.

You likely will not have the same experience she did—but each of us is called to open our hearts to what God would have us do. As Dina read a few minutes ago from 1st Corinthians: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common Good.”

Nicolette, in a very personal and honest piece I read just last month in the Christian Century, wrote: “Getting off the freeway at an exit I’d never used, in a neighborhood I’d never been in, I wished I could turn around and go home. I was on my way to pick up a woman I had never met and three of her sons. They were from Afghanistan. They were refugees.

“The week before, the president had announced a travel ban targeting nations with high populations of Muslims.” Said Nicolette, a follower of Christ, “The images of chaos at airports around the world had filled me with despair, outrage, and a sense of hopelessness.

[Then] I remembered that I’d heard about an organization two women had founded to support refugees in our Southern California community. I found their organizations page on Facebook, tentatively opened Messenger, and typed: ‘Good morning, I am heartbroken and wondering if there is anything I can do to help (besides write, call, pray, etc)’ Said Nicolette: “I thought it sounded a little naïve, but I sent the message anyway.”

Nicolette continues: “A few minutes later a woman named Sherry wrote back, asking me to call her. “I thought she might ask for money or tell me where to drop off food, clothes, or furniture. Instead, she said, ‘We have ESL (English as a second language) class tomorrow [at a church in your city.] Can you give a family a ride?’

“Inwardly I was hesitant. But I was a graduate student with a writing fellowship, so I had no real time commitments—and I had a car. I said yes. Soon I got a text message from someone named Ike who coordinates rides to ESL classes. He gave me a name, phone number, and address in another city. ’I don’t want to do this,’ was my first thought. The same thought ran through my head the next morning as I drove to the apartment building. But as I pulled up, I was struck with a realization. As hesitant as I was, I had never felt more strongly that I was doing what God wanted me to do.

“I drove [the woman named] Shabana and her three sons to my city, to the church where the class was meeting. I followed her in. Folding chairs were arranged in a circle and a few women were already seated, talking and laughing. [The refugee women] each greeted me with three kisses (Afghani style, I soon learned). I took a seat, still feeling like a newcomer observing this growing circle of women and children, warm embraces, friendship, and resilience. I met [another woman,] Shabnam, who had been in the country for just a few weeks, and [later] I practiced writing the alphabet with [another] Roya. [Then] I met Friba who told me about her four daughters and made plans with me for them to visit the art museum.

“Later that day, I went to the car wash, physical therapy, and a church meeting and told everyone about my morning. Within a week, my physical therapist had bought shoes for Friba’s daughter, my cousin had started providing childcare during class, and Marge, a woman from my church in her eighties, had started coming to class and we were becoming fast friends.

“[In my heart I felt] this is what we all were supposed to be doing.”

Nicolette continues: “Since then, I’ve grown close to the [Afghan] women and their families.

I’ve become interested in their hopes and their projects. I first reached out because I wanted to make people who were new to this country feel welcome at a time when the government was making it clear that they were not. As it turned out, they made me feel welcome.

“I hate the losses my new friends have endured and the hardships their families continue to face. I love the community we’ve built in the midst of it. Nicolette of Riverside, concludes:

“I can still feel the way God moved me on that first morning, making me feel in my bones what I knew in my head—welcome the stranger—and [God] moving me to my core with a conviction: yes, you!”

Friends, How do we know if a person, or a group of people, or a church is full of the spirit?

As a wise woman named Alice once said: “You just know…You just know.”



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