** This sermon was more participatory. The text below doesn’t make a lot of sense without being in church today. Each of the “excuses” we give were written out on paper and taped to each pew. As we talked about each excuse, I ripped them up (which is kind of what the Holy Spirit does) and threw them in the center aisle. Then we walked on them on our way to communion, placing all excuses under foot. It was awesome and powerful. **
It’s Pentecost which means I get the super easy task of talking to you about the Holy Spirit. Talking about the Holy Spirit is just about as easy as trying to describe what the color blue tastes like. And instead of trying to fumble my way around describing the Holy Spirit and what the Holy Spirit does and what it feels like, I want to invite us all on a bit of an adventure. I want to think today about how the Holy Spirit really doesn’t necessarily come to accompany us and make things easier, although it may feel like that at times. Really, the Holy Spirit comes to stir stuff up. At times, the Holy Spirit may just downright make things uncomfortable. But we end up being uncomfortable in a good way, if you can imagine that!
I’ve talked many times about my own shortcomings and my own failings. I have sermon illustrations for years thanks to those two things. Nonetheless, I know when the Holy Spirit takes over, I am just best to surrender and go with it. It’s like a Holy wind and you don’t know where it’s going to blow, but you can trust that it’s going to be amazing! And here’s the thing with the Holy Spirit, it really prefers to travel alongside us. But the Holy Spirit, which is part of the Trinity, will do what it does whether we like it or not. And the majority of the time, we are going to be surprised by the outcome, by God’s timing, and by God’s message sent to us through the Holy Spirit.
In our readings today, the Holy Spirit is spoken of many times. It intercedes when sighs are too deep for words. I love that vision. It also is an advocate. But the truth is that when we really take time to listen and be stirred by the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is actually quite rude. It disrupts, it interrupts, it disturbs, and challenges. Because the Holy Spirit takes a hold of us, doesn’t let go, and puts us in places we didn’t expect. The Holy Spirit is just another facet of God and we know that when God gets a hold of us, things get crazy. The Holy Spirit is the same way. The Holy Spirit has the ability to take all of our preconceived notions, all of our hesitations, all of our excuses and do away with them. So today, I want to talk about how the Holy Spirit stirs within and around us and makes way for God and God’s mission in the world.
As we think about doing new things, new missions, and new projects within the church–any church, not just this one, we have usually an arm load of excuses why it won’t work, why we’ll never get to it, or why we just don’t do it. Some of these are:
- time/timing — it’s never the right time. Or it’s the wrong time. We have to wait until harvest is over, or until everything is planted, or until school is out, or until the kids are grown, etc…
- money — we don’t have the money. Or we fear we don’t have the money. What if we don’t get the money?? And most of all, we need to save our money for a rainy day.
- people power — we just don’t have the people to do it. The people that we do have are already overcommitted and we’re afraid of burn out. Our people are to old/to young/to busy.
- WNDITWB– We’ve Never Done It That Way Before
- WADITW — We’ve Always Done It This Way
- not our mission — This isn’t who we are. It’s not who we’ve ever been. We need to stay focused on the programs we already have.
- “isms” — This is one of the worst and most disturbing excuses. We use “isms” to limit our mission. We may not out right use an “ism” to limit mission and the work of the Holy Spirit, but any time we hold back because we might have to interact with those that are different in any way from us, it’s an “ism.”
- failure — This is a huge problem. What if we fail? The fear of failure keeps us from doing all kinds of things. The fear of failure is paralyzing to a church and causes us to do nothing but look inward, close and lock the doors, and stop growing.
- success — But the opposite of that is success. Some people are afraid to try because they might be successful. What if we try something new and it’s a success? What will our identity be then? We’ve always been the church that ___.” What if we suddenly become the church that ___?”
- so and so does it already — We hear this sometimes when talking about mission. We can’t do a meal, Zion already does that. We can do elder care, Immanuel does that. We can’t do whatever because so and so does that. Not once in the Bible does Jesus ever tell us “Go….make disciples of all nations. Actually, just kidding…only 1 church can do that.” If our focus is God and God’s mission, imagine what we could do together versus what we could do apart.
- leadership — Some churches don’t engage in mission because they are waiting on a leader. Or their waiting on the leader they have in place (the pastor) to start. We are all called to be leaders and disciples. We ground ourselves in the principle that we belong to the priesthood of all believers. If you want to participate in mission, if you’re feeling called by the Holy Spirit to do something–perhaps you’re the leader we’re waiting for.
- busy — We’re busy. We’re all busy. We’ve bought in to the glorification of being busy. If we find ourselves too busy to participate in God’s mission in the world, we may find ourself without a church.
- inward thinking — this is just as destructive as “isms.” We think about what goes on inbetween the four walls of a church. We feel we have to take care of our own first–whatever that means. We’ll do outreach as soon as we’ve gotten our own house in order.
- priorities — We all have about 2,354 things that take priority in our lives. It goes along with being busy. Sometimes church isn’t one of those priorities. Sometimes God’s mission isn’t one of those priorities. I get it. But if the Holy Spirit is stirring, the time will come when the priorities will become very clear.
- fear of/failure of commitment — I’m starting to notice this more and more. People have severe cases of FOMO (fear of missing out) while at the same time not committing to anything. “Sure, I might come to your party, if I don’t have anything else going on.”
- relevance — I think we sometimes think that whatever the “going” thing is at other churches is what we need here. And maybe we do, but maybe we don’t. Maybe the Holy Spirit isn’t calling us to have a band, and drums, and lights. Or maybe she is. But, we can’t let the temptation, the seduction of being relevant get in the way of the Holy Spirit.
- overwhelmed — We are all this way, I think. We have priorities, we’re busy, and we’re just overwhelmed. I’ve never met anyone that’s just “whelmed.” We can’t bear to add anything else into our lives. The idea of being overwhelmed happens as well when we see a big problem (like an earthquake or something) and we feel called to help but get overwhelmed in thinking “what difference can I make, I’m just one person?”
- will of God — anytime we claim to know or pretend to know the will of God we get into trouble. It’s a slippery slope and I beg you to avoid it if at all possible.
- bigger problems — We can’t see the forrest through the trees. Shouldn’t we focus on bigger issues? Don’t we want to make the biggest difference?
- scared — There are times when we’re just plain scared. It’s all too easy to pull the covers up over our head and not face the world.
- collaboration/lack of — Well, we’d take on this big project, but I just really don’t want to work with so and so. Or, do we really want to be working with such and such a company?
- selfishness — This is as destructive as inward looking and the glorification of busy. What will being involved in God’s mission do for me? How can it help me? Remember friends, we can’t earn our way into heaven. We live by grace through faith.
- too nice — sometimes God’s mission means doing hard work, difficult work, with difficult people. We sometimes get into our “Iowa nice” way of being and don’t end up helping anyone at all. Now, that’s not to say we shouldn’t be nice. But there’s a difference between being nice and enabling someone.
- materials/lack of — We use lack of materials as an excuse not to participate in mission. But, if God is calling us into mission through the Holy Spirit, the materials will…materialize.
- what if….. This last one is simple. It covers everything I haven’t touched on. These are all those little voices in your head that make you question the movement of the Holy Spirit. But all of these “what ifs” that make you doubt is just Satan trying to stop the Holy Spirit and trying to stop you from participating in God’s mission in the world. If God is presenting you with a mission for the world, God will answer all of those “what ifs”