Sermon for 5/20/18 John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15 Pentecost

Trying to explain what the Holy Spirit is can be like trying to explain how the color pink sounds. Or maybe it would be like trying to explain how lightning tastes. Explaining to someone what the Holy Spirit is can be like describing what a hummingbird looks like when it is sleeping. I think just when we have the Holy Spirit figured out, or think we have her figured out, she surprises us. Instead of trying to explain what the Holy Spirit does, or how the Holy Spirit operates with God the Father and God the Son, I want you to think about how the Holy Spirit feels. Maybe some of you would rather go back and try to describe the taste of the color pink. I’ve been thinking about this off and on and I doubt my definition is any better than yours. But here is what I got. I don’t know what the Holy Spirit is, or how she does what she does. But I do know that once the Holy Spirit enters any facet of my life, I am changed. And some may ask “changed how? Changed good? Changed bad?” And I say “neither. Just changed.”

There are a few things I know for sure about the Holy Spirit (other than it has the ability to turn my world upside down). The Greek word in the Bible for Holy Spirit is “paraclete.” Now, that can be translated a number of ways. And perhaps the way we interact with the Holy Spirit will color the way we translate this. But, some options are: to walk alongside, appeal to, urge, exhort, encourage, request, implore, entreat, cheer up, comfort, mediator, intercessor, or helper. Did you have any idea that the Holy Spirit could do all that? And what I’ve been thinking about this week is the idea that I can’t tell you what the Holy Spirit does in your life. I can only tell you what the Holy Spirit does in mine. I can’t tell you the way the Holy Spirit feels to you. I can’t describe the way the Holy Spirit sounds to you. I can only tell you the way I interact with the Holy Spirit. I think the Holy Spirit acts, sounds, and feels the way that we personally need it to act, sound, and feel. Because when God wants our attention, God will do it in ways that will make us pay attention.

So here is the Holy Spirit to me: God’s most aggravating component. I say this lovingly of course. I just know that when the Holy Spirit gets a hold of me, nothing in my life stays the same. And this is aggravating. Doesn’t God know I have plans? Doesn’t God know that I’ve got things to do? Doesn’t God know I’m stubborn? Oh. Perhaps that is why the Holy Spirit has to shake me up every once in a while. What I know about the Holy Spirit in my life is this: as soon as I make some sort of bold proclamation in regards to my life, it’s as if the Holy Spirit steps in, lets me finish, and then says “that’s cute. You’re going to be doing this instead.”  

There are so many times in my life that I can look back and know that the Holy Spirit was at work in my life and for the better. I had sworn off dating altogether. Chris walked into my life. I had plans to go to graduate school for higher education. The Holy Spirit sent me to seminary (which, to this day has been her trickiest plan accomplished). I had just about given up hope that I would actually be called to a church as a Pastor. The Holy Spirit told me about an awesome congregation in the country that was a perfect fit. So yes, the Holy Spirit for me has been aggravating, soothing, exciting, encouraging, a cheerleader, a helper, and, much to my chagrin, 100% right every single time she pushed me. For me, the biggest problem with even acknowledging the Holy Spirit in my life comes down to one issue: trust.

The idea of trusting the Holy Spirit is one I don’t like. That is difficult for me (personally) because what happens is a shame spiral. I realize I’m not trusting the Holy Spirit or that I don’t trust her. Then I wonder what that means for my own faith if I’m not trusting the Holy Spirit. Then I shame spiral because I think that I, of all people, a woman of faith, should trust in God and all the persons of God (including the Holy Spirit) but yet I don’t. And that’s not a reflection of God or God’s love for me, but it’s a reflection of my own humanity. And once I realize that my faith isn’t as strong as I want it to be then I fear that people are going to realize that I am not perfect. (Shocker) Then once people realize I’m not perfect, are they even going to believe a single word I say from the pulpit? And if they don’t believe what I say from the pulpit then am I even doing what God has called me to do? Shame spiral. Maybe something like that happens to you.

Yet, at the same time, I think that our all knowing-all loving God knows exactly how we were created. So our all knowing, all loving God knows that when the Holy Spirit stirs that we may resist. Perhaps that is why the Holy Spirit is often described as fire or a mighty wind. God knows we need something that is going to get our attention. And it is totally and completely possible that the Holy Spirit may need to shove us, stir us, shake us, whatever it may take a few times to get us to pay attention. A few things happen when the Holy Spirit starts to take hold (or at least in my experience). The first step is doubting. “That wasn’t God, was it?” Or “certainly God doesn’t want me.” Then comes bargaining with God (which never goes well). Usually that sounds something like “fine God! I’ll go! But, if you do then X, Y, and Z!” Or we make deals with God. “Hey Holy Spirit! I’ll do that thing you’ve been encouraging me to do but only if you do this for me first.” Again, this usually never goes in our favor. Lastly, we succumb to the will of the Holy Spirit and our lives are much better for it.

The Holy Spirit is always and will always be part of our lives. Illa and Lars are about to experience the Holy Spirit for the first time. An all powerful, all knowing, all loving God will inhabit these waters, claim them both as beloved children of God, and then proceed to turn their world upside down in the best possible way. The Holy Spirit is the most uncertain and unpredictable person of God. That may make it seem scary. But the Holy Spirit is nothing to fear. Let us let the Spirit be the Spirit. Let us wait in anxiousness. Let us wait in our fear. Let us wait in our joy. Let us wait in our grief. Let us wait on a Sunday in May or a Tuesday in November. The Holy Spirit will show up and in her own time. In her own time. Not ours. Not always in the way we may want her to show up. But she will make herself known in our lives. And the only thing we know for sure is that our lives will never be the same.


Sermon for 6/4/17 John 20:19-23 Pentecost

And so it came to be, that on the fourth day of the six month in the year of our Lord, twenty seventeen; when Donald Trump was president, when we were represented by Joni Ernst and Charles Grassley, along with David Loebsack; when the town of Clinton of Iowa (founded in 1857, only ten short years after the founding of Iowa) was mayored by Mark Vulich, the Holy Spirit entered into the most unlikely of places: the people of Elvira Zion. The nerve of the Holy Spirit. How dare she with her flittering and fluttering about like a wild butterfly with no cares in the world?

She came at first like an itch. Some tired to scratch but that proved futile. The more she was ignored, the more she moved. The Holy Spirit, they found out, does not like to be ignored. So she moved even more. She became energized and tried to once again stir among the people. She was swatted away like a pesky fly. She was greeted with negative blocks of “not right now” and “you certainly don’t want me, Lord.” The Holy Spirit is persistent, they would learn. She continued to swirl and now some started to feel her presence. Some called it “the winds of change” others called it “something new.” She blew into the littlest in the place, knowing they would welcome her as a friend. The Holy Spirit had long ago learned that the younger the disciple, the more willing they were to listen and believe. The Holy Spirit was seen in the youngest through their eyes, how they sparkled; through their voices singing even if off key; even through their dancing in the pews despite parents attempts to make them sit and behave. The Holy Spirit knew, the only way to behave was to respond to her. So the littlest among them danced, sang, twinkled, twirled, and dared to ask hard questions, sometimes the kinds of hard questions with no answers. The littlest among them held out their hands, hungry for bread and wine, knowing it had the power to change their lives, the Holy Spirit had told them so. They longed to splash in the baptismal waters, gobble up every last crumb of bread like it was their last, and then hold hands with other disciples singing joyfully while departing this place. And as hard as she tried, Holy Spirit could not stop the discouraging looks from parents or even those who thought children should be seen and not heard.

But, the Holy Spirit was determined. So she continued to swirl, stir, and breathe into the most unlikely of people, these country people, these farmers, these rural people, these people of big hearts and steady minds. The Holy Spirit continued to breathe into their leader: a strange one of sorts. She was quite unlikely. Not a country girl at all. Troubled with mental health, busy with a family, balancing motherhood, marriage, and a pastorate, the Holy Spirit dare not pass her over. What did it mean that the Holy Spirit stuck around this place? This place of all places? It breathed into one who normally remained quiet, sitting in the back pew, minding his or her own business, and inspired them to speak up and say “what if…” She breathed into a new one, desiring to be more involved so the Holy Spirit gave her an itch that just wouldn’t go away. The Spirit breathed into the one, normally shy and recluse, and opened his mouth to sing the praises of the one who makes us one. She breathed into the one that always blocked out God. “No time” they would say or “I can’t do that” they would cry. And yet…yet, the Holy Spirit chose her to be council president, or run a food pantry, or sit on a committee, or volunteer.

The Holy Spirit saw what was happening in this place and God was quite pleased. So, the Holy Spirit thought “perhaps I should stir and blow some more?” And the Holy Spirit started stirring more. And the Holy Spirit starting blowing more. And people started feeling that itch of change. People started feeling the need to answer God but had no idea how. People started to question this change. And instead of setting up their sails to go wherever the wind of the Spirit might blow, the people set up firm foundations, and boarded up their hearts, like those preparing for a hurricane might do to windows.

The Holy Spirit blew with one idea and encountered a boarded up heart and painted on that board were the words “no time.” And so she moved on and blew into someone else. But their heart was boarded up with words scribbled hastily that said “no money.” She picked up force, blew and stirred even more and encountered another heart, once again boarded up with denial and the words “not me.” The Holy Spirit knew she was in the right place. After all, it was God that sent her. God had a purpose and a reason for this place. Spirit just had to find the right person that would welcome her and engage in a playful, life-giving dance. Spirit was eager. So, the community offered up one of the typical people. That person who always volunteers. That reliable person. The person who wasn’t necessarily excited about the opportunity to dance, but was willing to do so anyway.

As the Holy Spirit started her waltz, it was unfamiliar to the reliable person. The steps seemed faster, or Spirit seemed to be a stronger leader. Either way, Spirit swirled like a tornado and the reliable person held on for dear life. “Maybe” thought Mr or Mrs Reliable, “the Spirit didn’t want me. Maybe it is time for someone else to listen to the Spirit.” In prayer, love, and understanding, reliable gratefully got their dance card stamped and moved aside for someone else.

The community listened and prayed, prayed and listened. They wanted Spirit to stay, desperately. They wanted Spirit to move, change, and mold them. They kept offering up reliable person after reliable person only for Spirit to swirl, twist, and turn them out. She was waiting for anything but the status quo. Finally, a voice spoke up. It was an unfamilar voice to some. It didn’t have the same cadence as all the others. The voice was from someone unlike the rest of them. The language they spoke was the same, but somehow different. Those who had already danced with the Spirit said “maybe this one, the unfamiliar one, the strange one, the new one, the one whose voice we haven’t heard, is the one Spirit is waiting for.” Spirit whirled and smiled because the unfamiliar one had been speaking all along, but the community had chosen not to listen.

And with confidence that came only from God, the unfamiliar one stepped forward, took Spirit’s hand and entered into a careful dance. After a few twists, turns, and twirls, the Spirit finally calmed and settled into the place. The Spirit settled into this place because that is what she does. And she calmed and settled when the community stopped and listened. It wasn’t what they were expecting, but it was something better. It wasn’t what they wanted, but it most certainly is what they needed. The Holy Spirit stayed, calm and settled, because that is what the Holy Spirit does when people start to listen and follow her lead. It is in that calm that we, all of us, can start the hard work of loving one another and being one in community.


Sermon for 5/24/14 Pentecost; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

** 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:


  1. 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…
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. WNDITWB– We’ve Never Done It That Way Before
  5. WADITW — We’ve Always Done It This Way
  6. 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.
  7. “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.”
  8. 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.
  9. 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 ___?”
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.”
  16. 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.
  17. 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?”
  18. 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.
  19. 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?
  20. 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.
  21. 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?
  22. 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.
  23. 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.
  24. 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.
  25. 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”