[Note: During the season of Pentecost, the Revised Common Lectionary offers two options for Old Testament and Psalter readings. The first option follows a series of Old Testament readings for several weeks. The second option relates the Old Testament and Psalter readings to New Testament themes. Sermonhelp.Com will be following the second option.]
Sunday June 7, 1998 ~ Trinity Sunday/First Sunday After Pentecost .........................John 16:12-15
The season of Pentecost is an opportune time to dig a bit deeper into the meaning of Paul's phrase in Galatians 5:16, "Live by the Spirit, I say..." The full text sermons for these first four Sundays after Pentecost will invite our listeners to journey a little deeper into their inner lives. Christian living is "Spirit Life!"
"Your Spirit Guide"
Do you have one?
Shirley MacLaine may be able to find you one! A blonde lady in Oregon (whose name escapes me) claims to have one. (She charges $100 a pop to have the ancient Egyptian priest in her tell you all you ever wanted to know about your past lives! -- I have enough to handle with my "present" life.) Black Elk of the Sioux Nation moved freely between the "seen" world and the "unseen" world where he was in contact with many. The great psychiatrist C.G. Jung was open to them.
In some quarters, to be without one is like a high school senior without a date for the prom! I'm talking about "Spirit Guides". Spirit guides in one form or another have been a part of the human religious psyche since the beginning of recorded history. Simply put, spirit guides represent some kind of personalized link between the visible, physical world and the invisible, spiritual world. Spirit guides do everything from put you in touch with a lost relative to helping you find the meaning of your life. All kinds of people claim to be able to help you get in touch with "your" spirit guide. Some are quite sincere, others are outright charlatans and some are just plain loosely wrapped.
Whether it be spirit guides, "Psychic Hotline", the astrology guide in your local newspaper or Lady Esmerelda's crystal ball... there is a tremendous search for meaning, direction and purpose in our culture. (**Hang on to these three concepts -- they provide the basis for understanding today's gospel reading.)
Deepak Chopra M.D. says it this way, "There seems to be a hole in the middle of everyday life, as if a rock had been thrown through a plate glass window. But instead of a physical hole, one could call this a 'meaning,' hole..." Chopra has emerged as one of the most popular spiritual gurus of the nineties with his blend of Western medicine and Hindu spirituality. Chopra's books, audio and video tape series have found hundreds of thousands of anxious, searching consumers seeking to find the, "fulfillment of your dreams", promised in the audio book, "The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success."
I've heard Chopra pronounced a, "Pagan Hindu Philosopher" -- but this begs the question. Why do people from Christian traditions have to search outside the Christian tradition to gain direction for filling the "meaning hole"?
Chopra's religious roots and our Christian roots are physically and spiritually "worlds apart." -- quite literally. Nevertheless, this "meaning hole" has the power of a vacuum and will draw in the closest available answer regardless of where it comes from. We are obliged to rediscover the amazing inner life Jesus promised his followers -- the "Spirit Life" we westerners have shunned for so long. An incident reported in some newspapers some years back is instructive.
The Associated Press ran a story about a virus that infected a flock of Canada geese. The virus destroyed their navigation system. They flew in circles, became disoriented and got lost. Can you believe that? Canada geese getting lost? It was devastating for the flock. Thousands of geese died. What an incredible consequence because of a loss of ability to navigate.
There is an equally devastating consequence that takes place when we lose our spiritual bearings. In the deepest spiritual sense, we don't know where we're going, can't remember our destination, and wind up totally lost. Life becomes a maze and we are ripe for someone or something to come along and fill the void. As the geese were designed with an inner navigational system, we were designed to have a spiritual guidance system. That's part of being created in the image of God. The problem is that our guidance system has failed and left us with a spiritual vacancy -- or in classical theological terms, sin has brought about a malfunction. Reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ can bring us "online" once again. Christ promised to his followers a Spirit who would, "...guide you into all truth..."
In other words, we were designed to have an inner spiritual guide. That Spirit Guide is not a wizard or an ancient Egyptian priest or the voice on the other end of the psychic hotline -- the authentic, one and only God-given Spirit Guide is the Spirit Guide Jesus promised to his followers almost two thousand years ago! "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth..." Spirit life is living with the confidence that we are in relationship with the Spirit of God who gives meaning, direction, and purpose from within.
Spirit life is for everyone, not for the few or the extraordinary. We need only begin to give earnest attention to these clues from the gospel reading.
I. Meaning - It's an Ongoing Process
Jesus' words make it clear that spiritual growth is an ongoing process. He told his followers that there was no way they could comprehend everything he wanted to teach them -- but, as time went on the Spirit would lead them into full understanding. Notice the 13th verse. Jesus does not say, "...he will zap you into all the truth!" The Spirit will guide, not zap. Not only that -- the language here can rightfully be translated, "...he will guide and keep on guiding you..." In other words, there is no magic bullet and no short cut to authentic living that delivers meaning, direction and purpose. St Paul himself said, "Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own..."
One of the difficulties of our culture is that we are so goal and destination driven, we miss the joy of the journey! Translated into our faith experience, this makes us vulnerable to the notion of Christian faith as a kind of "reservation" for heaven. Everything between today and our arrival at the "Pearly Gates" is marking time. The degree to which we buy into this will be the degree to which we experience a loss of meaning in our life of faith. Life is living -- a process -- and faith which provides meaning for living will be a faith that intersects my life daily on the journey.
The journey can not end with the completion of Sunday School or with Confirmation. One of the really unfortunate things I encounter, is when people come to times of crisis in their lives and simply do not have the spiritual resources to cope. The spiritual substance isn't there because there was no consistent development since elementary or adolescent years. In fact an old principle might be restated by saying, "If my spiritual resources are not growing, they are dying."
The guidance which leads to meaning comes to me as I open my journey to the Spirit who is given as a gift of One to journey with me.
II. Direction - It's a Certain Source
There is a key question you should keep handy for any religious or spiritual claims that come your way. It is simply, "Where did you get that?" Actually this is a good question for many areas of our living. Answers can be anything from, "I read it in the paper." to "An ancient Persian priest told me in a trance."
With religious propositions, the question is critical. Consider the following: "There is a spaceship behind a comet that is going to take true believers to the next level of being." If you should hear something along that line, you should of course ask, "Where did you get that?" Most spiritual misdirection will not be so outrageous, it can be appealing, smooth, deceptive and seductive. People are falling for and being deceived by "false prophets" all day, every day. When you hear any religious claim, the question needs to be asked, "Where did you get that?"
In fact, this is a question that can well be asked of the teaching and preaching that comes from the pulpits of our own churches. Ask it of me! "Where did you get that?" Jesus makes it clear that even the Spirit -- our inner Guide -- is not speaking on "his own", but speaks what he hears from the Father. There is a certain source for the direction we seek and that source is God himself. William Barclay said, "Truth is not man's discovery, it is God's gift."
When you nourish your relationship with the Spirit who gives us direction from within, you open your life to the guidance that comes from God.
III. Purpose - It's a Clear Goal
There is a very simple goal to the whole issue of spiritual guidance. There is a profoundly transforming power to the goal of the Spirit within who guides us. The goal is this, "He will glorify me." That is, the Spirit who guides us from within has the ultimate aim of lifting up, bringing honor to and causing praise to be given to Jesus Christ.
At first glance this might seem to have an ivory tower, ring to it. A wonderful notion that applies to people like St. Francis of Assisi or Mother Theresa. But what possible connection could this purpose have to do with the life of a "run of the mill" person like me? What does this have to do with raising my kids in a dangerous world, getting along with my grumpy boss or bringing some strength to my floundering marriage?
The answer is not simply the heart of this message -- it is the heart of the faith! The meaning of our scripture reading today is that the Spirit who lives and guides us from within has the purpose of shaping the person and the power of Jesus Christ in our lives. Our "Spirit Guide" has the purpose of nourishing us toward everything God designed us to be!
Most of us have simply not given much attention to our inner life. The outer dimension of living is dominant in our culture. However, the meaning, direction and purpose our spirits are hungry for requires development of the inner life. There are three basic commitments we can make to enhance the work of God's Spirit within. Do these without fail for thirty days. You will discover a difference that will encourage you to invest in the development of your inner life.
1. Upon waking in the morning -- before you charge into the day, invite the Spirit within you to accompany you throughout your day. Do it every day!
2. Upon waking in the morning, after you have invited the Spirit to accompany you throughout your day, think of one of the basic principles that governs your day -- directs you life -- and ask yourself, "Where did you get that?" Do it every day!
3. Upon waking in the morning, after you have invited the Spirit to accompany you throughout your day and after looking at one of the basic principles that governs your day, pray silently, "Spirit of God, shape the person of Jesus Christ more fully in my life today." Do it every day!
The Incredible Gifts of Faith ~ Romans 5:1-5
What does it mean to place our faith in Christ. Paul's discussion in Romans takes us to the benefits or gifts that come to us once we have come to trust Christ as the One who brings us reconciliation with God. In Christ, we are accepted, the struggle is over and the new life has begun. That new life means:
1. Peace with God - v.1
Does Anyone Care About Truth? ~ John 16:12-15
This theme is more topical than expository, but there is a real need to ask a question in our world. "Does anyone care about truth?" Jesus said the Spirit would "...guide you into all the truth.." Ask questions about who tells the truth?
HMO's tell the truth about patient care?
Examine the ways truth is important to your community and ask the question of what it would mean if "all truth" would be applied in the most important issues facing the people you minister to. Then raise the question, "Do you tell the truth to yourself?"
Jesus said to his followers, "You will know the truth and the truth will make you free." To care about truth is to care about freedom. Untruth binds. Truth frees.
[See Truth and Lies under Truth in Illustration Data Base for quotes]
A Responsive Invocation (Based on Psalm 8)
You, O Lord, are more wonderful than our lips can
A Prayer of Dedication
Holy Lord, Creator of all that fills our lives with joy, the gifts we bring to You are tokens of our gratitude. From Your gracious hand we have received peace, grace, hope and love. May the gifts we bring result in other hearts coming to know the joy of Your love. Amen.
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