Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Friday, December 13, 2013
Mike Turgeon Summer of Prayer: “Holy Spirit” August 21, 2011
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.
We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Summer of prayer: Holy Spirit
In each chapter of the Apostle Paul’s writings, at least one phrase leaps up and grabs your imagination. Sometimes it’s the whole chapter. Chapter 13 of First Corinthians, of course. “Love is patient, love is kind, love does not seek its own way...”
And this morning, he is speaking about the gifts that God bestows on us.
“We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.”
Giftedness. Some might say this is ‘religious’ language. I’m ok with that. Certainly, Paul was speaking to a church here. But we know you don’t have to be religious to have gifts.
However, these gifts--prophecy, ministry, exhortation, giving, compassion, and others like them, are what we rely on to carry out God’s will and Jesus‘ mission. That’s what Paul is saying.
He really could turn a phrase, couldn’t he?
“...present your bodies as a living sacrifice...which is your spiritual worship.”
Does that have any meaning anymore? Sacrifice in a world of self. Spiritual worship in a material world? Well, life is always a question of meaning, either you work it out with God what that meaning is, or the world will work it our for you. There are many thousands of voices and images just screaming at you, vying for your attention, no? Voices just hoping that you’ll give them an ear.
Paul’s voice is one of them, and it is a voice of hope:
SLIDE: “...be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Now don’t let the mention of the word ‘perfect’ be an obstacle. We are not perfect, never will be, but the purpose God has for us is perfect for who we are. Paul’s voice of hope here then lays out our main task as followers of Jesus: let him change us, let him transform and renew your mind, so we can discern God’s will, and then act on that purpose. Another way to say this is personal mission.
Frederich Buechner once described personal mission as that place where your deep joy meets the world’s deep hunger. It just so happens that at that very same intersection, your deep joy and the world’s deep hunger, is where the Holy Spirit resides.
This is why a prayer practice is so crucial. Remember,
Praying is staying aware, alert and open to God’s presence in your life.
Consistent prayer gives makes space for the Holy Spirit to operate. The Spirit is an explosive spiritual force that will do with you what it will. Engagement with your personal mission is a dangerous occupation, it will lead you places you may not willingly go, but Jesus may have other plans for you. He is the head navigator in life for a reason. He wants to lead us to deep joy. We hear this most eloquently in the Gospel of John, when Jesus said:
“...I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10b
Deep joy. Deep joy is available but you are going to have to let your burdens go. But you gotta’ ask yourself, would you be willing to trade your burdens for deep joy. Can you let Jesus help you negotiate that question?
The world’s deep hunger? You can get to the world’s deep hunger easily. Spend an hour surfing the internet. You will find deep spiritual hunger.
Experiencing deep joy and finding the world’s deep hunger can be done separately. However, be prepared when you step into the crossroads where they meet. The Holy Spirit is ready when you are.
I know a number of you have found yourself in this holy intersection. I’ve seen what happens when people are engaged with their personal mission. It is breath-taking, the willingness to serve, to present your body as a living sacrifice, it is worship. The most dramatic examples of this are when people change their way of going about life. A telltale sign that the Holy Spirit is working on you is when you are reaching out in some way. Being in mission with the Holy Spirit is a completely different way of living life than doing business as usual as the world would have it.
Praying with the Holy Spirit is a holy waste. Remember the Gospel story of the woman with the alabaster jar of ointment?
While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’ Mark 14:3-9
Prayer is adaptive.
Being a ‘prayer partner’ with the Holy Spirit requires that we rely on giftedness and passion instead of institutions and structures. It’s kind of funny, but Paul’s ‘ancient’ way of operating--through our gifts--has become the current model of what’s going on out there. Just open the newspaper, look at TV commercials, community partnerships. Part of practically every sales pitch includes a portion returned to the greater good. Spend your dollars here and we’ll contribute 1% to the charity of your choice.
The church has had this blueprint for 2000 years. The advantage the church has is we’re not here for profit. We’re just here to be passionate for Jesus and to do what he cared about, not what we care about. And we don’t just have to rely on my gifts or your gifts, we combine all of our gifts to focus our mission.
Most congregations have moved away from giftedness and toward institution and structure. Giftedness is fluid, flexible, able to adapt and change. Institutions and structures are sometimes hard to change.
You know who faced a similar situation that many churches face in carrying out their mission? Ben and Jerry.
Yes, that Ben and Jerry.
When people wanted big chunks of chocolate in their ice cream, Ben and Jerry decided to create the ultimate "Mint Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream."
But they had a problem. The supersonic colossal chunks of chocolate kept getting gummed up in their machine. It just wasn’t made to handle large pieces of chocolate. So they had to make a choice: downsize the chunks to fit their machine or modify their system to accommodate the chunks. They got their research and development team together—Ben and Jerry—and modified a cottage cheese maker. The end of the story: whenever you’re in Vermont, or in your grocery store, get yourself some Ben and Jerry’s Mint Chocolate Chunk ice cream. It is the best.
Faced with a problem, they didn’t abandon their mission to give people the ice cream people wanted, they adapted how they accomplished it. The world is dying for a force that will save it. We have that source and force in Jesus Christ. Do we abandon that mission, or learn new ways to offer it?
Would Paul say that Ben and Jerry were,
“...transformed by the renewing of their minds...”
The renewing of your mind is not a once in a lifetime occurrence, it is continual when we are consistently engaged in prayerful attitude with the Holy Spirit. This transforming renewal changes us, doesn’t matter how old or young you are, how much money you have or don’t have, none of that is relevant. God embodied God’s gifts in us, and the Holy Spirit is an explosion waiting to happen.
The praying church, the transformed church, does not rely on one person, be it the pastor or someone in the pew; it relies on the Holy Spirit to discover God’s vision.
Pray to the Spirit
Gretchen Streuli learned this in a very personal way. Gretchen was a church person. She first discovered her "gift" while caring for her terminally ill father. "Right then and there, I knew that offering comfort and healing care would be my lifelong mission." So she has carried this lifelong passion to heal and comfort the ill into her profession—nursing.
But when she offered her gift to her church family, she was met with cool skepticism: "Go ahead, but that’s not really where we’re at," their attitude seemed to say. Without support, few came up following the worship service one morning to have their blood pressure checked or even to get more information about parish nurse ministry. Gretchen was clearly frustrated. She felt she had something to contribute to her church, but it just wasn’t "where they were at."
She eventually found another church that valued her gift of health and healing. They actually created an entire ministry around the ministry of healing. It wasn’t long before her gift began to grow and flourish. She now offers a "learning moment" on health and healing during worship services, has organized a community-wide "health fair" attended by surgeons and nurses and persons seeking health information, and offered numerous blood-sugar screenings and flu shots.
Now when the pastor goes to visit the ill, he invites Gretchen to join him. "When they open the door," the pastor says, "they greet me with respect and dignity, but when they see Gretchen with me their eyes light up and they throw caution to the wind and immediately begin to talk shop about medicine, health care, physicians, and aches and pains. So I just stand around waiting for my turn to pray and read the scriptures. It’s fantastic!"
Can you hear the work of the Holy Spirit in that story? The Spirit doesn’t care what denomination you are, doesn’t care about church buildings or worship liturgy, that’s all you and me putting that stuff in place. The Spirit is there to power God’s vision through you. The practice of prayer keeps you connected to God’s presence and purpose.
Each one of you has a gift; it may not be prophecy or exhortation, but that’s ok. Your gift is valuable. But most importantly, your gift is what leads you, and the Holy Spirit is never far away.