"What We See"

Acts 2:1-4; Romans 8:14-27, 38

Rev. Dr. Lisa Rzepka

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Introduction to Scripture. You just heard the most commonly associated scripture in the celebration of Pentecost – a day when the church rejoices in the coming of the Holy Spirit to all who heard St. Peter preach at the Jewish Festival of Weeks. The Festival of Weeks in the Jewish tradition celebrates the wheat harvest as well as the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. While the Acts passage is most commonly read; there is no uniform account of how or when the Holy Spirit shows up in people’s lives. For example, in John’s gospel account Jesus appears to the disciples on Easter evening and breathes the Breath of Life on them telling them to “Receive the Holy Spirit.” That’s John’s Pentecost / Holy Spirit moment.

In Luke’s gospel, the Holy Spirit doesn’t show up until after Jesus ascends to heaven. The ascension, with the puzzled disciples looking up, is Luke’s ultimate conclusion. Luke’s sequel is believed to be the book The Acts of the Apostles. In Acts, the disciples pick up where Jesus left off. Hence, chapter two has St. Peter inspiring folks with such compelling words, that everyone scattered by the Diaspora had their hearts filled with the Holy Spirit as they came together in one place. Every preacher wants that Pentecost moment – where the Holy Spirit fills them with such compelling words that the hearts and minds of everyone within earshot are united in faith. Preachers pray constantly for that – as I’m sure you do, too.

Yet - Paul’s reality is closer to real life preaching. Most of his sermons, are received with mixed results. Sometimes he’s even locked up after preaching. Some say – it’s because people don’t really want to be changed. Instead, they usually want everything around them to change.

Last week, we read from Romans chapter 6 where Paul interprets that there are two choices in life: either slavery to Sin, or slavery to God. Either you are idolatrous and a slave to Sin or -- you can live abundantly free from Sin’s guilt as a slave to God.

You will hear Paul refer to slavery in the next reading, he’s speaking of slavery to Divine Love. Let’s listen again for a Word from God to each of our hearts this morning as we read Romans, chapter 8, verses 12-25 and 38-39.

Romans 8:12 -25, 38-39. 12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery (to God) to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. 18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Paul concludes this chapter with:

38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is the Word of God for the People of God. Thanks be to God. Amen!

Like angels, prophets, and the Risen Christ before him, Paul warns believers “not to fall back into fear.” Don’t backslide. Paul knew fear was instinctual. And, science confirms we are evolutionarily wired to fear for self-protection. A healthy dose of fear keeps us safe from harm.

Yet, there is an ancient story from India about the falsity of fear. It is the story about a man who was condemned to spend a night in a cell with a poisonous snake. If he made the slightest little stir, the snake would be on top of him and he’d be dead. So, he stood in the corner of the cell, opposite where the snake was, and he was petrified. He barely dared to breathe ---- for fear of alerting the snake, and he stood stiff and petrified all night long.

At dawn, as the first shimmers of light began infiltrate the cell, he began to make out the shape of the snake, and he was saying to himself, wasn’t I lucky that I never stirred. But when the full force of light came in with the full dawn, he noticed that it wasn’t a snake at all. It was an old rope.

Now the story is simple, but the moral is insightful: in a lot of the rooms of our minds, there are harmless old ropes thrown in corners, but when our fear begins to work on them, we convert them into monsters who hold us prisoners in the coldest, most barren rooms of our hearts. Outside these rooms there are wonders waiting for us, but we remain spellbound in the panic of fear’s falsity.[1] Paul knew Fear locks out people’s HOPE! For Paul, the Holy Spirit is like the exterminator ridding our minds the snakes lurking in the dark. When we choose Divine Love over evil and sin, the Holy Spirit moves into our hearts, and pushes fear out of its hiding place, giving room for HOPE to move in. When HOPE moves in and we live in Hope, we are revealed as children of God. It’s easier said than done.

Living in Hope is Hard when we are fed a daily diet of hopeless news.

  • We look at scenes of The Creation crumbling: we see floods and wildfires and tornadoes and the rapid extinction of the species.
  • We see Politics becoming more divisive,
  • with deadly extremism on the rise.
  • Places where community is fostered are losing their identity, especially churches, where attendance is falling amidst scandal and irrelevance.

To that Paul says: That’s what you see now – but that is not all that is possible. What you don’t see is the glory of the inheritance you are about to receive. My son and I went to see the documentary Big Little Farm last night. It’s the story of a couple that take on the task of natural farming on 200 acres of a barren orchard. It took seven hard years of work to make the soil fertile and crops to grow abundantly. And when disaster inevitably struck, things like wildfires and excessive rain, they were able to withstand the suffering, because of their investment of time and effort and believing in delayed gratification.

In a world of smart phones, watches, and computers we have grown accustom to instant feedback and satisfaction. Yet – the HOPE Paul proclaims requires patience for deferred gratification. Paul says we are gifted with the Spirit of adoption… because adoption is truly an act of grace, and in that Spirit we are heirs with Christ in the glory of God’s Love.  

When I think about heirs, I think about the reading of someone’s Last Will and Testament. Think about how God’s last will and testament would sound.

Something like, as shown to you by my son, Jesus, I bequeath to you, peace, unconditional love and acceptance, and a life free of want and greed – life abundant.

Great – where is it?? It’s not what the disciples saw, and maybe we don’t either.

Unless we use our IMAGINATIONS. Someone once said we’ve lost our imaginations by relying too much on facts. Going further, facts are impeded possibilities because they have already been realized. Yet, for every fact, there are two or three or a hundred possibilities hovering in the background.  

What do you see when you imagine?

Poet and painter William Blake said that “Christ is the imagination.”[2] Christ is where the Sacred meets the mundane of our every day lives. Where do you Hope the Sacred could meet your everyday mundane?

Paul wants the faithful to hold tight to HOPE, inspired by imagination and possibility.  The word inspired literally means “to have the Spirit.” We acknowledge the whole creation continues to groan in labor pains –– but we can endure the suffering, knowing that future glory is on its way.

And, I don’t mean some pie in the sky glory…rather, glory we have already tasted…from the first fruits – those moments when we have felt acceptance, compassion, mercy, love, and freedom.

The Spirit helps us in our need by naming those needs and desires that are even too deep for words. The Spirit helps us but doesn't magically alleviate us from our groaning. The Spirit is pushy – not only does it push out evil -- it pushes for change – in each of us – so collective change can be made possible.

First Presbyterian Church has gone through a lot of change in the past year. And – There’s been just a bit of groaning. I’ve even groaned myself.

Yet, we have to be careful not to fall backwards into FEAR. Instead, let’s collectively consider the possibilities ahead. Let us each start wondering how we can contribute our first fruits to the community as we explore and imagine what is next for First Presbyterian. Inspired by the Spirit, let’s allow imagination and Hope to be our guide – not the falsity of fear.

Because as Luke understood, you are it – united we are it. We are God’s plan. In a thirsty world, people need to be refreshed. It is a broken world, and people need to be healed.  May the Spirit’s movement in us and among us be blessed evidence of the grace of Divine Love in our lives. Amen

[1] O'Donohue, John. Walking in Wonder (p. 16). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid., p. 36.