Message for Holy Trinity Sunday on Isaiah 6:1-8, Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17 given May 30, 2021 at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church. I regret that due to technical difficulties, there is no video recording of this sermon or worship service.
When I served my first church in Detroit, MI, I met a woman in the neighborhood named, Regina, who had been ordained by her congregation—not because she went to seminary like in our tradition, but because she had the gifts of the Holy Spirit for ministry. She became one of my mentors. When we would discuss issues, she would say, “well the Spirit said, to me…” and she would go on to tell what the Holy Spirit said directly to her.
I had spiritual experiences, but I did not have the sense that the Holy Spirit was speaking to me, like Regina did when she was referring to an internal conversation with the Spirit. I would say to myself, “I just do not have that gift.” But after a while I thought—“maybe I am just not quiet enough to listen!”
All 3 of our Scripture passages today talk about listening to and being in the Holy Spirit:
• Isaiah is in the Spirit when he is given the vision of the Lord sitting on the throne, his sins are forgiven with a burning coal and he hears the Lord call him into ministry.
• Paul calls the believers in Rome to live in the fullness of their identity in Christ which is to be led by the Spirit of God as children of God.
• Jesus calls the Pharisee Nicodemus into full relationship with him by being born of water and the Spirit.
But listening to the Holy Spirit does not come naturally to us as Lutherans. We are more comfortable with the Creator—the Father/Mother of God—with the mind, with knowledge, with study, with linear thinking and argumentation, and logic. When I was in seminary, the first classes we took were Greek and Hebrew, biblical interpretation, theology and history—and these are all important and valuable disciplines for understanding our texts and I love and value them.
Such emphasis on the Bible makes us amazingly comfortable with Jesus—with his life and mission, with love of neighbor, and social justice where live out our faith in Incarnational and sacramental ways. We are terrific at disaster relief, feeding the hungry, doing global mission, building water wells, hospitals, and living out our faith in a way that embodies a God who came to us—in a body—and who continues to come to us in through bread and wine—earthly elements. We love the story of salvation where Jesus’ humanity bridges the divide and heals the brokenness between us and God, redeeming our suffering, forgiving our sin, and bringing us into a wholeness and union with God that lasts forever.
But this Holy Spirit stuff makes us a little nervous. We do not want to become too emotional or out of control. We are not going to speak in tongues or talk about being born again. We are not going to have some wild vision that we cannot distinguish from a chemical imbalance in the brain. We will not whoop and holler or dance and sing (no matter how much Pr. Linda tries to get us to move!) Many of us come from ancestors who have been ignoring their feelings for generations, and we are not about to let all out, Holy Spirit or not.
But then I met Regina, who was the most loving person I had ever met, who answers the phone with the words, “peace and love,” speaking as if she was having conversation with Holy Spirit. She was so peaceful—and if talking with the Holy Spirit led to that kind of peace, then I wanted some of that, too.
So, I started to practice listening. I did all kinds of prayer practices and met with my spiritual director, and I quieted my mind and heart and body and listened (and if you think I have energy now, you should have seen me 30 years ago—it wasn’t easy!). And then, slowly, I started to hear. Over time I realized, I could hear, feel, know, understand the Holy Spirit’s guidance in much deeper ways than I had been taught. And it was not about emotion. In fact, it was quite the opposite. If an emotion or trigger does come up, it means we have something to work through or breathe through, often fear or anxiety. We may need to attend to those strong emotions with counseling, conversation, journaling, or calling your pastor! But the Spirit’s guidance is most often
• Neutral- no emotional charge
• Truth (freeing or hard)
• Impersonal- you are a witness, watching something unfold*
Sometimes we can have an emotional response to the message—relief, or overwhelming love can cause tears, or we may be afraid to do what God asks us to do, but the Spirit does not give us fear.
How the Spirit speaks to me and to you may be different: Today we affirm a Trinitarian God—we are made in this image—Creator, Jesus, Spirit, so God can speak to us in a variety ways--through our Mind, Body or the Spirit/Intuition. We may have one dominate way or maybe we have all channels open. Spirits messages can come in the
• Mind – new thoughts, a flash of insight, an idea, a problem solved—that came from outside yourself, a voice that rose up, rather than one you generated
• Body – experiencing a gut feeling, a heaviness or warmth in chest, a sense of energy moving in the body, a feeling of peace, goose bumps, some other physical sensation
• Spirit/Intuition – A sense of knowing without words, feeling of love or compassion, seeing a picture or image, seeing color, or a vision, or even a dream at night (start writing them down as soon as you wake in the morning).
Sometimes Nothing happens. You may have nothing noticeable happen and simply relax in the presence and peace of God. That’s ok! I prayed for 52 days once and nothing happened. WAIT is legitimate answer from the Spirit!
So today, we are going to practice listening, which I know is unusual for sermon. It will just be brief, and we’re just scratching the surface, but I want to give you a way to practice listening, which you can then try on your own. I want you to think of one simple question where you would like guidance, help or an answer. Just one. It could be about your health, what to do about a relationship, if you should sell your house, a question at work, the future mission of the congregation. We all need to practice, because in order to recover from the pandemic and be healthy people, in order to discern our future as a congregation, in order to follow Jesus in all areas of our lives, we want and need to be led by the Holy Spirit. Get as comfortable as you can in your pew:
• Close eyes—and begin to breathe deeply. Let us pray- “we ask for your presence Holy Spirit, for your fire to rest upon each one of us, and dwell with in us, as we listen for your loving presence and guidance in our lives. Amen.
• Continue to breathe deeply in and out
• Focus on your breath—the rise and fall of your belly
• If thoughts come, let them float by like clouds without thinking about them, and come back to your breath
• Breathe in the Spirit, blow out fear
• Breathe in Christ, blow out worry
• Breathe in God, blow out anxiety
• Breathe in peace, blow out stress
• Breathe in gratitude, breath in love, breath in Spirit (blow out anything negative)
• Now ask the question you had in mind and see what comes up in your body, mind or intuition
• Pause and pay attention for several minutes
• It’s okay not to notice anything –sometimes faith and Spirit are about relaxing in the peace and presence of God together.
• Acknowledge what you have received.
• Internally, say thank you and express gratitude for this sacred time and whatever you experienced.
• Take another big deep breath, wiggle your fingers and toes
• Open your eyes and return to the present space
Jot down anything that came to you or any experience you had that you want to pray about, return to, or reflect on later. This is just one of many ways to listen to the Holy Spirit when we need guidance, help, encouragement, wisdom, and that sense of the companionship of God coming alongside us in our life. I did this exercise yesterday as I prepared for today. I asked the question of whether St. Luke’s should sell the building or stay. And guess what answer I got? It’s not your decision. Your job is to be a non-anxious leader who helps the process.
Let’s test this against what I said earlier about the Holy Spirit:
• Neutral- no emotional charge—this is a neutral message without emotional charge of anger, fear, pain
• Compassionate-Loving –it is compassionate toward the congregation where the decision lies and loving toward all of us—putting us in our right place/roles
• Truth (freeing or hard)—it tells me the truth. It frees me from trying to work/manipulate a preferred outcome; it’s also hard for my ego in that I have no special or secret knowledge as a pastor or in this conversation with the Spirit
• Impersonal- you are a witness, watching something unfold—this message reminds me that the Spirit’s larger work is not about me—I am a witness to what God is doing in the church as a whole, I am a participant and leader in helping something unfold—nothing more, nothing less. My role is not more or less than anyone else’s
Now Isaiah’s vision of the throne of God, Paul’s encouragement to be led by the Spirit, and Jesus’ words that we are reborn through water and the Spirit may not seem so unnatural or strange! As we engage in this practice together and on our own, we are truly becoming Lutherans where “spirits come alive!” (St. Luke's tag line!)
*I am grateful to Dr. Judith Orloff who uses these to describe insights from our intuition, which I also understand to be part of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Image: I took this picture of a mosaic by Sonia King which is part of her VisionShift project, a mosaic installation for HALL Arts in the Dallas Arts District.