May 19, 2013
John 14:8-17, (25-27)
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
Last week, Pham preached an amazing sermon that spoke to me of humility. For all that exists in the universe, we can only see and hear and experience a small portion of it. He pointed out the dangers of certainty, whether scientific or moral. Humility is the church word for the attitude that serves as an antidote for certainty.
Of course, the real message about humility was when I realized I had to preach after him.
One of the things that the Old and New Testament keep showing us is that the only language for God that is not metaphor is the word God. Every other image or quality or description is full of metaphor. To say that God is King of kings means we need to know what a king is, how kingship plays into the thinking of the Hebrew writers of Isaiah, and we wind up with layer upon layer of metaphor. I do not find this to be a weakness. It is itself an act of humility that we can only approach God in metaphor and not in certainty. If we are absolutely certain about the who God is and what God is and how God is and why God is, I am pretty sure we are no longer talking about God.
In his recent book, The Greatest Prayer, John Dominic Crossan describes a new metaphor for God. He relates a story of searching through airport terminals for an electrical outlet so that he could recharge his laptop computer. It occurred to him that this constant source of power was like unto God. This God-as-electricity metaphor makes sense, especially when everything around us relies on electricity.
He notices around him all these people who need to plug in their laptops and cell phones and tablets and toys and gadgets and the electricity is there to recharge them.
Sometimes I get discouraged,
and think my work’s in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit,
revives my soul again…
Praying is the act of plugging into that which revives us, recharges us, restores us. As Crossan says, “I imagine God-as-electricity and think of prayer as empowerment by participation in and collaboration with God.
In this metaphor, God is ever present, whether we plug in or not.
Playing with this metaphor (after all metaphors are in the realm of imagination and play), I have noticed that my smart phone is smarter than I am. There is this little symbol on it that changes color. Green for a nice full charge, yellow for running pretty low, and red for “plug me in or I will turn myself off regardless of whether you are finished with me or not.”
Confession time: I am not very good at checking my own battery level. Usually it takes someone else to notice that I am run down. They notice I am losing functionality, my processing speed has slowed down. I get the feeling I am not the only in the room who does this… How often do we let our body, mind and spirit get into the red before we realize that we need a rest.
Prayer is recharging. Sabbath is recharging. Good fellowship is recharging. Solitude is recharging. Running through life with way too many programs running is not recharging.
The Holy Spirit fits Crossan’s metaphor. It is the energy that lets us live and move and have our being. In both Greek and Hebrew, the original languages of the Bible, the word spirit is related to the word for breathing, that which makes life possible.
The gift of life is the gift of the Holy Spirit giving us energy for living. But when Jesus describes the coming of the Holy Spirit to his disciples, he says that it is not only the energy we get when we plug in, it is also going to tamper with our operating system, our programming, our ways of thinking and communicating and seeing the world.
These things I have spoken to you,
while I am still with you.
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
he will teach you all things,
and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
The Holy Spirit gives us not only the energy of life, but will also teach us and remind us of who Jesus was, what he was about. When we pray, we do not just ask for energy for the day, but also for discernment, for wisdom, for knowledge, for understanding, for guidance and direction.
(I recently heard the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge knows that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom knows not to put it in fruit salad.)
In the metaphor of the Holy Spirit giving us the energy and the program that teaches us what we need to know, we are talking about inspiration.
Have you ever been stuck with a problem, seeing no options, just feeling down, until a thought pops into your head and you see it in a way you never saw it before and suddenly you have the energy and gusto to do something new? Inspiration gives both the new way to see and with it, new energy.
Or, working a crossword puzzle, you just cannot figure out 7 down, so you put the puzzle down and go do the dishes, and halfway through scrubbing the pan, you think of the answer. Sometimes inspiration means trying less hard, getting out of the way, and letting it happen.
This is the birthday of the church, the celebration of Pentecost, the joy of the Holy Spirit. Let it be our prayer to discover our gifts and graces, to be inspired, to learn even more what it means, not to be certain, but to be faithful, and discover again what Jesus meant when he said:
Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give to you;
not as the world gives do I give to you.
Let not your hearts be troubled,
neither let them be afraid.
Thanks be to God.