Sermon 9-25-2016Streams of Faith, ‘The Charismatic, Spirit Empowered Life’
John 14:15-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7-15
Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water – Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith, HarperCollins, 1998.
The Power of the Lord is Over All, T Canby Jones, editor, Friends United Press, Epistle #388, 1989.
The Last Runaway, Tracy Chevalier, Harper, 2013.
Have you enjoyed wading in the waters of the streams of Christian faith these past three weeks? We have come exactly halfway down the river of faith today, and have gotten our mucklucks wet, as we have explored the tributaries of spiritual life and tradition in the Christian church. Every stream of faith has its tributaries – Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, Sikhism, all do. Christianity was born in the person of Christ - his ministry and teachings - as many other religions have begun, following a great teacher or a great idea. But Christianity was different because when this teacher died, as many other teachers have, he didn’t stay dead. He came to life again in the power of God’s Spirit, and then gave that same spirit to all who would listen, seek, attend, respond. Again today, we will speak of those people. We will speak especially of the Spirit-Empowered people of God.
The birth of the Christ-ian or Christian Church in the first century, led to the Early Desert Fathers and Mothers establishing monasteries and cloisters beginning in the fourth century emphasizing solitude, meditation and prayer. The contemplative stream of faith.
Contemplatives are not relegated to that place in time, but are found to be the still waters that continue to run deep in our lives of faith, holding us to the importance of knowing God in silence, and thoughtful meditation.
The stream of holiness calls us to a decision in the midst of the swirl of life, to make a choice for wholeness – a life that is so full of virtue, goodness, God-ness, that there is no room for those things that would fling us out of what Thomas Kelly called ‘the Divine Center’. We are lifted out of the muck by reframing old commandments into new demands to love God and neighbor with all and everything we are.
As we travel downriver, another stream branches off - a stream filled with great power. This is the charismatic stream of faith where, if we haven’t met it yet, we will feel the strength of the Holy Spirit. Hildegard did at a very young age, where her parents had sent her to a Benedictine convent. Eventually she entered the order, and at thirty-two was ‘persuaded to write down the visions of God that she’d experienced from the age of three on.’ A classic of medieval mysticism, Hildegard of Bingen’s ‘Scivias’ and her letters, live on today. St. Francis of Assisi, living under the power of the Holy Spirit, gave up all his wealth and status in order to care for outcasts, to practice poverty, to tend the earth and its creatures, and to work for peace. Hearing God ask him to ‘build His church’ he set about to use brick and mortar, but that was not what God had in mind. Eventually, Francis understood that God meant a spiritual renewal of his church, and the Franciscan order eventually came to be. Years later, a young Englishman set out to discover who God was for himself. His parents, teachers, pastors, friends could not give him an answer that would satisfy. After three years of travel and searching, George Fox heard a voice speaking saying, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.” That God in Christ could speak – had spoken – directly to him, to anyone, and to the condition of their life and heart, was revolutionary to Fox. This was the power of the Holy Spirit made real. Just as Hildegard and Francis had known it, George Fox would experience the power of God. And from this, came the revelation of this experience for many others. We know it as our community of faith – the Religious Society of Friends.
It is always a radical thing – a revolutionary thing – to take Christ at his word. In our readings today, we heard Christ’s promises to his followers. He would ask God to send another Advocate for us, even as he had been, who would live in us, and never leave us; who would not speak on his own, but declare Christ’s teachings. This same Spirit of Truth would guide us into all truth.
That is what gave Fox the confidence to say that ‘all with the Spirit of God might know God and the things of God, and serve and worship him in his Spirit and Truth, that he has given them…’ Epistle #388, 1683
Do spirit empowered people not know the importance of contemplation? Of course we do. Do we not know the beauty of holiness and the worth of virtue and integrity? Of course we do. Just as rivers flow together in their confluence, so do the streams of faith, sharing the strengths of their understanding of who God is and how God moves in our lives. But there are some who pay more attention, who are more present to the power of God’s Spirit in their lives. Who, like Brother Lawrence, practice the presence of God in their lives whether working or waiting. They want nothing more than to hear God’s voice, and to center their lives in the leadings of God’s Spirit… who are, and have been dissatisfied with the voices of others telling them what to think about God, how to define God, how to explain God when what they want is exactly what George Fox found – a God who would gladly explain Godself.
Are we tired of paddling around in circles? Are we weary of the heat of the day? Perhaps it’s time to jump in to the stream of charism that woos us to God. The call of God’s spirit asks us to trust the bringer of truth. To believe that we too, can not only hear God within us, but feel God’s presence in real ways. Christ said that we would do even greater things than he was able to, because we would be filled with his spirit… this same Holy Spirit. [John 14]
Dan Rains recently shared with me a book called “The Last Runaway” by Tracy Chevalier. It’s the story of young English Quaker woman, Honor Bright, who moves to Ohio in 1850, and her experiences there. Here’s an excerpt of her experience in Meeting for Worship:
‘Honor had been looking forward to Meeting, for she had not attended one since Philadelphia and craved the sense of peace it normally brought. It always took some time for a Meeting to grow still and quiet, like a room where dust had been stirred up and must settle. People shifted in their seats to find comfortable positions, rustled and coughed, their physical restlessness reflecting their minds, still active with daily concerns. One by one, thought, they set aside thoughts about business, or crops, or meals, or grievances, to focus on the Inner Light they knew to be the manifestation of God within. Though a Meeting started out quiet, the quality of the silence gradually changed so that there came a moment when the air itself seemed to gather and thicken. Though there was no outer sign of it, it became clear that collectively the Meeting was beginning to concentrate on something much deeper and more powerful. It was then that Honor sank down insider herself. When she found the place she sought, she could remain there for a long time, and see it too in the open faces of surrounding Friends.’
Our closing hymn today sings about ‘feeling’ the Spirit. The composer put that word on a syncopated beat – purposely.
Ev’ry time I feel the Spirit, Movin’ in my heart I will pray…
The Holy Spirit is the active part of our faith, and calls us to listen, seek, attend, respond, move, feel. To come to life again. To take our own journey, as George Fox did without giving up, asking God to speak, and waiting until we recognize God in us. Until we can hear God’s voice. Until we can shut everyone else’s voices out, and listen simply to what Christ has to say. And Christ has something to say. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ has something to say. What has Christ said to you? What is Christ saying now? What is that deeper and more powerful thing that the Spirit of God has for you and me?