Passage: Luke 24:50-53; Acts 16:16-34
Date: May 20, 2007
Preacher: Rev David Hutchinson
Having trouble playing the audio? download the mp3
The decisions we make, over a period of time, when strung together, would begin to tell the story of who we are. Our decisions, when taken together, are the story of our identity, at least in part.
Maybe that's why we keep track of the voting records of politicians.
A game I used to play with the youth group I once led was called, "would you rather?". A book with lists of choices was passed around. We asked each other to make decisions. Would you rather be grossed out or frightened? Would you rather dress like your parents or act like them? I think we liked the game because our answers told us just a little about each other. Without revealing our deepest soul, we could inch toward understanding it.
Decisions are not always that easy to make, especially big life decisions.
Paul and Silas in our Bible reading, had to make decisions in stressful situations:
- Would they heal a slave girl or not?
They decided to do it, and it landed them in prison.
- Then they had to decide what to do in prison.
They decided to sing, and the doors were broken open; they were freed.
- They had to decided how to respond to the prison guard.
They reached out to him and stopped him from committing suicide.
These decisions were no game. In the stress of the situation in prison, Paul and Silas could have fretted, or wept, or shut down. But somehow they started singing. And it changed the whole story.
James Farmer has described being in prison during the Civil Rights Movement in 1961. He said this: "As a way of keeping our spirits up we sang freedom songs. The prison officials wanted us to stop singing, because they were afraid our spirit would be contagious. They said: "If you don't stop singing we'll take away your mattresses".
Now those mattresses were the only convenience we had in those cells. They were our link to civilization so to speak. Everything else was cold and hard.
People were quiet for a while. Finally, Jim Bevel ...made a little speech, "What they're trying to do is to take away your soul. It's not the mattress, it's your soul."
Then everyone said, "yes, we'll keep our souls"
Someone yelled for the guards, "Guards!" The guards came rushing in. He said, "Take my mattress. I'll keep my soul." And then everybody started singing." So wrote James Farmer.
What happens when the caged bird sings? It changes things.
We make different kinds of decisions when God's Spirit is singing in us. The Spirit of God is released in us, and we decide differently. I believe that is what happened in that prison with Paul and Silas.
The last chapter of the Gospel according to Luke describes what we call the "Ascension": Jesus' ascension into heaven. And just before that moment, Jesus says to them that as he prepares to go he sends a promise from God, and that they will be clothed with power from on high. And the first chapter of the book of Acts describes the same event again. The ascension ends the book of Luke and begins Acts. And in Acts, Jesus says they will receive power, when the Holy Spirit comes upon them.
In John's Gospel Jesus speaks about "the Counselor" who he also calls the "Spirit of Truth", who will be with us after he leaves the earth.
So Jesus leaves the earth. But he does NOT leave the disciples, and he does not leave us. Jesus' Spirit remains.God's Spirit remains with us.
The Holy Spirit IS Jesus' presence with us.
We celebrate that in Baptism, and in the Lord's Supper.
Somehow God is with us when we gather together as followers.
One way we bear witness to that, is that we sing.
As we prepare to celebrate the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday, next week, I encourage you not only to wear red, but to read Acts, chapter 2. As we consider the Pentecost story, in the Scripture reading for next week, one question we ask is, HOW IS IT, that the Holy Spirit is alive among us? What does that mean? How can this Holy Spirit of God, which gave birth to the church, live in us?
When we let that Spirit really live in us, we move out into the world to spread God's love and grace. And sometimes we sing. And sometimes, moved by that Spirit, guards in prisons, take sides with prisoners. And sometimes we make decisions in our lives that reflect our hope for the world, rather than despair.
Recently a homeless man made a Spirit led decision that inspired me to do a little thinking about myself. Gloria Tuma reported it as a joy during our prayer time. She said, "Please pray for blessings for the homeless man who found my car keys. They were on the street next to my car last Sunday, and he waited for me to return. Then he said, "Don't worry, it's ok", and then he disappeared." The story is surprising, because it goes against our expectations. But that's part of what we mean when we talk about the Kingdom of God, and the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit leads us to moments when things are not how we expect and know them to be in this world. When we are tired out by mistrusting people, because that's usually what we have to do to protect ourselves, suddenly a surprise encounter reminds us that God doesn't intend it always to be that way. And if we decide to live with God's Spirit in us, the Kingdom can begin to come right now. And in fact maybe the Kingdom of God really IS at hand. For those who have eyes to see, minds to decide, and act, and ears to hear its song.
And so, this kind of thing doesn't have to happen in a dramatic scene in a prison. That story is helpful because it's so dramatic it makes the point. But the Spirit lives in our every day lives too. In every decision we make. Like that man and the car keys. In the votes we cast. In the choices we make about what we will buy or not buy. In the people we encounter and how we interact with them. In our decisions about what we will do with our lives.
The Spirit leads the church to it's mission in the world.
And it also leads us to our mission in life.
Letting the Spirit of God speak to you about where to take your life, is directly connected to listening to your own life and letting it speak. Parker Palmer in a book on vocational calling uses this phrase: "Letting your life speak". This means really looking at who we are, what our decisions in life tell us about ourselves. And then, once we have listened to our own lives, listen for God. Listen for that Holy Spirit. Listen for what was just a glimmer in your baptism, to come to full flame.
Listen...who are you...? Who are we.
And where is God's Spirit leading us?
May God speak to us, each and all.
May God speak through the prayers and Scripture readings.
May God speak to us in the silences.
May God speak in the rush of a wind.
And may God speak to us, in song.