I am cranking along! I came home for lunch and am now working from my (re)new(ed) couch. My job gets crazy every now and then and there are times when there is zero flexibility, but I love taking advantage of my flexibility when I have it.
So I messed up on Sunday when I was recording my sermon. I forgot to turn it off and didn’t realize it was still recording until the service was almost over. I would just post it as is, but we open up a time in our worship service for concerns and celebrations from the community and I want to respect the sacredness of that time and not post it.
That being said … I am just going to post the text and hope that someone out there in cyber space has the ability to slice an mp3.
Here’s thesermon …
Rejoicing In The Power Of The Holy Spirit
What does it mean to rejoice in the Lord always?
Many of you know that my call to ministry came on a trip to Honduras in 2003. I was 18 years old, just starting college and was – to be quite honest – very naïve about the real world. When I returned to Honduras in 2005 – traveling to the same village, with the same organization – I was two years older, had experienced something of a quarter-life crisis in the meantime and understood the world a little bit better. And to be quite honest, there were days – many of them as I prepared for that second trip – when I think I would have preferred my 18-year-old naivety.
You see the thing is, I learned in my first two years of college that life is hard; life is very, very hard. The reality of life – bills, responsibilities, sickness, frailty, family, relationships – kind of hit me like a ton of bricks in the second semester of my sophomore year and it left me doubting everything. It left my doubting my return to Teupasenti that summer, my call into the ministry and even college in general. I searched desperately during that time to find a safe road to journey down.
Eventually, along with the prayers, listening and encouragement of my friends and my family, I did return to Teupasenti. I was reunited with some of the friends I had made the first time I was there and saw some of the tangible progress that had been completed at the mission in my two-year absence – it was very cool to be back.
I was back, though, seeing things – seeing life – through a different lens. I was at the point in my life where I was transitioning from accepting what I had always been taught about God and about faith to learning to trust and believe some of those things myself. And I was skeptical: With so much tragedy and devastation in the world – and especially in this place that I was visiting – I wondered how we as human beings could live our lives day-to-day and truly be happy and hopeful.
One of the last nights we were there, we worshipped with the community in Teupasenti. They have a very charismatic way of worshipping, which was a little bit foreign to our group of mainline protestant congregationally-rooted UCC Christians. But we still worshipped with them; we were present with them and experienced God even though we did not necessarily understand what in the world was going on.
At the end of this particular service, the worship leader said we were going to sing one more song and as soon as the band started playing, I thought something sounded familiar. It only took a few measures for me to realize that the song they were singing was a popular praise and worship song in the United States. They were obviously singing the song in Spanish, but the song itself – the tune of the song, the meaning of the song – was the same one that I knew, that the people I was traveling with knew.
I started whispering to the people around me and you could literally hear the buzz as everyone recognized what was happening. And one-by-one, we all started to sing. We sang the English lyrics, because that was what we knew, and we started quietly at first. But as the song went on we gained confidence and the people that we were worshipping with realized that we knew the song and they started to encourage us. And eventually – we were all worshipping as one. It blew my mind – during the week we couldn’t really understand each other well enough to learn each other’s names, but here we were worshipping together. They were singing in Spanish and we were singing in English, but in that moment those language barriers didn’t matter – we were united.
And I think that was the first time in my life that I really felt the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus prayed the prayer, “That they may all be one” – that was his vision for humanity; that prayer rests on the logo of the United Church of Christ and in that moment, despite the fact that we were all from completely different worlds, we were one. It was so cool. And I couldn’t – and still can’t – explain it by anything that I understand here on earth.
This morning’s scripture comes to us from the Book of Philippians. I said a few weeks ago that Paul had a special relationship with Philippians. He accepted gifts from them; he had a special kinship with them; he genuinely wanted them to be united. This morning’s passage can be found at the end of his letter. It is the exhortation; Paul’s final address that builds upon everything that he has said in a final urging towards his vision.
Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Well, Paul – easier said than done. The world is a scary place – how are we supposed to live our lives free of worry and full of peace? That is not easy. Like I said I had this moment in college – and I’m sure most of you have had this moment at one or several points in your lives – where I saw the tragedy and devastation in the world and wondered how we as human beings could live our lives day-to-day and truly be happy and hopeful.
And yet there are those moments in our lives when something happens that we just cannot explain by what we understand here on earth.
Let’s think about this in terms of the Trinity for a second: ‘God the Father’ created us. Jesus Christ – ‘God the Son’ – redeemed us. And the Holy Spirit – that final piece of the Trinity, ‘God the Spirit’ – sustains us. The Holy Spirit is the God that is present in those moments, those coincidental moments in our lives that we just cannot explain by anything that we understand here on earth.
So how are we supposed to live our lives free of worry and full of peace? We rejoice in the Lord, we rejoice in the power of the Holy Spirit and we rejoice that the spirit of God is present in all of our moments. And I know that sounds ridiculous and it sound like a preacher’s ‘easy way out’ but I promise you it’s not. The Holy Spirit is real; it exists within all things; it is the presence of God that comforts us when we feel alone, that unites us when we feel divided and that rejoices with us when we celebrate. The Holy Spirit exists in those moments that we know for sure that God is with us and yet we cannot explain why.
When Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always” I do not think that he meant it as a reaction to something else. I do not think that he was saying that the rejoicing follows a string of events. I think that he was saying that we should start by rejoicing and then let everything else happen after that.
It is not always easy. But we should start by rejoicing and then we let everything else happen after that.
We are approaching a very busy time of year in the life of the church. We are in the middle of Stewardship, where we ask you as a congregation to consider your financial contributions to this church. We are approaching Nominating, where we ask you as a congregation to consider gifting your time and your talents to this congregation. And we are asking for all of these things amidst a crazy and hectic life.
But what if, before we even asked for any of these things, we rejoiced in the Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit? What if, before you even considered pledging your money and your time, you rejoiced in the Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit? What if we all started there; what if we started by rejoicing in the presence of God in our lives and then let that dictate how much of our time and our money that we are able to give.
“Love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit” – I say it every week in the benediction. It is not an ending point; it is a starting point. It is our starting point.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”