Our Guiding Presence

 Inspired by Acts 2:1-18; Matthew 1:20-23, 28:19-20

 3rd of three-week series on Apostles' Creed

One of the things that I have found interesting about this series on the Apostles’ Creed, and I didn’t want this to get lost on you, is how much it has pushed us to learn how to talk about God in short, concise ways. Thanks to today’s technology, our society has an extremely short attention span. If you can’t explain something quickly and precisely in under a couple minutes, and even that might be stretching it, you will have lost your audience; whether your audience is someone you meet at the grocery store, or sit next to at the local brewery, or at the gym, work, school, wherever. And if you’re lucky enough to have someone actually ask you about your religious beliefs, one, you better be able to answer that briefly, and two, you’ll want to say it with some confidence. Otherwise, you can forget any follow-up questions, for sure! 

So, two weeks ago we covered the first of three sections of the Creed, and we talked about God as being a creative caregiver. Last week, we covered the second section, and we talked about Jesus as the good son. And this third and final section of the creed is all about the Holy Spirit, and goes like this, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” Now, like the last two weeks, we could have taken any one of those clauses and dove deep into its meaning. But this didn’t feel like the time to do that. The question that has kept returning each of these three weeks is, “What are we proclaiming in this section of the creed, as a whole?” 

Laura Ann mentioned to me how odd it felt to not only read that text from Acts on a day other than the Day of Pentecost, but also to select from so many wonderful Pentecost-themed hymns, and I couldn’t agree more! I didn’t want this to be a standard Pentecost sermon, though there may be no escaping that this time. So, I asked myself, if I had to sum up the Holy Spirit, this last part of the Apostles’ Creed, in a short phrase, what would it be? These three weeks have really been like training sessions on how to give an elevator pitch to anyone asking you about your faith! No really, think about it. Week one, God the creative caregiver. God is not only the almighty creator but is creating, continually, all around us and within us, as God takes the time to intimately care for us, deeply and personally. 

Week two, Jesus the good son. Our Jesus inherited the very best of who God, Mary, and Joseph is and was, and has passed it onto us in the form of grace, love, and peace. I don’t know about you but I’d be more likely to ask a follow-up question to either of those, than to a person telling me to repent or go to hell! Amen? And this is what came to my mind for today regarding the Holy Spirit, our Guiding Presence. Our Guiding Presence. So let’s break that down a bit. As I’ve mentioned before, we have a habit of making our faith into this individualistic relationship between “God and I.” Some of that comes from our human nature, and some of that comes from our society, that good ol’ fashioned “American” rugged independence. However, that was never how our faith was intended to be lived out. 

One thing that I appreciate most from our ancient Jewish siblings, is that they had an all-or-nothing attitude towards their faith. My Hebrew professor used to say that for them, we’re all in this together. We’re either all gonna sink or all gonna swim, but either way, we’re gonna do it together. We’re either all gonna rise, or all gonna fall. I absolutely love that! And that’s why I included the word “our” in the phrase, “our guiding presence.” The Holy Spirit surely plays a part in our individual lives, but first and foremost, the work of the Holy Spirit is communal in nature. Think about our reading from Acts that I read to you today. Who did the Holy Spirit descend upon that day? One person? No. Multiple people in different times and places? No. She descended upon the community, upon all gathered there that day. She is our guiding presence, before she is my guiding presence. 

But guiding who, and guiding where? Well, the traditional answer to the who question is that she guides the church. But my theology is anything but traditional, and that was just the church’s ego talking any. That’s not how God works in scripture. The Holy Spirit works with and through anyone she wants to, regardless of what they may believe or don’t believe. Who are we to say where she will go and not go anyway! I believe the Holy Spirit is a guide for the world, for anyone who is willing to be guided by her. And that brings me to the other half of that question, where, guiding us where? That gets a little more nuanced. The quick and easy answer is, she guides us in the ways of Christ for the sake of the world. But at the same time, she doesn’t force us down any particular path. It’s a collaborative relationship between us and the Holy Spirit. 

A co-op if you will. Let me give you a real-world example. Let’s say the church is a sailing ship. A sailing ship relies on the wind to move it. Like our next hymn, let’s say the wind is the Holy Spirit. But that’s not all that moves the ship, is it! Someone also has to steer it, by manipulating the rudder. That’s where we come in. We harness the power of the Holy Spirit to take us where we feel God calling us to go. Now, this is where it gets complicated, because some people want to set a course that leads them to tell people that they need to repent or go to hell. And others, want to set a course that leads them to tell people that they are loved, and not alone. Period. No questions asked. No strings attached. I was walking out of the church the other day and it was a windy day, and as I’m walking out I notice our banner out front being pushed by the wind. 

From where I was standing, it looked an awful lot like a sail on a ship. I hope you can see that clearly enough in this picture that I took of it. My next thought was, well there’s my sermon for this Sunday! And it was not lost on me that this was not just any church banner blowing in the wind that day. But it’s a banner that represents our allyship with the LGBTQ+ community. And more than that, it’s a banner that represents the course we have set, a course that has led us to tell people that they are loved, and not alone. Period. No questions asked. No strings attached. Now, let’s move to that last word, “presence”, “our guiding presence.” My favorite part of the Gospel of Matthew is the literary bookends that Matthew created. 

At the beginning of the Gospel he reminds us of the prophet Isaiah’s words that a child will be born and will be called Emmanuel, which means “God – with - us.” They, of course, name him Jesus, and nothing more is said about this name Emmanuel, not directly anyway. Then, at the very end of the book, Jesus tells them to go and baptize and teach everyone what he had taught them, and his final words are, “And remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” “Emmanuel, God with us”—"I am with you.” 

These beautiful bookends proclaim the truth of Christ’s continued presence in our lives through the power and wind and guidance of the Holy Spirit, who is always with us, never leaving our side, and ready to guide us, together as a community, sometimes with a gentle breeze, and sometimes with a storm if we’re being bad sailors and need a course correction. After all, she is God, and we are not. Thanks be to the creative caregiver, the good son, our guiding presence. Amen.

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