The Spirit leads us to love, freedom and communion
Sermon by Andy Wurm, Pentecost 6, July 10th 2020
These days if you buy an electronic gadget you sometimes get two manuals. One is the detailed manual, usually too big to print and given on a disc or found on the internet, and the other a simple guide to help you understand the basics. What would be really good would be a guide that is translated into English by someone who speaks English. Also helpful would be a manual that applies only to the model you bought, rather than the whole range, so that you’re not having to work out whether the features mentioned apply to your particular model.
Parents may have liked an instruction manual to have come with their children, and that would definitely be a case of needing a manual for your particular model, because not every model comes with the same features. The same is true for a manual on friendship, or love, or just being yourself. You can buy manuals or ‘how to guides’ on all those subjects, but they are of the general variety. You need one that applies to your circumstances.
Speaking of manufacturers providing manuals, what about our heavenly manufacturer? Does God provide us with a manual, guiding us how to live? Some would say the Bible is just that, and there’s some truth in that, but it definitely requires quality translation, involving more than conversion into another language. It requires knowing the manufacturer and awareness of the manufacturer’s purpose in creating the product. When reading the Bible, it really matters whether we take God telling the Israelites to slay the Philistines as an instruction for treating people we don’t like, or part of a story with a deeper meaning.
In this morning’s gospel passage, Jesus tells a parable of a sower sowing seed on different types of soil. There are various ways we could read that, but one way is to think of there being two elements to God’s ‘telling us how to live’. Just as both the seed and the soil quality play a role in delivering a good yield, so too, both God’s communication to us and our receptivity (which includes our willingness to carry out what God asks of us), play a role in delivering a good outcome.
If we apply that to scripture, we can say that the message is there, but without appropriate interpretation, it can’t be properly received and enacted. And of course, love is the lens through which all interpretation must pass. It’s also important to remember that our circumstances can differ from those referred to in the Bible. The soil that God sowed the seed of God’s word when the Bible was written, is not always the soil of our day. So for example, we can’t open up the Bible to the page in which God tells us what to do about carbon pollution.
As Christians we hold the Word of God to be our guide in life. The Word of God is not the Bible though. The Bible has God’s words (message/s) to us, sometimes deeply hidden within stories of people with funny names begetting or invading each other, and other times in straight-forward talk from Jesus, but it is Jesus who is the true Word of God, or God’s mouthpiece. We may discern God’s will from the world around us, but with Jesus, God speaks directly – sometimes through words, but more so through actions. That’s why the cross matters so much: it’s the non-verbal message that God is non-judgmental love.
We can read about Jesus in the bible, but we have his Spirit with us now. If we think of the way Jesus’
disciples came to follow him and eventually emulate him, then that is how we can also understand the Holy
Spirit in our lives. The Holy Spirit is that which draws us towards and enables us to become, like Jesus.
The Spirit is not just a source of wise ideas, but is personal and wants to tell us how to live more than we want to know. Or to put that another way, the Spirit wants to shape us and ‘run’ us, as love expressing itself through our lives. To use language that sounds very controlling, the Spirit wants to possess us and be the guiding factor in our lives. That would be controlling if it was selfish, that is, if it were for self-glorification or self-gratification. Then we would be talking about a type of possession that is evil. But the possession by the Holy Spirit is possession by love and for love, so it is only for good.
So, imagining the Holy Spirit as a living manual for how to live, we have half the equation I mentioned before – we have God communicating to us. Now we need the other half, namely, our receptivity and willingness to carry out what God asks of us.
When we speak of people telling us how we should live, we usually mean that in a negative sense, i.e. someone else getting us to live their way, but if we think of God doing that it has to mean something different. God is perfectly unselfish, so for God to tell us how we should live, it’s meant in the same way
as when someone sees a great gift in another person and tells them they should do more with their gift.
Apart from wanting us to know what is best for us (and the world), God is silent.
For us to follow God’s will requires us to first hear what God is saying, discern where we’re being led or what the Spirit within us is causing us to react to. How do we know it is of God then? There are particular characteristics for that to be the case, among which I would include that: it leads to greater love (of self, others and the world); it leads to greater freedom ; it leads us to deeper communion (with others, with nature and with God). Can we then say that any message, inspiration, thought or guidance which does this is therefore God communicating to us? The answer must be yes, for God is the Source of Life.
These characteristics of God’s communication don’t conflict with each other. If they do, then maybe it’s not God who is speaking to us, or maybe we’re not understanding what God is saying to us properly.
For example, I might feel God calling me to love others – it’s in the words of the prophets in the Old Testament, it’s in Jesus’ teaching in the gospels, it’s in the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s in the need for love and security of those close to me. So my soul is fired up – I put greater effort into meeting the needs of others, however, rather than greater freedom, I find my life becoming more constricted, as my actions become more driven by other’s needs, including the needs of the earth. If I take that to heart too much, I begin to lose myself. I may console myself with the satisfaction of knowing I’m following God’s will, but I can’t be, because my freedom is diminishing. The associated effort of having to counter the decreasing sense of aliveness should alert me to that. So maybe my assumption about how God is telling me to live is wrong.
Realising that can then help me to see that the way that God is asking me to love others more, is not by focussing on what others need, but on what I can contribute. I do that by making the decisions that I feel are right and doing things my way. If that leads to a greater sense of love in my life and my relationships (including with the earth), and a deeper sense of communion, then it is more likely that I have truly discerned God’s will and am responding appropriately.
Like the seed and the ground it falls upon, it’s not just God’s communication that matters. The openness of the soul that receives it is just as important.