the one about the wily Spirit
May 2, 2016, 9:00 AM

Sermon texts: Acts 16: 9-15; John 14: 23-29


Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

When I was a camp counselor at Lutheridge during the summer of my freshman year at Newberry College – I felt called by God to ministry. I felt called to be a pastor. So, when I came back for my sophomore year, I decided to enroll in some religion classes – the ones I was required to take and some extra ones so I could minor in religion and philosophy. I worked at St. Philip’s off of 219 my senior year to get some church work experience. I took some years off to ‘get settled’ and have a nice break out in the ‘real world’ for a bit before heading to seminary. I also got married then.

In 2007, I was accepted and enrolled at Southern Seminary in Columbia. In 2009 I was sent to Huntsville, AL for internship.

Everything seemed to be going ‘exactly according to plan.’ At least according to the plan and path that I felt God was calling me on. In fact, at my approval panel (the final ‘academic’ hurdle to get through before one can be approved for ordination) the head of my panel even mentioned that things were going pretty well – I was doing well in school, I had just welcomed into our life the birth of our daughter, and the Texas Rangers were well on their way to their best year ever. Things were going very well.

As Erin and I approached the day that I would be assigned to a region in the ELCA – the part of the country that I was to begin my ministry as a pastor – we really thought that we’d end up somewhere that would be familiar, perhaps even as far away as – Georgia or North Carolina.

Well, it didn’t work out quite like that.

In our first reading this morning, we see that Paul has a vision of a man who calls him and his friends to come help the people of Macedonia – to come to Greece and proclaim the gospel. Naturally, Paul and his friends set off to go to this foreign land and place. Sure, it was a Roman colony (something Paul would be familiar with), but it was still a new and different part of the world that he hadn’t been to before.

They arrive in Philippi and they hang out for a few days. Who knows what they were doing during that time. But, then on the Sabbath they went in search of a place to worship and pray. They happened to go to the city gates, by the banks of a river, and it was there that the Spirit led them to do ministry.

I can only imagine that that is not what Paul and his friends thought it was going to be like. His vision said that a man cried out to them from Macedonia. However, it was not a man, but numerous women that they talked and proclaimed to and shared with. Here they were – foreigners to a city and strangers to a land – and they come and talk to women on the outside of the gates of the city, by the river.

I don’t think that is what they thought was going to happen. They didn’t even help those within the city proper – but, instead proclaim the Risen Christ to those outside the gates. And then, the one who they talked to the most – the one who heard their words most fully – was a woman who wasn’t even from Macedonia or Philippi – she was from Thyatira or what is now modern day Turkey.

Talk about a curveball right?

I remember when Erin and I were sitting in the chapel at Southern Seminary waiting to find out what region we were going to be called to. I remember opening that envelope and thinking – something’s wrong. This number is upside down. It says 6, it’s supposed to say 9 right?

The Holy Spirit has a way of throwing us for a loop. Sending us to places that we wouldn’t expect, calling us to the places that we least expect in order for ministry to be done. It isn’t out of spite or out of foolishness. The Spirit doesn’t do this simply for the jokes and laughs. The Spirit sends us where we are needed. The Holy Spirit guides us to where ministry can take place.

I don’t know how Paul and his friends might’ve felt as they traveled from Troas to Philippi. I don’t know how they felt when they wandered around this new and strange city not knowing what to do, where to go, or who to speak to. But, I know how I felt when I was assigned to a region and then to a synod I never expected or even heard of.

I remember being frustrated, a little hurt, upset, and depressed. Really, really bad stuff. This isn’t what I expected. Why did I do all of this? What are we going to do now?

That crazy Holy Spirit – the wily one of the Trinity. Always stirring it up so that ministry might take place. Good, fruitful, and faith-filled ministry.

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus tells his disciples and in turn tells us that the Holy Spirit doesn’t come to make us feel good. To give us those warm and fuzzy feelings. Gently assuring us that things are always going to be alright – safe – comfortable – familiar.

The Holy Spirit reminds us of Jesus’ words. The Holy Spirit is the one who continually points us to the one who gives us peace. Who promises that he is there – here. The one who commands us to love one another as he has loved us. The one who tells us that in our love – we will follow.

Of course, those are all things that are easier said than done. The disciples had a hard time with it. There was hesitation among the faithful like Paul and his friends.

This work of the Holy Spirit is not usually the story and action we want to hear and take part in.

It’s scary. It’s unfamiliar. It isn’t ‘quick.’

As most of y’all know, I was called to Michigan. It took quite a bit for me to work through that. A southern boy taken by the north. It took a bit for me to realize that I wasn’t so much sent to Michigan, but I was called to do ministry there. A place and a people that viewed what I had done and who I was and said, “Yeah – this guy could do well here. He has gifts that can be used here.”

We had four wonderful years of ministry ‘beyond the wall’ to the north. During that time, I and my family grew in our relationship with God – with one another – with the responsibility and vocation of what it means to be in ministry in, for, and with God and God’s people.

Each day I was reminded of Jesus’ presence. The Holy Spirit was doing her job. The Holy Spirit is doing her ministry and work.

What I think we can learn from these texts is that the Holy Spirit is not something we can control or fully – if at all – understand. That when we are called by God to do ministry – any ministry. Whether it is feeling the call to be a pastor or even to come to serve and be with those in need.

Whether you are knitting hats for babies and cancer patients.

Whether you are called to speak out against those who attempt to oppress those around you.

Whether you are being present with those who are grieving.

Whether you feel a call to gather food, clothes, and more for those in need.

The Holy Spirit moves through those wonderful acts of ministry and then directs and guides us to where we are needed the most.

We might be sent off to places we didn’t expect. We might be sent to people we wouldn’t expect. We might journey to ventures we never even considered – all because of the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Throughout it all – Christ has promised that the Holy Spirit is there.

That the Holy Spirit will remind us of him. Remind us of his words and actions and promises. Remind us of the peace that Christ has offered to us.

That peace that God is with us. That we are saved in the death and resurrection of Christ our Lord.

The Holy Spirit does send us into ministry in ways and places we wouldn’t expect, but that doesn’t mean we do it alone. Christ is here. God is present. The Spirit is guiding.

It’s going to be OK. And along the way? Amazing ministry can and does happen. Amen.

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