We are looking for you, Holy Spirit.
We block off some time to spend with the lectionary text for this Sunday, looking for you. We search for you in and among the words. We close our eyes and invite you to fill our brains with your inspiration.
We read what others have said about this text in hopes of being touched by you. We scour for crumbs contained in the original language. We look for sparks of inspiration from the gifted writers and theologians on this website, and even occasionally from the volumes of expert commentary that most of us have on our shelves or possibly squirreled away in boxes. We kick around ideas with colleagues at text studies, hoping to feel your breath.
Is there a formula for encountering you, Holy Spirit? If we ask around, like fishing enthusiasts who inquire where the fish are biting and what bait is working, can we come across the occasional tip that will put us in touch with a gem of your inspired wisdom?
I must admit that I have not found a way of locating you. I don’t know the place where you reside. Nor have I uncovered a formula or procedure that brings me into your presence.
Which is a darned good thing.
Because if you resided in any particular place or could be induced to appear by any formula or rite, then you wouldn’t be the Spirit. You would be an imposter — of no use at all, and possibly even harmful. The fact that you are not easily found or predictable or known is at the heart of your inspiration.
God wants to be known, at least to some degree. Why else would we be given the Word of God, the Book of Faith? Why else would we have the incarnation of Jesus Christ, Immanuel — God with Us? Making God known is the work of the Spirit.
But making the Spirit known is not the Spirit’s work, because a spirit is not easily classified, categorized, or defined. That’s not how spirit works.
All of this is perhaps a poetic attempt at saying that not only do I have no formula or pattern or procedure that I follow in writing a sermon, I don’t want one. The Spirit will not be encountered in a particular place or way. The Spirit is elusive because the Spirit does not sit still. The Spirit is constantly changing, exploring, inventing, blowing, swirling about.
Yes, a formula for writing sermons would save a lot of angst, but I don’t see how it will connect with the Spirit. Looking for a moving target in the same place, in the same way, every week offers scant chance of success. It’s like checking a stopped watch to learn the time. It will be right two seconds out of the day.
Surprise, unusual perspective, and sparks of insight are the antithesis of routine and even structure. Rather than trying to pin down the elusive nature of the Spirit’s inspiration and being frustrated when we can’t, it’s better to embrace and even celebrate that nature.
Jesus promised that the Spirit would be with us to guide, counsel, comfort, and inspire us. We can count on that. But that Spirit cannot, by its nature, keep any schedule. It will blow where it will.
Keep your senses alert. Open yourself to the Spirit in as many ways as you can, Working Preacher, and let the Spirit do its work.