Happy Pentecost, Dear Working Preachers! At the risk of sounding like the proverbial broken record, are you ready for preaching this Sunday that celebrates the Spirit?
One strategy is to pick your Spirit. That is, choose one text and preach that text’s presentation and understanding of the Spirit rather than attempting a conglomerated spiritual mess that leaves the people in the pews asking, “Wait, what’s the Spirit again? What does it do?”
And only you know what Spirit your congregation needs to know this week. Do they need to hear about the Spirit as advocate, the Spirit of truth who accompanies us in our believing? Do they need to hear about the Spirit as a mighty wind, poured out upon us, taking over our very speech? Do they need to hear that they are indeed led by the Spirit of God and are therefore children of God?
Or, maybe they just need to be reminded that there is a Spirit; that it’s worth some of our faith attention, that it actually might make a difference for how we see God at work in our lives.
To hear that maybe, if we focus on the Spirit, the Spirit just might show up.
In Lutheran circles, the Spirit as the “shy member of the Trinity” is no joke. It seems that we can get by just fine without much recognition of what the Spirit might be up to. Perhaps that’s not just a Lutheran problem — and perhaps it might even be your problem. But it’s a problem that is a rather potent one for preachers. For without the Spirit, it’s hard to comprehend being able to step into a pulpit each week and proclaim the Word of God. It’s hard to imagine putting your theology on the line week after week and think this is all in a day’s work. It’s hard to conceive of having something to say every Sunday that is any different from any other preacher out there and that will actually make a difference.
So before you think about what your congregation needs to hear about the Spirit this week, maybe consider what you need to know about the Spirit this week. I can’t answer that either, but I can suggest one thing — consciousness makes possible the possibility or, in other words, makes expectation a reality.
Let me explain.
Much of what makes things happen in our lives is the result of intentionality, concentration, and deliberate focus, or at the very least, the things that we think matter for our lives or where we want to see change and growth.
Three examples: many of you know that I was a violinist in my former life. The ability to play the music I was asked to play and wanted to play meant practice. “Of course,” you might say. But practice is not just playing a piece over and over and hoping for the best. It is taking the parts apart, isolating certain skills, and practicing the heck out of them. It is that kind of focus that makes the difference when you get to that particular technique in a piece — runs, double stops, whatever. Consciousness makes possible the possibility.
I am also an avid weight lifter. One of the most important lessons when it comes to weight lifting is to focus on the muscle you are working. You think you can’t manage that last French Press? Oh yes you can, if you have your triceps in mind. Consciousness makes possible the possibility.
Or think about when you first started preaching. It didn’t do a whole lot of good to write a whole sermon and hope for the best. You had to work on the parts — openings and closings, transitions, sermon design, illustrations. Consciousness makes possible the possibility.
In other words, for you to see the Spirit active in your life, a little focus may be necessary. Not that the Spirit’s presence is dependent on your determination to see it. The Spirit is there, whether you want it to be or not, whether you think it’s there or not. Spirit focus may just be worth the effort.
One more story for the sake of full disclosure because being intentional about the Spirit sightings is a challenge for me. I will call this story “Birds of the Holy Land.” Actually, it’s three stories. The first is from three years ago leading a trip to the Holy Land of Luther Seminary students. We were at the Mount of the Beatitudes, celebrating Holy Communion. Our worship service began with my colleague reading the Sermon on the Mount. Just as she read Matthew 6:26, “Consider the birds of the air,” two beautiful green birds emerged from a hole in a tree just above us. The second two stories are from my Holy Land trip this past January. While visiting the site of Peter’s denial of Jesus, the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, a rooster crowed. And at the Jordan River during our remembrance of baptism? A white dove perched on the roof of the building site. You just can’t make this stuff up.
My reluctance and even resistance to these Spirit moments should be cause for spiritual alarm, I suppose. But instead, I choose to believe that these were God’s reminders to me that the Spirit truly is present. I just needed a reminder of Spirit focus.
Pentecost is just such a moment — a Spirit focus Sunday that sets in motion a Spirit focus life.