Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Who, what, why, where, when, and how. These are the questions to answer when fully explaining a concept. We have talked about the answers to Who, Why, and Where in regards to the Holy Spirit. Who? The Holy Spirit is a part of God. Why? Because we need help, the Holy Spirit is the one who inspires us on the journey. Where? The Holy Spirit can be found in community. 

Today we are going to tackle the what and the when. What does the Holy Spirit do to help us on the journey? We are filled with the Holy Spirit and inspired to follow Jesus. When? All the time. Anytime. Every time. The Holy Spirit is always with us as a guide, inspiration, and help. 

So that was easy. I've already answered the questions. But wait, I can see you about to ask me, what does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?

What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?  In order to answer this question, I'll give you a few examples. The saints show us plenty of examples of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Stephen is one of the first for which this is said explicitly. In Acts we hear the story of the stoning of Stephen, one of the first deacons. The Holy Spirit fills Stephen and he has a vision of heaven and he tries to share that vision with those around him. Stephen forgives those who are stoning him while he dies and he gives up his Spirit to Jesus. Stephen does what God is calling him to do regardless of the consequences. 
 
In the Episcopal tradition, we follow the steps of the faithful who go before us. We have a book called Holy Women, Holy Men which sets out the feast days of the saints and gives a short description of each of them. This past week contained the feast days of Gregory of Nazianzus, Julian of Norwich, and Nicolaus von Zinzendorf. Each of these saints were filled with the Holy Spirit and saints have a tendency to have three things in common. They do what they feel is right, what God is calling them to do regardless of the consequences at the hands of other human beings. They recognize the way, the truth, and the life, and that God is at work in their lives. They are filled with joy that motivates them and drives them forward. 

Gregory of Nazianzus was Archbishop of Constantinople during the 4th century. He was known as the Trinitarian theologian, a great speaker and writer. Gregory had an experience with a great storm while on a ship that compelled him to give his life in service to God. His father was a bishop and he wanted him to be a priest in one of the local churches. However Gregory wanted to be a monk, far away from the political and social problems of the day. God had other ideas. Throughout his life, Gregory found himself in the middle of many different political and theological debates about the natures of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Gregory was filled with the Holy Spirit and able to stand up for his beliefs in the Trinity, in the three persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Gregory was a great champion of what we think of orthodox theology today. The Holy Spirit filled him with courage to follow his calling even though he didn't want to, gave him the ability to recognize that he God was at work in his life, and filled him with joy.

Julian of Norwich lived in England during the 1300-1400's. She is remembered because she had a number of visions of Jesus which she wrote about in a book called Revelations of Divine Love. This is the first book in the English language known to have been written by a woman! Most notably, Julian wrote during a major time of upheaval in the church and community, the early 1400's were characterized by time periods of plague passing through the land. She most famously wrote, "All shall be well, and all shall be well. And all manner of thing shall be well." Despite the restrictions against women at the time, Julian followed God's call for her, recognized God at work in her life, and was filled with a joy that allowed her to see beyond the problems of her time. 

Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf is actually one saint of which I am very fond. Zinzendorf, Ludwig to his friends, was a religious reformer and community builder in the 1700's. He was an eclectic theologian and he called his group, The Church of God in the Spirit. He worked for ecumenical causes throughout Europe, especially inviting people to live in his Christian community on his land in what is now lower Austria. Eventually, through conflicts and reconciliation work, he created the Moravian Church and personally helped set up two communities in the new English colonies, one in Bethlehem and the other in Salem. This is how I met him. Every third grader when I was in elementary school in Bethlehem had to do a history unit on the Moravians and Count Zinzendorf.  Zinzendorf was led by the Holy Spirit to many different places, he even met with Benjamin Franklin when he visited Pennsylvania in the 1740's. Though he had started out as a Lutheran, and ended up a Moravian (both groups Episcopalians are in full communion with today), he was guided by the Holy Spirit in standing up for his beliefs in religious tolerance, unity, and community, recognizing that God was at work in his life, and being filled with joy at the opportunities for others which he created. 

Throughout the centuries, thousands of men and women can be recognized as having their lives filled with the Holy Spirit. Today we celebrate Mother's Day, a holiday which exists only because men and women were filled with the Holy Spirit and stood up for their beliefs in caring for mothers and their roles in peace, temperance, and reconciliation. We follow their examples of following God's call, recognizing that God is at work in our lives, and being filled with the joy that comes from following where the Spirit leads us. 


What does the Holy Spirit do to help us on the journey? We are filled with the Holy Spirit and inspired to follow Jesus. When? All the time. Anytime. Every time. The Holy Spirit is always with us as a guide, inspiration, and help. What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Being filled with the Holy Spirit means doing what is right, what God is calling us to do, regardless of the consequences from other people. Being filled with the Holy Spirit means recognizing the way, the truth, and the life, and that God is at work in our lives. Being filled with the Holy Spirit means being filled with joy that motivates us and drives us forward. Like being filled with good music, when the Holy Spirit washes over you, it takes you on a journey you hadn't expected.