A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sermon (December 28) by Joe Palmer, Youth Director - "The Spirit"

Merry Christmas everyone. Even though I am wearing a very nice summer outfit today, I do really enjoy the winter season, although it has been too wintery yet. This season is a special one. Once you get past the frenzy of insanity that you find in the stores, everyone seems to be in a more giving spirit. Many call it the Christmas Spirit. However, I feel that the Christmas Spirit is in reality he Holy Sprit working through us.

In both of the New Testament and Gospel reading today that Hattie and Carynn / Tanner and Harrison read for us, there is a common theme that emerges, the Holy Spirit. In Galatians we were reminded that God sent the Spirit of his son into our hearts. In Luke, we saw how the Holy Spirit was guiding Simeon into the temple so that he might see the Lord. 

Now, unfortunately for many, the idea of the Holy Spirit is a difficult one to wrap our minds around. It is by far the most abstract portion of the Holy Trinity. God, as the Father, we understand. We all have fathers and/or father figures in our lives. Jesus as the Son of God and our savior is also fairly easy comprehended. However, the Holy Sprit is a little harder for us wrap our minds around. When teaching Confirmation, I try to use visuals and scripture for the Confirmands to better understand the Holy Spirit. So, I am going to take everyone back to Confirmation this morning.

There are a multiple symbols and elements that we use, given to us through scripture, to try and understand the actions, desires, and idea of the Holy Spirit. While Jesus is referred to as the Lamb of God, the animal that is used to represent the Holy Spirit is the Dove.

A dove represents love, grace, and is an emblem of purity and harmlessness. All four Gospels refer to the baptism of Jesus by John at the Jordan. The Luke account reads “And the Holy Spirit came down in a bodily shape, like a dove on Him.”  The form of the dove was assumed on this occasion to signify that the Spirit with which Jesus would be endowed would be one of purity and innocence.  This symbol of the Holy Spirit is present in our sanctuary as well. The dove is carved into the Alter. It is also prominently displayed on our baptismal font, referencing Jesus’ baptism.

After talking about the significance of the dove at Jesus’ baptism, I like to segue into the discussion of water.  Water signifies birth and life. It represents the cleansing and life giving action of the Holy Spirit at Baptism. In Matthew Chapter 3, John the Baptist preaches stating, “I am baptizing you with water… but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.”

The Spirit is the living water that comes from Christ, cleansing us all.
The next element is fire and it is one of the most popular representations of the Holy Spirit. We begin and end each service with the flame.  Fire is shown in the Pentecost story in Acts Chapter 2, “Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” The fiery presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts provides light and guidance. Fire calls attention to the strength and force of the Holy Spirit.

The last symbols that I use for the Confirmands is Wind.  This is by far my favorite representation of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the breathe of God that fills us with life. We see this in Genesis 2, when God breathes life into Adam’s nostrils. It is like the wind, invisible but powerful, moving things around as it will. John 3:8 reads, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

While none of these images fully describes or explains the Holy Spirit, each image gives us a better idea of how the Spirit works in the world.

Now for me, I struggled being able to be cognitively aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence. And many of you know that after I graduated from college I had a difficult time finding my place in the church as a young adult. I wasn’t sure where I belonged, if anywhere. I felt void of the Spirit. Little did I know that the Spirit was guiding me to my new place in the church. During the fall of 2010 I was asked to be on the Staff Parrish Relations committee. I wasn’t really sure who thought that it would be a good idea for a 23 year old to serve on that committee but I was like…ok I guess. Little did I know that was the first push I was given in finding my place in then church. It guided me then to my Unbinding your Heart group that has developed in to great friendships. It also, ultimately guided me to the Youth Director Position. 

When I look back on these last 4 years, I am able to see how the Spirit was blowing me down paths that I would not have be willing to venture by myself. When I was in those moments, I just didn’t have the ability to recognize the Holy Spirit’s presence.
It wasn’t until his past summer’s mission trip that I became more truly in tune with the Holy Spirit’s presence. I was incredibly lucky to capture this moment and would like to share it with you all today.

This is the exact moment in my life when I was able to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in real time.  During the evening service one night on the mission trip we were sitting with our work crews, so our youth group was scattered all over the gymnasium. Towards the end of the service, at this moment, we were asked to take a step closer to the cross if we wanted a deeper relationship with Christ. As individuals were stepping closer the young man, to the left of the cross, beneath the speaker, and with the baseball hat stepped out into the light. 

This is one of our youth. I had had a serious conversation with him the day before about his relationship with Christ. At that exact moment, I was cognitively aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence guiding him. This was the first time I was ever able to see the Holy Spirit working in real time.
Since then, I have been more aware and have been able to recognize the spirit working in other and me. 

More recently, I saw the spirit in the eyes and words of a five year old. A couple of Friday’s ago, I was working out at Crossroads at the Nativity display when a young couple came in with their 2 children. After heading through the nativity and sending the kids on the animal scavenger hunt, the young girl, about 8 years of age, wanted to show me he favorite figurine. She took my hand and led me to this angel.

In reality, she has always been my favorite as well. After hearing his sister’s words and mine of agreement, her 5-year-old brother scoffed and said, verbatim, “That’s not right! Baby Jesus is my favorite and he she be your favorite too!” Touché little boy touché. It was so obvious that night that the Holy Spirit was with this young boy and was so apparent with the way that he looked at the baby Jesus.

As a lot of you know, I made a Facebook Christmas Photo-a-day challenge, inviting anyone to participate. Each day there was a daily word for us to interpreter, like Share, Lights, Love, Tradition, Joy, Family, Peace, and Spirit. You then were supposed to post a picture that you feel best represented that word. Not only was it great to get to see a glimpse of everyone’s lives, it was amazing to get to see how the Holy Spirit was moving through our congregation.

And somehow, a certain couple felt that their Westie best represented the word of the day, every day.

Each week during advent Pastor Robert and Pastor Cheryl spoke of Reclaiming Christmas. We were challenged to reclaim Christmas by allowing God to make a difference in the world, listening to the guiding Spirit, so we can move accordingly helping those in need. We were reminded to give up on having a perfect Christmas. We as humans are not perfect, however, even in our own struggles, we are called to shine the Spirit’s light through acts of kindness. We heard about God’s scandalous love that he has for us. A love that we didn’t do anything to deserve but is also there for us. We were reminded that we can be part of the miracle where people receive hope, the hungry are fed, and lives are saved through the power of the Holy Spirit.

As we progressed through Advent, it became more and more evident that the Holy Spirit was working through each and everyone of us. That is why I love this season so much. It isn’t the Christmas Spirit that grabs a hold of us. It is the Holy Spirit. This is the time of year that the Holy Spirit is most palpable. This is the time of year that the Holy Spirit is the most recognizable. Are you aware of its presence?

My Christmas wish for all of you is that you are able to recognize the Holy Spirit working in your life and that you are able react to where it is guiding you in your life this Christmas season and throughout the year to come.

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