Saturday, May 18, 2013

Having a God-Incidence

Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17

Months before he was arrested, Jesus was preparing the disciples for his death and for their continued ministry after his death. In the Gospel text, a conversation takes place during the last supper, as Jesus assures them that he and the Father are one and the same being. They have seen God because they have seen him.
After his death, his presence with them will continue because Jesus will send the Advocate to be with them. The Greek word is Parakletos, which translates roughly as one who is called to be alongside, like a defense attorney. Other Bibles translate this word as helper, comforter, companion, friend, encourager. Most often, we use Holy Spirit as the name for this aspect of God’s presence.
The Holy Spirit is present in Acts as Matthias is chosen to replace Judas. The spirit is present as Jesus ascends into heaven. And the Holy Spirit shows up in spectacular form on the Jewish festival of Pentecost. It’s a harvest festival, and Jews from many parts of the region are in town to offer the first fruits to God at the temple. That’s why so many languages are spoken; and that’s why the good news of Jesus’ resurrection can spread so far so quickly.
After the day of Pentecost, as recorded throughout Acts, the Holy Spirit shows up to heal, raise from the dead, bring people together, send the apostles to new places, challenge old beliefs, and cause large numbers of people to believe in Jesus.
It’s easy to forget that the Spirit continues to act throughout history, even today. Even if the people involved don’t recognize God’s activity, we can see the Holy Spirit at work. We’re likely to call the Spirit’s activities coincidences. I’d rather believe they are God-incidences.
… Last week there were a number of TV interviews with Jessica Buchanan, a young woman captured by Somali pirates in October, 2011. They traveled around, staying out of reach of the authorities for months.  The pirates were offered $1.5 million in ransom, which they refused. After several months of traveling around, Jessica became ill. Her health declined and she was afraid she would die.
In January 2012, Navy Seals were sent in to rescue her. The Seals first located her in the camp and lay on top of her to protect her as the others dealt with the pirates. When they uncovered her, the bodies of the pirates lay dead on the ground. She ran for the helicopter, and flew to safety.
Jessica survived for four months by praying constantly to God to help her. Her connection to God’s Holy Spirit was strengthened by her ordeal, and by her rescue.
… About two months ago, Dan was fired from his job. It seems to have been a combination of his own mistakes and those of his supervisor, for which he was also blamed. Because he was fired for cause, he was not eligible for unemployment. Dan spent the next month applying at area factories, but never received a call back. His constant prayer was, “God, I can’t wait to see how you are going to bless me!”
Dan began to consider other options, including giving more weight to his passion for helping people. He investigated becoming a nurse, but the program was long, and it would take a while before he could even start. A poster at the school caught his attention, a training program for massage therapy which would take only four months.
Dan enrolled, and sent this message: just to prove my momma didn’t raise no dummies, I got a 93 and a 96 on my tests this week. In addition, he discovered his hands are as large as the backs of many of his clients, making him what his instructor called “golden!”
Dan’s connection with the Holy Spirit is strong, and he has been encouraged to seek the Spirit’s guiding while doing therapy. Using more than the technical skills of feeling the knotted muscles, the Spirit-guided therapist will sense the trouble spots that only trained hands might miss. Already Dan has begun to feel the Spirit as he learns to care for his clients.
The presence of the Holy Spirit is sometimes as spectacular as it was on the day of Pentecost recorded in the book of Acts, but it is more often unseen, unrecognized, easily ignored.
We usually recognize the Holy Spirit’s activity when we look back at our lives. Then, we can see how God’s purpose was carried out when we had a particular friendship, moved to a particular place, had a particular medical test, experienced a particular event.
Pam, a parishioner in my first parish was convinced that although I was called to serve Epiphany as their pastor, I had actually been sent there for another reason: to meet Mike. Jessica sought out the Holy Spirit to sustain her during her captivity and her illness. Dan left himself open to the Spirit’s guidance and has embarked on a new career.
Today, especially, we wonder how the Spirit will guide Brenna and Steve into new adventures. How will affirming their faith strengthen them for doing God’s work? What stories will they tell their friends, children, and grandchildren about the Holy Spirit’s activity in their lives?
I challenge you this week to look back over your lives to discover where the Holy Spirit has been. When have you had a God-incidence? Where and when has a chance encounter or event turned you in a new direction? Who influenced you in surprising ways? Was that not the Holy Spirit at work?
Please pray with me. Lord, reveal yourself to us. Help us to see you in the big and little events in our lives. Guide us as we try to follow where you lead us. Pour out your gifts on Steve and Brenna so that they will know you dwell in them forever. Remind us to use our own gifts, the gifts which you gave us. Amen