Witness, Worship, and the Holy Spirit

A sermon offered on October 4, 2015 to the Parish of Saugeen Shores.

Texts: Psalm 150, Ephesians 4.1-16, 1 Cor. 12.1-13, Matt. 28.16-20

I.

Rev. Carrie and I decided to go off-lectionary this week. Don’t worry: I assure you this doesn’t mean that you have a rogue priest and curate. There is method behind our madness!

Thanksgiving is a week away. During Thanksgiving, we tend to focus on giving thanks to God for material blessings. However, how often do we reflect on the spiritual gifts God gives us? Of course, we are thankful for the people, programs, and buildings of our parish. But what about the spiritual gifts that God gives the people of this parish? Are we giving thanks for the fruit they are bearing?

As we move forward with the new thing that God is doing in our midst, it is essential for us to be firmly rooted in understanding our shared identity and purpose. This requires discerning our gifts, both as individuals and as congregations within our newly formed Regional Ministry. How are we as a Holy Spirit-created and Holy Spirit-filled community fulfilling our God-given mission to make disciples?

II.

Before we can answer this question, we need to be clear on who we are talking about when we are talking about the Holy Spirit. Is the Holy Spirit merely to be associated with religious feelings ranging that from ecstatic fervor to a subtle sense of there being ‘something bigger than me out there’? Who are we talking about when we talk about the Holy Spirit?

The simple answer to this question is that we are talking about God: the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is not a vague force that we can ‘tap into’ depending on our personal predilections for spiritual experiences. Rather, the Holy Spirit is “the agent of the kingdom of God…[who] keeps pointing us toward the truth” embodied in Jesus Christ.[1] The Holy Spirit draws us, God’s people, into the divine life of the Trinity. This is not the kind of vague spirituality peddled by the plethora of modern self-styled spiritual gurus who exploit the spiritual vacuum of our culture. Rather, this is the kind of spirituality by which the church lives and moves and has its being. The Holy Spirit does not exist ‘out there’ in the ether; the Holy Spirit “rests upon bodies, first on the crucified body of Jesus, then on the often full-of-holes and beaten body of Christ, the church”.[2]

In other words, the Holy Spirit gives birth to the Church; Christians are literally born of the Spirit. Indeed, “Christians are nothing without the Holy Spirit”.[3] This means that “the Holy Spirit is nothing less than a life-and-death matter for the people of God”.[4] When the church seeks to live life on its own terms by protecting itself against all that threatens to unsettle the status quo, it is safe to say that the Holy Spirit has left the building and the church is merely an altruistic social club. However, when the Church dares to “live in the power of the Holy Spirit”, it learns to joyfully and gratefully receive the abundant gifts of God, including the Holy Spirit itself, in fulfillment of the purpose to which God calls the church.[5]

III.

One of Paul’s most used images of the church in his letters is the church as a body. Furthermore, Paul makes it clear that the body of Christ cannot exist separate from the Holy Spirit that unites the members into one body; baptism is the only way in which a person becomes part of the body and, therefore, baptism is the primary means by which one receives the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is precisely why Jesus commanded his church to baptize people: baptism is the marker of one’s identity as a member of the body of Christ, as a disciple of Jesus who has heard his call to “come and follow me”.

To be baptized into the body of Christ does not mean that I’ve joined the ‘spiritually elite’ or that I have my one-way ticket to heaven. To be baptized into the body of Christ means participating in the mission to which the body is called and finding my role within this mission.

In order to help us further grasp what Paul is getting at, let’s use a different metaphor: the church as an orchestra with the Holy Spirit acting as the conductor.

Orchestras are comprised of many different musicians playing many different instruments; each instrument offers a distinct sound that contributes to the music being made. In this image of the church as orchestra, the different musicians are individual Christians and the instruments we play are the gifts given to us by the conductor, the Holy Spirit.

The music we play is God’s symphony of love and reconciliation. The symphony is comprised of various movements that convey a range of emotions, from anticipation, to sadness, to jubilation. The repeated theme throughout the symphony is Jesus Christ; the music is all about him. And the orchestra will continue to play its music until Christ’s return.

Now, if the church is an orchestra, this raises some important questions:

– What if some musicians refuse to follow the sheet music and decide to improvise instead?

– What if some if the tuba players said they were tired of playing the tuba and decided to switch with the cello players?

– What if some musicians decided to form their own orchestra and left?

– What if a musician decided that she was a better conductor and pushed the conductor of his platform?

– What if the choir decided they would rather have tea and cookies rather than sing?

– What if the percussion section assumed they were the best section of the orchestra and together decided to play at the tempo and volume that they feel is best?

I am sure that we would all agree that any of these situations would make for a rather terrible orchestra and horrendous performance. One can imagine that there would be no encore or repeat performances.

And yet, I am sure we can all identify the ways in which the church throughout history, and indeed in the history of our own congregation, has embodied these very situations.

When the orchestra refuses to listen to its conductor, the result is cacophonous disharmony where the music of God’s love is ear-splitting and obnoxious.

However, when the orchestra plays its sheet music as written and follows its conductor, the result is awe inspiring; the audience wants to hear more! Caught up in the joy of listening, the audience wants the music to continue; caught up in the joy of performing, the musicians want to continue playing!

A good orchestra knows that each of the instruments has an important part to play in the making of music, yes, even the bassoon.

Now, I suspect some are saying ‘wait a minute, we are not professional musicians! You can’t be so hard on us!’ You’re absolutely right – we are all amateurs, even those of us who went to seminary. And yet, I am sure you would agree that the only way to get better at an instrument is practice, practice, practice!

Yes, practice can be tedious. Repeatedly running scales is not fun. However, it is precisely through the practicing of our faith that we learn to use the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit gives to us. God abundantly gives us everything we need to make beautiful music; yet, we must be willing to practice, practice, practice and follow the direction of our conductor, even when we don’t want to practice or when the conductor seems to be asking too much of us.

You see, God’s purpose for the church is to twofold: to play God’s symphony of love and to invite others to join God’s orchestra so that the whole world can hear and enjoy this symphony.

The two-fold purpose of the church is clear in today’s Gospel reading: the disciples worship the Triune God as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and they are sent to be witnesses to this God. God’s purpose for the church is fundamentally about worship and witness.

Worship reorients us toward this God and reminds us that we are called to be a living sacrifice to God in all we do, think, and say. Furthermore, it is under the authority of this God that we are sent into the world to make disciples through baptism and teaching. We are sent as witness to testify in both deed and word to what God has done and is doing through Jesus Christ.

Some of you might be getting uncomfortable at this point, thinking “but evangelism is not a gift Anglicans have. We just aren’t very good talking about our faith”. Yes, some people are natural evangelists. However, we must remember that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given for the purposes of worship and witness. And, I am happy to remind us that two of the foremost evangelists in the 20th and 21st century are Anglicans: C.S. Lewis and Bishop N.T. Wright.

Worship and witness each flow from and into each other; they are the two sides of the coin of the church’s mission. Too often we get stuck on the ‘how’ questions: how we worship and how we witness. However, the primary question that should inform our worship and witness is ‘who’. Who is the God we worship? Who is the God to whom we witness in the world? When we can answer ‘who’ clearly, our worship and witness will be robust, compelling, and inviting. We worship this God; we tell the world the story of this God.

This is why Paul reminds us of the centrality of the Holy Spirit in the church’s worship and witness: it is only through the Holy Spirit that we are able to answer the ‘who’ question by proclaiming that “Jesus is Lord”; it is only through the presence of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is able to offer comfort to his disciples that we will be with us always, even though we are amateurs.

As we go into the world to play God’s symphony, we perform not as soloists, but as an orchestra. We have each other and we have our conductor to guide us as we play so that the music of our lives, as individuals, as families, and as a congregation, resounds with the great themes of God’s symphony: the lost are found, the broken are mended, sinners are forgiven, and the outcasts are welcomed; so that the music of our lives tells of the great love shown to humanity in the life of the God who took on human flesh and lived among us.

IV.

So, as the newly formed Regional Ministry of Saugeen Shores, Tara, and Chatsworth, it is essential that we ask ourselves: do we know what our instruments, our spiritual gifts, are? Are we playing God’s symphony of love to the best of our ability as we worship and witness? Would our community miss the symphony if we stopped playing? Are they asking for encores?

As we move into God’s future for our parish, let us with joy and gratitude play the instruments we have been given and let us follow the direction of the Holy Spirit that we might play the most beautiful music the world has ever heard: the music of God’s symphony of love! Let us join in the music of creation in singing praise to God, joining with “the melody and cadence of the cosmic elements” as they sing of God’s glory.[6]

Are you ready to pick up your instrument, follow our conductor, and play?

The world is waiting to hear God’s symphony of love.

Let us play!

Amen.

[1] Hauerwas and Willimon, The Holy Spirit, 30.

[2] Hauerwas and Willimon, 31.

[3] Hauerwas and Willimon, ix.

[4] Hauerwas and Willimon, ix.

[5] Hauerwas and Willimon, ix.

[6] Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, 276.

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