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Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian (OLD)

Celebrating Romance Everywhere

Psalm 139:7-12

Last week we learned that the Holy Spirit’s primary love language toward Christians is giving gifts. Gift giving is also my wife’s primary love language.  It took me nearly thirty years of marriage to realize that she feels loved most when I give her gifts. 

A couple years ago I got Kate a wonderful Christmas gift.  It was something she really, really wanted.  While it actually wasn’t all that expensive, it created a huge deposit into our love account because she was so amazed that I would find this gift and surprise her with it.

The way it happened was that one of Kate’s good friends called me at the office around October and told me about something I should get Kate for Christmas.  She described it as something that works with yarn or fabric or helps with sewing or something like that.  By the time this friend was done with the explanation I had no idea what it was.  “What is it?” I asked again.  When it became obvious I was never going to get what it was, we agreed that this friend would simply order it on-line and I would pay her back for it when it arrived.

It arrived at their house a couple weeks later and her husband offered to drop it by my office.  He delivered it to my office and I paid for it.  I looked at the packaging and still had no idea what this thing was or what it did. 

As I was studying the package at my desk my assistant, Frances, asked about it.  “I have no idea what this is, but it is a gift for Kate for Christmas” I explained.  Frances wrapped it for me.  Christmas morning Kate was impressed with the gift I gave her.

Later I was retelling the story of that Christmas gift and a friend said, “So, let me get this straight. Kate’s friend ordered it.  Her husband delivered it.  Your assistant wrapped it.  And YOU got credit for it!?”  

Who gets credit for “the fruit of the Spirit?”  Wait, before we answer too easily that of course the Holy Spirit gets the credit for the fruit of the Spirit, let me clarify.  Who gets the credit when we discover the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of non-religious people?  We could make an argument that spiritual gifts are given exclusively to Christians.  Yet, when it comes to the fruit of the Spirit, other people demonstrate “love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness.” 

This weekend let’s look at our tendency to make exclusive Christian assumptions about the Spirit of God.  For many Christians, there is an assumption that the Holy Spirit only grants blessings to followers of Jesus.  You have to go to church and love the Lord in order for the Spirit to bless you.  Right?  Not so much. 

Today’s Psalm reminds us that the Holy Spirit is active everywhere.  There is nowhere we can go where the Spirit is not already there at work.  It ought not to surprise us when we find fruit of the Spirit in surprising places.  Let’s listen afresh to Psalm 139.

Read Psalm 139.

Did you hear about the girl who named her cat “Ben?”  Then one day Ben had kittens, so she changed the name to Ben Hur.

How many of us have seen the movie Ben Hur?  It is based on Lew Wallace’s novel written in 1880.  Wallace never joined a church.  He wrote the novel in part because of his own doubt and disconnection with the traditional Christian religion of his day.  Yet, he subtitled the novel “A Tale of the Christ.”

Near the beginning of the story Wallace has the three Wisemen traveling to bring their gifts to the newborn king.  When King Herod asks them how they are sure this newborn baby is the Christ child, one of them explains that even though they came from different places and various religions, they were led by God’s Spirit.  “His Spirit stayed with us, O King, his Spirit is with us now!”

Lew Wallace, a non-church person, believed that God’s Spirit is active in the entire world, not just inside churches.  I agree.  God’s Spirit is already at work in the whole world.  That is why Psalm 139 is so powerful.  The Psalmist discerned that wherever we go, God’s Spirit is already there.  Even the darkness is not dark when the Spirit’s light is already present.

One of the ways the Spirit works beyond the church is through dreams and visions.  A few years ago I met an Egyptian woman who had been touched by God’s Spirit separate from any church contact.  The Spirit spoke to her through her dreams.   She dreamed about a hotel where she was welcomed by a humble man who turned out to be the owner.  She was so intrigued that the owner would dress so casually and not need to assert his importance.  She did not know who this hotel owner was in her dream, but she noticed something on the key ring where he carried his keys.

Some days later she happened past a church and saw that same image on the church.  It was an Eastern Orthodox version of a cross.  She went inside to ask if anyone might help her interpret her dream and saw a picture on the wall of the man she had seen as the owner of the hotel in her dream.  She asked who that kind, humble man was in the picture and learned his name was Jesus. 

Her story reminds us that God’s Spirit is not limited or exclusively attached to churches.  The Holy Spirit is active throughout the world, touching lives in surprising ways and unexpected places.    No wonder, then that the fruit of the Spirit shows up in all kinds of people, religious and irreligious.

I find it significant that it was an Orthodox cross that the Spirit used to woo her.  Eastern Orthodox churches have much less problem with the inclusiveness of the Holy Spirit.  The tendency to limit the Holy Spirit is more of a European and American Christian problem. 

Okay, time to tell a brief historical story about how the Holy Spirit got demoted to the third person of the Trinity.  When was the last time you heard the name of Charlemagne?  History class in high school?  Humanities class in college?  

The year is 800 A.D.  The Pope in Rome is extremely unpopular with the locals.  In fact, they move to dethrone the Pope.  Charlemagne hears about the stir and wants to calm things down before they disrupt his kingdom in France. So he marches his troops to Rome to end the rioting in the streets and hold hearings about who should be Pope.

Charlemagne concludes that it would be better for the stability of the kingdom to maintain the Pope.  He announces to the crowds that this is their Pope because he and his army say so.  Thus the Pope is left indebted to Charlemagne. He is Pope because Charlemagne made him Pope. 

The Pope doesn’t like this idea.  So he comes up with an idea.  On Christmas day 800 A.D. the Pope surprises Charlemagne during a worship service by placing a crown on Charlemagne’s head and giving him a new title: Charlemagne is the Holy Roman Emperor.  This is a political move to assure the Pope is over the King not vice versa.  “You are king because I, the Pope, say so.”

Charlemagne was furious.  In fact, he made sure that he personally passed on his own crown to his son without the Pope present.   In the meantime Charlemagne comes home to rule his kingdom.  This idea that the Pope is over the King is a burr under his blanket.  Then some of Charlemagne’s French theologians come up with a way to re-establish his priority over the Pope.

The French theologians discover a passage from 400 years earlier in the writings of Saint Augustine.  Augustine, in his desire to show clear connection of the Trinity, wrote that the Holy Spirit not only proceeded from the Father, but also from the Son.  The European theologians, quoting this passage of Augustine, suggest a new phrase be added to the ancient traditional Nicene Creed.  Charlemagne loves it!  The reign of God is like the reign of a king.  The Father and Son (like King and Prince) are more important than the Holy Spirit (like the Pope).  Thus, Charlemagne’s church leaders pressure the Pope to add this new phrase to the ancient creed.

The Eastern parts of the Church, centered in Constantinople never agree to this new wording.  When the Pope gives in to the political pressure to change the ancient creed, the Eastern Church gets fed up with bad theology and separates,  Thus, by the time we get our Western theology handed down to us, we have the idea of the Holy Spirit as the almost forgotten, not very important, third member of the Trinity.

I think the Eastern Church was right to keep the Holy Spirit equal with Jesus and the Father.  I think the Spirit is active all over the place if we have eyes to see.  When we tune in, we catch whiffs of the Spirit’s perfume all over the place.

I love the books of Brian McLaren.  His recent book has an imaginative title: Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? He writes this in his opening chapter.  “Where then can the Spirit be found?  Jesus dramatizes the answer. The Spirit driven from the temple, shows up in one surprising place after another… in the treetops like the wind, on the shady banks of the muddy Jordan River, on a hillside in the presence of the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, among the wine bibbers and sinners, by the crime scene on the Jericho road… in the last, the least, and the lost.”

By the way, we helped that Egyptian woman escape the persecution of her family and homeland.  We assisted her to find a place where she could hide out in Kenya for a while.  While in Kenya she met and married a Christian husband.  Together they moved from Africa to North America and found that God is here as well.  

Where can we go away from you, Holy Spirit?  Wherever we go, you are already there!

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