Sunday, May 01, 2016

Mindful of the Holy Spirit

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
May 1, 2016

Year C: The Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 16:9-15
Psalm 67
Revelation 21:10, 22:1-22:5
John 14:23-29

Mindful of the Holy Spirit
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            A few weeks ago I read a newspaper article about how “mindfulness” has become a big business.
            The writer noted how major companies like Google are encouraging their employees to practice mindfulness, in an effort to make them happier, more focused and more productive.
            There are hundreds of books out there about mindfulness, along with tons of websites, apps, and programs all designed to make us more mindful – and also designed to take our money, too.
            The writer mentioned a recent trip to a Whole Foods store where he found “Mindful Mayo” (a dairy-free mayonnaise substitute) on the shelf!
            I don’t know about mayonnaise being mindful, but obviously a lot of people these days are interested in mindfulness, in using practices like meditation to really pay attention to what’s going on inside ourselves and in the world around us, to pay attention to right here and right now.
            I’ve been interested in mindfulness for a few years now, ever since I had a major realization about my life.
            I realized that for a long time – since I was a kid, really – I had never really lived in the present moment.
            Instead, I was always so impatient.
            I was always impatient for the next stage of my life – waiting impatiently for the next development, the next step, which would, I thought, somehow, finally mark the start of my “real life.”
            I was so impatient with living in the “in-between time.”
            So, when I was a little kid, I thought my “real life” would start in high school. And, then when I was in high school, I thought my “real life” would finally begin in college. And then, when I was in college, I thought my “real life” would begin when I figured out what I wanted to do for a living.
            When I was a teacher, I always believed it would be the next year when I’d finally get it right and then, finally, my “real life” would start.
            And, then I discerned a call to ordination and I thought – a-ha! – when I’m ordained then my “real life” will really get started!
            And then I was ordained and I thought, well…no, not yet. I thought, no, I’m still in the in-between time. I thought, even as a priest, my “real life” hasn’t started yet.
            But, then, you know how it goes, time passes, and one day a few years ago I woke up and it dawned on me that there were probably more days behind me than ahead of me.           
           And I realized with a shock what I’ve just told you: that I had spent most of my life, most of my oh so valuable in-between time not focused on the present moment but always anticipating what’s next, waiting for the next big step when I thought my “real life” would finally begin.
            Somehow, I had dismissed the in-between time as unimportant.
            Maybe you can relate to my big mistake.
            But, the truth is, we live our lives in the in-between time. Life is the in-between time from our birth to our death, the in-between time from Jesus’ resurrection to his return in glory.
            Today’s Gospel lesson got me thinking about all of this.
            Of course, the gospels tell us about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus..
            But, they also give us insights into the earliest Christian communities in the decades after Jesus’ earthly life, how they made sense of who Jesus was and what he means for the world, how they figured out what it means to be a Christian.
            For the past few weeks we’ve been reading from the Gospel of John, the last of the four gospels to be completed, probably around the year 100, 70 or so years after Jesus’ earthly lifetime.
            By that time, Christians had begun to realize that Jesus wasn’t going to return as soon as everybody had thought and hoped.
            By that time, Christians had begun to realize that the in-between time between Jesus’ Resurrection and his return was going to be a lot longer than expected.
            It would have been easy to get bummed out about that – and, I suppose some Christians did get discouraged – but, despite lots of missteps and wrong turns along the way, during this long in-between time, the Church has continued to do its work, continued to spread the Good News, continued to grow, all thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit.
            Thanks to the Holy Spirit, Jesus never really left us.
            Thanks to the Holy Spirit, Jesus continues to offer us his peace.
            Thanks to the Holy Spirit, Jesus gives us courage.
            And, if we’re mindful, if we pay attention, we discover that our “real life” during this long in-between time is filled with the Holy Spirit.
            That’s probably the worst part of living the way I used to live (and still do, more often than I want to admit). The worst part of not living in the moment is that I’m sure I missed out on so many ways that the Holy Spirit has been and is at work in my life and in the lives around me.
            But, when I’m mindful and really paying attention to right here and right now, I see the Holy Spirit all over the place.
            At one point during the 10:00 service last week, I looked out at all of you and I marveled at how any wonderful new people have made their way to St. Paul’s, how many are making a spiritual home with us, bringing so many gifts: faithfulness in worship, generosity, financial wisdom, singing, acting, painting walls, cooking, and much more.
            Mindful of the Holy Spirit.
            I wrote this sermon at my desk on Saturday morning as I watched the stream of men and women arrive for the AA meeting – all different kinds of people, some I recognize some I don’t, all scarred by addiction but week after week supporting each other, introducing themselves, telling their stories, laughing, applauding, crying – right here in Carr Hall, right here at St. Paul’s, which one of the AA guys once told me is “an icon” for him – the place where he got sober more than 20 years ago.
            Mindful of the Holy Spirit.
            I’m mindful of the bond that has formed among the three Episcopal churches in Jersey City these past few years, churches that in the past have ignored each other, or competed with each other, or resented each other, but now today we’ve become friends, become brothers and sisters, truly the Episcopal Church of Jersey City.
            Mindful of the Holy Spirit.
            I’m mindful of Jersey City Together and our public launch a few weeks ago, when we spoke truth to power and, as usual, power didn’t like it very much! But, I still can’t get over that in this city where we are so used to corruption and injustice, where, frankly, we don’t really expect our leaders to be good, we managed to draw 900 people, all different kinds of people.
            The other day we had a clergy meeting and acknowledged that there may very well be consequences for our actions: broken friendships, frayed relationships, applications delayed, grants denied, but we were firm in our commitment to stick together.
            It was beautiful, moving, and a little scary.
            Mindful of the Holy Spirit.
            And I’m mindful of all the little things that are not so little that go on all the time around here: parents working so hard to give their kids a better life, grandparents babysitting and walking to school in the morning and back in the afternoon, the phone calls and visits with people we know are suffering, making a plate at coffee hour for someone who’s disabled, making a plate for the rector so I can get something to eat, praying every day for all of those names on our prayer list, forgiving those who wrong us, listening for God’s call and stepping out in faith to follow where that call may lead.
            Mindful of the Holy Spirit.
            So, here we are, you and I, right here and right now, living in the in-between time between our birth and our death, living in the in-between time between Jesus’ resurrection and return, living in the in-between time - guided, strengthened, and loved by the Holy Spirit.
            Just look around.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!