Sermon by Lois Grierson, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church
Close your eyes for a moment. Relax. Take a deep, slow breath...hold the breath
briefly, then gently open your mouth...and slowly breathe out. Did you hear it? In
breathing out, did you hear that sigh? Do it again. Deep slow breath...breathe out
through your mouth. That sigh is a sign of the Spirit in our midst. The sigh too
deep for words.
In his Letter to the Romans, Paul writes that the whole creation has been
groaning in labour pains – indeed, not only the creation, but we ourselves groan
inwardly. In the face of overwhelming pressures in our lives and/or the lives of
loved ones, with our health, with our jobs, with our education, with school, with
our families, with our future – we sigh. In trying to understand, comprehend,
correct, change, or influence in some way the actions of ourselves and others,
our businesses, our cities and municipalities, our province, our country, our
neighbouring country, and nations & peoples around the world, we often groan
inwardly – and all too often feel helpless. The sigh too deep for words is
sometimes all we can manage. But through it, the Spirit fills our heart – and
empowers us to act.
That sigh, that breath, is one image we have to make us aware of the very-much-
alive presence of the Holy Spirit. It is the breath of God from the first moment of
creation, when the universes leapt into their spinning, whirling dance of life.....an
astounding eternal dance of which we are all a part and which continues to
amaze us and delightfully stretch our feeble mortal imaginations beyond their
capacity to comprehend.
It is the “ruah” in the dry bones story from Ezekiel. The Hebrew word “ruah”
(grammatically a feminine word in Hebrew) means spirit, wind, or breath. God
asks: “Mortal, can these bones live?” and then commands the writer of Ezekiel to
“Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: ‘Thus says the
Lord God: come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain,
that they may live.’” And the dry bones rattle and clatter in astounding confusion.
But they indeed come together and come alive, a vast multitude of people. An
astounding result from a simple prophesy or witness – by a mortal being
speaking in response to God.
It is the breath of Jesus as he appeared to the disciples huddled in the locked
room after the crucifixion. When, having said “Peace be with you. As the Father
has sent me, so I send you,” Jesus breathes upon the disciples – and when he
follows that breath with “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if
you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Sounds simple enough. Yet we,
and every person in the world, continually struggle with getting our minds around
truly understanding forgiveness – both for ourselves and for every other living
being to whom we relate. The Spirit says live...the Spirit says forgive.
In Acts, we are astounded once again. The community has gathered for the
Pentecost festival of thanksgiving for the first harvest of the season. Like we
have gathered here to celebrate the feast of bread and wine. The participants are
there to give thanks, to enjoy one another’s company. But what an astonishing
surprise! A sound like rushing wind fills the house. Do you feel it? Do you feel the
tremendous energy that wind brings with it?
And then divided tongues as of fire rest upon each of them. Do you feel the
energy.....the light...the warmth...the burning.....the excitement? Our fiery
Pentecost banners help us visualize it. Those tongues of fire rest upon you.
Wind and fire. As if that is not enough, the Holy Spirit now has the apostles
suddenly speak in different languages. The gathered crowd is totally bewildered,
because all of a sudden each person in the crowd hears, in his or her own
language, the apostles speak. I’m certain the apostles themselves were equally
as bewildered – I know I would be. Suddenly, the apostles are speaking not their
own language, but the language of the people around them.
We gather here to give thanks and to celebrate. To be surprised by the Holy
Spirit. Might we be being empowered to do the same thing as the apostles – to
speak in the languages of other people? Words and actions are closely
associated. They are simply two different ways of expressing and revealing
Gloria Dei presently has a pastoral vacancy. We feel that vacancy very much.
We pray for a future that includes ordained leadership for our congregation. Yet,
we continue to gather to worship, witness, and care. We can, and should more
often, give thanks for the languages that are being spoken in our midst,
sometimes by people who had no previous idea that they could speak that
language and have other people hear, understand, and be touched by it.
We hear the language of music – with the multiple gifts being offered each week
by our music director Sonja and by the choir members (both on those Sundays
when they formally sing in the choir and those Sundays – soon to come for the
summer – when they sing in the midst of the congregation). We hear the
language of our office administrator, Shelley, who is holding together all the bits
and pieces of who know how many things behind the scenes. We hear the
language of all who plan, preside at, and assist in so many ways with worship.
We hear the language of those who are keeping the lights working and the
building clean and in good order. We hear the language of those who are
keeping the renters happy – AA, the Table Tennis people, the Music
Conservatory, the occasional and the one-time renters. We hear the language of
caring of all those who are keeping tabs on and visiting the sick, the shut-ins, and
those who need assistance of many kinds. We hear the time spent by committee
members, congregational renewal members, and church council trying to
determine what the future of this community looks like.
If you wonder if the Holy Spirit is active in our midst and speaking in different
languages, ask Larry Denef if he is aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit as he
goes through the process of preparing to sell his home that is full of so many
memories. We can recognize and give thanks that there are so many people
(both within and outside of this community) speaking to him in the language of
countless hours spent encouraging him and helping him, in large and small ways,
to clear his house and his possessions as he moves on to the next stage of his
It is significant that each of these stories of the Holy Spirit’s presence takes place
in the presence of a multitude of people. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, it is the
entire community that is called to act and to bear witness in multiple languages to
In the current issue of The Canada Lutheran magazine, our National Bishop
Susan Johnson writes of the recently set goals for the ELCIC.
Goal 1: Courageous Innovation
The place of churches in society has changed. There is an increase
of people in Canada of different religions and people of no religion.
Many congregations are getting smaller and older in membership.
There is a strain of financial resources. The role and expectations
of rostered ministers is changing. We are going to have to learn
new ways of being church. We will have to experiment, and
sometime fail, as we try to see how God is calling us.
This goal needs to be very much in mind for Gloria Dei. If all goes
as expected, we will be worshiping in this space for approximately
another two and a half years. We will then be worshiping
somewhere else for another year or year and a half. And then, we
will be gathering back on this piece of land in a new, smaller space,
as part of a new building that will accommodate some type of
seniors’ housing or seniors’ care. Innovation is critical – anxiety
filled, but exciting. What will ministry for Gloria Dei look like in five
years’ time? What language is the Spirit giving us to speak?
Goal 2: The Ministry of Reconciliation
Our world is experiencing increasing brokenness – from increasing
numbers of homelessness domestically, to increased refugees and
internally displaced persons internationally. Racism, terrorism,
poverty, disease, climate change, human trafficking, and so many
more ills. The whole creation groans. What will this mean in our
relationship with Indigenous peoples, with people of different faiths,
with creation itself? The Spirit is calling us to be reconcilers.
Goal 3: One Body Working Together
We cannot forget the many other expressions of church with whom
we are called to work, including the National Church, the BC
Synod, other congregations, other ministries, our partner churches
like the Anglican Church of Canada, and international partners such
as The Lutheran World Federation. Just as it takes the gifts of
everyone in our congregation to reveal and express the intentions
of the Holy Spirit, we need to work together with others as one body
Goal 4: Empowered Disciples
We need to discern anew what it means to live out a baptismal
calling in all avenues of our lives. We need to nurture mutual
respect and partnership for all forms of ministries.
The Spirit is calling us to innovate, reconcile, work together, and empower one
another. As a congregation and as individuals, we have much to do to determine
how we are to live out and express that call.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus refers to the coming of the Spirit of truth. And what is
that truth? Jesus connects that truth with the world being wrong about sin,
righteousness, and judgement. He connects it with the Spirit speaking what it
hears and declaring the things that are to come.
The Spirit today hears of creation in discord, an earth at risk, and peoples in
broken relationship with the environment and with one another. We are called to
be innovative, reconciling, working together, and empowered to bring healing to
that discord. We are called to forgive sins, to bring peace, and to care for
creation in whatever ways and in every way we can. We are called to love one
You may be aware there was a particular wedding in England yesterday. You
may have listened to the sermon like no other ever preached at St. George’s
Chapel. American Episcopalian (Anglican) Pastor Patricia Giannelia of Kelwona
describes it as Bishop Michael Curry beginning quietly but soon “exploding out of
the pulpit” with his passion for social justice and equality. He spoke about the
radical love that God offers – love of one another, love of the earth, love of self.
There were surprised and sometimes even uncomfortable looks upon the faces
of the guests. The staid, traditional “Englishness” of St. George’s Chapel was
rocked awake. Journalists have called it “the day Bishop Curry took the world to
church.” The Archbishop of Canterbury later said “It just blew the place open. It
was fantastic. You could see people caught up in it and excited by it.” I say it
was a Pentecost moment. The Holy Spirit’s role is not only to comfort the
afflicted, but to afflict the comfortable. Although we each have our own struggles
and fears, in relation to so many of our brothers and sisters in the world, we are
extremely comfortable and need to be shaken out of that complacency in order to
bring about Jesus’ radical love.
In a previous sermon, I began by speaking about the windows in our nave.
Today, I end by directing attention to one of them. Three of the four Gospels
reveal the experience at Jesus’ baptism as the heavens opening and the Holy
Spirit, like a dove, descending upon Jesus. A voice from heaven says “You are
my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” In entering and in leaving this
nave, you – and we all – are reminded by the dove in the window above the entry
that the Holy Spirit descends upon you and says “You are my son, or daughter,
whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Every person in the world needs to
hear – again and again, over and over – that they are loved by God – to hear, as
Henri Nouwen put it, “I am the beloved child of a loving Creator.” Every person
needs to be assured of that love when things don’t go as expected in their life
and the world around us.
The dove in our window is surrounded by the flames of the Holy Spirit. Ever
moving, ever changing, ever challenging, ever burning away the old, and ever
creating the new.
Can you feel the power of those flames, the energy of the Holy Spirit?
What language will you speak to share the Creator’s love and the Spirit’s re-
creating power and promise for our world?
May the Spirit, active in this community, teach it to you and empower you. May
we see visions, dream dreams, and prophesy to the dry bones.
Thanks be to God.