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Pastoral Letter, May 29, 2023

To the Saints in San Carlos:

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit that transformed the lives of some very ordinary disciples into some very extraordinary evangelists.  Thus began the church and here we are.

 

I gave a sermon on the Holy Spirit (appended at bottom) and will continue to talk about the Spirit for several Sundays to come.

 

We are praying for our friend pastor Sharon MacArthur, who has had something like a stroke and is in the hospital.  I spoke with her a few days and she sounded good, well cared-for and surrounded by family.

 

Here is her address if you would like to send a card:

 

139 Dunham Ct.

Hercules CA 94547

 

We pray also for our friend Alyce Bishop, who has a sore back that kept her from coming to church.  We have been praying for my friend Anna Cave of Arlington, Virginia, who has made a couple trips to Ukraine to do some forensic work that is very stressful and travel there, of course, is very dangerous.  Here is a letter of thanks from her mother:

 

Dear Faithful Friends,

 

Thank you for praying for Anna for the last two weeks.  She arrived home last week, tired, but all in one piece. PTL!  I so much appreciate all "the effective, fervent prayers of you righteous men and women”. May the Lord use the efforts of all the organizations working for justice and healing of victims of war crimes. I love how the Contemporary English Version translates Micah 6:8:  The Lord God has told us what is right and what he demands: “See that justice is done, let mercy be your first concern, and humbly obey your God.” By praying, you were part of this effort.

 

Again, thank you for your prayer.  - Marcia Piepgrass

 

So may people to pray for - friends, relatives, those countless others who serve us in stores and restaurants, in the uniformed services, in public office.

 

Also, it is Memorial Day Weekend, a time to remember our veterans.

 


 

And an important fundraiser impends.  Tell your friends!

 



Here is Sunday’s sermon.  Call me any time at 202 422 5598.  

Sermon on the Holy Spirit

Community Church of San Carlos

Pentecost Sunday

May 28, 2023

 

 

How do we know when are we filled by and acting with the assistance of the Holy Spirit?  This is our question today and will be for a while:  we will be in a spirit of inquiry into the nature of the Holy Spirit.

 

Let me begin this morning with a brief drama that appeared in a comic strip a few years ago.

 

Panel #1.  There is a little boy with a hammer in his hand and a smile on his face.  He is gleefully, an expression of self-absorbed bliss lighting his face, pounding nails . . . into a coffee table.  A potted palm and a couch in the background help us to locate the table in a living room.  The surface of the table is a veritable forest of nails.  

Panel#2: the child’s mother has appeared out of nowhere, as parents do in such situations; Mom is in a towering rage and shouting, in huge block letters, at the little boy:  

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”

Panel #3:  The little boy, the infamous, the indefatigable, the incorrigible Calvin, looks at the table and the hammer. completely puzzled, baffled.  Silence.  No words.

Finally, panel #4:  The thought bubble appears above his head and Calvin thinks to himself: 

“Is this some sort of trick question or something?”

It’s funny because WHAT he is doing was perfectly obvious:  he is pounding nails into a coffee table.  Also HOW:  with a hammer.  If we were playing the game of Clue, it would be: Calvin, in the living room, with the hammer.  If Calvin’s Mom were a Perfect Parent with some philosophical training, she, in order to clarify matters, would not have asked WHAT are you doing?  But WHY.  WHY are you doing that here?  WHY are you in the living room pounding nails into a good coffee table and not out in the garage or shed or the back yard pounding nails into a cheap block of wood?

Asking “why?” could, possibly, in the case of a normal child, lead to the sort of reflection and maybe even change of behavior she had in mind, and for which she was certainly hoping.  

I cannot recall what the punishment for Calvin’s misdeed was.  In fact, I think the strip ended there with no further installments, and poor Calvin was left in a terrible combination of philosophical confusion and parental hot water.

Did Calvin's puzzlement lead to thoughtful reflection and a change of behavior?  In this case, I think not.

Please bear with me for a few more minutes of meditation on what we do and why we do it; the difference between how come and why.  It does bear on the work of the Holy Spirit.

What we do on this earth and how we do it are no longer mysteries.  We have a pretty good idea of how the muscles and organs work; we have plenty of data about where people live and what they do and we know quite well how to make cars and even spaceships and sophisticated little gizmos that are supposed to make life easier or more enjoyable, or both.  We can find the mechanisms, the causal links.  We know how human beings and the world we live in operate.

 

We know that the earth tilts on its axis and that in a sense is why we have more darkness in the winter and more daylight in the summer, but still we really we have only answered How.  We know about plate tectonics and earthquakes, water pressure and wave motion, and know all the Darwinian stuff about genes and evolution, but all that just provides yet more answers pertaining to how.  (Science just gives us the mechanism and if we are lucky, the mechanism by which we can make an intervention and make life better or at least prolong it.)

But why?  Why did God make this world the way he did?  Or, if you do not believe in God, Why is there something as opposed to nothing?  Why do people do what they do?  Why is there so much pain and suffering on earth?  To what purpose?  What are we supposed to do on earth?  What social and political arrangements should we make?  

Reinhold Niebuhr cast some light on the matter many years ago by noting:

"It is not unfair to affirm that modern culture, that is, our culture since the Renaissance, is to be credited with the greatest advances in the understanding of nature and with the greatest confusion in the understanding of man."  

By this he means that we know - thanks to scientific investigation - how we got here, but we still not know where we are going.  Our purpose on earth - why we are here - is as debatable as ever.  He continues:

Perhaps this credit and debit are logically related to each other.  The freedom of his spirit causes him to break the harmonies of nature and his pride of spirit prevents him from establishing a new harmony.  The freedom of his spirit enables him to use the forces and processes of nature creatively; but his failure to observe the limits of his finite existence causes him to defy the forms and restraints of both nature and reason.   

The Nature and Destiny of Man, p.5

To get back to our comic strip, and his mom’s anguished question, what Calvin was doing in the living room with the hammer was perfectly obvious.  He was pounding nails into the wrong object in the wrong place at the wrong time.  But Why?  

Why questions are answered by the phrase “in order to.”  Well, he was pounding nails into the table in order to have fun, equally obviously, because that is what small children do.  Child psychologists might say something about discovering sensory motor skills, testing the limits of activity or some such.  

But Why was he pounding nails, into a coffee tablein the living room?  Because he didn’t know any better.  Normal children and most adults eventually learn not to follow the impulse of their own spiritedness whenever and wherever it leads and learn instead, for example, to get out of the living room to play, learn how to pound nails in the garage and so on.  Perhaps at first they do this because they fear punishment, but eventually because they develop empathy and do not want to destroy Mom’s coffee table because it would hurt Mom’s feelings and because they don’t like their stuff being destroyed either.  

In short, they, we, most of us, most of the time, eventually learn the golden rule.  Most of us learn to find an amiable compromise between our innate rumbustiousness and the needs of others, 

We learn to abide by the promptings of a spirit beyond our own selfish promptings.  And find a way of living that works for us, and works for others as well.  There is a wonderful synergy when things are going your way and you are helping others as well, because things come back around and others help you.  There is a geometric multiplication of goodness and that, for a start at least, is how the Holy Spirit works.  The Holy Spirit works through individuals, yes, but even more with groups of people. 

Let’s now take a brief look at our readings for today.

In our Old Testament lesson, we hear the well-known story of Noah.

“Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; and he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent.”

 

Noah did not make a childish mistake.  He made a very adult mistake.  He drank too much.  Some say the delight in drunkenness is an attempt to recreate the bliss of childhood.  Saint Paul in Galatians lists a great number of adult mistakes, what are most definitely not the works of the spirit.  Need we say that drunkenness is on it?  Perhaps Noah got drunk and carried on like a grown-up Calvin.  Perhaps he took the ark out for a spin, cracked it up and did some real damage with it - the Bible just doesn’t say.  Right after re-creation after the flood, right after enjoying the fruits of the soil, Noah goes forth and sins again.

The adult Noah was filled with the spirit of alcohol; Calvin filled with the spirit of youthful discovery and the testing of limits.  Were either of these spirits the Holy Spirit?  No.  

How do we know when the Holy Spirit is involved?  Saint Paul tells us that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  The list could go on and on.  Let me add just one more fruit of the spirit, which I think may be the most important:  a sense of purpose.  Paul mentions this fruit of the Spirit in Romans 8:28 where he says:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

When we’re inspired by the Holy Spirit, all things work together for good.  That is the key.  The Holy Spirit works through individuals, yes, but even more with groups of people. When the Holy Spirit is at work, it’s not just one person, it’s many.  When the Holy Spirit is at work, there is a geometric multiplication of goodness.  When the Holy Spirit is working, people do not just resolve their differences more amicably, they work together so well that each person becomes better, the whole society becomes better.

We will hear more about the way the Spirit works in the weeks ahead.

. . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

 

   

Genesis 9:8-21

[8] Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him,

[9] "Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 


[10] and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 


[11] I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." 


[12] And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 


[13] I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 


[14] When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 


[15] I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 


[16] When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth." 


[17] God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth." 


[18] The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan.

[19] These three were the sons of Noah; and from these the whole earth was peopled. 


[20] Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard;

[21] and he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent. 

 

Galatians 5:19-25

[19] Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 


[20] idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, 


[21] envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.  I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 


[22] But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 


[23] gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. 


[24] And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 


[25] If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

- Pastor Richard Hyde


Community Church of San Carlos




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