Yr B Proper 21 Numbers 11 Mark 9
The Rev. Tara McGraw
Sep. 27, 2015
Today we hear Moses say, “Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!" Well, the Lord did. Our baptism rite, and before the 1979 Prayer Book, our confirmation rite, annoints each Christian with Chrism to signify the gift of the Holy Spirit to them. This is one of the most important sacraments of the Church. A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible reality. If you’ve been baptized and/or confirmed, you received the sacrament signifying to you that the Holy Spirit resides with you. So if anybody says to you, “So who gave you a pipeline to God?” You can say, “Well, I do have one, and God gave it to me,” and the Church will back you up and say you’re right.
A pipeline is a very simple, but effective, way to understand the Holy Spirit, the 3rd person of the Trinity. A pipeline connects a sender with a receiver, and it transports what is being sent between the two. Similarly, the Holy Spirit is our connection to Jesus and to the Father. Through the Holy Spirit in us, God reveals Godself to us, making us aware of God aware of us, and of God not just aware of us but interacting with us and for us. The Holy Spirit brings God’s wisdom, guidance and inspiration to us, and God’s provision for us, and sends our questions, our comments, our pleas, our cries and our rejoicings to God. The Holy Spirit truthfully reveals God to us and us to God. Nothing is lost in the transport, because the Holy Spirit is God, perfectly and wholly in relationship with the Father and the Son. St. Paul in the Epistle to the Romans says that even when we don’t know how to speak to God about something, the Holy Spirit residing with us intercedes with cries too deep for words. Human authenticity meets Godly authenticity through the Holy Spirit.
Of course the fact that we have a pipeline doesn’t mean we are aware of it, or that we consciously use it, or that we use it well. It’s easy to focus so much on ourselves and what we want and what we can do that we close off the pipeline. When you focus only on yourself, you limit yourself to your own resources and to the limited wisdom you have gained from your own limited life. It’s as if your pipeline didn’t exist.
We know how to use the pipeline. When we intentionally open ourselves to God, our end of it opens to our consciousness. The pipeline becomes available for prayer. In prayer, your honesty about who you are, what you feel, what you don’t understand and what you desire meets the being of God who is not only the ideals of compassion, mercy, justice, truth, righteousness and beauty that you are to embody, but is also the Father and Brother who knows and loves you better than you know and love yourself. That’s worth saying again. In prayer, your honesty about who you are, what you feel, what you don’t understand and what you desire meets the being of God who is not only the ideals of compassion, mercy, justice, truth, righteousness and beauty that you are to embody, but is also the Father and Brother who knows and loves you better than you know and love yourself. As you open yourself to God in prayer, the Holy Spirit can apply the ideals of God to your situation so you see it from God’s perspective and thereby find God’s wisdom for it. And over and above that, the Holy Spirit’s specific knowledge of you allows God to bring unique answers, possibilities, comfort and encouragement to you. So through the pipeline can come God’s wisdom, God’s guidance, God’s comfort, God’s encouragement, particularly for you in your particular situation. There is great power in prayer, for you, as a child of God.
In being open to the Holy Spirit in your life there is also fulfillment for God, your creator, who made you to be in relationship with God. No open pipeline, no relationship: you deny God benefit God sought in creating you. And you deny yourself benefit of that for which you were created.
So the pipeline of the Holy Spirit benefits you and God. But that’s not all. Think about Jesus’ summary of the law, which defines who we were created to be: the one statement that most succinctly sets forth God’s intention for humanity: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. This is a relationship of 3. I’ve talked about the pipeline benefitting you and God. Who is the third beneficiary? Your neighbor. The pipeline of the Holy Spirit connecting you and God is also for the benefit of other people.
How does this work? Prayer, yes. Through your petitions for your neighbor, the power of God can be unleashed for the benefit of the neighbor. But there is something more. There is something amazingly beautiful. There is priesthood. A priest offers his or her self as a vessel through which God can come to another person. That’s what a priest is to be: a conduit for God’s wisdom, comfort, encouragement, touch and love to reach another person when their own pipeline isn’t sufficiently open. When it happens, it’s a “wow”. You leave the encounter with the person and you know God has been there, through you. The many, many times this has happened in my time in pastoral care at St. Paul’s has been God’s affirmation of my vocation among you. The joy of it has been my energy to pour myself into the church.
But hear me! This priestly function is not limited to those who wear a clergy collar. This high privilege is available to all God’s children, because it is the work of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit resides with you. I see it happening when our parishioner Michelle Bright interacts with people at the local Manor Cares. I have been aware of it happening in some of you from time to time when you have spoken with me. You have blessed me with your priesthood.
Priesthood happens when instead of sending petitions to God about your neighbor through your open pipeline, you do something different when you are in the presence of your neighbor: you open your heart, mind, emotions and body to God like a radio telescope is moved in alignment with a star in the sky, intentionally offering yourself to God for the benefit of the neighbor. And then you consciously move your psyche, your focus on your own soul, out of the way. You are consciously emptying your being, so that what you are offering God is all of your capacity freed of its use to benefit yourself. You offer your capacity to God for the benefit of the neighbor. It is intense hospitality to God and to your neighbor. It is as if your pipeline gets connected to theirs, for the sake of God’s ministry to them. And God comes! Through your voice, in your eyes, with your touch. It’s wonderful and it’s amazing! Thanks be to God!
One of the religious commentators on the Pope’s visit said yesterday that she knew the Pope before he became Pope and in talking with him sometime after he became Pope she knew he had changed. Her conclusion was that the job had changed him. It undoubtedly did, but was it the Pope’s own soul she was experiencing in her encounter with him or was it the priest through whom God was coming? How awesome and humbling it is that we can ask that question. How awesome and humbling it would be for you to recognize your own potential for priesthood. It is grounded in Jesus’ summary of the law, in the promises of your baptismal covenant, and in the listing of our duties to our neighbors in the Episcopal Catechism on page 848 of the Book of Common Prayer. God cannot do this with you unless you are truly able to let go of yourself in loving someone else.
Priesthood is the highest manifestation of what Jesus meant when he said in our Gospel this morning, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another." If we all did, our world would be transformed.