June 2, 2013

Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Week II – Understanding

Einstein's Brain

Sermon for Year C, Pentecost Proper 4
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
June 2, 2013
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
“Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Week II – Understanding”

Last Sunday, we began a series on the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
If you were here, you may remember that I asked this question:
  Isn’t it time to start giving to the world what God has given to you?
That leads naturally enough to the question, “Well, what has God given to me?”
Or, as I tried to say it,
  “What has the Holy Spirit given us as a trusted guide and mentor
    That it’s now our responsibility to give away?”
I said last week that my goal was quite simple,
  And that was to give you the chance to fall in love with the Holy Spirit –
  Not as an idea or an abstraction or a doctrine, but as the vibrant presence of God.
The Spirit of Holiness. The Spirit of God.
The person of God present in the room at the moment of Pentecost
  Who is also present in this room at this very moment,
  Giving us everything we need to be Church together.

The basic reading for this series comes out of Isaiah chapter eleven: quote,
  “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;

    From his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

    The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him —
    The Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

    The Spirit of counsel and of might,

    The Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord.”
Last week we thought and prayed a little on the Spirit’s gift of wisdom.
Today we consider the gift of understanding.

Whenever people are baptized into the Household of God,
  Whoever’s officiating the service (whether Priest or Bishop)
    Prays the following prayer out of the Prayer Book
    Over the people being baptized:
    “Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit
      You have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin,
      And have raised them to the new life of grace.
      Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit.
      Give them an inquiring and discerning heart,
        The courage to will and to persevere,
        A spirit to know and to love you,
        And the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.”

There’s a beautiful, logical thread running through this prayer.
But there’s also a kind of urgency – because we need a lot of help to get the job done.

It highlights the fact that we require so much assistance in our life’s journey with Christ.
That we can’t do it without God or without others whom we hold in community.
That life will most likely be hard and not without pains.
And accordingly that prayer at baptism asks God the Holy Spirit to heap up upon us
  All the skills of inquiry and discernment that we will need.
In effect, it says,
  Behold, dear Lord, this your creation: help him understand how things really are.

The Holy Spirit’s gift of understanding is multifaceted:
  At one level, yes, understanding is intellectual capacity –
    The ability to comprehend something, to take it apart and put it back together;
    An intelligence given to us that allows us to reason, and discern,
      And make a way in the world.
We all have tremendous gifts,
  And a rare few have transcendently tremendous gifts –
    And all of them are useless unless they are shared –
    Unless their potential is converted into some form of action.
The truly exceptional are the ones who may excel others,
  But in doing so, they don’t shame the rest of us –
    They only show us how much we can do when the time is right.

Upon his death at age 76 in the year 1955,
  Albert Einstein’s brain was removed from its body, probably without his consent,
  Just seven-and-a-half hours after he passed from this world.
Following a few routine tests, the brain was suspended in solution
  And divided up and then put into a couple of mason jars
  Which were placed in a box meant for transporting cider,
  And the box sat around for 20 years waiting to be discovered.
When at last the brain was noticed and tested,
  It was found to be of average size and weight. Average!
In fact, with a few odd exceptions no one can explain,
  It followed all the usual standards for gross anatomy.
In other words, even Einstein’s brain was pretty much normal.

Now, Einstein was a believer:
  An imperfect, but highly intellectually gifted, mathematical mystic.
He believed in a Creator-God who “does not play dice with the world.”
Even though his discoveries threw the world of physics into complete chaos
  And completley reordered how we see everything working in our universe,
  Still he believed, and he maintained it into his grave.
He believed in an order and an intelligence beyond our ability to calculate.
In his ethnic, cultural, and religious background, he was thoroughly Jewish.
He was a German-born Jew whose work was targeted by Nazis like Joseph Goebbels,
  Who declared that “Jewish intellectualism [was] dead.” Ha!

It seems no stretch of the imagination to suggest
  That in every way Einstein would have found deep resonance with Psalm 139:

“Darkness is not dark to you [O God]; 
the night is as bright as the day;
    Darkness and light to you are both alike.
  For you yourself created my inmost parts;
    You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
  I will thank you because I am marvelously made;
    Your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
  My body was not hidden from you,
    While I was being made in secret 
and woven in the depths of the earth.
  Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
    All of them were written in your book;
      They were fashioned day by day, when as yet there was none of them.
  How deep I find your thoughts, O God! How great is the sum of them!
  If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
    To count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.”

How do we understand ourselves in this grand equation?
Or is it just Einstein and God walking the beach, hand-in-hand, counting the sand?
If we say that the Spirit grants to us intelligence of mind only,
  Then every Episcopal parish should rename itself Saint Albert’s and call it a day.
I daresay that in our wonder, we risk missing the wider point
  Of what people like Einstein really put before us.

Because understanding comes in many flavors.
It is a gift that seats itself, grounds itself, in all the places we need –
  In all the inconvenient and lovely places Jesus commands us to go,
  In all those we are called to serve.
Together we make the Church,
  And together the Church’s collective understanding is there
  For the good of all.

To some is given understanding and intelligence of the heart.
They are compassionate and they lead with compassion.
They listen so as to understand.
They are willing to allow their own lives to become deeply intertwined with others’,
  And when trouble comes, they will not let us go.
I want to affirm that in you as the gift of the Holy Spirit,
  And I hope that you will speak about it that openly and that unashamedly.
I want to affirm that this is what you need to be Church.

To some is given understanding and intelligence of the gut.
The gut is smart along the same channel as the voice.
Together, they only speak the truth, and they lead from the truth,
  And you want to be near them because of this
  As much as you don’t want to be near them for the same exact same reason.
Like any good gut, they expel toxins and they encourage better food.
They point to reality and love it and embrace it
  And sometimes it’s like sandpaper on your mind the way they talk.
I want to affirm that in you as the gift of the Holy Spirit,
  And I hope that you will speak about it that openly and that unashamedly.
This, too, is what you need to be Church.

To some is given understanding and intelligence of the hands.
They set themselves to craft and to art,
  And they serve other people because doing is what they do best,
  And they know that and they don’t apologize for it.
It’s what they lead from:
  They don’t know the meaning of the phrase
  “Do as I say and not as I do,”
    Because what they do is the most self-evident thing about them.
It is righteous behavior offered up to God.
And I want to affirm that in you as the gift of the Holy Spirit,
  And I hope that you will speak about it that openly and that unashamedly.
It’s what you need to be Church.

To some is given understanding and intelligence of the feet.
They know, deep down in their feet,
  That the Spirit gave them feet so that they could kick people –
  Not kicking someone who’s down, mind you;
    Just kicking a person or a people until they get going on a path they need to take –
    Gently nudging, or sometimes swiftly prodding.
They go on long walks and excursions.
Sometimes, when Church is feeling particularly unhealthy,
  Their smart feet will take them far away and may not bring them back.
They take big goals and they suggest ideas to implement them,
  And they lead from their feet, and they’re not the least bit ashamed.
I want to affirm that in you as the gift of the Holy Spirit,
  And I hope that you will speak about it that openly and that unashamedly.
It’s what you need to be Church.

Finally, to some is given understanding and intelligence of open eyes.
They bring in the ordered intelligence of the God-ordered world –
  Not as something automatically foreign to Church,
    But as understanding to be admired and possibly even imitated.

They’re always saying how it’s done somewhere else,
  Or else telling how Church needs to respond to what has been seen,
  Be it good or be it evil.
This is how they lead, and Church is blessed for them.
They never cease exploring or integrating.
I want to affirm that in you as the gift of the Holy Spirit,
  And I hope that you will speak about it that openly and that unashamedly.
It, too, is what you need to be Church.

A few thousand years ago, Saint Paul wrote a letter
  To the little church of Jesus-followers in Corinth.
It survives to this day.
He said, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters,
      I don’t want you to [go] uninformed …
  There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;
    And there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;
    And there are varieties of activities,
      But it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.
  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good …
  For just as the body is one and has many members,
    And all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ ...
    For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body …
      And we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
    Indeed,” he says, “the body does not consist of one member but of many.”
So, he says, a foot can’t decide it isn’t part of the body
  Just because it isn’t a hand;
    And an ear can’t ditch the body on the grounds that it is not an eye.
An eye can’t can’t kick out a hand,
  And a head can’t just get tired of a foot and walk away on its own.
Paul says, Try to imagine a body that’s nothing but an eye.
Not much of a body, is it? Sort of ridiculous, isn’t it?
Where in the world would you put the ears or the nose?
No, he says, quite the contrary.
Everything we think is less respectable or less honorable or weaker
  Actually deserves the highest possible respect.
What’s more, God does this
  So “that there may be no dissension within the body,
    But the members may have the same care for one another.”
Because, he says, “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
You’re the body of Christ. What a kicker.

Let us pray.
Gracious Spirit, keep giving to us those things you know we need,
  And more than that, those things we need to give away.
Above all, give us the spirit of Jesus. Amen.

No comments: