June 9, 2013

Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Week III – Counsel

Eppie and Popo

Sermon for Year C, Pentecost Proper 5
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
June 9, 2013
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
“Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Week III – Counsel”

This is part three of a seven-week series on the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
It’s my passion for you and for me
  That Pentecost be real and tangible and consistent and ongoing
    And actually taking us somewhere
  And not just be some distant moment in the life of the church;
    That the Holy Spirit not just be some idea or some doctrine.
This is also a way for me to show you my belief
  That St. Thomas already has everything it needs to be church;
  That even if you stripped away all the externals,
    There would still be something absolutely vital remaining at the heart of it –
    God’s mission for the world being lived out.
It’s a chance to see how much God has given us,
  In order to know how to give it all back to the world.
Finally, most importantly, it’s a chance for you to fall in love with the Holy Spirit.

I want to say that I don’t know how any of this has landed with you so far;
  I have never done a sermon series before!
I’m doing some traveling in June with my family,
  But this sermon series is the program for all of July still to come,
  So we’re going to have it for a while, and you can help make it better.
If this is working, you need to tell me; if it isn’t, please, again, tell me.
Remember that being far from the last word,
  A sermon very often should help to start a conversation.

So again, 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.”
The last two weeks we considered wisdom and understanding. Today, counsel.

The wisdom and understanding given to us by the Holy Spirit
  Are useless unless they are shared.
Everything the Spirit gives is meant to be used to build up the community.
No hoarding!

In fact, in giving your gifts away, you will eventually find
  That what the Spirit gives us to give away in turn
  Is inexhaustible and infinitely repeatable.
That wisdom and understanding actually increase the more you share them,
  Like muscles that flex and build over time.
But how do you share them?
Counsel is the conduit – the hollow bone – the medium – the channel.

The Spirit gives us the ability to share what we know
  And to do it in a way that is appropriate to the moment and to the situation –
    That is appropriate to the people who surround us.
Good counsel is how we share the spirit of Jesus with others.
And so it is far more than merely giving good advice.

Sioux City, you probably know, is the actual birth place of good advice, right?
A legacy begun more than a half-century ago.
We gave the world “Eppie” and “Popo” –
  “Ann Landers” and “Dear Abby” – born and reared here in this place.
What a fabulous image. Such good and thoughtful work for so many years, still going.
Two iconic figures in American public life who’ve saved lives and marriages and careers.

But consider the difference between advice and counsel.
Perhaps in a way it seems too subtle at the outset.
Advice, they say, is free; everyone has an opinion;
  And most people aren’t shy about sharing theirs:
    Politics, weather, religion, sports, personal life –
    Whatever common-sense talk happens around your version of a water cooler.
But counsel is costly:
  It’s less casual; it recognizes how much is at stake;
  It’s more deeply invested;
  And it requires some kind of sacrifice from both parties.
Although counsel is the inexhaustible gift of the Holy Spirit,
  It still comes at a price for the one who gives it and for the one who receives it.

It takes, at the very least, Time. The generous use of one’s time and energy.
When people need help,
  Or when whole communities like churches find themselves in some kind of a jam,
  Often what they really need the most is just to have someone to listen to them,
  And to be responded to in a way that demonstrates they have been heard;
    And that takes time, energy, presence of heart and mind –
      And even the best actor in the world can’t fake those things.
In the church, we say that we’re often listening for the voice of the Spirit,
  And that that isn’t some extra add-on feature; that it’s vital to being followers of Christ.
That, too, takes time and energy, and may even require us to change courses.
So in all its forms, yes, counsel can be quite costly!

Yet, worth it. It’s the price you pay to have and maintain Christian community.
To be deeply affirmed or to be deeply challenged out of a right hearing of the truth.

We all need someone who will listen well and then say, May I offer a thought?
  Or, Let me make sure I have this straight …
  Or, If I’m really hearing what you’re saying, …
  Or, Gosh, that sounds like a tough place to be …
  Or, That’s a beautiful story and I’m going to keep thinking about it all day.
We all need that; we all want that.
We don’t want to be ignored, of course;
  But more than this, we need to be heard at the basic level of being;
    We need to show who we really are and not be shamed or ignored for it.
We need to hear from the one we’re speaking to that we have indeed been listened to.

These kinds of conversations are rarity in life, but they don’t have to be;
  If they are taking place anywhere at all, it should be in a church.
A church should be a safe container for wise and humble and sensitive counsel.

And not just from the priest. To repeat: The priest is not the only counselor in a church!
The duty is shared ‘round about to each and all of us,
  As we look to each other for help and support.

The service of marriage in our Prayer Book calls upon each partner
  To be “to the other … a counseler in perplexity.”
(That’s bedrock Prayer Book poetry, isn’t it? “A counselor in perplexity.”)
 In other words, when I’m confused about my life,
  I need to be able to lean over to my wife and ask for help.
Jacquie needs to know that she can lean over and talk to me.

But again, not only from husbands and wives and partners,
  Not only from the ordained clergy,
  But much more, and much more powerfully, from each and every one of You.
To know that we, as a church, are a wise and safe container for Godly transformation.
This capacity is in you, St. Thomas.
I see it in action all the time.
I hope that by pointing it out today, you might see it with greater strength and clarity,
  And that it might be more consciously cultivated.
You – YOU! – are a vast collection of bodies and souls and life-histories and wisdom.
You all have so much counsel to give, just as the Spirit has allotted to you.
With care and grace, you can be counselors to the troubles of each other, and the world.
No small thing.

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.

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