July 14, 2013

Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Week V – Fortitude

Sermon for Year C, Pentecost Proper 10
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
July 14, 2013
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
“Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Week V – Fortitude”

We’ve been working together for the past several weeks to understand something.

It all began on Pentecost Sunday, May 26th,
  Fifty days after the Great Festival of Easter.
Pentecost, remember?
Tongues of flame resting on disciples, and the bursting-forth of many rich languages.
The Holy Spirit of the living God giving birth to the Church.
And your preacher on that day had the nerve to suggest
  That as long as Pentecost was safely, distantly held as a memorial celebration
    Of long ago and far away,
  And not viewed as the present reality that it also is, …
    It would be a big loss.
BUT that if Pentecost were brought into here and now – if we let God be God –
  Strange and beautiful and unpredictable somethings might just come to pass,
  Or, at any rate, we might begin to see things differently
    And act out of that new way of seeing.
And so I said I was praying for Pentecost.

And then a few days later, I found myself humming this song that we sing at ordinations:
  Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
 and lighten with celestial fire ||
  Thou the anointing Spirit art,
 who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart ||
Thy blessed unction from above
 is –
 – Wait a minute!
  “Thou the anointing Spirit art,
 … who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart

Hang on. What are these sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit?
And lo, I asked Google, and Google said to ask Wikipedia;
  And Wikipedia said, What do you want to know?
And I said, Great and powerful Wikipedia,
  What are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit?
And Wikipedia reached into the crevices of its collective memory, its hive-driven mind,
  And it said,
    Look way back into the history of the church, all the way back to the fourth century,
      And see there Saint Augustine stooped over his writing desk?
      And there, below his pen, you will find this list, which is as beautiful as it is true:
      The gifts of the Holy Spirit
        Are Wisdom … Understanding … Counsel … the Knowledge of the Lord …
        Piety … the Fear of God … and Fortitude.
These are the things the Holy Spirit gives the Church
      That enable the Church to re-present Jesus Christ in this day and age.
  These gifts are essentials in the Christian toolkit.

… But Fortitude?
Isn’t that just waiting out the other guy at the stoplight
  So you can go home feeling you were more virtuous and patient and polite than he was?
Isn’t that just sort of squatting in one place and watching the world change around you?

Quite the contrary. Quite.
Fortitude, above all things, is courage
  Courage, given to us by the Holy Spirit as a gift to be used, not to be squandered –
  Not to have its life gradually snuffed out by our living in a culture ruled by fear!
Courage, that jumps right over social and class distinctions
  Just like the Good Samaritan does, breaking every rule about what is good and proper
  To give aid to a fellow human being,
    And not just to “help,”
      But because he understands that at a very basic level, all people are the same:
      That we need the same things: namely, in this case, security and shelter and healing.
Courage that, as Martin Luther King said of the dangerous Jericho Road,
    Ought to want to make us point out how bad the situation is
      Not with just this one man who fell into the hands of robbers,
      But in fact set to work so as to reform the whole road.
In his famous meditation on the Good Samaritan, Dr. King said that
  “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar;
    It is not haphazard and superficial.
    It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
Dr. King’s quote comes home today,
  Just a few hours after the trial of George Zimmerman
    In the death of Trayvon Martin has ended and people are scrambling out into the light
    To try and understand what has happened.
People are asking themselves what justice is, and whether it occurred in this case,
  And what it says about the state of race relations
    And of how easily we continue to stereotype one another.
It requires courage to move beyond a merely superficial seeing of each other
  And instead work the root of the problem,
    Whether it’s race relations or gun laws: extraordinary courage.
Fortitude is courage that nerves us so that we can hurdle over and around fear.
Courage, that withstands rejection or at least the threat of rejection –
    Or you might say, just doesn’t particularly care about whether it’s rejected –
  Because doing the right thing can be terribly hard.
Courage, that arms us to stand up and plainly speak out
  Against whatever is evil, harmful – whatever stands in opposition to the good.
And even in the worst of situations,
  Courage, to endure, to bear up under such things as we may have no power to change,
    And at the very end, as our saints attest, even to withstand death itself.
Fortitude equals Courage. The gift of God to exercise valor and bravery.

The world is in short supply of truly virtuous fortitude.

Now: Nina Anderson: May I please run the risk of embarassing you just a smidgen
  By holding up your example of truly virtuous fortitude?
Nina is moving from Onawa to Omaha,
  So she can be closer to her family,
  And we don’t blame her or members of her family one bit
    For wanting to do that.
Though she will be missed here, and we want her to come back often.
Today we want to celebrate 80 amazing years of Nina’s life,
  And we want to say not Goodbye, because that’s not what this is,
    But rather Happy Birthday,
      And what is more, Thank You for everything.
When I say “everything,” Nina, trust me, I mean it.
Although I can’t possibly begin to name everything on the list.

Perhaps you will let me name a few things I do know of
  From your many, many years with us so far:
    Bake sales, rummage sales, craft sales, garage sales, yard sales;
    Sunday School, church school, Director of Christian Education;
    Altar Guild, altar server, Eucharistic Visitor;
    Greeter in the back of the room, exhorter in the front of the room;
    Organizer, reorganizer, and when the moment called for it, disorganizer;
    Dish-washer, oven-lighter, coffee-maker, kitchen-cabinet-arranger;
    Bell-ringer, ticket-taker, bicycle-giver;
    Teacher who taught Episcopal children God loves them just as they are,
      And front-line picketer who stood in the cold against drug abuse;
    Historian, memorials manager, flower arranger;
    Donor to many causes (often the first donor, and sometimes the only one);
    Door-knocker, phone-caller, leaflet-hanger.
As I say: this list is by no means exhaustive,
  Although, Nina, it has to have been somewhat exhausting.
And may we not forget, thanks be to God:
  Courageous encourager and truth-teller.

I didn’t see the recent film adaptation of Les Miserables,
  But in the commercials for it they kept showing
    The image of poor Jean Valjean and about a hundred other guys
    Trying to pull an enormous ship into drydock,
      Out of a foamy raging sea, all while they wore shackles around their hands and necks.
Sometimes – sometimes – church work can feel a little bit like that.
You can be pulling and pulling
    And not making any progress, actually feeling you’re losing ground, giving rope away,
  Trying to get your boat into safety while weighed down yourself with fetters and chains.
If you stand in the rain and sea long enough like that,
  You can eventually talk yourself into believing, as I have,
  That in fact there’s no one else on the rope line with you.
That it’s one person versus an infinite array of Things That Can Go Wrong.
It’s an illusion for sure, but you can pretty easily go there.
We all have moments like that in our lives, in the things we care about,
  Working the rope line, pulling, pulling against probability and hope and realism.
Only knowing that if God has anything to say about it,
  Then with a healthy measure of grace maybe it won’t sink. Maybe. Not today.
Not so long as we’re in the dock and have two good hands and a back to pull with.
Then in our stupor and our pity for ourselves,
  God smacks us awake,
    And we look around and see that No, there are others holding those lines too.
And that bringing in the boat matters as much to all of us
  As it does to any one person.
And that alone is encouragement; to know we aren’t the only ones here.
No matter how much the ship is listing, no matter how much water it’s taking on.

It’s precisely when things feel most precarious
  That somehow, every time, we dig in, dig down, and haul the church in to safety
  Where she can be patched up and sent back out
    To rescue those who have fallen among thieves and are now drowning.

Nina, you’ve been working that rope line for a long time.
I’m a newcomer on this particular crew.
But you haven’t stepped off the line.
What was entrusted to your care has been delivered up in safety.

Eighty years is a wonderful start.
Eighty years of holding the rope, hauling the boat, letting no slack enter the line.

And this, my brothers and sisters,
  Is one amazing model of the fortitude and courage the Holy Spirit fills us with.
It helps us to know how much Jesus loves us
  If indeed he sends us workers like this to stand alongside us
  And to get us going when the work drags on late and hard.

Take all this in. Learn from it. Sit with it in the quiet.
Ask God to teach you to how to live, and listen for the answers that come.

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