The Miracle of the Holy Spirit

This was preached using only notes. To get the fullest expression of this sermon, I invite you to check out the worship on Facebook or on our website at and select the May 19, 2024 video.

The last sermon[1] was on the great hope of the United Church of Christ, that living in the dynamic tension of being an individual and being in a community (autonomy and covenant) we will be closer to Christ. That was a UCC Polity sermon. This sermon will be about clergy vestments. I really know how to pick topics and captivate so we pack the pews.

If I were to wear all that I’m “allowed to” I would have on the following:
-A doctors hood
-the Meck Award
-A stole
-a Geneva academic gown

The doctors hood shows that I’ve earned my Doctorate of Ministry. There’s a scarlet red velvet trim, which shows that I earned this doctorate in theology. Various colors mean different fields of study, like how crimson is for Journalism, and that’s the only other color I know. The other colors which are blue and gold stand for which school I earned the degree in, the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, aka MTSO.

The Meck Award is partly your fault. Thanks to Scott Ockunzi and Julie Gilliland and others, I was nominated for a distinguished alumni award from where I earned my Masters in Divinity, the Lancaster Theological Seminary in Lancaster, PA. Thank you for that, it is a great honor.

The stole shows that I have studied and was ordained by an ecclesiastical council. The stole can be in various liturgical colors and today it is red due to Pentecost. Red is also used for ordinations to symbolize the fire of the Holy Spirit. Meghan has a stole as well. We also have two licensed pastors of Karen Brocco-Kish and Karen Leidy. They technically could wear a half-stole for they have done half the work. They have been licensed by us to go into places on our behalf and perform the sacraments of baptism and holy communion. If they were to go to another church, they would have to start the process over again.

The Geneva gown came from a protest. These are a rejection of the priestly vestments of the Roman Catholic church from the Reformation. Andreas Karlstadt was the first reformer to wear this gown. The chevrons mean that I have “earned my stripes” as a doctor.

All of this might just be what John Welwood calls “spiritual bypassing.”[2] This bypassing is using spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep personal and emotional development. It is using prayer practices as a token and never really doing the work required to grow or spiritual progress.

All the liturgy and “good and orderly worship” might just be us pretending like God can be controlled through the pen. All the academic regalia might make us think like the Rev. Dr. Cean James pointed out… like God works for us.[3]

Like if we pray the right prayers, that we wear all the right things, check all the religious boxes… like if we just play-act then God will reward us and do what we want. That’s the prosperity gospel. If you believe hard enough, you can move mountains and make money. It’s 90% true and 10% heresy, but it’s the 10% you have to watch out for. For Jesus came and got the cross, not a million dollars. Our piety is not bribery.

God is not on our payroll. We work for God. And God, being the servant-leader God is, works in us and through us and around us and in my case, in spite of us.

Jesus states in today’s gospel, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” He said nothing about academic regalia. And all of it means nothing, our worship, our 205 years of history, any annual meeting or budget… none of it means anything if we don’t have love. Like Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13, we’re just noise if we don’t have love.

Here we do three things: we welcome, love, and serve. That’s not my priorities, that your priorities from your 2013 vision and mission statement. We want to be known for how we welcome, love, and serve, and how that extends to all of our neighbors. How will we know if we’re doing this right and following the Holy Spirit?

Jesus says we’ll know the Spirit of truth because it’s the same Spirit that we felt when he was with us. We’ll know it. I used to think that the Holy Spirit was the hardest to describe of the Trinity, but I think now that it’s the easiest…. We’re just looking right past it. We know it when we meet someone and immediately like them. When that guitar solo comes on and we turn up the volume. When you’re at peace or inspired or feeling challenged.

Today is the day when the disciples were locked in an upper room and suddenly tongues of fire appear. They are then out on the street telling good news and everyone understands them. There’s a backlash, “Aren’t these Galileans?! How is it we understand them? I bet they’re drunk.”

I love that line of scripture. Hilarious.

And Peter stands up and says, “It’s only 9 a.m. we’re not drunk…” It is possible, but that’s not the case here. He gives the vision from the prophet Joel of the old seeing visions and the young dreaming dreams and men and women working together. Jew and Gentile together. He catches what Jesus had all along because he spoke to religious and sinner alike. Jewish people and gentile. Sadducee and Pharisee alike. Yet this causes a problem. Who is allowed in the movement of Jesus and what do they need to know?

Do they need to know all the liturgical garb and the fact that we build our sanctuary in 1880 and that there was a brick church here before that  and before that we were in the courthouse before it was a pizza shop and before it was Whitey’s Army Navy and we were out in Weymouth in a log cabin. How much do our new members need to know?

In the early church, we have James who says they need to know all the rituals of the Jewish folk. Paul says that they don’t need to know anything but Jesus. Peter isn’t sure, but he ends up siding with Paul because of his experience with Cornelius the Centurian. Peter has a dream to head into the house of Cornelius, a gentile who Peter has been told since birth not to hang out with because Gentiles are weird: eat weird things, worship the wrong gods, and marriage weird people. Yet Peter enters the house and finds people already doing the work and the Spirit among them.

All this culminates in a Letter to the Gentile believers in Acts 15:28: “For it seems like a good idea to the Holy Spirit and to us that we should not burden you with too much. Refrain from food offered to idols and from all forms of fornication and that will serve you right. Farewell.”

There is something within us that wants to connect. There is something in us that wants to welcome, love, and serve, but we hesitate because it’s scary. It’s risky. Other people are scary so we bypass the work. Yet we know the work.

In 2019, we found we had a financial problem. “What do we do about it pastor?” I didn’t know, I was only two years serving as your senior pastor, so I said, “Let’s pause and pray about it and come back in a week.” Solid pastor procrastinating move. Yet the Spirit did move. Darlene and Maureen came forward and said, “If we close out the needed money, would you sleep in the bell tower? We could sell t-shirts, make a fun challenge out of it.” And it just happened. There was no committees, no regalia, no agendas, it just happened. It was a lot of work, but it felt effortless because the Spirit was leading it.

I like how Rob Bell talks about the Trinity: God is the idea, the ideal. Christ is when the ideal is trying to be incarnated and we hit the limitations of our medium. The canvas, the words, the limit or our talent. Our idea now is needy and needs food, and naps, and it has limits. Yet others see the offering of art, even with it’s imperfections and are inspired by it. That’s the Spirit and how the flame is passed through the world. We are trying to welcome love and serve and we added 21 new members who are picking up what we’re putting down here.

May we keep having the courage to follow where the Spirit is leading us. The Spirit cares not for our man-made labels of denominations and religious. It’s why we pray well with others because we recognize the Spirit of Truth that blows where it wills and indwells all people regardless of label.

I now leave you with a poem, Our Lord Says Go by Gerhard Frost from Seasons of a Lifetime, page 86.

Our Lord says, “Go!”
and we take an opinion poll
or make another survey.

Our Lord says, “Go!”
and we rewrite constitutions
and study bylaws.

Our Lord says, “Go!”
and we fill out forms
in triplicate and blue and green.

Our Lord says, “Go!”
and we reorganize
wat we just overorganized.

Our Lord says, “Go!”
and we volunteer for committees
or join discussion groups.

We know the words, but we don’t dare.
We don’t say yes, we don’t say no, we temporize;
we don’t refuse, we procrastinate,
all with the rhetoric of love.

Our Lord still says, “Go!”

Works Cited


[2] Towards a Psychology of Awakening is the book my friend the Rev. Dr. Jon Komperda cites in his thesis “Whenever You Eat: exploring the dynamics of connection and disruption in the Eucharistic meal” page 19.

[3] From his Lancaster Theological Seminary Alumni Day sermon on May 3, 2024.

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