1 Samuel 28:3-14; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10; (Galatians 5:16-26)
September 4, 2022
- Experiencing God beyond our senses
My first official church position was in a small, rural church just outside Lexington, VA. It was a beautifully lovely place full of interesting people – some real characters, too. One of our church members came up to me one day early in my time there and confessed that she had physically met Jesus. He appeared to her one day in her living room. Honestly, I did not have the spiritual wisdom at that stage in my ministry to know what to do with that. They don’t teach any courses on “meeting Jesus in your living room” in seminary. For good or for ill, I tend to be a pretty skeptical person, so it was not easy for me to invite her to tell me all about it. Still, I listened for a few moments and thanked her for sharing, but I don’t remember anything else about the encounter she had. I don’t think Jesus said anything much to her. She did not touch him or try to engage with him. I don’t think there was much interaction at all, but she was certain that Jesus showed up in her living room.
Yes, my inclination is to think she did not really see Jesus, but I do believe SHE believes she did. Whatever it was, that experience was very important to her and was always present for her, and I am glad she found that experience helpful as a deeply spiritual. So where have you seen Jesus?
Hopefully, we all have experienced the Spirit of God in some way that defies the senses, that defies reason, that defies what is normal or customary or usual. Even sitting in church, you might be stirred in such a powerful way that challenges your senses. You might and perhaps have felt the Spirit of God without touch, heard the Spirit of God without ears, or seen the Spirit of God without eyes. I would like to think if Communion means what it is supposed to mean to us, we might have tasted something more than juice and bread. As I mentioned last week, smell is greatly underrated in the experience of God, but perhaps you have encountered God’s Spirit in breathing some special air in a way that was greater than your sense of smell. I could see that happening out at a forest chapel or mountain setting or a lush garden.
I have found myself moved at different times and in different ways. I used to truly enjoy walking the dog at night with glorious Tudor Church anthems filling my ears under the star filled night sky. It was wonderful to stand there and be transported into the heavens through angelic song. In case you are wondering what I am describing, here it is…. Or on those evening campfires at Camp Hanover in Mechanicsville where I worked for at least part of four summers through college, we were sustained with the gift of God’s campfire that was ever moving and changing in its constant light and warmth. We counselors and campers were united there in the Spirit of Christ in stories and readings and song and sharing.
So has Jesus ever stood in your living room?
Please stop me if this does not matter to you at all. We are Presbyterians, after all, and are not known as people who seek to share in God’s Spirit in mystical ways beyond our senses. We are not known as those who swim in the depths of the unknown wonder of God’s deep. Of course, it is never too late to start. Maybe you are a Presbyterian mystic at heart.
King Saul went about this the wrong way, however. He had shared in God’s powerful Spirit previously at other points in his life. He was caught up with the prophets in mystical prophesying after he was identified as the first king of Israel. Somewhere along the way, he lost his sense of God’s Spirit and God’s help, however. Here in the Samuel passage, he is desperately trying to find help from God so badly that he does the unthinkable. After he had outlawed spirit mediums and witches and people who practice ungodly arts, he goes to one himself. He needs to speak to the only person who can tell him what God really wants, but that person (Samuel) had died. Saul has to go violate the natural world, the human senses, and God’s law. When Samuel appears, he gives Saul bad news, too. The king’s household is about to die, and the country is about to be captured by the enemy.
I have always marveled at this story, though. You’d think that spirit mediums and people who supposedly practiced magic would be condemned for being false people. Certainly, their magic and power could not be real. My assumption was that they needed to be removed from the land before they led the people astray, but here, the spirit medium, the witch of Endor apparently has the real ability to connect with spirits. This passage is too much for me to understand.
Through the ages, we have struggled with things too big for our understanding. You know science that escapes our minds seems like magic. Even gravity today is not something we truly grasp. It happens; it’s real; but why does it work?
In the ancient church, there was plenty that people did not understand, too. There was plenty that fascinated people and made them feel powerful. This was nowhere more evident than in the worshipping congregations in Corinth, Greece. These Corinthian Christians were all about the works of the Spirit, evidences of spiritual gifts, and who had the special grace to do special things. You know how easy it would have been to look down on those who could not do what you do. Speaking in tongues was a real mark of faith. Even though Presbyterians might not be vying for who has the best spiritual gifts today, we have certainly created groups and levels among our ranks over the years. The special people, the honored people, might be those who have been ordained an Elder or Deacon (back in the day). You know ministers are even more super special or may at least be perceived that way. Our very title “Reverend” means someone to be revered or held in honor. Or maybe you ran a committee, served the Presbytery in some way, or was a commissioner to a church council. There are lots of ways we create points of pride in the church, one of which is spiritual gifts.
Thankfully, Paul slams the book closed on that whole idea with his story. Since they are all trying to celebrate themselves and the ways they experience the presence of God to the point of pride, Paul reveals his own encounter. This strange and hard to understand memory of Paul starts out as someone else’s experience, but Paul through the story reveals that it was his own experience, and instead of his experience being something that he could brag about showing how special he himself is, he makes it clear that it is more precious to him how God is keeping him grounded, humble, and real. It is a sobering passage about our perspectives. Can it be that our struggles are actually evidence of God’s love because God’s love is most present or evident through our struggles? We know God’s grace and love when we need it more than when we don’t. Life saving medicine is useless when we are well. Our precious light is unnoticed in the brightness of day. Safety and refuge seem pointless if the war is far away.
God’s purpose, however, seems better served when we understand and know God’s help. The God who wants to be known, who wants to be appreciated, who wants to be loved and to give love is going to express kindness and tenderness and faithfulness and help through our struggles and troubles. I don’t believe God afflicts us but walks with us into our troubles. God uses our brokenness, our weakness, and our hurts to show us how precious we are together.
What we still need, however, is a way to rejoice in the presence of God, to find God at work around us without showing how impressive we are. We need a way to embrace the Spirit without busting our buttons.
Paul has an answer to that, also. Galatians 5 is a dear and precious passage to many followers of Jesus. Let me refresh it for you. [Galatians 5:16-26]
Paul is not just giving us nice things to do. This is a wonderful and critical list of ways to live in the Spirit and to share in the presence of God. We can practice as much of the fruits of the Spirit as we want. The works of the flesh are all self-gratifying. They are us trying to make ourselves feel better in earthly ways. The fruit of the Spirit are ways we give ourselves to others. That is why Paul calls one works and the other fruit. Works are things we do; fruit is what happens when we grow. Works do not help anyone; fruit feeds and nourishes. Works are squarely in the world of the senses; fruit of the Spirit are greater than our senses. The fruit happen in the Spirit. They grow in the Spirit. They lead us in the Spirit. They bring us to the presence of Christ.
If you would like to meet Jesus, I recommend this as a place to start. Invite the fruit, grow the fruit, feast on the fruit, share the fruit. Devote our work to the fruit and pray for the fruit wherever the world is focused on the flesh. Wherever neighbor rages against neighbor or we act out against each other or God in any which way, there is a place to find God growing something good. God has planted us where we are for a reason. We are not here to show anyone how great we are or to live for our own gratification but to serve Jesus. To God be the glory. Amen.