Spirit Code – 5/24/2015
Message Delivered on May 24, 2015
Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 4b-15
You have heard the traditional readings for Pentecost, often called the birthday of the Christian Church. Paul in his letter to the Church at Rome in Romans 8:22-27 touches on multiple theological principles: soteriology (salvation), pneumatology (Doctrine of the Holy Spirit; that the Holy Spirit intervenes between God and people and eschatology (last things — or the future ahead). The text offers a message of hope to Paul’s audience by encouraging them to look beyond the current experience of groaning to a future hope and intercession from the Spirit.
I read a story this past week about mail delivery in Ireland. We complain about our United States Postal System and it is not quite like the “free” delivery system envisioned by Benjamin Franklin, but it is definitely better than that which exists in Ireland. The practice of the Irish postal system has been to “deliver to the oldest Patrick Murphy first.” If you write a letter to Patrick Murphy in Abbeyfeale, County Limerick, your message might not get to the right man. It could be passed through multiple guys with the same name before it gets to the right Patrick Murphy. Towns in many parts of rural Ireland do not use house numbers or even street names. They do not have postal codes (Zip Codes here in the U.S.)!
So, when a forty year old man, Patrick Murphy, moved to Abbeyfeale, he became the third man by the same name in the neighborhood. None were related. All had different homes, but the addresses were the same. The postman took the letter to the Patrick Murphy who had lived there the longest and then he would pass it on. The new Patrick Murphy said, “My neighbors would get it first, they would have a good read and then they would say, ‘No, it is probably not meant for us.’ ” Definitely not a good system.
Getting our prayers through to God sometimes feels as difficult as getting Patrick Murphy his mail, but there is hope! God knows that we need help with our prayers and Paul says, “We do not know how to pray as we ought.” We do not know God’s exact address or even how to phrase our requests.
In Ireland, the government wants to end the mail delivery confusion (what a concept!), so it is instituting its first postal-code-system that will assign an individual number to every home and business. No more letters bouncing from Murphy to Murphy. No more residents experiencing, “If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Instead, accurate deliveries.
On the first Pentecost, followers of Jesus were together in Jerusalem and suddenly “There came from heaven a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:2). God knew exactly where the apostles were and sent a special delivery: the Holy Spirit. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages” (Acts 2:4).
Moments later, they used this awesome gift from God to tell others about God’s deeds of power. The Holy Spirit enabled this news to be delivered accurately and speedily to “Parthians, Medes and people from all parts of the known world who were in Jerusalem that day. What a delivery system was begun that day–the Spirit Code. No more hoping, no more waiting, just accurate deliveries. People in Jerusalem were amazed. How could those Galilean back-country followers of Jesus, not known for eloquent language skills or experience in international communications, speak in all the languages of the people assembled in Jerusalem? Some folks even accused them of being drunk at 9a.m.!
Innovation is always met with resistance. The change in Ireland is truly necessary. Amazon.com refuses to “Deliver to the oldest Patrick Murphy first, then figure it out over time.” Initially, the Spirit Code improved person-to-person communication, allowing Jesus’ disciples to speak to people around the world. Deliveries that began on Pentecost are continuing today, helping Christianity to grow into a global religion with more than 2.3 billion followers.
The Spirit Code also helps our prayers to get to God. “The Spirit intercedes with sighs to deep for words,” giving us communication assistance–no more worries about confusing or misdirected prayers. We do not run the risk of praying like a woman, “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept stupid people the way they are, courage to maintain self-control and wisdom to know that if I act on it, I will go to jail.” Probably not the way we should or want to pray. We do not want our prayers to bounce from Murphy to Murphy, so what can we do?
First, begin by accepting help. The Spirit is willing to help us in our weakness, so when we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s help, we find that our prayers move beyond our personal agendas to the wider agenda of Almighty God. Dutch theologian, Hendrikus Berkhof, says that prayers include “thanksgiving for what God does; adoration for who God is and losing oneself in God’s incomprehensible love.” These are God – centered prayers as opposed to self-centered prayers. The Spirit helps us to focus on God’s divine agenda, instead of our human desires.
Second, the good news is that God wants to assist us. The Spirit intercedes–which means that the Holy Spirits acts as a mediator, a “go-between”, between us and God, helping with our communication. Berkhof lists prayers for divine human dialogue as: prayer for faith and forgiveness, prayer for strength in the fight of the faith, a plea for the lostness of our existence, prayer for help in need, wisdom to make the right decisions, for submission and surrender when we see that our wills conflict with that of God’s.” No request to win the lottery, no serenity to accept stupid people the way they are. Instead, prayers for faith, forgiveness, strength, help, wisdom, submission and surrender. These prayers are delivered directly to God via the Spirit Code.
Third, best of all, these prayers are answered. The Holy Spirit enables God’s will to be done in the lives of all who pray to him. We do not get everything we want when we pray to God, just everything we need, according to God’s will. One of the most well-known prayers is the Serenity Prayer, central to recovery from addictions, used by many in 12-Step programs: “God grant me to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.” God is not asked for miraculous healing, just to give serenity, courage and wisdom to people so that they can become well. The Serenity Prayer is said in order to change the hearts and minds of people, not God. Prayer does work, in ways that align us with God’s desire for healing and wholeness in human life.
A prayer for help in time of need will always be heard and answered by God. We might not get the answer we want but we will get the answer we need, in accordance with God’s will. Accurate delivery is guaranteed, per the Spirit Code.
Maybe we need to also remember the Senility Prayer: God grant me the senility to forget those people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into those I do like, and the eyesight to tell the difference.