SERMON ~ 10/23/2022 ~ “Recognizing the Spirit”

10/23/2022 ~ Proper 25 ~ 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost ~ Joel 2:23-32; Psalm 65; Sirach 35:12-17 or Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22; Psalm 84:1-7; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE:

Recognizing the Spirit

“I will pour out my spirit / on all flesh, on all humankind; / your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, / your elders, all of them, / shall have prophetic dreams, / and your young people shall see visions…” — Joel 2:28b.

I’m going to dip into some of my theater background today. I hope it doesn’t boor too many folks. Konstantin Stanislavski was a Russian actor and director of plays who lived from 1863 to 1938. He is probably not widely known outside of theater circles but his name is important to theater professionals.

It is likely most people have heard about what Stanislavski did. He invented the ‘Method System’ of acting. This system has and has had such famous adherents as Marlon Brando, Anne Bankcroft, Robert De Niro, Nicole Kidman, Paul Newman and Cate Blanchett to name but a few.

The method invites actors to build a character from the outside in and then again from the inside out. The system expects an actor to delve into a character’s psychology, class, education, behavior, familial life, spiritual life to understand and to engage completely the soul of a character before a word is spoken. Stanislavski described ‘The Method’ as ‘Spiritual Realism’— Spiritual Realism.

Once of my mentors in theater, Louis Simon, actually studied with Stanislavski in Moscow. Simon was near seventy when I met him. A Jewish boy who grew up in Salt Lake City surrounded by Mormons, he studied at Yale in the late 1920s just when the depression hit left for Russia, a letter of introduction to Stanislavski in his hand.

At that time the great director was the moving force behind the Moscow Art Theater. My friend never tired of telling about his first encounter with Stanislavski.

Louis presented his credential to a protective stage manager at the stage door and was told to sit in the last row of the theater, say nothing and just watch the rehearsal in progress. Stanislavski would find time for him at some point.

Now, the scene being rehearsed took place backstage at an American vaudeville show and called for a group of chorus girls to be gossiping among themselves. Having finished their dialogue, the chorines were then to dance out of the sight of the audience watching the real play in that Moscow theater and dance onto the unseen vaudeville stage, into the sight of another audience watching the vaudeville show.

Stanislavski, in pursuit of realism, realized these were supposed to be simple, young girls. So he instructed the actresses to chew gum as they spoke their lines.

But he also understood once they finished their dialogue, when they danced onto that other stage, they should not be chewing gum. After all, even if the audience for his play could not see the girls dance at this unseen vaudeville house, realism demanded the audience for whom they would be dancing could see them and they should not be chewing.

What befuddled Stanislavski is, if the actresses should be chewing gum how might they get rid of that gum before dancing onto this unseen stage? (Slight pause.)

Suddenly, Stanislavski turned toward the back of the theater and shouted: “Where is my American?” My friend, Louis, cautiously moved forward.

“You see what’s going on here?” Louis nodded. “They are chewing gum, as they should be, given who they are. But they can’t be doing that once they dance onto the vaudeville stage, yes?” Louis nodded again.

“You are an American, yes?” Louis nodded. “You have seen a little vaudeville, yes?” Louis nodded yet again. “How… would they get rid of the gum?”

Stanislavski, this stickler for realism, had built a backstage set that looked like a real backstage area. So, on one the side there was an entrance to that unseen vaudeville stage— the backstage side of a proscenium arch.

Thinking quickly, Louis jumped onto the stage, moved to the backstage side of the proscenium and pounded on it belt high. “Each of them must take the gum out of their mouth and stick it on the arch about here as they dance by,” he announced.

Louis had quickly sized up who these people were and, given what they needed to do, projected their likely action. He had simply thought it through, was present in the moment and, thereby, aware of what was necessary. (Slight pause.)

Stanislavski nodded appreciatively. “So, you have come to study with me, yes?” Louis nodded. “This… will be a fruitful time, I think,” said the Russian. There’s all kinds of theater history out there. (Slight pause.)

This is what we hear in Joel: “I will pour out my spirit / on all flesh, on all humankind; / your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, / your elders, all of them, / shall have prophetic dreams, / and your young people shall see visions…” (Slight pause.)

As Christians, we make all kinds of statements about the Spirit of God but there is one primary claim we make. In Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, God broke into the fabric of the existence of humanity in a special, specific way, broke into time in a way which helps us see the grace God offers.

The claim is simple. Christ lives. Christ is with us. The Spirit of God is present to humanity and the fullness of the reality of the Christ confirms this. But how can we, how do we, how are we able to be aware of that grace, that Spirit? (Slight pause.)

I take these words of the prophet Joel as a proclamation of the enduring grace God offers. Please remember what I said last week. From a Biblical prospective prophecy has nothing to do with foretelling the future. Prophecy is about sharing a word concerning a truth God offers to us now.

So the gist of the passage is clear. No matter how perilous the present moment, unforgiving judgment does not have the final Word. God’s final and gracious Word is one of hope and redemption and grace.

Still, this begs the question what should we being doing with that? (Slight pause.) I want to suggest my friend Louis Simon had it right in that encounter with Stanislavski. The first step— think the situation through.

Think things through from the outside in and then again from the inside out. But most importantly, think through the situation called life with God. Being aware that the Spirit of God is always present, we need to ask how is the Spirit a part of my life now, ask what does that feel like? (Slight pause.)

This is my take: the Spirit is available when we think things through in and with the Spirit. The Spirit enfolds us when we hope, when we praise, when we love. The Spirit becomes shrouded when we buy into fear, buy into anger, buy into distrust, buy into ignorance. In short, when we fail to think things through in and with the Spirit all we do is ignore the Spirit of God.

The late theologian Henri Nouwen writes that spiritual life means (quote): “the nurturing of the eternal amid the temporal, the lasting within the passing”— the lasting within the passing. (Slight pause.)

What lasts? How do we discover what lasts? I think we need to both be welcoming to the day, each and every day, and also be welcoming to the person next to us. We need live in the present moment fully, be present to one another, while acknowledging eternal life as promised by God as real. This I think is a spiritual path. (Slight pause.)

Today’s reading says God will pour out God’s own Spirit on us. I maintain the Spirt of God is with us now and is with us for eternity. I maintain the presence of the Spirit of God is a key message of the Gospel.

That message is clearly communicated by the resurrection. That message is made known to us in the living Christ. And remember, in quoting Joel, the message of Peter on Pentecost was the covenant of love promised by God lives because Christ lives.

I believe the challenge for us is not one of searching for the Spirit. The Spirit is with us. The challenge for us is doing the work— the psychological, educational, behavioral work for ourselves— which will lead us toward both being more aware of the presence of the Spirit of God and enhance our spiritual life as we find ways to cooperate with the Spirit of God, that Spirit of God which is always present to us.

And yes, all that is quite different than the spiritual realism of acting. On the other hand, all that does have to do with the work of self discovery, work I think is incumbent on us.

I call this true spiritual realism. True spiritual realism means doing the work which helps us be aware that the Spirit of God is present with us always. Amen.

Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Benediction. This, then, is an précis of what the pastor said before the blessing: “I said this earlier in A Time for All Ages— the Hebrew word Ruach means Spirit and it means breadth. This juxtaposition should be a reminder to us that our belief is in a living God who is present to us. So last, let me repeat the thought for meditation offered by Richard Rhor:’Authentic spirituality is always about changing you. It is not about trying to change anyone else.’”

BENEDICTION: God stands by us to grant us support and strength. All who trust in God are strengthened and blessed. So, let us go on our way, proclaiming the Good News— that when we question and when we are open, that when we struggle to know God’s will and walk in God’s way, God will be our refuge. And may the face of God shine upon us; may the peace of Christ rule among us; may the fire of the Spirit burn within us this day and forevermore. Amen.

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