A few months ago, I was sitting in our kitchen as Nanci got off the phone with the soccer coordinator for Eufaula’s kids leagues. As she hung up the phone she looked at me with a big smile and said, “Guess what honey!? You’re going to be Emma’s soccer coach!” So, in a matter of seconds I became the coach of The Cheetahs, five girls ranging in age from four to six who had never played soccer in their life being coached by me, a man who had never played soccer in his life! Our season started off with a bang.
Our girls were so excited to be playing their first game, even if it was against a bunch of boys with a few seasons of experience under their belt. Our girls ran up and down the field, but didn’t score a single goal. That was OK, because we knew what we needed to work on: everything! A few weeks later, we were still desperate to score a goal. A few games later, in the last half of a game, little Amelia broke free from the pack and began moving toward the goal. As she closed in, all of our Soccer-moms had to restrain themselves from running out and kicking the goal for her! By the time she neared the goal, most of our parents were three steps over the foul line screaming, “KICK IT AMELIA! KICK IT!” And in that moment of sheer exhilaration, we scored our first goal of the year. Excitement filled the air…this was the first of many more to come. Instead our schedule got more and more difficult, and it seemed that the boys got taller, faster, and stronger…three more games, four more games, five more games…zero goals. Now, I like to think of myself as a leader of sorts, and I tried my best to keep the girls motivated. Its OK girls, you really improved your kicking this week! But the frustration was mounting…week after week no more goals. The drought was unbearable…one girls decided she wouldn’t play against boys and sat out a few games. Another showed up with her head hanging. Of course some just wanted to make sure they looked good in their uniform: win, lose, or draw!
Before the final week, I gave it everything I had. We were about to play one of the other girls teams, and I hyped it as if it were the NBA Finals, World Series, and Superbowl all wrapped into one. I pumped them up and we practiced like crazy the last week. The morning of the big game, our girls marched in like little 5 & 6 year old soldiers. Even our little AWOL soccer girl told me, “I’ll play this game coach.” We were facing the “Little Divas,” but they looked huge! They were beaming with confidence…looking taller and bigger than any of our little Cheetahs. After seven games and only one goal, I held my breath and waited for the whistle to blow. Our girls held hands as they stood in a line for the coin-flip. Immediately after the whistle, their biggest girl took the ball down and kicked it toward the goal like a rocket. Our entire side winced as the ball bounced out of bounds off the goal. All of a sudden, the girl who had sat out the last three games took the ball and got a look of determination on her face…she kicked it down the field like a professional and kicked it through the goal with authority! Our side erupted – jumping up and down in excitement! But our girls didn’t quit…they looked like the Brazilian national team blocking goals, stealing the ball, and eventually scoring eight goals! I almost felt sorry for the Little Divas. What happened? Our girls played with passion and determination – they played like they were on fire…there is only one way to describe the way they went out and played. They were inspired, and as everyone who has ever watched a sporting event knows: there is a huge difference between “just playing” and “playing inspired.”
You all have heard enough sermons to know that this story isn’t just about girls soccer. : It’s a story about life…it’s a story about the Church…and it’s a story about who we’re called to be as Christians. Sometimes it feels easy to be a Christian when you first start out in a life of following Jesus. We start off our faith journey just like our girls began the season. We’re excited; we’re resolved to start doing things the right way. You share your faith, you bring friends to church, you’re a different person…but then you stumble the wind is gone from your sails. There have certainly been times in my life where I’ve felt like I’ve been spiritually dry. In fact there are times when every Christian would like to get down and sit it out on the sidelines of faith forgetting about the struggle to live daily as a Christian.
But today’s scripture is the story of a different way to live. Today’s scripture is the story of inspiration. In our final game, our little girls played like they were different people because they played inspired. On Pentecost, God inspired the Church by pouring out the Holy Spirit on normal men and women just like us. The disciples were waiting in an upper room after Jesus’ Ascension. All of a sudden, the room was filled with the Holy Spirit – the event was so indescribable that all we read is that the sound was like a rushing wind and there was something like tongues of fire that deeply touched everyone who was there. As soon as these disciples were touched and filled by God’s Spirit, they began to witness in an inspired way. In fact, they were able to share the testimony of God’s work to people whose languages they didn’t even know! The fire of the Holy Spirit lit the fuses of the disciples and the Christian Church spread like wildfire from a little upper room in Jerusalem to all parts of the earth…and it began right there that day!
And just as there is a difference between “just playing” and playing inspired, by the power of God’s Spirit, there is a world of difference between just living and “living inspired.” When I baptize anyone, I ask the Holy Spirit to work in their life to make them faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. I ask the same for each person here. The Holy Spirit can and will inspire you to be the person God has created you to be if you’ll receive God’s call to live inspired. Sometimes we don’t talk about the Holy Spirit because we’re afraid of sounding too “Pentecostal,” but being filled with the Holy Spirit is more about empowerment and inspiration! It’s about being enabled to do more together with God than you can ever do on your own. When you are filled and inspired by the Spirit of God you can do things beyond your own power and ability, things that are heroic. I’m not talking about comic book stuff like outrunning a speeding locomotive or leaping a tall building in a single bound. I’m talking about us performing spiritually heroic acts because of the power of God’s Spirit poured out on the Church at Pentecost!
Several years ago, while I still worked in a research lab, I had several difficult experiences with my boss. There was one person I worked with that often did things that were blamed on other people in our lab. One day, during a lab meeting, I was accused of leaving several things unfinished and several mistakes that were actually the fault of this other person. Every bone in my body wanted to stand up and let them have it with both barrels. At the very least, I was ready to walk out. But for several months, three of us who were Christians had been meeting for prayer and bible study before we started work. Everyone else knew we did this and watched us very carefully to see how we lived. As badly as I wanted to respond, something in me said, “Don’t say anything…just sit there.” So, against my own inclinations, that’s what I did. As I was walking out to my car that day, my friend Lance said, “I don’t know how you did that. You know you weren’t responsible for what they blamed you for.” By the power of God’s Spirit, I was able to say, “You know you’re right every bone in my body wanted to let them have it and tell them whose fault it was. The only reason I didn’t is because I’m a Christian, and I felt as though God didn’t want me to respond.” Instead, by the power of the Spirit, I was able to understand a little more about Jesus and how he endured so much and suffered for things he never did. I would have missed that blessing if I had responded under my own power. I was able to receive that grace only because of God’s Spirit. I was given the opportunity to grow as a disciple because of God’s Spirit. Today, I have something I want to offer you. It’s a prayer to God’s Holy Spirit.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth. O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and every enjoy Your consolations. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
When we pray this prayer to be attentive to God’s gentle, yet surprising, Holy Spirit we’ll see changes in our lives. We’ll see deep spiritual changes: the ability to respond to evil with kindness, the ability to let things go, the ability to witness and share our faith in natural ways, the ability to see the difference between “just living,” and “living inspired.” 2000 years ago, God poured out his Holy Spirit on a group of Christ followers and the world has never been the same. What would happen here if we did the same?
This afternoon, I’m heading to Annual Conference, and I have a request to make for this week. This is a strategic and important time as we’re preparing for the General Conference of 2008 where United Methodists from around the world will come and work together shaping the future of our denomination. We’ll be electing delegates for that this week. Pray this prayer daily with those of us who represent United Methodism in Oklahoma in mind. Pray this prayer daily, thinking of our bishop, our lay delegates, our clergy, and the future of our denomination. If the Holy Spirit will ignite Godly fires in each of our hearts and gives us wisdom and guidance, the UMC will be a different Church and we’ll be a different people. We’ll quit “just living” and start, by the power of God’s Spirit, “living inspired.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.