The Enemy of Apathy

So church. I stole this morning’s sermon title from a hymn I came across by the same name: The Enemy of Apathy.

And someone very wisely once said that the opposite of love is not hate. Something that is just very striking to me. Love is a very strong feeling, is it not? And it’s a feeling that guides you and that moves you, and if you have enough love for something or someone, you do something with that love. You’ve heard me say plenty of times my remake of John 316, for God so loved the world, God did something. And so this emotion of love, this strong power, moves us into action.

And hate is a strong emotion as well, is it not? And if you hate something enough, you will do something with it, won’t you? If you hate, for example, that there are children in your neighborhood who are hungry, you hate that enough, you will do something about that. If you hate that families you know are struggling or are stuck in turmoil, you will do something. You will pray. At the very least, you will be a presence for them, you will reach out, you’ll do something. If you hate how gun violence has impacted our culture and our schools, you will do something with that. If you hate that people are abused and neglected and taken advantage of, you will do something about that because you’re moved by that very strong emotion.

So the opposite of love is not hate, it’s just a different strong emotion. The opposite of love is apathy. If you feel apathetic about something, you won’t do anything about it. Now you might have reasons for feeling apathetic about something. Maybe you feel like, well, that’s not my job, it’s not my responsibility, I’m just going to stay in my lane, there’s nothing I can do about it anyway. But for whatever reason that you might feel apathetic, any reason you might hold on to apathy about something, very rarely are you going to do anything. Why? Because you’re apathetic about it.

I want you to imagine a scene. I want you to imagine someone approached me and said, “Brother John, I’m hungry, I haven’t eaten in three days.” And I look into that person’s eyes and I say, “Brother or sister, I love you and God loves you and I hope you define something to eat,” and I walk away. You know that right. It feels weird in here. It just doesn’t, it doesn’t sound right. Even the book of James kind of paints that picture for us, as does the parable Jesus told of the good Samaritan, right? And the reason why we have that feeling, the reason why it doesn’t even just sound right, is because when we see apathy’s inaction, we know why it’s the opposite of love. Y’all with me? So apathy, apathy, is the opposite of love, and apathy is what we, as Christians, often have to fight against. And so, then, what is the enemy of apathy?

Before I tell you that, let me ask you a question, Have you ever been on a wild goose chase? We use that phrase when we are talking about chasing someone down or there’s something that has to be done, and it just feels like you’re going here, you’re going there, you’re going everywhere. There’s no rhyme or reason to where you’re going, it’s just you’re everywhere, right? And you feel like it’s exhausting, it’s a waste of time, you don’t know what’s next and you just have to sort of do the best you can to keep up, because, well, it’s a wild goose chase, and that’s what that is. What if I were to suggest to you that might be a good illustration of our walk with God?

There are several images, common images, of the Holy Spirit that the church has. We see the Holy Spirit as fire and wind, right, think of Pentecost. We think of Holy Spirit as oil, even, and water to the most common image taken from the text that we heard from Mark 1 common image is what the dove right. It’s the sweet dove. It’s the gentle dove that rests over Jesus’ head at baptism and that image has been used quite a bit for obvious reasons. And when most of us think of the dove as the Holy Spirit, we think of the gentleness of the spirit, for good reason. Jesus would talk about the Holy Spirit as, among other things, a Comforter. A Comforter brings gentleness in your time of need. And maybe, maybe that’s what we see happening at Jesus baptism, because here I want you to imagine Jesus baptism we see the Holy Spirit Gently descending upon Jesus. And again, maybe that’s what happened.

But I want you to pay attention to something the text says that as Jesus went out to the desert where John was to be baptized, John Baptizes Jesus. He, puts him under the water. And when Jesus comes up from the water, what happens? The text tells us the heavens were torn apart. Now, maybe the heavens were torn apart. Think of Christmas morning. How gentle was that? How many of us open our presents like that? Few of us probably do, but most of us, especially if we’re about this high, we tear open, don’t we? So the text says the heavens were torn open. Now, maybe it was torn open and a gentle dove descended on Jesus. Maybe. But have you ever seen a bird do a nose dive? Maybe that happened to.

We can’t say exactly what the Holy Spirit did. One because we weren’t there and the text doesn’t give us specifics. It’s left to our imagination. And two, the reason why we can’t know exactly what the Holy Spirit did is because the Holy Spirit isn’t as predictable and confined as we seem to think. And that’s why early Celtic Christians used another image for the Holy Spirit: The wild goose.

That sounds strange. Again, gentle dove, but they saw in the Holy Spirit this sense of watching. You watch a goose. I don’t have a whole lot of chances to do that, but a wild goose takes you here and there. The wild goose doesn’t want to be captured. The wild goose is the one leading the chase, and these early Christians thought when you try to follow the Holy Spirit sometimes that’s what it feels like. And, as frustrating as that might sound, what they saw actually was something different, the excitement of following the Holy Spirit’s lead. The excitement, the joy of knowing that wherever the Holy Spirit is leading, however much we have to move around and be ready, we know we are following where God wants us to go. And no matter how exhausting it can be sometimes, what greater joy is there? If that doesn’t make sense to you, you might only know the dove.

Jesus said the wind blows where it will. Let me ask you, What wind was Jesus talking about? The wind that we might feel today when we walk out of here. It’s gentle today, right? Kind of a surprise for us. That wind is the same wind of a Category 5 hurricane, is it not? It’s the same wind just at a different time. But either way, that wind will go wherever it wants to go. I think I’ve told you this story early on about one of the early times our family came to Corpus Christi. Our kids were a lot younger, about 20 years ago, and we’d come for annual conference. And, of course, we weren’t making a lot of money and we used it as excuse, this was our vacation–going to annual conference.

And so we came, and one of the first places we came when we got to Corpus Christi was to Boat N Net. We pulled up to Boat N Net and again, we didn’t have a lot of money. We were trying to save as much as we could. So, Gloria had all of our cash, because this was 20 years ago I wasn’t using my debit card a whole lot, Gloria had all of our cash in an envelope and so we pulled up and I yell into the PVC pipe, which I thought was brilliant, by the way, get our order and we go to pay. I get the money out of the envelope and I put the envelope back in the center console. And we wanted to take the kids to the beach. So we went to Shoreline. We parked along Shoreline so the kids can get off. We had our minivan back then hey, I drove a minivan, y’all, it’s okay. I opened up that sliding door for the kids to get out and they got out so fast.

I think Gloria and I, we both thought we need to get a hold of these little kids. Who knows what they’re gonna do? So, we opened our doors at the same time and let me tell you the truth. The wind blows wherever it wants. And as soon as we opened those doors, that wind blew in, didn’t touch anything else but my envelope of dollar bills y’all. And blew it out of the car. Have you ever had to chase paper in the wind? So here you had the preacher which I think is the funniest part of the joke, a preacher, chasing money down the street. Put that down, it’s mine. Right? You wanna talk about a wild goose chase? The wind goes wherever it wants to go.

That’s the same spirit Jesus talks about. It’s the same spirit we allow God to lead our lives with. That is our life with God: figuring out where we need to be next, figuring out what it is God is asking us to do with our lives now and this season. It’s a new year. It’s a perfect time to be thinking about what we want for this new year. But let me make sure to press the question for your heart, What does God want for your life this year? Those could be two very different things. Mind you, it’s the same Holy Spirit that’ll guide us. The same Spirit that tore open the heavens at Jesus’ baptism then propelled him into ministry, and that Spirit led him to compassion and conviction. And he would say the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, and that Spirit led Jesus to a ministry that did everything it could for the world he loved, because that’s what the wild goose does.

By the way, if I haven’t made it clear enough yet, the enemy of apathy is the Holy Spirit. Apathy will tell you to just sit there and you don’t have to do anything. You just take care of you. But the Holy Spirit is the one that leads us otherwise. The Holy Spirit is the one that led Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the one that leaves us. Now I want to tell you the enemy of apathy is the Holy Spirit. But you can’t save the whole world. You can’t solve every life problem, every world problem. You can’t do everything, and I want you to know that’s not even what God is asking you to do. What God is asking us to do, what God is asking you to do, is to be open to discerning where the Spirit is leading you next. Do we really believe the Holy Spirit, all the Holy Spirit wants is just to lead us here so we can sit down quietly and listen to somebody like me talk every week?

The hymn I stole from has this to say about the Spirit.

She dances in fire, startling her spectators,

waking tongues of ecstasy where dumbness reigned,

she weans and inspires all whose hearts are open.

Nor can she be captured, silenced or restrained.

Holy Spirit is that wild goose sometimes. The enemy of apathy, tears open heaven to reveal to us the truth of God. And when that Holy Spirit, that wild goose, showed up, that time as a dove, what makes me think of automatically is Noah. You remember Noah, right? He’s on the boat and they’re out in the waters and he sends out what? At the end? The dove. Now, he didn’t know it was the end. The dove was supposed to be a sign. If the dove did what it was supposed to do. It would tell Noah the time has come.

And I want to offer to you that, as we see that Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus whether that’s a gentle cover or that wild goose nose dive the Holy Spirit might be telling us it’s time. It’s time for us to live into the freedom of God in a new way. It’s time for us to realize that our baptism means something significant to the life of the church. We would see that same dove that descended upon Jesus at his baptism descending upon our lives as well. And that as we open ourselves up to that, may God make us ready for a wild goose chase.

In the name of God, the Father, god the Son and God, the Holy Spirit. Amen y amen. Thanks be to God.

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John Fletcher

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