October 15, 2023 “The Holy Spirit and Your Divine Vocation”
Lisa Wiens Heinsohn
Homily for St. John’s Episcopal Church by Lisa Wiens Heinsohn given October 15, 2023
The Feast of St. Luke the Healer: Luke 4:14-21
Today is a very special day. We are going to baptize a beautiful little girl, Juniper Rose Napier, in just a little while. Today is also the Feast of St. Luke the Healer—traditionally understood as the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles in the Bible. Luke was a doctor who traveled with the Apostle Paul through many of his journeys in Asia Minor. Luke’s gospel emphasizes Jesus the prophet, the compassionate healer, the liberator of the poor and the oppressed. At first glance it might seem like these two things don’t have much in common with each other, but there is an important thread that connects them with the gospel reading from today, which is the presence of the Holy Spirit.
The Book of Common Prayer describes baptism as the “full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s body the church.” Juniper is already sacred and blessed by God, unconditionally. She arrived into this world bearing the image of God in her inmost soul. What baptism provides is an initiation into the community following Jesus’ Way of Love across time and space. This initiation is marked physically and spiritually by water and the Holy Spirit. But what does that mean?
In today’s gospel reading, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in his hometown of Nazareth, it says that he was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and was beginning to get a reputation throughout Galilee.
He found the scroll of the prophet Isaiah where it says “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me and has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, sight to the blind, release to the captives.” So the Holy Spirit is an essential part of who Jesus is, connecting him with powerful teachings in his tradition that help him live out a personal manifesto. That manifesto is the mission of Jesus and therefore of his followers in the church. But what about the Holy Spirit empowered the whole thing?
There was a theologian named Walter Wink who spent a lot of time in South Africa and in Pinochet’s Chile, learning about the liberation theology movements that were born out of great suffering and violence and oppression. He was interested in systemic justice, and so he studied systems that were unjust and the response in the Christian church to such oppression. He began to see and believe and experience that systems have both a physical and a spiritual aspect. In the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, the author writes to seven churches – but more specifically, he writes to the “angels” of the seven churches. Walter Wink began to see the “angel” of the churches as the spirituality of those churches. When the spirituality of something is fulfilling its divine vocation, it is angelic, so to speak. When the spirituality of a system is distorting its divine vocation, it is demonic, so to speak. Walter Wink began teaching that both humans and also systems have a divine vocation and a spirituality, and it is our job in this life to fulfill that divine vocation. He says this:
…[S]piritual reality is at the heart of everything, from photons to supernovas, from a Little League baseball team to Boeing Aircraft…
Listen to how Walter Wink defines Spirit. He says:
Spirit [is] the capacity to be aware of and responsive to God—[and spirit is] the core of every institution, every city, every nation, every corporation, every place of worship…[A] divine reality … pervades every aspect of our existence, where the harmony intended for the universe can already begin to be experienced.
Jesus’ divine vocation was to do exactly what he described in today’s gospel reading. Listening to that vocation and fulfilling it was the same as hearing and following the Holy Spirit. As followers of Jesus, our divine vocation is to find unique and personal and communal ways to express and support Jesus’ mission to proclaim good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, release to the captives, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. To heal the world through love.
Another author Matt Linn has written many books about healing, including one that is called Healing the Purpose of your Life. In it he says that meaninglessness makes us sick, and meaningfulness makes us well. He believes that every one of us comes to this world with specific gifts, with “marching orders,” so to speak, the special purpose that is ours alone that gives our life meaning and contributes to the wellbeing of the whole. Surely one part of listening to the Holy Spirit is about discovering one’s purpose in life and fulfilling it, so that the world around us can be better. It’s what Jesus did when he found the place in the scroll of Isaiah that we read in today’s gospel reading—declaring his purpose, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and living into it every minute of every day of his life.
So I do believe the Holy Spirit is within Juniper, and that you as her parents can observe her carefully over months and years and help her discover her special gifts in this world that it is her divine vocation to express and fulfill, for the good of the whole earth. Similarly, I believe every one of us has special gifts provided by God. We are all a piece of the puzzle, an essential part of the whole. St. John’s also has a unique spirituality that it is our divine vocation to fulfill. Our five values are one way we try to name that vocation. And each one of us has a role to play. Some of us are born to be healers, or to care for creation, or to express joy. Some of us are born to recognize the giftedness of others, or to tell the truth about what has been hurt so that it might be healed, or to translate spiritual reality into everyday language. Some of us pay great attention to detail and can help things be better and more effective. Some of us understand business and strategy and God knows the church needs that too.
When have you felt most at peace, most whole? What were you doing, what was going on around you?
How would those who love you the best describe the essence of who you are?
I don’t believe it is selfish to ask these questions. I believe it is part of fulfilling God’s purposes for us in this life to know the answers to them. I believe that the whole earth is better off when each one of us discovers and lives into our unique giftedness. Our gifts are not for us alone. They are for this fragile earth, our island home. They are for this community of St. John’s. They are for our families and schools and workplaces and neighborhoods.
For Juniper’s family, I would ask her parents and godparents and congregational sponsors to get in touch with your own divine vocation, your own special giftedness in this world as a way of knowing how you can be mentors to June. For all of St. John’s, I think it is essential that we all discover and express our unique gifts for the good of this community, which is to listen to the Holy Spirit and follow her leading. Perhaps some of you know what your gifts are already. For the rest of us, how do you discover this?
You can discover it by allowing those who love you the best to reflect back to you what they see as your special gifts.
You can discover it through the natural world, through what it teaches you about who you are and how to live.
You can discover it through the illuminated teachings of Jesus and where they resonate most deeply in your own spirit.
You can discover it through your mistakes and failures, which can sometimes be our best teachers.
And finally, I will offer you a practice you can engage in every day, called the Examen, that can help refine and develop your sense of your purpose, the way you express meaning in this world. You can do it individually or even better as families or friends.
At the end of each day, ask yourself when during the day you were most able to give and receive love, when you were the most grateful. Also, ask yourself when you were least able to give and receive love, when you were the least grateful. Both experiences provide important information about where God is most active in your life, and what in your life needs the most healing or is not the area of your giftedness or wholeness. Over time you will see patterns, and this can help you refine your understanding of your unique giftedness and the way the world very much needs who you are. The way the Holy Spirit is nudging you to express your part of God’s mission to heal the world through love. Amen.
 Walter Wink, The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium (Galilee Doubleday, 1999) at 13.