May 20, 2018
You can click on the links above to read the Gospel Reading in Oremus Bible Browser.
Welcome to the Day of the Spirit. We often think of it as the birthday of the church because it was on this day that the sad, fearful followers of Jesus were baptized with the Holy Spirit’s power and spent the day preaching and teaching instead of mourning. If you’ve been around very long, you have heard this story before: the miracle of a bunch of blue color workers from the sticks speaking in the languages of those gathered from all corners of the world to celebrate in Jerusalem. It’s a great story, but it feels pretty far removed from our experience of coming to church, singing hymns, hearing good preaching and then being sent back into our ordinary lives where we try to be faithful to what we’ve learned over the years of church attendance. In a few minutes, two of our own kids will tell us about their faith and make their baptismal promises for themselves. I will put my hands on them and pray for them to receive the 7-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in God’s presence. How are these two stories connected to each other? What do we need to know about the Holy Spirit, that makes this old story and this new story speak to each other?
Jesus gives us some clues in the reading from John’s Gospel. As Jesus is preparing his disciples to carry on his work without him, he has tried to put things in order for them. He has told them that he will not leave them ‘orphaned.’ In the image of the ine and the branches has given them an image of their connection to him and his love as the source of the love that will make it possible to meet all the challenges that await them. And he prays for them, that God will protect them from the evil they will encounter in the world, and that in their connection to each other and others that love God, they will be able to live in God’s love. But wait…..There’s more! He will send his Spirit to them, he says, his own heart and soul . The Spirit will inspire them, walk with them, keep them connected to the way that God sees the world, and God’s work for them to do in it.
So, he says the Advocate, the Spirit that works for you and for the world, will show how sin and righteousness and judgement work in this world. The Spirit will explain that in Jesus, God has removed the guilt of sin from all people. The Spirit will help people to understand that in Jesus, all the work of God to save the world and destroy the power of evil to separate us from God’s love has all been accomplished. And the Spirit will help us understand that what God wants for the world is equity and justice for all people and freedom from the grasping and self-serving attitudes that destroy us. Because we live in the Spirit, Jesus announces, we will now see the world with God’s eyes.
Let me tell you: that is a mixed gift, at best. When we see the world with God’s eyes, we see things that break our hearts. When we see the world with God’s eyes we see the Holy City of Jerusalem become a flash-point of death and everlasting conflict rather than the place where the wounds of the world are healed. When we see with God’s eyes, we see our children become cannon-fodder for outraged people with access to weapons. When we see with God’s eyes, we see language become weaponized to separate people in need from the human compassion that could save them.
We tend to romanticize the story of the birth of the church and the blessed disciples rushing out into the throng with their powerful message. But remember that a lot of people thought they were drunk. We hear the stories of the beginning of the church and how everyone lived together and took care of each other, but people lied about their tithe, complained that other ethnicities were getting better treatment. The ‘authorities’ that killed Jesus weren’t any kinder to his disciples when they began to carry on his work, and the stories of prison and beatings, and being hustled out of town are a prominent part of early church’s history. The stories of gruesome martyrdom are the reality check for the romance of the early work of the Holy Spirit. Having your eyes opened to the hurts of the world, and having your heart broken by the inhumanities that are possible among us, is no fun. But the joy in the God’s presence among us is the other part of that gift. Jesus could not walk with each of us over the span of Christian history, it is not physically possible. But he has given us the gift of his own Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, of knowledge and fear of the Lord. That Spirit – Advocate that fights for us, Comforter that holds our hands, arbiter of Truth to remind us that we are God’s beloved – is always with us. That Spirit is in every breath, in every dream we hold for a better world, every ambition we have to make the world more like the world God envisions for us to live in.
So today we wear the Red of the Spirit’s presence among us. We hear the faith statements of our newest adult members of our church family. We celebrate the Spirit of Truth, reminding us that we are beloved beyond imagining and we embrace the work passed on to us by those first disciples: the work of loving world into wholeness, of mending what’s broken and healing what’s awry. It is God’s work given into our hands, as we are held in God’s heart by the Sprit sent from Jesus. Amen.