June 8, 2014
John 20: 19-23
“Sabachil kher:” Arabic for Good Morning. It’s amazing to think that less than a week ago, I was standing in the very room that tradition claims is the place where this morning’s story took place. The Holy Spirit came with a rush and with fire onto the disciples, sending them out into the morning preaching in every language gathered in Jerusalem for the festival.
Jerusalem is still a Babel of languages, as people come from all over the globe to visit holy places, to work, to study. There are dozens of places of worship of every tradition, so the sound of bells, and chants, and calls to worship fill the air at all hours. As you visit shrines and churches, you run into Russians, Ukrainians, Nepalese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Brazilians, South Americans, all speaking languages that defy your attempts to catch a hint of meaning.
And then there were the two main languages printed on every street sign. Hebrew and Arabic don’t look or sound like anything familiar. They are completely impenetrable to our Western eyes and ears. Thankfully, English is everyone’s third language there. The whole time I was in Jerusalem, I was especially aware of what difference it makes to hear a message in your own language, and what a stir it must have caused to hear those Apostle’s shouting out to a crowd so mixed in language and tradition.
There is a sacred site in the Holy Land for every New Testament event. They were lovely, but they represented someone’s else’s spirituality to me, and I often found myself seeing them like the museum exhibits we also saw. What inspired me most were the conversations we had with the Palestinian Christians we met. The pastors, and the Bishop were so articulate about how their faith drives their purpose, and how the hope that they bear because of the Gospel lives side by side with the reality of their isolation and dispossession by their government. They believe that their witness is crucial to peace. Because they have old, deep relationships with both Muslims and Jews, they believe that they are able to keep the door open to conversation across intransigence, and that such relationship-building may be the only path to peace with justice for all the contingencies that live side by side.
I was inspired by the clarity of their witness to hope in a place where hope is hard to find. I was inspired by their clarity of purpose – to live Jesus’ love and care for all humanity, no matter how difficult to refuse violence and revenge to the aggression regularly exercised on them. I found myself comparing our easy Christianity to their determined witness. Most of the testing of faith we experience is personal. Rarely does our whole community find itself segregated, oppressed, denied resources. How blessed we are. But how little we have to rely on our trust in God’s love and care day after day, year after year to keep our community faithful, to lift the light of hope in the face of despair, to reject bitterness.
“Pray with us for peace with justice in this land,” they said. “Pray for us as we rely on God’s faithfulness to continue to hope beyond the reality of our daily lives. We need to know that you are with us in our struggle.” I felt as if my own Christian faith was flabby and unfocused. I felt challenged to look again beyond my own comfortable existence to see the injustice that Jesus would be seeing, and to attend to it. I felt challenged to see beyond the personal effects of my faith to engage in change in the very systems that cause barriers for people in my own communities.
I bring this challenge to you this morning. You young people, Shelby and Lilly, and the others who are the products of our teaching in the faith, I challenge you to live the life that you have been trained to know is Godly: a life of compassion, stepping back from gossip and bullying to offer a kind word; a life of honesty that refuses to give in to the pressures to go along with what you feel is wrong. I challenge you to let the Spirit of God lift your eyes beyond your own concerns to see the situation of others who may need your attention, or your intervention, or a smile. I challenge you to let the love that you have experienced here in your church family lead you to be generous and forgiving when grudging would be easier. It is in living the faith you have learned that God’s Spirit weaves it into your life – just what you do, and just how you are. And it is because God loved you and claimed you first that you are able to live as God’s people. And don’t be a stranger, we love you and miss you when you are not with us.
And you, the mentors and parents of the young in our midst, I challenge you to hold them in your prayers, to encourage them in the work of their lives, to embrace them when they are near, so they will never forget that they are part of something bigger than themselves, the Body of Christ that is their home.
This Pentecost morning, as we celebrate the rush of the Spirit into the hearts and lives of God’s people, I challenge us all to see that we are called for a purpose. That our lives of faith are not only for our personal comfort but to hold each other dear, to work together for the hope of the world, to be a blessing in a world that has forgotten what grace looks like. May the Spirit of Christ, rushing in our doors this morning, send us out again with purpose to change the world. Amen.