May 24, 2015
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“It is to your advantage that I go away…” After being in sales for so many years, I can recognize a sales pitch when I hear it. The saying goes, you can’t sell a feature without a benefit. So as a salesperson your responsibility is to make people understand the benefits of what you are proposing that they buy. Jesus is right. It is certainly to our advantage, now in the 21st Century, that the way we experience God is through the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised to send to take Jesus’ place on earth.
If Jesus physical body does not go away, back to the side of the Father who sent him, then what we would be celebrating on Sunday mornings would be like the Memorial Day celebrations we have this weekend. We would look back and remember what Jesus did for us in his lifetime, and we would remember him with great affection and honor his work. But instead, Jesus sends his Spirit to continue to dwell among us in this world, unlimited by our human, physical, time and space. That Spirit comes along side of us, walking the paths we walk, calling us to open our eyes to God’s presence among us. That Spirit walks ahead of us, sending us the people and opportunity to bring God’s peace and justice into our world.
The reading we have before us today is from the conversation of Jesus and his disciples on the night he is arrested. It is clear that he knows what’s coming and how hard it will be on those he leaves behind. They have learned to depend on him for teaching and example, and he’s right about their devastation when he goes away. After the resurrection, his appearances are to reassure them that God’s power is not diminished by his unjust death, and that all the promises God has made for humanity are true. It is not until the Spirit of Jesus comes over them with wind and fire that they are ready to quit feeling sorry for themselves and step up to preaching and living what they have learned. That’s the work of the Spirit – to fire up God’s people to do God’s work in the world themselves, instead of depending on Jesus to do it. And that’s how the story moved from a 100 and some people to change the world as we know it.
The church I grew up in used to think that the Holy Spirit was in the church, offering us the opportunity to bring our hearts and hands to do God’s work in the world. I no longer think that the Spirit is something that we have a lock on and are able to offer to those outside our walls. I think that every doctor that gives up a profitable practice to become part of Doctors Without Borders is answering God’s call for healing the world. I think that every Christian who wants to work in government is answering God’s call for justice. I think that every teacher who could work in a better paying job but prefers to train young people to be responsible caring citizens is answering God’s call for peace. The Spirit of Jesus is out there in the world at work already. And it is the Spirit of Jesus that opens our eyes to the work that the Spirit has already begun and wants us to join.
These young people who are making their baptismal promises for themselves in their community today, are learning to recognize how God is at work in them and in the world. You are their example through all the ways you respond to the needs of this community because of your faith. We’re not usually very good at saying, “I do it because of my faith.”
We keep hearing about how church is declining in our time, and the news seems to be that no one but a bunch of us old folks comes to church anymore. But I don’t think that’s the whole picture. I think the Spirit of Jesus is more at work in our world than ever, calling and inviting people into communities that care about how others live and that families can thrive. I think people come to join us on Sundays because they crave the community created by the Love that never fails even though we fail at living it all the time. I think that the Spirit is still inviting us to be more welcoming, more inclusive, more supportive of each other’s struggles to be faithful than ever. I think the Spirit of Jesus is hearing our prayers for a better life and a better world and urging us to go to work for it.
On this weekend of remembrance, let the promises of these young people lead us again to claim for ourselves the power of Jesus unleashed by the Spirit that calls us, invites us, urges us see where God is at work today, and to be part of it. Amen.