20 Jun Promise in the Midst of Change
The Gift of Hope
We now begin our journey through the season of Pentecost. Last Sunday tongues of fire rested on the heads of all those gathered with the disciples in Jerusalem. And this morning we begin to grapple with the meaning and reality of this enormous gift that we have been given. The gift of the Holy Spirit to GUIDE us, to SPEAK to us and to DECLARE to us all the things that are to come.
And this is John’s gospel, so WE KNOW, That JESUS KNOWS… that this has been the plan from the very beginning. That He came into the world, the WORD made flesh… for this purpose, to provide to his disciples and the faithful for all eternity, the gift of HOPE.
A gift that the Apostle Paul describes in our reading from Romans 5 as: “God’s love literally POURED out into our hearts.” The blood of the lamb, the new covenant, POURED out for every man, woman and child that ever was and that ever will be.
And it’s fascinating from a theological perspective that St. John would place this much emphasis and devote these many verses to the Holy Spirit. This sage-like presence of Wisdom… promised to come to us, this PARACLETE that isn’t mentioned anywhere else.
Because John’s theology gives central importance to the INCARNATION. That the Word became flesh & lived among us, full of grace & truth. (John 1:14) And Jesus describes himself in John’s gospel as: “… the way, and the truth, and the life.”
Fear of Departure
And I can’t help but wonder what the expression was on the disciples faces as Jesus shared this news with them. Because this is almost the “Dear John” section of John’s gospel, Jesus trying to convince them that the fact their teacher, their mentor, leader and friend was going away was a POSITIVE thing.
This is the 5th time he’d tried to explain his mission and his imminent departure. But the disciples, we see through their questions and lack of understanding are mired in confusion, and anxiety and fear. A more modern translation might have Jesus saying to the disciples: I’m leaving you, but please try and understand, it’s not you… IT’S ME.
But who can blame them… really??? They have come to have faith and belief in the INCARNATION!!! The Word in flesh and blood, A walking, talking, teaching, healing, blessing, living breathing manifestation of God that they could touch and feel and see and hear.
But this is FAITH on a completely different level. Because seeing IS believing… You can’t touch a presence And Jesus tells the disciples point blank, After having just said one chapter ago, “I’ve told you everything I can!”
The Promise of the Spirit
Today Jesus tells his followers, you know there are some really important things I need to tell you here, essential to our faith, but I can’t because you just wouldn’t be able to understand or handle it. Far too complicated!!! Way above your head! Which fits just about right with most discussions we try and have about the Holy Trinity, the FATHER, SON & HOLY SPIRIT.
But one author describes the Trinity simply as “A practical doctrine with radical consequences for Christian life… [it] is the specifically Christian way of speaking about God, [and] what it means to participate in the life of God through Jesus Christ in the Spirit.”
This is the PROMISE from a flesh and blood Christ of a PRESENCE to be with us and GUIDE us and SPEAK to us through all the ups and downs of a life of faith. And Jesus describes the Spirit exactly the same way he described himself, As a Spirit of TRUTH, that will show us the way, GUIDE us, for all eternity.
The same for us today as it was 2000 years ago for the disciples at the first Pentecost with the tongues of fire. I mean can you imagine the amount of change the disciples have experienced in just a few short years with Jesus? He has changed their lives & livelihoods, taken them away from their homes and completely turned upside down everything they’ve ever been taught or believed about FAITH & LOVE & the KINGDOM OF GOD.
We complain about change today but our experience I’m afraid doesn’t hold a candle to what the disciples experienced. One theologian explains that, the church in John’s day, TODAY, and always finds itself trying to understand and live its faith in the midst of social, cultural, and global circumstances that change rapidly. And today, our access to and awareness of social and global circumstances can make it at BEST, difficult to discern the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. At WORST it can make us wonder if God has finally chosen to abandon this faithless generation.
But it’s also that access that brings us stories and images of God at work in the world through the Holy Spirit. And we find that throughout time that the true manifestations of God’s power & glory happen in and through RELATIONSHIPS.
Wisdom in our reading from Proverbs is a woman who is personified by strength and a sense of justice and truth. She is God’s witness and companion throughout the days of Creation. Creation happens in community.
The Holy Trinity in and of itself is a COMMUNITY that speaks to our PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE. Paul defines this Holy Community as having PEACE WITH GOD, BEING UNITED WITH CHRIST, AND LIVING ACCORDING TO THE SPIRIT.
And if you look for it the PRESENCE of the Spirit is alive and well in our Present, I saw that presence in a group of four teenage boys who last month rushed into a burning home to rescue their 90-year-old neighbor. That rescue happened in community, because of their relationships with one another.
Experiencing the Presence of the Spirit
I saw the presence of the Spirit in the most unlikely of places this past week, At game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The St. Louis Blues, Colton Parayko helped arrange for an 11-year-old girl named Laila Anderson, A superfan with a rare auto-immune disorder, to join them in Boston for game 7.
Her mom’s twitter announcement has become the stuff of legend… And her presence on the ice after the game was the best thing to happen to hockey and to the millions of fans watching in the entire playoffs. In the midst of all the chaos of our world today it was a slap in the face, A punch in the gut reminder of what is really important in this world. A reminder that Jesus was trying to get across to his disciples in our reading today that understanding the Holy Trinity doesn’t happen with our head but with our hearts.
But if we still really want to see and hear and feel and touch the SPIRIT in this day and age, we only have to look to our past – to realize the work that God has been doing in and through this community for over 60 years.
And people who have been here a little bit longer than I have. People like our Bishop Lynne Kroger, assure me, That the people of Good Shepherd have handled change throughout the decades very well, Actually, we may not always know it or acknowledge it, But Good Shepherd is actually really good at change.
And that provides a great sense of comfort to me because if there is one thing that is important for each of us to understand today. It’s Jesus’ words to his disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”
The promise of Jesus that throughout all eternity amid constant change in every time and every place, that through our faith we too will be changed. We too will be challenged by what we hear and where we are led, challenged through the truth that is revealed when the TRUTH of God is poured into our hears through the Holy Spirit.
Sent with Power
Each of us is and has been challenged at different times and in different ways in this respect, But the shared experience we can hold fast to today… at a time when our neighborhood and our world seem to be coming apart at the seams…is the fact that we come each week to this table where Christ’s body and blood are poured into us, And we are challenged to go out into the world and share this HOPE and this LOVE.
Wisdom calls us to heal divisions, the Spirit calls us to speak TRUTH and JUSTICE into a broken world and do so with a deep and abiding sense of joy that can only come through a recognition that the Holy Spirit goes with us as a constant companion and presence in our life and our love shared in community.