Pentecost is here again. Every year we read the account in Acts of the wind and the flames and the bold preaching and the crowds from around the world. Today, we're going to look at the coming of the Holy Spirit from a little different perspective. John's gospel tells us of the coming of the Holy Spirit, but not in wind and flame, but simply at the word of Jesus, and with peace. And the journey of the church is begun. And the world of faith is made new.
But it is not just the arrival of the paraclete that we celebrate, we celebrate another life changing event. Emily Perez moves on in her journey of life. Both these events are a kind of transition point, a time before-- before the Holy Spirit the apostles lived in fear. After, the church spreads at the words of these uneducated disciples. And for Emily, a student before and now she begins life as an adult!
But Luke's picture of the power of the Holy Spirit is quite different. And we've heard the story for years; fire, wind, powerful preaching... But the outcome of the two versions is much the same-- it is the birth of the church. Not that any of them realized it at the time. The Messiah had come but the Jewish community failed to grasp the truth. And so the new way found itself at odds with the established religion. We know the early believers were persecuted by the established church. And it is because Jesus as Messiah, this fulfillment of ancient prophesies, was missed by most of the Jews. And the new “sect” became a new church.
But this new church was not begun by brilliant scholars or Synagogue trained rabbis or even men with exceptional courage. It was average men and women; hiding and fearful. People whose visions of glory and power as followers of Jesus had been destroyed. Brokenhearted people who missed their friend and rabbi. But Jesus rose and he gave the Holy Spirit to his friends. The Holy Spirit is given to you and me. The Holy Spirit may come with great fanfare as in the Acts reading. Or it may comes as a small, still voice, a breath as in John's gospel.
The Holy Spirit comes to us as individuals but perhaps more importantly, it comes to us a a community of faith. Osvaldo Vena, Professor Emeritus of New Testament Interpretation wrote, “The same kind of symbiotic relationship that existed between Jesus and the Father will now exist between the community and the Holy Spirit. Jesus will then be in the community, among the community, no longer physically seen but spiritually felt. The Spirit of truth is the Spirit of Jesus!”
And so we proclaim that Jesus is in our presence whenever two or more are gathered. And in communion, Jesus is with us in community by the power of the Holy Spirit. As we celebrate the sacrament today, seek that awareness of Christ's presence, not in the bread and the cup, but in the community of faithful that has received the presence of the Holy Spirit as promised by Jesus.
Our local church has been here in Litchfield for over 152 years now. That is something to be celebrated. But we don't celebrate our faithfulness as much as we celebrate God's faithfulness. We as humans have made plenty of mistakes through the years. We had a divisive vote here in the 70's that shrunk our congregation in bodies but not in spirit. For the promise of Jesus remains even when people disagree. Jesus promises peace, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid." And we are facing some rough times ahead, an aging congregation, fewer members, pastor changing, building needs.... But the peace that passes understanding does not mean the absence of challenges, it means that God walks with us through the challenges.
I've been pastor here for 13 years. Early on, I used to have the children draw pictures on the anniversary of my commissioning. Often I asked them to draw our church. Emily was one of those children and I have two of her drawing of the church on the screen. This first one concentrates on the church building. A big part of who we are and we are rightly proud of this sanctuary and it's beautiful windows and sacred feel. But the building isn't the church and so her next drawing is a better illustration I think. Here are the people coming to the building to worship. The community of faith coming together. And Jesus had something to say about how we are to be together. “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” And I don't believe he's talking about his miracle as much as his love. Jesus taught us how to love, but more importantly, he demonstrated how we ought to love
Meda Stamper wrote of the love of Jesus which we are empowered to share by the Holy Spirit, “Jesus in John shows us what living love looks like in his own life of making God’s love for the world known. He enacts love, and says we also will do this, in words and works: in dangerously truthful testimony to political and religious authorities; in a ministry of boundary-breaking healing and of feeding the physically and spiritually hungry; and in a life of humility (including Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet), friendship, and prayer. He tells us that we are to follow his example.” Love in action, love that is not always easy or comfortable, love that serves. Love that is life-changing through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We gather here today in a small church 20 centuries separating us from today's gospel. We gather as part of the Church universal that continues to share the good news despite plenty of bad news in the world. We gather around the table to share the presence of Jesus with us today; unseen but present through faith and community. The Holy Spirit is the driving force giving life and power to the church today. And while we don't always promote the Spirit like we could, we need to trust that the Spirit is alive and working in us today; in us as individuals and in us as a community of faith.
Have you ever noticed in our unison benediction the blessing of the Holy Spirit, it is fellowship. It is the fellowship we can have with God the Father and Jesus the Christ, unseen but present by the power of the Holy Spirit. And it is the fellowship of this community which blesses us as we are formed by and carrying on by the power of the Holy Spirit. May this day of celebration remind us of the gift we have, the gift of presence. And as we celebrate the Holy Spirit, we also celebrate Emily and her graduation. In fact, right now I invite her up as we pray a special blessing upon her.
Lord God, We ask for your almighty hand to be upon Emily as we celebrate the occasion of her graduation. Bless her life from this day on with goodness and love. Help her to stay true to her dreams, to use her gifts wisely, and to walk into the future with faith, hope, and great love. Amen.
We sing now a prayer that, by the Holy Spirit the Lord will work in and through us to be God's people here on earth.
Lord, Speak to Me, That I May Speak 426 PH