Scripture can be found here....
Like so many of the truly beautiful things God does for us, this one starts in darkness and grief.
It is seven short weeks since the Easter event—since Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared to his friends. And now, not only is he gone again, but chapter 1 details a final, dreadful reckoning for Judas, the one who betrayed him.
His friends are in a world of darkness and grief. And as many of you are well aware, grief often stops us in our tracks. It gives us the distinct impression we cannot move. We want to lay low, to lie down. In January I attended a funeral and listened as Joan’s best friend from high school eulogized his mother. “I dread going to bed every night, because it means waking up and having to remember, again, that she is not here.”
As our reading begins, Jesus’ friends are gathered in the place we often hear called the “Upper Room.” It’s the same place where they have gathered every time they have come to Jerusalem. It’s the place where they ate the last supper together. And now, it’s the place where they are hunkered down, wondering what in heaven or on earth is next for them.
What comes next is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit arrives, sounding like “the rush of a violent wind,” and in the space of what seems to be moments, Spirit lifts them out of their inaction, their stuck place of grief and pain. The Spirit makes things happen.
The friends and disciples of Jesus are filled with the Holy Spirit, and it feels to them like wind and fire. The Spirit empowers them in two very specific ways: First, she gives them the ability to communicate in ways they were not able to before—they can speak in different languages. And second, she gives Peter, in particular, the ability to seize the moment, as he stands up and gives a sermon.
The Holy Spirit makes things happen. The Holy Spirit empowers us to do things we did not know we could do.
In our lives together as the people of God, we don’t talk about the Holy Spirit all that much. We have spent all the Sundays since last September talking about God the Creator, God the covenant maker, and God’s people of the covenant. And we’ve talked about Jesus. We’ve talked about him a lot. And the Spirit gets a passing mention here and there. But it is fair to say—it is classic Christian theology to say— the Holy Spirit is the reason we are all here.
It is through the Holy Spirit that we do almost everything that has anything to do with the life of faith.
The Spirit calls the church together, and gets us out of bed on a Sunday morning to go there.
The Spirit tells us that we are loved and accepted by God.
The Spirit inspires us with ideas about sharing the love of God with the world—the word “inspiration” literally means, the Spirit is in us. One Great Hour of Sharing Cabaret night? Sure, thank Jerry Natoli. But also thank the Holy Spirit who inspired Jerry to suggest it.
The Spirit reminds us that God is still speaking, and tunes our ears to listen, not only to what God said 2000 or 3000 years ago, but to what God is saying to our world today.
And that means that the Spirit may have some changes in mind for us. Some new ideas of what it means to be church. Some new vision.
The Spirit comes to us when we are tired, and grief stricken, and just thoroughly spent and discouraged. And the Spirit gives us a second wind—renewed energy, renewed hope, and renewed vision.
I serve on our Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry. At a recent meeting we had some time to step back from the specifics of the churches and pastors we are seeking to assist, and to talk together about what we hope and pray for every church. We asked the Big Question: What does it mean to be the church together? And together we came up with four essentials—call them fundamentals, if that word doesn’t make you squirm too much. Four basic ingredients of a healthy Christian community. And every single one of these, is something that is empowered in us by the Holy Spirit. A healthy Christian community is…
o A community that prays passionately and consistently
o A community that is committed to deeply know and live into God’s Word
o A community that speaks the truth in love
o A community that has a clear sense of their participation in God’s mission (word and action)
Passionate and consistent prayer: Prayer is a gift of the Holy Spirit. But like every gift of the Spirit, it requires our cooperation. Some of us feel this gift, and some of us don’t. To some, a conversation with Jesus is the most natural thing in the world, and to others, it feels strange, or childish—as if we’re play-acting. At the beginning of our passage, the grief-stricken and probably confused and somewhat paralyzed followers of Jesus are all in one place. Does it occur to them to pray? When does it occur to us to pray? It is not unusual for the Spirit to reach out to us (or into us) in times of sorrow and struggle. Prayer is a gift of the Spirit. And in all things, we have to start where we are. A life of passionate and consistent prayer begins when it first occurs to us to pray, and we stop whatever it is we are doing, and do it. For a minute. Or five. For thirty seconds, if that is what we can manage. Never forget: each prayer is a gift. The Spirit gave us the impulse, the energy and courage to follow through, and the Spirit will do it again.
Commitment to deeply know and live into God’s Word: A healthy Christian community is one that reads the Bible and strives to know more about it. Here at UPC we have a number of opportunities available to study scripture, but not everyone can get away on a Monday evening or manage to be here before church on Sunday morning. What to do? If you want to know scripture, the best way is to study it with others, but the next best thing is to read about it on your own. There are a multitude of wonderful books about our Book that are very readable and interesting, and I am happy to point you to some good ones. You can also read a devotional such as “The Upper Room,” which will place passages of scripture in the context of your own daily experiences. The Spirit nudged the writing of scripture, and the Spirit nudges us to read it. When we do, we deepen, not only our own faith, but the faith of the whole church.
Speaking the truth in love. Sounds so lovely, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to speak the truth in love? But this is scary stuff. Speaking the truth in love means holding one another accountable. Speaking the truth in love means that we have to let go of the notion that to be a Christian is to be “nice.” “Nice” doesn’t cut it when we need to tell someone that their words and actions have no place in Christian community. “Nice” keeps us stuck and scared. “Nice” would never have allowed Peter to stand up and say the words of challenge he had to offer to God’s people on Pentecost day. The Spirit gave him courage. The Spirit gives us courage. The Spirit gives us power. Not to blow people away with our righteous indignation. But to lovingly tell the truth. Sometimes, there is nothing harder.
Having a clear sense of our participation in God’s mission. The mission statement of Union Presbyterian Church can be found on the front of your bulletin. Please read it aloud with me:
As members of Union Presbyterian Church, we live to serve our Lord, our congregation, our community, and our world. We unite our spirits in faithful, loving commitment to this calling in Jesus Christ and, as a church family, we celebrate the Kingdom of God.
Where do you fit in that statement of our mission? You might know instantly—you are a deacon, a member of session, a member of a committee, you sing or ring in a choir. Or you might wonder… where do I fit in this mission statement? How do I participate? I don’t care whether you are 13 or 103, you are included in these words. You may participate by your service or you may participate by your prayer. You may participate by uniting your spirit with all our spirits and the One Spirit of the Living God. But you are included. The Spirit has called you. The Spirit gives you the power to do it.
The Holy Spirit of God finds us in our places of sadness and sickness and stuckness, and provides us with what we need to be God’s people—fully alive, fully engaged, fully awake and aware and ready to move forward into the future God ahs already planned for us. Like so many of the truly beautiful things God does for us, it can be hard to imagine, hard to believe. But it is true. The Spirit arrives. The Spirit lifts us out of our inaction. The Spirit makes things happen, in us and through us. Thanks be to God. Amen.