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sermon 5/19/13- When The Spirit Comes

click here for audio

 

Sermon preached by

The Rev. Fulton Porter,II

at

St. Thomas Church, Chicago, 5/19/13

Whitsunday

John 20:19-31

 

When the Spirit Comes

 

There is a hope in the hearts of men and women today.  It is springtime.  A perennial faith blossoms again.  The wistful dream of life being stronger than death, hope being stronger than despair, returns with the certainty of springtime. The mighty anthems of hope are loosed in the human heart.  The darkness and cold now disburse.  The gray forebodings of winter now give way to a beam of light and hope springs forth with force and vigor. Hope is heralded by the warmth of the sun and the gentle winds, which cause even the trees to dance.  It is a time of new beginnings. It is a time of starting over and beginning afresh. It is a time to be renewed, reborn and recreated.

 

Yet amidst the hope of springtime looms a reluctance to fully embrace the life and hope of this season.  There is something, which causes us apprehension, and we remain a frozen people even in the presence of the warmth of the sun.  Fear can sometimes grip us and cause a paralysis in our lives, much like the paralysis experienced by the disciples after the death of Jesus.  We see in the Gospel of John, which we heard read today, that the disciples had locked themselves in a house, for fear of the Jews.  For the disciples, it was fear of the Jews.  For us, perhaps, there are other fears, which keep us locked up in our metaphorical houses.  For some, maybe there is a fear of loving again, after being betrayed or hurt.  For some, maybe it is the fear of flying in a plane since 9/11.  For some, maybe it is a fear of taking a risk.  For some, maybe it is fear of failure, or fear of change, or fear of other people who are not like us.  Or maybe it is even the fear of death.

 

The disciples were certainly afraid and they locked themselves in the house.  For they did not want to die, like their leader who had been crucified.  They did not want to lose their lives as Jesus had done.  They were confused and anxious, and the only thing they knew how to do was to cower together in fear, as they contemplated the uncertainty of what the springtime would bring.

And believe it or not, this was the church and it is still the church today.

 

There is a legend that states that after the ascension, when Jesus returned to heaven as the exalted and reigning Christ, some of the angels and archangels and others of the heavenly host were curious about his earthly sojourn and questioned him about his accomplishments.  They asked, “Did you found a great movement?  Did you lead a great army?  How many followers did you have?”  To which the Lord replied, “I generally attracted good crowds, but I only had twelve disciples and a few friends and dedicated followers.”  “Well,” they said, “if there were so few, hey must have been exceptional human beings with sterling characters, persons who were leaders in their communities and successful in their careers.”  To this Jesus replied, “Actually they were rather ordinary- a tax collector, several fishermen, just common, ordinary working people.”  “Evidently they must have been a very loyal group,” the others said. Jesus answered, “I believe they wanted to be loyal, but in my hour of crisis, one betrayed me, another denied me, and almost all of them fled.”  “And yet you expect this group to carry out your work?”  “Yes I do,” Jesus said.  “Surely,” they said, “you have some alternative plan?”  “No,” said Jesus, “I have no alternative plan.”  “But you must have another group in reserve somewhere in the event that this one fails,” the angels said.  To which Jesus replied, “I have no other group.  This group is the one that I am depending upon, because this group is my church.”

 

As unstable and as unreliable as we are;   as easily as we become discouraged or distracted; as quickly as we become tired and ready to give up; as often as we are inclined to complain and engage in self pity; as stubborn as we are and as insistent in walking in our own willful ways; as weak and as unworthy as we are, as afraid as we are, the fact remains that Christ has committed and entrusted the ongoing work of the kingdom into our hands; into hands oftentimes gripped with fear.  The church Christ left was a frightened church.   It was a church that hid itself behind drawn shutters and closed doors.  Now that Jesus had been crucified, what would happen to them?  Jesus had already told them that the servant was not greater that the master, nor the messenger greater than the sender.  Jesus had already told them that if the world hated and rejected him, it would also hate and reject them.  Having seen what happened to Jesus, they feared for their own lives.

 

Have you ever been afraid?  It is not hard in today’s society to be ruled and overtaken by fear.  The way we live our lives is directed by fear.  Fear can control our lives.  Our political culture even seeks to play on our fears.  We are taught to fear middle-eastern culture and view people in this culture as somehow being a threat to our lives and well-being.  We are politically pitted, one against the other, as republicans would have us to fear democrats because they somehow espouse a platform, which will destroy the moral fabric of this country.  Democrats say that we should fear republicans because of their cold and elitist policies and attitudes.

 

Fear can control our lives, especially when we think of those that we love being lost to death.  We long for life beyond this life because we love so deeply in this life.  Picture if you will a happy and healthy family.  They share many joys and sorrows.  Picture them around the dinner table.  They are all together now: mother and father and sisters and brothers.   There is a oneness and a wholeness, a gladness in their family closeness.  They stand by each other, they love each other.  Their faces are bright.  Laughter rings through that house.  But one day there will be an empty chair around that table, never to be filled by the one who will sit there no more.   And then, another empty chair, and another.  Is all that love to be poured down the drain, so to speak, by death?  Is the ache when my mother goes never to be eased by reunion?  Must the emptiness of father’s absence be forever a loneliness?  Something in us cries out against that.  Oh, surely, our love makes us say somewhere beyond the dying and sorrowing, we shall meet again where families never part and our spirits shall sorrow no more.  This is a wonderful faith, however, we fear that it may not be so.  This is one of those things, this hope of eternal and endless life, to which reason cannot subscribe.  Our minds play tricks on us and we fear that this may all be an illusion.  We are not sure, we doubt, that there is any word to be said finally beyond “earth to earth, ashes to ashes and dust to dust.”  And we are afraid, even terrified, that death is the end.

 

Those who believe in Jesus Christ have a surer more certain faith beyond the fear of extinction.    We shall rest our final confidence upon the word and work of the one who says to us, “because I live, you shall live also.”  We take our claim to the resurrection and power of endless life upon the one who says to us, “I am the resurrection and the life:  he that believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

 

I recall when I was deployed to serve in Kuwait, and some of you here may recall when you or your loved one was called to duty in World War II, Korea, Vietnam or Desert Storm.  I recall how fearful we all were because of the uncertainty of the time at the turn of this century, when the threat of terrorist attacks and further war and the possibility of death were real to us.  I relied on the words of psalm 27 to get me through those trying times: The Lord is my light, and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?  When the wicked, even my enemies and my foes, came upon me to destroy me, they stumbled and fell.  Though an army should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear:  though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.  Whom, indeed shall we fear, my brother and sisters?

 

I wonder what would have happened to us as a people if fear controlled the actions and words of that great prophet of our time, Martin Luther King?  I am reminded of the words of King’s Last speech, which is a testament to faith over fear.  King said:  Well, I don’t know what will happen now.  We’ve got some difficult days ahead.  But it doesn’t matter to me now.  Because I’ve been to the mountaintop.  And I don’t mind.  Like anybody, I would like to live a long life.  Longevity has its place.  But I’m not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God’s will.  And he has allowed me to go up to the mountain.  And I’ve looked over.  And I’ve see the promised land.  I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.  And I’m happy, tonight.  I’m not worried about anything.  I’m not fearing any man.  Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

 

Beloved, we have got to get over our fears, which control us and keep us locked up; our fears, which keep us from the will and purposes of God in our lives.  God has not given us the spirit of fear, but God has sent his Holy Spirit to give us courage in the face of fear.

 

Yes, Christ left behind a fearful church. But the Church that Christ left was also a believing Church, a hopeful church, a trusting church.  With all that had happened to their little group.  With all their disappointment, confusion, weakness and fear, they still dared to believe Christ’s promises.  And they knew that Christ’s promises were sure.  When they thought about it, they remembered that Jesus had told them that this time would come, that he would be rejected and suffer and be killed.  Jesus told them that when the Shepherd was killed, the sheep would scatter.

Jesus told them that they would have tribulation in this world, but be of good cheer because he had overcome the world.  Jesus had risen from the dead, just as he said he would.  Christ had always kept his word, therefore in spite of all that had happened, the disciples continued to believe.

 

Sometimes, all we have to go on is our experience in trusting God’s word.  Sometimes life, circumstances and reality will contradict all that we believe; sometimes we won’t know what the future holds and at times the only thing we have left is the knowledge of what Jesus has done for us- how he has stood with us, how he has fought our battles for us, and opened doors for us.  And so we can hold on, because we remember what God has already done.  Even in the midst of our fear, gripped by the power of life’s uncertainty, a believing church can hold on.

 

And Jesus promised to send them a comforter and a courage giver, a strengthener and a companion.  Jesus sent to them the Holy Spirit whose job it is to replace fear with fortitude.  Thus when the Day of Pentecost had come, the church that Jesus left was assembled together.  It was the time of the year known as the Feast of Weeks.  Pentecost means “fifty days” and it was celebrated on the fiftieth day after the beginning of the Jewish Passover.  It was an agricultural feast where the Jews presented unto the Lord the first fruits of their labors.  It was also a time which was associated with the reading of the law, because it was believed that Moses received the law at Mt. Sinai and delivered it to the people on the fiftieth day after the angel of death had passed over Egypt slaying the first born of Egyptian households to secure the release of God’s people from slavery.

 

And so when the day of Pentecost had come and the disciples were assembled together, the Spirit baptized the church with power.  Disappointment gave way to Joy, their confusion to clarity,

their weakness to strength and their fear to courage. 

 

And so you may wonder, “how do I get past my fears?”  Well, today, beloved, I can give to you a beginning.  This beginning is the most important thing you will ever do in life.  It is the most important thing you can do between birth and death, the great brackets around our human span.  And the beginning is this simply put: try Jesus!  Unlock the doors of your hearts and let the God of love come in.  And when you allow God to come in, God gives us his spirit to sustain us.  Let the Spirit of God who healed the sick and raised the dead, come in.  Let the Spirit of God who conquered death and the grave come through the doors of you heart and stand in the midst of your soul and declare “peace be with you.”  Just as Jesus permeated the locked doors of the house where the disciples gathered and stood in the midst of them, I say to you, let God permeate your locked doors and take away you fears.  Let the God who has called you by name come into your hearts and minds. And when you pass through the waters of life, God will be with you.  When you walk through the fires of life, you shall not be consumed, for the Lord is you savior!

 

So what are you afraid of, beloved, ‘cause God’s got you back.  God’s got your back because God loves us with a love that transcends trouble in our way.  God’s got your back because God’s love for us transcends our own capabilities and augments our lives with the grace to do incredible things.  And like Paul we can say that we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 

 

I’m so glad that when this world tries to drown the fire of God’s sure love and protection with the water of fear, the holy spirit is there and available to keep putting gas on the flames!  I came to tell you today that God has sent you a comforter.  God has sent you a councilor.  God has sent you a truth-bearer and a courage-giver.  God has sent the Holy Spirit to change and renew your life.  This is what Pentecost is all about!

 

There is a sweet spirit in this place right now, and through your adversity and disappointment, the spirit is calling you.  Through challenge and conflict, the spirit is calling you to a peace that passes all understanding.  Through change and trials, the spirit of God is empowering you to do God’s will.  Through it all, the spirit of the eternal God can make you whole. The power which moved upon the face of the deep and brought order out of chaos, something out of nothingness, is available today.  The Spirit which could cause Saul to make a U turn on the Damascus road and become the apostle Paul, the greatest Christian missionary, can turn men and women around, dispel their fear and start them in the right direction.  For God is in the business of rescuing priceless treasures from the junk heaps of life’s wreckage.  So, I dare you to cry out on this Day of Pentecost:  Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me!

Fall Fresh on my community.

Fall fresh on my home.

Fall fresh on my church.

Fall fresh on my guild.

Fall fresh on the priest.

Fall fresh on the vestry.

Fall fresh on the acolytes.

Fall fresh on the choir.

Fall fresh on my marriage.

Fall fresh on my job.

Fall fresh on my mind, so I can think right.

Fall fresh on my heart, so I can love right.

Fall fresh on my mouth, so I can talk right .

Fall fresh on my feet, so I can walk right.

Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me!

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