Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What If it Were Really True?

John 14: 8-17, 25-27

A note about this sermon. The last sermon I posted was at the end of March. I have preached since then, but without manuscript. This is a style that I have held to for the last 2 months. I have therefore started recording my sermons and using voice recognition software to transcribe the recordings to the written word. This has taken a bit of a learning curve, and so sermons were not always reproducible. You may notice a certain change in the style of this sermon, and that is because it more directly reflects my speaking, not my writing, style. I have edited for content and mistakes the software makes.

The art for this blog entry comes from a photograph found on the website of the First United Methodist Church of Greenfield, Ohio.

Today is Pentecost. Happy birthday, church! This is the third big day of the church year; the first of course being Christmas, the second of course being Easter (not of course in importance, but in chronological order) and a third one is today! This is the birthday of the church. Now, we know the story of Pentecost, we know the story from Acts, the second chapter, the first 21 verses.

We know the story of all of the disciples and the others gathered in one place, and we know the sound of a great big wind coming along, and we know the story of great tongues of fire flickering over each person's head, and we know the story of all of the people who were surrounded by a group of people hearing testaments to the greatness of God being spoken to them in their own language; and we know (I can't think of the right word that would be appropriate for right now so I'll just say) "the guy" who decides that everyone being able to hear the witness to the greatness of God being spoken in their own language is the evidence of someone who has been drinking too much.

I don't get that guy, do you? It seems to me that if someone's been drinking, they would be less articulate in their own language rather than more articulate in a language that they never spoke, wouldn't it be to you? I don't know where that guy comes up with that. But it gives Peter the opportunity to tell everyone "of course they're not drunk, it's only nine o'clock in the morning!" and then he proceeds to tell them what exactly this is, and the prophecy from the prophet Joel about what this means.

We know the story. We know what Pentecost is.

John has a different Pentecost, did you know that? There is a Pentecost according to John. It's actually in the 20th chapter of the Gospel and so I'll go ahead and read to you. Chapter 20 verse 22: "when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them 'receive the Holy Spirit." That's it. But John has a Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, as well. There is also the smaller Pentecost that happened in later chapters of Acts at Cornelius's house, where Cornelius and all his household received the Holy Spirit, after the big vision that Peter has about the sheet coming down and all the food up there that's all un-kosher, and the voice says “Kill and eat”, and Peter says “I can't do that, it's not allowed to me”, and the voice says "whatever God has created you will not call profane," and then it does the same thing three times, and then the sheet goes back up. Then he goes to Cornelius's house and the Holy Spirit comes again, to the Gentiles. Each one of these three things illustrates what Pentecost seems to mean. It is that the Holy Spirit has come to a people.

Now let's talk a little bit about what the Holy Spirit is. It seems to me that what the Holy Spirit is, is the presence of Jesus that is available to us, all of us, all the time, everywhere we go. Fair? Okay. Now, what makes it different, of course, is that when Jesus was a human being on earth, Jesus was not necessarily able to be with everybody all the time and every place, right? He was a human being. I'm here with Christopher right now; that means that I'm not with Sue, to a certain degree, and I am certainly not with the folks who are not here, who have all gone on to their separate places by now. Jesus has limitations when he was a human being because when he was a human being, he can only be right here right now, or, now I'm with you, now I'm with you. But the Holy Spirit allows us to be in the presence of Christ no matter where we go. This is why I say at the end of every service; "Christ above you, Christ below you, Christ on your left and the right." It's to remind us that the presence of Christ is with us no less than when he was next to his disciples 2000 years ago.

The scripture that we have today talks about the fact that Jesus was in the presence of the Lord when he was on earth, and he is telling the disciples, in that upper room space, "you can do this too." "Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Very truly I tell you that 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." "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you."
Now, I've read Daniel. I've read the apocalyptic section, all the scary stuff. I've read Revelation from first to last. I've read all that stuff in between. I've read apocalyptic literature up and down but it seems to me this scripture, "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. . ." That's the scariest scripture in the Bible! Jesus is saying not only are you going to do everything I did, you are going to do more than I did. Yikes!

Jesus did healings. Jesus did teachings. He went to people in need, and forgave them. He went to the woman at the well and said "you know what? I know everything that you've done and God still loves you. Just stop what you're doing." All he did, all he ever did, from his first healing to the day he died on the cross was demonstrate that God loved the people of the world. Everything could be boiled down to just that. And that's what we can do, too. When Jesus came into the world he came into a world where the religious culture was problematic, at best. There were people who are doing things just because they felt like they should, just so that they could score points and end up going and being with God in heaven. There were many, many different beliefs in the world and there were lots and lots of people who were kinda "eh" about religion. He came to earth and he would go up to people and he would say; "God loves you. This is how much God loves you," and he would do something to show them and the people around them that that person was valued in the face of God. He would forgive people that were unforgivable into the religious strictures. He would bring people up from the dead. He was demonstrating the love of God to everybody whom he met.

We are not in such a different culture now. Question-and-answer: when people look at the church, people who aren't churched people; never mind what they may feel about God; but what do they feel about the church? One answer from the early service was "They think we're boring", and I said, "no, not the church services" and she said "yeah I know; they think we're boring." Okay. They think perhaps we are too judgmental. Ever heard that one? Have you ever heard that we are irrelevant? Have you heard that we're perhaps parasitic? Do you know what that word means? We suck the life out of everything around us so that we can continue to survive. Ever heard that one? How we get to there from being in the image of Jesus who went around saying "you know what? God loves you!" How did we get there? And how can we get back to what it is that we're supposed to be doing?

We are the people who are supposed to exhibit extraordinary grace in the face of a cruel world. We're the people who were supposed to say "I know someone who loves you and I'm going to act in that person's stead so that you know that God loves you." We're considered judgmental. We're considered irrelevant. We're considered behind the times. We're considered cliquish, we stay with our own.
Folks, we know that God loves us, right? That's why we're here! Now, let's go out of this place and act as if we believe it tomorrow morning, not just when we're in here! This is what Pentecost is. Pentecost is the coming of the Holy Spirit so that the world would know of God's love. We say it in here, now let's go out and exhibit God's love out there. Pentecost +1. Tomorrow morning, tomorrow afternoon.

Jesus said, "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"; In other words we had all the tools that Jesus did, plus we've got him!

What if? What if it were really true? What if we really could be the people that God wants us to be? The people who exhibit the extraordinary grace and the love of God in the world? We know we have all the tools Jesus had. What if we could actually do the work Jesus did?

What if?