Two reflections preached at FBCWoo
June 4, 2017
Cover Image: “Pentecost” by Hyatt Moore
The Comforting of the Spirit
Sometimes when I go through the archives, I fixate on certain time periods. They’re usually the well-known times of US or world history. And sadly, the easiest dates to remember are wars. The Civil War, the first and second World War, Vietnam. And I wonder what it would’ve been like to preach week after week in a climate of immense loss and constant fear.
And I think about how maybe our time together, in this chapter of First Baptist’s life, is going to be one of numbing violence and creeping fears stoked by terrorist attacks and partisan rhetoric.
And short of saying the same thing week in and week out, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I wonder what I’m supposed to say when another terrorist attack occurs in a city we don’t think much about, like happened this week in Kabul when nearly 100 people died in an explosion. Just yesterday three more bombs went off at a funeral killing 15 more.
Of course, the news reminds us that a city they assume we care more about, London, has also suffered at the hands of terrorism.
At the heart of the word terrorism, is the goal of instilling terror, the extreme sibling of fear. And what seems to be happening in our country, absent of this particular brand of violence, is that the effects of the tactics seem to stretch all the way to the US. So that we respond to the fear with more violence, of bombs or military operations, or with policies that segregate, or with personal views that demean the dignity of others because they aren’t like us, or because people like them might believe or live differently than us.
And I get it if that’s the response of people who don’t believe in the good news of a God who created all people in God’s image. But for us, for those of us in this room, who do believe not only in this notion, but that this very God has come near in Christ, and through Pentecost has come near in the Paraclete, in the Spirit, it seems like tribalism and segregation and xenophobia aren’t appropriate for the people of God. Worse, I’d say it’s sinful to resort to those actions and beliefs.
God has come near, and Jesus promises never to leave us abandoned. And that means not just in some existential way, but in these scary moments when we are tempted to split our very selves into different pieces, so that we can be Christians on Sunday and liberals or conservatives on Monday, and on and on.
God promises to comfort us, in grief, in pain, and yes, even in fear. How many times do we read the words in the Scriptures, do not be afraid.
How many times does fear inform your decisions,
What if instead of living in fear, you live out the gospel—defying the power of fear,
and resisting violence,
and trusting in the nearness of the Spirit
and the strength of compassion.
The Way of Jesus is not tit for tat, or an eye for eye. Somehow we must find ways to listen to the Spirit who has come, to hear how we are to love our enemies.
Because what if the Comforter has come, not just for us,
But for them, too?
Prayers of the People:
From John 14:
If you love me, you will follow my Way.
I will ask the Divine Parent, and she will send another Paraclete, an Advocate, Helper, Comforter, Counselor, who will be with you forever.
This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees her nor recognizes her. You know her, because she lives with you and will be with you.
I won’t leave you as orphans. I will come to you.
Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Because I live, you will live too.
On that day you will know that I am in the Divine Parent, you are in me, and I am in you.
Whoever discovers my Way and follows it–loves me. Whoever loves me is loved by our Divine Parent, and I love them and will reveal myself to them.
For I am the Way you follow, the Truth you seek, the Life you live.
You come to remember our Divine Parent through me. For love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of her.
What would it mean for you to let go of your fears?
Fears of terrorism
Of losing control
Of not being liked
Of not being heard
Of not being known
Of not being remembered
Of not having enough
Of being alone
What would it mean to believe that the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is also the same Spirit within you, brining life and hope where you feel dead and uncertain?
The Calling of the Spirit
Pentecost is one of my favorite Sundays of the year, and not just because it’s the only week of the year I get to wear my red stole.
It’s because so many times we have this distant relationship to God, that God is far off, a higher power of some sort, and Pentecost reminds us that God is still near. And not just near, but within and upon us.
And maybe we resist this a bit because we aren’t Pentecostals after all, but I wonder if we resist this because of what it would mean if we really took it to heart.
If we really believe that God is within and upon us, then it means we’re called to something more than just coming here in this beautiful room, listening to beautiful music, on a beautiful Sunday.
It means that the Spirit who is Comforter is also the Spirit who is calling us to follow the Way of Jesus more confidently.
It’s at Pentecost that we see the Spirit transcending boundaries of all sorts, of language and race and culture, and as the story unfolds in the Book of Acts, we see this same pattern recurring throughout. The Spirit, like the ministry of Jesus, is drawing all people to God. Those who’ve been relegated to the margins for too long, are now brought near by the God who is near.
As Paul says throughout his letters, the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is the same Spirit within and upon YOU. That’s dynamic power. Indeed, the word power in Greek is dunamis, from where we get our English words dynamite and dynamic.
Dynamic power, not for violence but for peace, for compassion, for hope, for life. Indeed, this Spirit who animated the body of Jesus back to life, desires to animate our own lives. To resurrect our families and our cities and our nation and yes, the whole world.
And it starts not with some policy or military incursion, some drones or proportional responses. It starts with us. With the Spirit at work within us.
We aren’t going to convert ISIS soldiers. That’s not what I’m saying.
But in the Gospels Jesus makes clear that the Way of God is subversive, and expansive, and growing like a wildfire. And at Pentecost we see imagery of the Spirit as both Wind and Fire, two critical elements necessary for the spread of a wildfire. And call us trees if you wish, but I’d prefer to think of us as embers on the Wind, carrying the Good News of God’s nearness in the world.
That love will win,
That violence will die,
That peace is coming,
That our hope is real.
Because of Pentecost.
Because the Spirit is within and upon each of us.
And as a church we are going to move in that direction, in faith. As we have been awakening and imagining, now we are going to begin engaging.
A few weeks ago, 50 of you joined us in an imagining session. We put ideas to posters and then voted on what we liked. And today I can say that some of those ideas are gaining traction.
Friends, we have a role to play; we are called to something more. Not to fear, and not to give in to despair, either.
But to act.
To trust that the Animating Spirit will continue to make us new,
will continue to make our world new.
So let go of your fears today.
And the next day.
And the next.
And hold on to hope,
That the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead,
Will animate your life, too.
And our church, too.
And ultimately our world.
This is the Good News.
Thanks be to God.