Sunday, June 09, 2019
Westworth United Church
Year C: Pentecost Texts: Acts 2:1-11
John 14: 8-17, 25-27
Sermon preached by the Rev. Earl M. Gould
In my eyes Thomas Keating is one of the top ten Christian Spiritual Leaders of these past decades. He died late last year. He was very ecumenical.
In his book Fruits and Gifts of the Spirit, Keating’s opening sentence is – “For most people, ordinary life is characterized by the sense that God is absent.” He quotes St. Teresa of Avila, “All difficulties in prayer can be traced to one cause: praying as if God were absent.”
If your experience coincides with mine – bedtime story time with children and grandchildren, nieces, nephews – children related or not – can be such an exciting spiritual experience. God is real for them. But sadly – we seem to lose that. God becomes more distant, even absent.
As we reach adulthood – our spiritual journey is a process of dismantling the illusion that God is distant or absent. When our particular petitions are not answered, we become even more convinced that God is absent. Keating: “The start, middle, and end of the spiritual journey is the conviction that God is always present. As we progress in this journey, we perceive God’s presence more and more.”
Well, Pentecost is absolutely a critical component of our faith, our experience – that God is present, here with us. Last week, Ascension Sunday, today Pentecost, next week Trinity Sunday – form a trilogy.
Next week, the preacher (myself) will focus on how we need to have a sense of God as three-in one. Last week Mac – our preacher – lamented about an Easter Sunday Children’s Time he once heard – as a pew sitter. (Ask my wife – sitting beside a member of the clergy – in a pew – can be an embarrassing fate: pew-sitting clergy tend to squirm from time to time.)
Mac’s point – Don’t spiritualize the resurrection. There was an empty tomb. Jesus was raised from the dead. But it wasn’t resuscitation. The risen from the dead Jesus could do things no ordinary mortal could do. He could go through walls and doors; break bread with them, and disappear; and then – be taken up into the heavens.
And now – back track – into our Gospel reading for today – John 14 – these selected verses. In his final days with his disciples – before he was crucified, Jesus has a lot to say to his disciples.
These sections of John’s Gospel are dealing – not with the concern of what will happen to Jesus, but the problem of what will happen to the disciples he leaves behind.
In these verses Jesus gives reassurance the disciples will not be separated from Jesus. A word not in our vocabulary – “paraclete” translated in NRSV – Advocate or helper.
V.15. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of Truth. You shall know this Spirit because it will abide with you, it will be in you.”
The Spirit will come to them as a form of Jesus’ continued presence.
For John the Paraclete, Advocate, Helper, Spirit can only come when Jesus has gone.
Note John 14:16. “And I will ask the father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.”
“Another Advocate”… That is, Jesus has been an Advocate, Spirit, whatever descriptive you want to use.
This Spirit of Truth will carry on the earthly work of Jesus. This Advocate/Spirit will differ from Jesus the Advocate in that this Spirit is not corporeally visible, and its presence will only be by indwelling in the disciples.
Recall – Isaiah 7:14. “Therefore God will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”
Immanuel – means God with us.
The Old Testament theme of “God with us” – the Immanuel of Isaiah 7:14 is now to be realized in the Advocate/Spirit who shall remain with the disciples forever.
In Johannine language, understanding, peace, truth, light, life and joy are figurative terms reflecting different facets of the great gift that Jesus has brought from the Father to the world. Our prayer this morning will reflect, honour this. There could be more: add to the list yourself. If we follow the Bible here in this text: if had to choose only one, it would be “truth”.
So, my friends in Christ,
Pentecost is a big deal – a really big deal.
It was just after midnight Wednesday of this past week, thus making it Thursday, June 6, 2019, 12:21a.m. I texted my friend and mentor Sr. Sandra Stewart:
I’m wondering what you believe Pentecost is all about? What is coming into focus for me is that God as Trinity (Father, Son, and Spirit) are pretty much coterminous. If that is so, what is the big deal about Pentecost?
Later that same day a reply came back to me in my email inbox (3:41p.m.).
I love your question.
In short, I would say the ‘big deal’ is that not only is God ‘for us’ (Father), and not only is God ‘alongside us’ (Jesus, the Incarnation), we are actually ‘lived in’ by this Triune God (Holy Spirit). Pentecost celebrates the fact that God dwells in us, as well as amongst us, as well as beyond us! Ya just can’t get away from God, and that means God can’t get away from you either! When we live in this flow, we are ALIVE in the Spirit!
Happy Pentecost (my favourite feast!)
I come back to Keating: in his book, Fruits and Gifts of the Spirit: “Thus, the fundamental theological principal of the Spiritual journey is the Divine Indwelling. The Trinity is present within us as the source of our being on every level.”
Yes, God is here. That is why the Bible uses the imagery of breath as one way to try to communicate the mystery of God.
Breath, Spirit, right, right here.
So, Pentecost’s take away for us – God is not absent. This Spirit – manifests itself in many ways. We know we are in touch with the one true God: the test: The Spirit of Truth. If it brings forth love, peace, joy, hope, wisdom, all these life giving energies, dynamics, it is God with us (Immanuel).
Our Pentecost Hymn we will now sing:
“With one accord the infant church confessed its risen Lord.
Like wind and fire,
with life among us move,
till we are known as Christ’s,
and Christian prove.”
Voices United #194 Filled with the Spirit’s Power