Man – what a great service.
An opportunity to experience the Holy Spirit, to pay tribute to fallen soldiers, veterans and their families and to worship in awe of creation.
Just … Amazing.
(Thanks, Steve, for the photos!)
Here is this morning’s sermon. The audio has been uploaded to my sermons tab if you’d like to listen instead of read!
More Than A Four Letter Word
I was on a conference call this past week and someone on the call asked me what my relationship with Jesus Christ was like.
I have to be honest – I was a little taken aback by the question. In all reality, in the United Church of Christ and in Congregational Churches in this part of the country we don’t often talk specifically about our relationship with Jesus Christ. We talk about community; we talk about building the foundation for strong churches; we talk about all of the wonderful things that our churches do; we talk about wanting to raise our children in a positive Christian environment; we talk our powerful worship services and we talk about the wonderful feelings of hope and peace that we feel when we experience fellowship with our congregations.
I stumbled over my answer, saying something about being inspired and empowered by the ministry of Jesus Christ; about striving to walk in the path that he set before me. I said that my relationship with the divine is more about the spirit than the literal person of Jesus Christ. In an effort to make it seem like I actually had a coherent answer to the question, I repeated myself a handful of times, said “um” more times than I care to admit and finally kind of trailed off and hoped that the person who asked the question would start talking.
I’m pretty sure the guy on the other end of the phone was probably fumbling through his papers and emails, thinking to himself, “She does WHAT for a living?”
I thought about our conversation all week; and I struggled with the fact that I was unable to eloquently articulate my answer to that question.
But here is the truth – I have always had a difficult time answering that question. And it is not because I am uncomfortable talking about my faith – you all know that, I do that every week! It is not because I don’t believe that Jesus walked and talked and lived as one of us. It is not because I do not believe in the resurrection. And it is not because I do not think that we should all strive to live a life of compassion and service like the one that Jesus lived. It is because I have always felt that in focusing solely on our relationship with Jesus Christ, we are missing out on a powerful part of the divine prescribed to us by Jesus before he died: The Holy Spirit.
Jesus said before he died, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
Jesus knew that he would not be in the flesh forever. He knew he was going to die; he was ready to die. But he was not ready to be gone completely. He did not want the world to resort to a way of life similar to the one that existed before he was born. And so he asked God, the Creator, to send an Advocate on his behalf, the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is eternal. The Holy Spirit is ever present. The Holy Spirit exists in, within and through all things. The Holy Spirit is always with you – each one of you. In my pastoral prayer every week, I ask God to give comfort and support to those who cry out in pain; to wrap his arms around them. And in my mind – it is the Holy Spirit that acts on that request; it is the Holy Spirit that is always there to comfort someone when they are weak, to fill them with power and courage when they are scared and to hold them close when they tremble.
I have always said that God is always present in my life. Last summer when I was at the hospital, I said that God helped me get through every difficult case that I encountered. A few weeks ago, I talked about the fact that God was with me every step of the eight-year journey towards ordination. When people ask me how I stand up and preach every Sunday or hold it together during a funeral, I say that God gives me those words and poise. When I talk about finding balance in my life, I say that God helps me that find balance.
And I do not necessarily think that any of those statements are wrong. But after spending some time with this scripture this week, I think that when I talk about my day-to-day encounters with God, I am talking about the Holy Spirit. And I think that I struggled so much with the question about my relationship with Jesus because I understand those encounters as encounters with the Holy Spirit.
When I was writing my sermon this week, I had an ‘a-ha!’ moment. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit because he loved his disciples and his earliest followers and did not want to leave them alone – or ‘orphaned’ as the scripture says. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit because he cared so much about future generations that he wanted them to experience a constant divine presence in their lives. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit because, even without knowing them, he loved all of his followers – some who have come and gone, some who are alive today and some who have not even been born yet. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit because he loves every single one of you. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit because he loves me.
‘Jesus loves me this I know. For the bible tells me so.’ – It’s a simple song with a complex message. This passage is where the bible ‘tells us so’. Jesus loved and loves us so much that he made sure he could be present in our lives long after his life on earth ended.
“I will not leave you orphaned,” Jesus said. “I am coming to you. In a little while the world will not longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.”
The love shown to us by Jesus Christ in that one moment, in that one offering to us, is more than the four-letter word that we understand love to be today. It is a love that transcends all conflict and difference that exists in the world. It is a love that cuts through pain, hurt and suffering. It is a love that rejoices in truth and service. It is a love that we may never understand.
It is a love that transforms us all.
The passage that we read this morning was the passage that was part of the confirmation liturgy a few weeks ago – do you remember it? It was a perfect scriptural reference for that day! As the confirmands made their commitments to our church and to the greater Christian Church they were reminded that they are not alone in this journey.
Jesus gave us that greatest gift we could possibly be given by giving us the constant presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. But the scripture does not end there.
Jesus also said in this passage, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Now Jesus gave us several commandments before he died. But there is one that has always stuck out to me. It is simple and yet it says so much. It was recorded in the Gospel of John that Jesus said before he died, “Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”
It sounds so simple, right? But it’s not! History has proven time and time again that it is not easy to love one another.
But this is where Jesus’ final message to us all comes full circle. Because this is where the Holy Spirit comes back in.
The Holy Spirit is a divine presence that exists in us always. The Holy Spirit is what helps us to love when we want to hate. The Holy Spirit is what encourages us to use our hands to comfort someone rather than to strike them. The Holy Spirit is what breathes patience into us when we are at our wits end. The Holy Spirit is what whispers quietly into our ear when we are at our darkest hour, “Be still – and know that I am God.”
The Holy Spirit is what reminds us – even in our frailty and brokenness – that we, too, are beautiful in the eyes of God. The Holy Spirit is what gives us hope when our country is at war. The Holy Spirit is what gives us strength to support our soldiers and their families when we desperately just want peace on earth. The Holy Spirit is what reminds us of the beauty of God’s creation here on earth.
The Holy Spirit is what helps us to uphold the commandment to love one another.
It is not easy. It is not supposed to be. Jesus knew it was not going to be. That is why he sent us The Advocate. That is why he sent us the Holy Spirit.
Next time someone asks me about my relationship with Jesus Christ, I think I will proudly say that I love him for what he did hundreds and hundreds of years ago; that I love him for sending a Spirit that is with me and the people that I love every single day of our lives and that I love him for thinking beyond the realm of existence that he was living in. I will say that because of the love of Jesus Christ, a love that I will NEVER understand, but always recognize the value of, I am never alone.
We are not alone. We will never be alone. We are loved.
‘Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so.’ It does. Right here. Amen.