04/24/2022 ~ Second Sunday of Easter ~ *Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31 ~ *During Eastertide a reading from Acts is often substituted for the lesson from the Hebrew Bible ~ VIDEO OF THE FULL SERVICE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HglA9IGCPlk
Receiving the Spirit
“The disciples were filled with joy when they saw Jesus, who said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As Abba, God, has sent me, so I am sending you.’ After saying this, Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” — John 20:20b-22.
I once did a three day battery of psychological and skills testing. Or as I like to call it, “Three days of ‘Tell me, what does this ink blot mean?’” In all seriousness, the point of this kind of testing is to assess the skill set of an individual.
To say the least, it was an intensive, multifaceted process. And certainly, the reason anyone does this type of skills testing is to help that individual better understand, cope with and interact with the world.
Now, one of the cautions offered to me about both the results which were presented and the very process itself was do not— under any circumstances— think in terms of this three day experience as being finished. It is not. It was not.
I was told I would still be thinking about and processing what was presented to me, the challenges, the work ahead of me for many, many years. That sentiment is still true as even now I occasionally find myself reflecting on the insights I gained and occasionally make new discoveries about how I interact with the world.
In short, the experience equipped me with tools for life, helped me move forward. The tools I acquired in this process help me to be renewed constantly… if I choose to use the tools. (Pause.)
My mother died when she was only 58. It would be foolish to say the experience of the death of a parent or any loved one— especially at that fairly young age— does not linger with us for many, many years.
Mom died 39 years ago but I still think about it, occasionally reflect on it. And so, I am also given to wonder if my mother might be able to tell me about some information concerning my family history. But any information she might have offered, any information she might have had is just not available.
Hence, all I have is a reflection about things I will probably never know with any certainty. And perhaps the finality I might have sought— some form of definitive answer from her— is itself artificial, an illusion. (Slight pause.)
We all like closure. We all like finality. But is that simply what we like, as opposed to what we need?
Is it possible that the idea of process— living through time, through space, through experience— is it possible that process is the only thing of which we can be certain. Perhaps process is not just a different way of looking at and assessing life. Perhaps process the prime way of looking at and assessing life. (Slight pause.)
We find these words in the Gospel According to the School of John: “The disciples were filled with joy when they saw Jesus, who said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As Abba, God, has sent me, so I am sending you.’ After saying this, Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (Slight pause.)
There are three distinct sections in this reading. The first two, the encounter of the disciples with Jesus but without Thomas and later with Thomas there, are clearly tied together, part of the same story.
But I maintain the third section, that part that says (quote:) “Jesus did many other signs— signs which are not recorded in this book” can be seen as a lynchpin for the story of Thomas. It offers instruction on why, on how the story of Thomas and the disciples is of import.
The Spirit, you see, kept moving, keeps moving. And so there are many other things which happened but this story is there to let us see process in action. (Slight pause.)
There is a great American heresy. (There are probably a very large number of great American heresies, but let me point out just one.)
This particular great American heresy says once an incident has passed it is done, over, complete, final, finished. There are no more effects. There is only now and once now has passed it is over. As that relates to faith, many American Christians might express that heresy using words like this: “I was born again on April the 3rd, 1997 at three o’clock in the afternoon.”
The implication of that is straightforward. Everything is now done, over, complete, final, finished. The possibility that the Spirit of God might be still active, working, moving, feels negated because this event is named and resides at a specific time in the past. And that time is now gone.
Indeed, many of us see the Gospel stories as located in the past. But the words we heard from the Gospel today are not meant to illustrate an event in history. To take a narrative approach to the resurrection, the real topic of this reading, to say it happened once, long ago, is simply an inaccurate way to look at what we Christians claim about Jesus.
The resurrection is not just an event that happened. It is an event which changes everything for all people for all time. And the point of the story of the resurrection is the resurrection continues. Jesus lives, now. The Spirit is alive and dwells among us, now.
What is, perhaps, even more important is this: because of the resurrection, because the Spirit dwells among us, we are invited by God to learn from our experience of God. Because of the resurrection, because the Spirit dwells among us, we are invited by God to change.
Because of the resurrection, because the Spirit dwells among us, we are invited by God to process. Because of the resurrection, because the Spirit dwells among us, we are invited by God to grow. (Slight pause.)
I believe the Spirit invites us to learn something new for today and for each and every day. I think the Spirit constantly invites us to not just live in the Spirit but live by the Spirit, into the Spirit.
Living in the Spirit means we are invited to be renewed. Living in the Spirit means we are invited to develop, to hone who we can be, who we are willing to be, to fully be the person God invites us to be. Living in the Spirit means we are invited to change, invited to use the tools God gave us. (Slight pause.)
In the world God created, things are not static, ever. And living in and into the Spirit also means we are invited to see the world as God sees the world.
This world God sees is a world where freedom can be a reality, in which equity is not a dream, a world in which the love God offers reigns. This is a world whose boundaries are limited only by our willingness or lack thereof to use our God given talents to participate in the Dominion of God. What is the Dominion of God?
The Dominion of God is the world not as we see it. The Dominion of God is the world as God sees it— active, changing, alive, growing— a world of hope, a world of peace, world of joy, a world of love. Amen.
South Freeport Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, South Freeport, Maine.
ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “As I mentioned earlier thank you for putting up with me and as you know this is my last Sunday in this pulpit. And as many of you know I served one church for 23 years. And I did what I do here— say something at the end. And the first Sunday I was there and last Sunday there I said essentially the same thing. Part of the work of a pastor is to share their understanding of the Gospel. That cannot be done in one Sunday or a month of Sundays or, as it turned out, in 23 years of Sundays. Why? The Gospel is that rich. And so, as you embrace Sean Patrick— and please do embrace him— remember that part of his work will be to share an understanding of the Gospel one Sunday at a time. It is a process.”
BENEDICTION: Hear now this blessing, commonly known as the Irish Blessing: May the road rise up to meet us. May the wind be always at our back. May we have a full moon on a dark night. May the sun shine warm upon our faces. May the rain fall soft upon our fields. And until we meet again, may the hand of God hold us and the wing of God offer us shelter, and the peace of God be with us, always. Amen.