May 31, 2020
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: John 14:15-31
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Yesterday, I saw images of burning buildings and overturned police cars as the nation raged. A senseless killing brought about indignation and violence. Meanwhile, over 100,000 people have died of a virus in less than three months in our country, and tens of millions of people are out of work. Amidst so much turmoil the vicious and horrible partisanship that has strained our country over the last decade or more is stronger than it has ever been, while we find ourselves pointing fingers at each other. When the coronavirus crisis began, someone noted to me, “at least we aren’t trying to rip each other apart” and now it seems like our country is more frayed at the seams than ever before.
I went for a walk last night in our peaceful little town and thought about all of these things. I found myself angry. Angry that people seem to value in human lives so little. Angry that we have made this not an opportunity to become a stronger country, but an opportunity to rip apart our political enemies. Angry, that we have so lost our way so profoundly that this is where we find ourselves.
This morning as I woke up, I stumbled across an article from News Week of all places, but what caught my eyes, was the picture for the article was a shelf full of Books of Common Prayer. In the article, the author pleaded that we as a nation strive to recapture a spirit of wisdom, recapture THE spirit of wisdom, recapture the Holy Spirit that illuminates our hearts and minds. It was a fitting article for Pentecost Sunday, the Sunday in which churches around the country and the world remember that Christ sends to His church the Holy Spirit.
Let us not be ill informed, let us not be swayed by the world, let us not mislead by the princes of the world, by the prince of this world, the prince of darkness, but let us dwell in the Holy Spirit alone.
My friends, I am not seeking to make any sort of political statement, though some may take it as that. I am not trying to venture in to the world of being a political pundit, but a pleading, pleading that the people of Christ’s church would turn their eyes upon Jesus, that we would turn eyes upon the heavenly Father, and that you trust that He will renew in us the Holy Spirit, to strength us, to guide us, to direct us, to help us to know how to live in a time such as this. Our call is to cling to Jesus, for it is Christ alone that can see us through. When we trust in anything else, when we trust in anyone else, these things will fail us.
This problem of trusting man in place of God, is as old as humanity itself – and the Psalmist writes “O put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of man, for there is no help in them. For when the breath of man goeth forth, he shall turn again to his earth, and then all his thoughts parish.”
“blessed is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, and whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all therein is.”
If we trust in God’s creation, it will inevitably fail us – we receive this warning time and again in scripture – Adam and Eve trusted the serpent, and trusted themselves, the residents of Babel trusted themselves to build a tower to heaven, the Israelites wandering in the desert gave up on God and trusted in a statue that they created, and the pharisees in Jesus’ time trusted in their own self-righteousness. But we are called to put our trust in God. We are called to remember that it is in Christ alone that we find our salvation, we are called to pray that the paraclete will be our guide, our comforter, and our hope.
This morning we are told that Christ will ask the Father and the Father will send another Helper. Quickly we learn that this is the Holy Spirit, we are told that the Holy Spirit is: the Helper, the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit will teach the people of God, and the Holy Spirit will help us to dwell in peace
Have you ever felt hopeless or alone? Felt as though, there is no one to turn to? The disciples, were now branded as being part of this rogue Nazarene’s little band of rebels, branded as being one of his followers. Soon, he would be tried, unjustly found guilt, lied about, and killed upon a cross, upon a cross of shame. Soon, they would be scattered, alone, and scared.
While I doubt that many, if any of us, know what this feeling is like – I suspect we have all felt alone-ness, all felt that we had no one to turn to in the dead of the night while it seems as though our world is coming crashing to an end. Felt, that dread that no one could possible understand, as silence wraps around you and tears run down your face. Loneliness – happens to us all.
Christ promises his little group of followers that they will not be left alone amidst such a riotous world. Christ promises his followers that he will send the “helper.” The ESV has chosen to render this interesting word “paraclete” “helper,” the King James Version renders it “the comforter,” while other translations render the word “the advocate.” The fact is this word “helper,” or “or comforter” is a particularly difficult word.
All of these nouns are adequate, but incomplete when it comes to understanding exactly what the Holy Spirit does – Helper may conjure up images of the help, that comes in and assists you in making your life easier. Cleaning the floors, doing the dishes, and prepping meals. Yet the Holy Spirit does help us – guides us, directs us. Comforter may conjure up a cozy bed spread, meant to keep us warm in the depth of winter. Yet the Holy Spirit does comfort us when the world seems so dreadful, when we feel alone. Advocate, conjures up an image of a courtroom drama, and a man in a suite fighting for what is right and just, and yet the Holy Spirit does advocate for us, does lift our prayers up to the throne room of God, does sanctify us so that we may be more Holy and wise. So each of these words, holds a part of what it means that the paraclete was given to the church two-thousand years ago.
This past week, I stumbled across an article about “deep fakes” technology. This technology allows for the ability of create misleading, and flat out false videos. This past month, those who are not into shooting photography have learned that camera angles and the lenses that are used are everything. Yet, a more insidious thing is rising. This shift rise of technology is terrifying, it is frightening, in a world where it is hard enough to figure out what is going on, this adds to our fear that says “you cannot even trust your own eyes.”
But Christ describes the paraclete, the Holy Spirit, as the “spirit of truth.” Yet, again, we as Christians have been given an advantage, a part of the gift given to the church two-thousand years ago is the spirit of truth, the spirit that helps us discern falsehoods and truths.
We are called upon to pray to have a spirit of wisdom, we are called upon to allow our hearts and minds to be formed by the Spirit of truth. I’ve had a song stuck in my head recently, and playing on repeat when I drive the past few months. It’s an eerie and yet hope-filled song about Wisdom, wisdom which flows from God and yet holds so little value in our world. The part of the song goes:
“She (that is wisdom)’s seen empires come and go
Watched the kingdoms children grow
Sparks and embers far from home
Born to shine, and to behold
“‘cause on her chain is a lock and a key
Is the radiance she will see
From the light that’s gonna be
Cast from the sons and daughters free.
“So she waits, she waits….”
Wisdom waits for all who would have her, and we are given the Spirit of truth, so we can have a spirit of wisdom. This Spirit is so desperately need by the church, and in our nation. It is a spirit that is slow to anger, a spirit that is discern, a spirit that does the hard work and asks is this good? Is this true? Is this beautiful? A spirit seeks to be a blessing amidst a world that cares not for such questions.
Let us pray that we would be rich with that wisdom, so that we can be a beacon of hope amidst so much hurt, amidst so much hopelessness, amidst so much anger, and violence. Let us seek to be rich with the wisdom that comes from knowing God.
This morning – our Gospel reading starts with Christ’s strong statement, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” If you are like me, perhaps you reacted a thought like “I love you Jesus but you set the bar so high. Perhaps you thought, “I love you Jesus, but I struggle with trusting you to provide for all my needs.” Perhaps you thought, “I love you Jesus, but I struggle with lust.” Perhaps you thought, “I love you Jesus, but I struggle with loving my enemy.” Perhaps you simply thought, “I love you Jesus, but you set the bar so high…”
Jesus set the bar high, and his commandments are lofty. We live in a time where we look at his commandments and think, “well, that’s too hard, best not even try.” We’ve lost the art of living in holiness, we’ve lost the art in desiring to grow in godliness, and instead of removing the beam from our eye we justify it, and blame others.
Our sin, when we allow it to run free, can become so hideous, so corrupt, that we start to see it as a part of ourselves, we cling to it as though it is our only life raft, that our identity is found it in and not in Christ. But Christ calls us to leave that behind, Christ calls us to cling to Him.
Christ calls us to something better, He calls us to personal holiness. And, we should start at a place of hopelessness, for we cannot do it on our own. The key to understanding the first statement, this idea that if we love Jesus we will obey his commandments – comes when he tells us that the Holy Spirit will teach us all things. The Holy Spirit is the sanctifier, the one who teaches us how to live, how to follow Christ, how to obey his commandments.
The early church loved the Sermon on the Mount, and it was the most quoted part of the New Testament in the first few centuries of the church – the early church saw the standard set by the sermon as being lofty, and yet in one of the earliest documents we have from the Christian church, outside of the New Testament, the writer says “For if you are able to bear the whole yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect. But if you are not able, then do what you can.”
We are called to bear the whole yoke of Christ, but we grow slowly in reflecting His godliness in a dark and dying world. We grow slowly in reflecting his hope, and his joy amidst so much hopelessness and anger. We grow slowly – but we grow because we have the Holy Spirit. We can obey the commandments of Christ, not because we are strong, but because we are weak and He has sent to us the Holy Spirit to strengthen us.
I try to pay attention to the news, simply so that I will not be blindsided by some major event and have no idea what others are talking about. But the spirit of the world is a spirit of turmoil, a spirit of anger, a spirit of sin and the news often invokes those spirits. The spirit of the world is a spirit of darkness. And the spirit of the world is rampant and allowed to roam free in this day.
But the spirit of God is the spirit of peace. We are given the Holy Spirit so that we may dwell in peace, that we may dwell in love for one another, so that when the world is given to turmoil we are given peace. Peace is not ambivalence, but it frees us from thoughtless anger. Peace is not simply warm and fuzzies that ignore the reality of the world, but it is a deep resounding trust that God will see us through every challenge. Peace is not empty words of comfort, but a deep comfort, because we know God. Christ promises us His peace, and he gives it to us in the Holy Spirit, peace that allows us to love well and to be the Hope in a world that is otherwise hopeless.
As we’ve watch so much darkness flood our world – as we’ve watched unprecedented things unfold the last few months – we as the church have an opportunity – not to be superior to the other, not to prove that we are right, and others are wrong, not to take some moral or social victory – but to be hope. To be hope to the oppressed. To be peace to the angry. To be comfort to those mourning loss. To be a place of joy amidst so much darkness.
Today is Whitsunday, more commonly known as Pentecost Sunday. Today, we are reminded that we have been given the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit that allows us to be these things. It has been my prayer that we as a church we grow in being a beacon of hope for Christ in this community, that our hearts would be on fire for the sake of Christ. Today, while cities burn, while people mourn, while the nation feels turmoil – let us pray that we would become that hope. That we would burn, not in anger – but in the love of Christ.
The same document from the early church that I mentioned earlier says this towards the end of it: “As for your prayers and acts of charity and all your actions, do them all just as you find it in the gospel of our Lord. Watch over your life: do not let your lamps go out, and do not be unprepared, but be ready, for you do not know the hour when our Lord is coming. Gather together frequently, seeking the things that benefit your souls, for all the time you have believed will be of no use to you if you are not found perfect in the last time.”
Let us learn and grow – let us seek to be ever in the Holy Spirit, let us pray to ever have the spirit of wisdom and truth that we may be lights of hope and God’s glory in a dark and dying world.
Let us pray:
Send we beseech thee, Almight God, thy Holy Spirit into our hearts, that he may direct and rule us according to thy will, comfort us in all our afflections, defend us from all error, and lead us into all truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the same Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.