John 15:26 - 27, 16:4b-15
Please join me in a moment of silent reflection on the scriptures we have read and the hope they proclaim... Amen.
Have you ever hoped for something so strongly that it seemed like there were no options left if that hope remained unanswered? Have you ever wanted something so terribly that it felt like nothing else mattered? Have you ever had the experience of waiting, expecting, and longing for something that turned out so entirely different from your hopes that it changed the way you understood who you are, who God is, and what the relationship between you and your Creator is truly about?
If you have, then you have had a Pentecost moment. If you have not, then I would suggest that you either have not lived long enough, or it happened in a way that you either didn’t understand or aren’t willing to admit. I don’t say that to condemn anyone. I say that as a person whose hope rests in a God who is active and present and always in our midst.
Or perhaps we are always in the midst of God. God is the ground of all being. God is, and because God is - we are!
Today we celebrate Pentecost as a time to remember the birth of the church - a time when God’s Holy Spirit blew in and through a certain people to declare the truth about sin, and righteousness, and judgement! And the truth we know - Jesus Christ offers forgiveness. Righteousness we proclaim - through Christ we become one with God. Through Christ we become aware that the creation reflects and enacts the will of the Creator - and that includes us. For through Christ we are convicted in the judgement of all who oppose God, and we are set apart to demonstrate a way to live in concert with the source of life itself.
That is the reality of Pentecost. That is the hope we live in and long for. Salvation from self-deceit and the invitation to participate in the will of God - that is the new reality ushered in by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. That is not - I imagine - what the disciples hoped for. The disciples gathered because they were told to - awaiting this Advocate, who or whatever that was supposed to be. The disciples locked the doors because they were afraid, and their fears were answered by a rush of wind and visions of fire.
The disciples fears were not answered by establishing committees and setting up criteria for membership. The disciples fears were not answered by demonstrating denominational identity to set them apart from the Medes and the Parthians. The disciples fears were not answered by the recommendation to stay put and effectively manage their resources. Their fears were answered with a kick in the pants that through them out into the midst of the very people they were trying to keep out!
This was not - I do not believe - what they were hoping for! Obviously this raises the opportunity for us to think about our own hopes and fears. We are in a time of transition (when is anyone not?), where we are in need of new leadership for our choir. We are a small congregation with a deficit budget. We are beset by denominational issues. We are of an age that makes it seem impossible to bridge a generation gap that we have been peering down into and turning from in denial since before I was born. [For the record, I just turned 42.] Our culture is becoming more and more polarized in ideology and economics, and our country is still at war on multiple fronts with enemies that are both real and ideal.
With that in mind, it is important to note that tomorrow is a day set aside in our country to remember the sacrifices of those who have fought in wars past and present. It is a day to give thanks to God for the freedoms we hold dear. It is not a day to worship the honored dead or mourn solemnly - though many will do just that. Tomorrow is instead a day to remember that those who have fought - whether we think the wars and campaigns just or not - fought because they hoped that fighting will one day cease.
And so today, and tomorrow, and every day we have been given, is given to us that we may hope for something even better than the gift of the very day in which we live. For in the words of the Apostle Paul:
In hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.Hope is one of the most powerful forces in the universe, seconded by faith and only out shined by love (again according to Paul). Hope is so strong that it was threatening to Nietzsche and inspiring to Einstein. Without hope, we loose our patience, and we turn inward to try to answer for ourselves the need that only God can provide for. The need for hope is expressed constantly throughout history in art and media, and it continues to be expressed today.
In the recent film based on the best selling teenage novel, The Hunger Games, there is a scene in which the President speaks about hope to defend his position for the rules of the game. The story is set in a post-apocalyptic land that once was the United States of America. All that is left is a collection of colonies, each supporting The Capitol with different commodities. Each colony is in return given resources for an impoverished survival - and nothing more.
In the formative days of this new land there was an uprising - and the thirteenth colony was destroyed. As a reminder of their superiority, the Capitol holds annual arena style games in which teen-age tributes from each colony are selected to fight to the death. The winner gets a life of luxury filled with remorse and shame while her or his friends and loved ones continue to suffer around them.
In the film, President Snow justifies his position to the chief Game Maker - the one who coordinates the games - telling him that the winner of the games gives the colonists something to hope for, because “hope is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective, a lot of hope is dangerous.”
A little hope is effective - it keeps you from dreaming too big. A lot of hope is dangerous - it can lead to things that are beyond your control. And that begs the question - what do we hope for, and what is within our control? Well - ultimately - nothing is entirely within our control.
We a not in in control - even though we live in a world we think we can manage. We a not in in control - even though we live in a world where a minority of the population use the majority of its resources, which are produced by the majority of its population. We a not in in control - even though we command the most technically advanced and well funded military on the planet. Ultimately, we are not in control.
But thanks be to God that we have an Advocate! Thanks be to God that we have hope that the new reality we are moving toward does not look like the one we live in now or even like the one we remember from days gone by! Thanks be to God that we do not have a clear and particular vision of what that new reality looks like; for we would surely manipulate that vision into something that pleases us more than it pleases God.
Thanks be to God that we have been called together as a particular people who feel the rush of God’s Spirit in every breath we take. Thanks be to God that our tongues and our hearts may burn with Pentecostal fire that spreads light into darkened places when we reach out to others in the simple act of loving as we have been loved.
Even more than all of these, we say thanks be to God that even when we accept smaller, more palatable portions of hope there is yet a banquet prepared for us where every bite is filled with more grace and mercy than we could ever consume. It is here, at the table of Christ, that our hopes are met with the reality of forgiveness. It is here, at the table of Christ, that we become the righteousness of God - living as one with the Creator, an expression of the very love that forms and sustains us. It is here, at the table of Christ, that we stand redeemed and released from self deceit and the limitations of doubt.
We do not know what tomorrow holds - but we do know who holds tomorrow. Not only that, we know that God will use our hands - no matter how young or old, no matter how strong or tired - to hold it with. Like the first disciples we are waiting for an Advocate to testify on behalf of Christ. Like the first disciples we have also been told to testify. When the Spirit of Truth came to the disciples they became what they were waiting on - and they became Advocates for those they previously kept out, for the disciples had been afraid.
Their fears, just like ours, were real. Yet perfect love casts out fear, and the Spirit of truth pushed the disciples out into the world to proclaim the love and hope and redemption they had received through Jesus Christ. Even though it terrifies me sometimes - it is my hope that the Spirit of Truth will do the same to me and to you in ways that are beyond our ability to foresee and control, and to God be the glory - now and always! Amen.