When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Now let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Savior & Redeemer.
About a year after I was ordained I went to my first Ordination as a clergy person. As we were sitting there up front in the pews the person who was preaching came up to the pulpit and said: “Sisters and brothers in Christ, I am afraid I must tell you that, if you stay in the ministry long, the Holy Spirit will lead you somewhere you do not wish to go. If you wanted to go there, the Holy Spirit would not be necessary.”
Now the clergy were leaning back and forth saying “you got that right,” while I looked back and some of the other people in the church were looking horrified.
When I read our Gospel text with Jesus and the disciples I wonder if they didn’t feel the way some of those lay people in the pews were feeling. Go where we don’t want to go…what does that mean?
Well, it means that if you’ve ever said something or done something that feels a little uncomfortable and you’ve said to yourself…where did that come from or how did I get here? Then it’s probably the Holy Spirit at work in your lives.
In our Gospel Jesus was talking to a confused and frightened group of followers. They had left all to get on the gospel train. And now it appeared the train has gone off the track. What was going to happen to them now that Jesus was no more? Jesus’ words of Peace and Spirit were a promise that when he was really gone, God would still be with them.
And that is exactly what happens in our text from Acts. The disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit, preach to people from all over the known world in their own language, and are accused of being drunk early in the morning. How’s that for your first encounter with the Holy Spirit?
This passage in Acts reminds us of how the Church began and what we are to do…and that is expand the Kingdom God by introducing people to Jesus. The stories of Jesus were not just for his immediate followers, it was for all people and the immediate followers were going to be the ones to spread that message of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
Acts, and the rest of the NT actually, is a constant reminder that God’s love was meant to be INCLUSIVE and not EXCLUSIVE. We live in such a divisive world where we only see Rep/Dem; White/another Race; Christian/another Religion; Male/Female; Pro Life/Pro Choice; For Immigration/Against Immigration; Supportive of LGBTQIA+/not supportive of their rights…and on and on.
I have only listed a few but we could go on for another 30 mins at least naming all the differences we use to separate ourselves from one another into exclusive groups. But God, through the teachings of Jesus, tells us a different story of a different way to act. To love one another…that’s how we should act.
Now I’m not saying that love will make all the arguments go away, but we can at least be civil with one another. We can look at one another through the lens of love and respect that Jesus had in all his encounters. He didn’t get along with the religious leaders of his day, because he called them out on not caring for his flock and they got mad. They said things and Jesus didn’t get mad back, except the table flipping moment, but he still loved them and didn’t give up on them…so we shouldn’t give up on people we don’t agree with either. And without the Holy Spirit we are all set up for disaster.
The Church is most faithful when it reaches beyond its comfort zone and hears and welcomes challenging voices. It is most effective when it finds new ways to address the hurts and struggles which we all share. Just as a lake needs a regular infusion of fresh water, so the church needs new voices. Both grow stagnant without a renewing flow. Unfamiliar voices are the lifeblood of the Church, keeping it in touch with the world for which Christ died. We are God’s gifts and others are God’s gift too, pushing us to see how Pentecost was not a one-and-done phenomenon, but the template for how a Spirit led community looks when Christ is alive in it.
And we have some of those new voices joining GSLC this weekend. New people with new voices to help us move forward into our community, and the world, in a new way. As I said last week, we all have God-given gifts and together we can grow and learn and reach out to a hurting world.
The Holy Spirit puts constant pressure upon the church, causing the church never to be content in being the stable but rather keeping the church in motion, always reaching out, always on the move with the good news for all.
One question I ask people a lot is what makes the Church different than a country club? IF our universal truth is to love one another, then the answer should be the Church is INCLUSIVE and a country club is EXCLUSIVE.
If we say all are welcome, then all should be welcoming! In the Church it shouldn’t matter what color you are, what sex you are, who is your partner, how much money you make, how much time you have to volunteer…what should matter is that you are seen and treated as a Child of God! And for that to happen, with Jesus not among us anymore, is a whole lot of guidance and inspiration by the Holy Spirit.
And here we sit, in our room, waiting—for God knows what. And the question is—are we satisfied with the way things are? In our lives, in our world, in our church? If so, the Holy Spirit is very likely to leave us alone. We can safely read the lessons, and say a few kind words about spirituality, and be safe for another year. But, if we are aching and yearning for something more; if we look upon our lives, and upon our world, and upon our church with a combination of fear and hope—fearing that things won’t get better and hoping in our heart of hearts that they will; then we had best watch out. It is entirely likely that the Holy Spirit will soon burst upon us, leading us somewhere we did not know we wanted to go.