Year B — Day of Pentecost

Sermon for May 27, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

By the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

A few years ago, USA Today ran a story about the Connie T. Maxwell Home in Greenwood SC in its Life section. 

The article told about how the Baptists of the state had started the home as an orphanage and as times changed had adapted to serving children in any sort of need.

They had an interview with the director, a cheerful but harried woman, who told heart-breaking stories of the children’s lives before they were brought to Connie T. Maxwell. 

The reporter asked how she, and the other staff, cope with such constant stress and pain in others.

The director smiled and said that you had to keep a sense of humor and perspective. She showed the writer a file in her desk where she kept an anonymous collection of cute, poignant or funny things the children had said.

The director said, “Whenever I get over-whelmed, I just open this drawer and read a few of these and I feel better.”

USA Today printed several of the things the kids said. My favorite is this, from a 9 year old boy:
Germs, germs, germs! Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! That’s all I ever hear about around here and I ain’t never seen either one of them.

That young boy sums up a problem that Jesus addresses in John 15: 26-27. 

It is Maundy Thursday and Jesus is in the midst of trying to explain everything to his disciples before he leaves. I’m not so sure they’re getting it, and neither is Jesus. 

He realizes that when he’s gone they’ll be like that little boy; hearing and talking about Jesus without ever seeing him. So Jesus promises an answer, a solution to this “Never Seeing Jesus” problem – the Holy Spirit. 

In our text Jesus talks about a “Counselor” and the “spirit of truth,” but it’s the Holy Spirit he’s talking about.

It is likely that the disciples heard that and looked at each other quizzically and nodded like they understood; but they really didn’t and after he quit talking, they promptly forgot what he said. 

We are all familiar with this; it’s what we all do when our husband or wife or boss or teacher or other significant other tells us things we don’t understand and don’t care enough about to ask for clarification.

So, they kind of forgot about it, and then the crucifixion and the resurrection and the hiding out and then the resurrection appearances of Jesus’ popping in and out of their lives for a few weeks happened and then the ascension, with Jesus’ floating off into heaven happened, and in midst of all that, who could remember a little un-comprehended promise about a counselor; I mean, really?

So, here they were minding their own insignificant little messianic Christian storefront cult business, singing hymns and praying and still hiding out from the authorities when whoosh, Jesus’ promise comes gloriously true.

Noise, wind, fire, voices shouting, movement, out of control religious excitement; of one thing we can be absolutely certain; the first church was definitely NOT Lutheran! 

The church was born in answer to the problem of talking about Jesus without being able to see him.

Germs, germs, germs. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. That’s all I hear about around here and I ain’t never seen either one of them.

Though I understand what that young boy was talking about, I would beg to differ.

He saw Jesus every day in the very existence of that home, built and supported by the church. He saw Jesus every day in the people who bathed, fed, disciplined, taught and loved him. 

The church is the place and the people where and among whom Jesus is not just talked about but is shown to the world. It is not by accident that the New Testament constantly refers to the church as the body of Christ. 

Too often we think of the church in personal terms, in terms of what I’m getting out of it, of “am I being fed,” “are my needs being met,” etc. 

To think that way is to misunderstand the nature of the church. 

The church is mentioned in the third article of the Creed, the part devoted to the Holy Spirit because the church is a work of the Holy Spirit in the world.

Luther’s explanation of this part of the creed says the church is:

“called, gathered, enlightened, made holy and sent”

The Holy Spirit is active in the church calling the world to God. Each of us has been called here by the spirit. we have been gathered together not for convenience; not because talking to a lot of people at once is more efficient than talking one on one or because we need more voices to make the hymns sound better, or the more people we have the better we can pay the pastor. 

No, we are gathered because it is the nature of human beings to need each other, to need to learn with and from each other, to learn to support and care for each other. 

It is in the midst of the gathered community that we become truly holy, not perfect, not ideal, not without problem or moral struggles and flaws, but holy, devoted to God and aware of God’s presence in us and in others and in the world.

And it is as we have been gathered and enlightened and made holy that we realize that we have not been made those things for ourselves and for our own benefit and for our own personal growth, but for the world. We realize that we have been gathered so that we might be sent, sent into a world that needs love, that needs care, that needs compassion, that needs to see Jesus in the midst of the toxic germs of modern life.

In his book Red Letter Christians, Tony Campolo tells of sitting down to dinner in a restaurant in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Seated next to the front window, he looked up from his plate to discover three little boys with their faces pressed against the window, staring at his plate full of food.

The waiter came by and pulled down the shade and said, “Don’t let them bother you, enjoy your meal.” (P. 24)

There is a world just outside these walls that is starving both for food and for what God has to offer them. And the question is: are we going to pull the shade? Or are we going to get up and go deal with them?

Amen and amen.

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