Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
May 28, 2023
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
For fifty days, fifty days, the church was living in fear. The last time I preached here was April 16 and my focus of that sermon was the gospel lesson from John. About the first evening after the resurrection and how the congregation gathered behind locked doors because they were scared of what lies on the other side of that door. And even after Jesus appears to the group (minus Thomas) on that first Easter Evening, the church didn't unlock the door the next week. They still gather in fear and despite their fear, Jesus showed up. And I said I think we all are a bit terrified still 2000 years later and reflected a bit on that fear.
Pastor Diane in her last sermon as a mother of 2, preached on the text from Luke known as the road to Emmaus. She talked about how the two disciples were afraid...she focused on that line from Luke's gospel that is just so poignant: "We had hoped." Which just says so much about what the disciples were feeling. they thought Jesus was going to bring about so much change and then he was taken away and now there are reports from the women that he is risen but these two see what the women have said about Jesus as merely gossip. They had hoped. They were scared.
Truth be told, every, single recount of the resurrection by the four gospels, while all a little bit different, talk about the church being afraid in those post-resurrection days. In Matthew 28:8, it is written, "So [the women] left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples." In Mark's gospel, everyone runs from the tomb after the angel tells them the good news of Christ's resurrection and Mark says, they ran away in "terror and amazement” and told nobody about this amazing, good news because they were afraid. I find it odd but also equally intriguing that every gospel talks about the fear associated with the resurrection. I find it fascinating that in almost all the post resurrection accounts, the gospel writers talk not about the disciples being brave and courageous, but instead talks about their fears.
Last week in the Ascension account, you might have noticed that Luke has two different accounts. In the first account found in the gospel of Luke, Luke writes, “and they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” But in the Acts account, written probably 2 years later, Luke writes that the church was stuck starring off into the sky. Two men dressed in white appear and call them out. Quit starring off into the sky wondering when Jesus will come back. Quit staring into the past longing for the good olde days when everything seemed great and wonderful—conflict free. I really think Luke wrote the ending in his gospel thinking that it would inspire his congregation, to do the same thing: Continually praying and blessing God but I think human nature took over and the church went back to dreaming how great things used to be and how nothing will ever compare to those good olde days. Luke adds a little bit of theology in the beginning book of Acts to call the church to task—that the days of living in fear were going to come to an end.
The Easter season, despite all the hope that comes on Easter Sunday, is a scary time of the year: People coming back from the dead, locked doors, running away, longing for the past. I mean, once you get past Easter Sunday with the large crowds and special music, it is easy to fall into a pit of despair. To be honest, I feel like I have been living in a constant state of fear over the last 11 years of ministry. I have this ability to look at any and all situations at church and come up with every possible worse case scenario. When I walk into any meeting, I have already considered every possible scenario that can happen during the course of that meeting. I imagine what each person may or may not say. And when there is a meeting with no agenda, well, I am just about as useful as Windows 95 in 2023. This skill that I have has been a great tool in keeping my ministry pretty much conflict free. I rarely make waves in congregations because I have been really good at keeping the status quo, the status quo. Granted, I might have a sermon that pushes us out of some comfort zone, but that’s about it. For 11 years, I have been afraid of saying something or doing something that might cost me my job, my livelihood, the way I put a roof over my family’s heads and food on our dinner table. For 11 years, I have lived in a post-Easter/pre-Pentecost ministry and I got to say, I am really not proud of that. It is really exhausting living in fear for so long…
And this past month, I think I have been the most scared. Seeing James taken into the NICU at Meritus, hearing he had a possible blockage in his bowels, facing surgery to repair the damage in his colon due to Hirschsprung—I have been very afraid. I remember sitting in the NICU room holding James one afternoon at Hopkins, letting my mind run wild and finally saying to myself, “I am tired of living in fear.” And I was. The first time I went and saw James at the NICU, my wife looks at me and says, “you can do hard things.” I so needed to hear that because that first time driving down to Hopkins and seeing him in his NICU bed was terrifying, but I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t walk away and hide from it. James needed me and I learned something from that experience, the most important step in facing ones fear is to simply show up.
For 50 days, the church gathered in fear. They lived for 50 days with fears of being captured, killed, tortured, embarrassed, mocked, ridiculed. They hid behind closed doors waiting—waiting for something to happen. And one day, 50 days after that first terrifying day, the Holy Spirit showed up. The Spirit showed up and breathed chaos into the room. Luke says in verse 2 a violent wind swept through the whole house. That first Pentecost was filled with chaos yet nowhere in the reading from Acts, does Luke say the church was afraid. And to be clear, Luke has not been very transparent up to point—gladly pointing out when the church is afraid.
In the midst of the chaos, they come outside and begin speaking the good news—speaking in languages they never learned and their message of good news is being heard by people from all corners of the earth: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia—just to name a few. And Peter, who 53 days ago denied ever knowing Jesus or being one of his followers stands up and begins to preach. The church went from hiding behind locked doors to preaching on the street corners the good news of Jesus. The Holy Spirit changed that rag-tag bunch of disciples into apostles—people who were sent out to the world with the message of Good News. The days of living in fear, it seems, were over.
These men and women stood up to some of the most powerful governments and officials of the world. They were fearless in their work despite the fact that this message was going to lead them not to riches and great fame but to their deaths. Acts records numerous times the disciples faced multiple imprisonments and, though Luke rarely records the execution, it is pretty clear that they all would eventually be killed for their message. This all took place, not because of the disciples, but in spite of the disciples. This all took place because the Spirit showed up and entered into the locked doors of the church. All because the Spirit entered the chaos of the early church and gave them the strength to face their fears, to unlock their doors, and enter the world in order to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.
Sitting in that NICU room, holding my son who was hooked to all kinds of monitors, suction, and pumps—scared out of my mind about the future of my son—I remember sitting there and thinking, “I’m tired of being afraid. I am tired of going through life afraid of of the good news. I am tired of avoiding conflict that needs to happen. I am tired of being scared. That if I can face one of my greatest fears of seeing my son so sick, then I can do anything.” If I am going to continue to serve in the ELCA that statistically speaking has been on a decline for the last 50 years, then I am going to go out in the blaze of glory instead of hiding in my office wondering how every, single situation could possibly go wrong. I am tired of hearing about all the mistakes that have been made at Zion over the years instead of the amazing ministry that has taken place. I am tired of being sick and tired. And truthfully, I hope you are at this point too. I am tired of going into meetings where we focus more on our failures rather than our successes. I am tired of preserving a museum of our past instead of living into the wonderful future that God is setting before us. God sent the Holy Spirit to a bunch of uneducated, poor men and women 2000 years ago and they set the world on fire with the good news. We have so many more tools and resources at our disposal than they did back then. We live in an amazing country where religious persecution for Christians is non-existent. The first church was meeting in rented rooms. Look what we have. Look at our upper room. God has indeed blessed us but despite all our blessings, we still act like those disciples on that first Easter Sunday.
If you are sick and tired of feeling this way, of feeling hopeless, then it is time to stop it. We have the Holy Spirit who is ready to lead us, to take us on paths yet untrodden, to destinations unknown. Those early apostles set the world on fire with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and a staff in their hands. Look at what we have at our finger tips. Imagine how we can set the world on fire if we get out of this survival, conflict avoidance mentality and be the church.
There are 5 individuals today who after three years of preparation, discernment, and prayer will affirm their faith first given in baptism. These 5 young women are going to light the world on fire, but church, if you treat these young women as saviors, they are so going to disappoint you. These young women are amazing, hard working, determined, and are certainly filled with the Holy Spirit. One day, I hope one of them will be standing in the place of Mr. Jeff and Mr. Ken teaching confirmation and the Bible to a whole new generation of believers. I hope one day one or more of these young women will kneel on that step and have a stole placed over their shoulders and become a pastor in Christ’s church. I know these young women are going to light the world on fire but they are not Jesus. They are not our savior. Nobody in this church is our savior other Jesus and to make anyone else the savior other than Jesus is heresy. We gotta Stop saying things like, “such and such saved Zion.” We need to see that each and everyone one of us are important to the body of Christ. The ministry we do here at Zion cannot hang on mere mortals like me and you. We are merely caretakers of this ministry God has blessed us here at Zion. The only person who has saved Zion is Jesus. The Holy Spirit has equipped each of us with certain gifts. This community of faith is made up of variety of gifts and the Holy Spirit has brought us all together so that each of our gifts might be used in our missions work. These women will make mistakes just like we all do. They will disappoint us just like we all have disappointed one another at some point, but the thing about the Holy Spirit is that despite our mistakes and disappointments, God does amazing things. Eliana, Ali, Amber, Sophie and Savannah your job is to not save the world or the church. People of God your job today is not save the world or the church. We got a savior and he is pretty darn good at that job. Your job, your holy task is to take to the world this message of hope and love, and salvation. The Holy Spirit is here, has always been here, and will continue to lead and guide God’s holy church here on earth until the end of time. The Holy Spirit is with you so, take to the world the promise of life and abundance. Your task is to leave here sick and tired of feeling hopeless and instead—To be the hope, to bring the hope that this world so longs to hear. (END) Amen. Come, Holy Spirt (and light us up).
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.