Sunday, May 27, 2012

Where Would We Be...

Sermon for Pentecost, based on Acts 2:1-21Romans 8:22-27, and John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Where would we be without words? Language is such an innate part of human culture. All over the world, all throughout time, people have used language to communicate with one another. Many societies have had a written language, but all have a spoken language. There are even sign languages for the deaf and Braille for the blind. Without language we would be lost.

Have you ever traveled to a foreign country where the predominate language is not your own? It can be very disorienting and confusing when you cannot read all the signs, the menus, or even ask simple questions. Thankfully we have translation dictionaries, (such as English to Spanish), and also translation software to help us bridge the gap between two languages.

There is something else that enables communication by bridging gaps, and that is the Holy Spirit. Think of the Holy Spirit as a kind of God to Human translation being. The Holy Spirit enables communication with other people and with God by means of bridging gaps and also by illuminating the truth.

I’ll start with how the  Holy Spirit helps to bridge gaps in communication. One example of this is in our lesson today from Acts, where the  Holy Spirit enables communication with other people that would normally be difficult. The disciples were Galileans, yet people from other parts of the world could understand what the disciples were saying. The disciples were not having a casual conversation; the text tells us that they were “speaking about God’s deeds of power.” The disciples were sharing their testimony about Jesus Christ and the  Holy Spirit  made it easier to do so.

The  Holy Spirit  isn't just about translation, but the  Holy Spirit  also suggests the right words to say. In Luke 12:11-12 Jesus told his disciples: “When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say;for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.’” The  Holy Spirit  will teach you what to say. Jesus knew that his disciples would face criticism and persecution when he sent them out into the world to share the good news. Jesus also knew that with the  Holy Spirit ’s power, the disciples would find the right words to say at the right time.

The  Holy Spirit  also enables communication with God. We see this power evident when we pray. The  Holy Spirit  prods us in the right direction about what to pray for and how to feel. The  Holy Spirit  comforts and consoles in times of trouble, encourages us when we need support, admonishes and corrects us when we have erred, humbles us when we are self-absorbed, and all in all puts us in the right frame of mind.

Sometimes we are at a lost for words. Things are so overwhelming, either in a negative or positive way, and we cannot find the right words for prayer. Paul writes that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26) The  Holy Spirit  “intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” For all the good that words and language do in communication, there are times when words fail. There are times when we cannot even begin to say all that we need to say to God. There are times when we are even unaware of all that we need to say.  And in those times, we have the  Holy Spirit . A sigh can express what cannot be put into words.

The  Holy Spirit  can reach those truths that are too complicated or too painful to put into words, because the  Holy Spirit  is the Spirit of truth.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Jesus' Prayer

Sermon based on Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 and John 17:6-19
May 20, 2012

Our gospel lesson today is a bit different from usual. It  is neither a story from Jesus’ life nor is it one of his teachings. There is no miracle,  no parable or sermon, no explanation of a previous teaching or prophesy about the future. Today's reading is simply a prayer. Jesus is praying to God on behalf of his disciples. This takes place right before Jesus goes to the garden and is betrayed by Judas.

In his prayer, Jesus asks God to protect his disciples. Jesus knows that he will be leaving soon and he wants to make sure that his disciples will be protected. Jesus also prays that God would make his disciples one just as he and the Father are one. 

Jesus did not pray that things would be easy for the disciples, he did not pray that the disciples would all live to an old age, and he did not pray to God to take the disciples out of the world. Instead, Jesus wanted the disciples to stay in the world so that they might go out into the world and spread the good news. Jesus prays for protection for his disciples,that they might be able to live into their mission and teach and baptize others.

Jesus knew that he was about to leave his earthly ministry and return back to God. Very soon, Jesus would be crucified and then  resurrected. Although Jesus would be resurrected, Jesus would ascend to heaven and would no longer be present in the same way that he had been before. Jesus returned to the Father.

After the Ascension, the disciples now have to make decisions that they didn't have to before. Jesus used to call all the shots. Jesus decided who was a part of the 12 inner circle of disciples. Our Acts lesson today tells the quandary that the disciples find themselves in after the ascension. They are now only a group of 11. Judas betrayed Jesus and then killed himself. Jesus did not replace Judas with someone else, and the disciples wanted to complete the symbolic 12. There were many disciples or followers of Christ, Acts tells us that there were about 120 believers present on this one occasion. But the 11 wanted the inner circle to be 12 again. 

The requirement for a new apostle was that they had been a follower of Jesus and  also present from the day of his baptism by John until the ascension.  Two men were nominated that fulfilled that requirement, and then they cast lots and Matthias was chosen to be the 12th apostle.

Matthias was never mentioned again in the book of Acts. He might have had a powerful ministry and spread the gospel far and wide, but we do not know. The person that we know of who really lived into being an apostle was not the one that the 11 chose but one that the Holy Spirit chose: Paul. God chose Paul to be an apostle

This choice of Paul teaches us several things. First of all, it shows that God was still at work in the world. Even though the apostles were making important decisions about the direction the early church would go in, God was making some decisions and choices apart from what the apostles were doing. Jesus may have ascended to be with the Father, but Jesus was still issuing invitations to follow him.

Secondly, this choice of Paul shows that God works with different standards than our own. Paul did not fit the disciples' requirements for a new apostle. First of all, he wasn't even a believer at the time that they were choosing a 12th.  He was not present for any of Jesus' earthly ministry. Paul became a believer only after having a post-resurrection experience of the risen Christ. Yet, Paul was chosen by God to be an apostle.

Thirdly, God's choice of Paul shows us that God works to include and bring together. The disciples wanted to unify and strengthen the core group of the 12, and that was fine. However, the 12 were not the most diverse group. They did come from different backgrounds, such as fishermen and tax-collector, but they were still all Jewish men. Paul was also a Jewish man, but he also had a foot in the Hellenistic world. Paul was a Roman citizen, and focused much of his ministry on  converting Gentiles. The direction towards including non-Jews as followers of Christ started during Jesus’ own ministry, but it really took off during Paul’s ministry.

Jesus prayed that his disciples might be one. What does Jesus mean by this oneness? The disciples went to different places and founded various churches. And today, with all of our denominations and divisions it seems fairly obvious that we are not one.