My sermon from the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 26, 2019. The link to the lectionary is here.
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.
The week before last, in the diocesan e-news, Bishop Hughes talked about her response to a question she was asked by a girl preparing for Confirmation. The girl asked what it is that Bishop Hughes expects of us, the people of the Diocese of Newark. Bishop Hughes responded that she expects each of us to “take [our] place as a faithful person in the world and in the church.”
She has a vision for us. “When I picture the diocese, I picture the people of the diocese going all over the community, going out to their work, going into the world, and as they go, they carry God with them…carrying God’s love with them, wherever they happen to be…when we walk into the place, the light of Christ walks in with us…being the change in the world that God wants to make…as people of the diocese walk into situations that seem impossible, that everyone says are impossible… gun violence, hatred, healthcare…except that when people of the diocese walk in with the Holy Spirit whispering in their ears something happens.” There is “a shift in those impossible things into the direction of God’s possibilities.”
I’ve been thinking about her words a lot. I’m a big believer in the power of God’s Holy Spirit working in and through us all of the time, in all places, in all situations. In the sixth months since I arrived (An aside: today we enter into our seventh month in ministry together!), you’ve probably heard me say a time or two, “The Holy Spirit working in and through us.” I almost always dismiss us with the words, “Let us go forth into the world rejoicing in the power of God’s Holy Spirit,” and love to be able to follow those words with a resounding “Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!” God be praised! God be praised! God be praised!
And yet, sometimes, when I listen to or read the news, I let my mind go down the rabbit hole of fear, anxiety and worry about the state of the world. Hopelessness and desperation wriggle their way in. At those times, trust in the Holy Spirit is a little more distant than I’d like. Thinking about the seemingly endless ways we treat each other badly, we seem to forget to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving [our[ neighbor as yourself” or we fail “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being,” it is too easy to forget that the response to both of these promises from the Baptismal Covenant is “I will, with God’s help.” It is too easy to think that it is up to me or you or, even more frighteningly, politicians and government leaders, to heal our broken world. It is far too easy to forget to praise God in my prayers and to stop and listen for what the Holy Spirit would have me know. It is too easy to forget that God is the source of healing and will help us to understand how to be a part.
Bishop Hughes image of the Holy Spirit “whispering” in our ears, helping us to be a part of the change God wants to see in God’s world, makes me smile. I’m remembering those days when my children were little, the days of what can seem like seemingly endless temper tantrums, of ear shattering crying. If I could hold them close and whisper in their ears, more often than not, they would settle down. Their curiosity about what Mama was saying to them in the midst of their tantrum got the better of them. They would stop, they would listen, and, on a good day (and their were so many good days), the tantrum would be over and life would go on a bit more peacefully, often with the child in question doing whatever it was that was expected before the tantrum started or without whatever it was they wanted and could not have.
I have a similar image of us. I imagine us frightened or filled with certitude that our way is the only right way or acting in some other equally human, not-in-the-image-of-God kind of way. Whatever it is that is driving us, it is taking us in the wrong direction, rather than deeper into the heart of God. It takes us in the direction of missteps in our relationships with one another through fractured relationships right on to violence and war. Our fears and our certitude lead us to the places in which God’s dream for God’s world seems to be further and further away. They cause us to forget that Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Imagine how different we would be, how different the world would be, if we nurtured our curiosity about how the Holy Spirit is working and through us, what whispered words we might hear about the right ways to our life, from the seemingly insignificant decisions of our closest relationships to how we treat people we’ve never met and will never know personally. Imagine how different the conversations we would have about accidents of birth such as race and gender/sexual identity, about immigration status and belonging, about all the ways we make distinctions between people that God does not make. Imagine, too, how differently we would approach conversations about money and wealth and our stewardship of the environment and the world’s resources. Imagine how we would be changed, how the world would be changed, if we responded as if with the curiosity of a child?
What would happen to us, to our neighbors, to the world, if we stopped what we were doing long enough to listen to the Advocate, to learn what it is that God wants us to know, to be reminded of God’s dream for God’s world? What would it be like to live without fear, with the peace of God in our hearts, trusting that Jesus continues to give us something other than what we give ourselves and each other?
Imagine if we all lived our lives acknowledging that we carry God’s love with us wherever we go, that Christ’s light shines through us. How much easier it would be to move from thinking “impossible” to “possible,” going from the human fear and all that shapes the current reality of the world, remembering that Jesus’ vision of mercy, justice, compassion, and hope can only take us in one direction: to a deeper experience of God’s grace and life-affirming, life-giving peace.
“Live without fear. Your creator loves you, made you holy, and has always protected you. Follow the good road in peace, and may God’s blessing remain with you always.” May these words, whispered into the ear of St. Clare of Assisi, guide your heart and your mind today and always, bringing to you the peace of Christ that passes all understanding.