The Gift of the Spirit

Sunday, June 28, 2020
Intern Teleen Saunders

John 14: 15-19, 25-27

Every seminary intern must complete a project within their assigned congregation before the end of the year.  I am no exception and so I started thinking about ideas for my own project pretty early on.  I wanted it to be relevant and useful.  I settled on the cheery theme of “Death and Dying.” Now believe me, this has not been the easiest topic for those who have helped me along the way – my lay internship committee, my co-workers, and my own family.  Many of us would rather just avoid the topic all together – which is part of the problem.  When death does come, and it will, our loved ones are often left without any idea of what to do.  Our Gospel reading today hits exactly on this difficult discussion of death and dying.  John chapter 14 is the start of what is called the Farewell Discourse.  It follows Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples and in the next few chapters walks us all the way to the cross.  At this point Jesus knows his own death is imminent and he wants to take care of some unfinished business.  He wants his disciples to know what to do after he dies.  He wants to bring them comfort, and he wants the work he has started, his legacy, to continue even after he is gone.

Jesus is in a very interesting position here.  He knows that death is near, and he has an opportunity to make final preparations.  Let me ask you this, if you were given an envelope with the exact date of your death written inside, would you look?  Would knowing the day of your own death change anything in your life?  Would your relationships change?  Your priorities?  What is your unfinished business?  What is your legacy?  What is your gift to those you love?

These are hard questions.  But it helps me to remember that we have a God who knows exactly what it means to be mortal.  Christ incarnate knows the realities of pain, sin, and death.  But thankfully, the God of the Trinity is not bound or defined by any earthly restrictions.  God is the creator of life, the forgiver of sin, and the resurrection itself.  The power of God cannot be confined to any one time or one place.  God dwells within the Spirit that moves over the face of the earth.  And as John’s Gospel attests, the Spirit of Christ will be with us forever.  It is not given over to the chaos of the world but abides with us and in us.

God loves without condition and has invited us into our Christian calling through the waters of Holy Baptism sealing in the Spirit of Christ forever.  We are not orphans.  God will never abandon us.  With each breath we take the Spirit of Christ holds us, guides us, teaches us, and reminds us that we are loved.  What a gift.

How very Christlike that Jesus, in his final days is not thinking about himself.  He’s not consumed with the mounting threats against him, the politics of Rome, or his status in society.  How very Christlike, that in his final days, Jesus is filled with not with anxious worry, but instead radiates peace. This man is the very peace of the world, and even amidst his own crisis, his thoughts turn to the fallen humanity he so desperately loves and says, “do not let your hearts be troubled.” Augustana, we will never be orphaned. The legacy of Jesus Christ abides in his Spirit so freely given to those he loves.  Let’s just take a moment to breathe in the peace of Christ.  Because Jesus slips in one more line, “And do not let them be afraid, either.”  For if we, the disciples of Jesus who live in his legacy, can’t see the Spirit of Christ in the midst of the world, then who can?

The gift of the Holy Spirit, the comfort, the peace, the guidance is not a gift for us to hold, but a gift for us to share. Because the world still needs Jesus.  And the Spirit of Christ cannot be contained.  It’s not a noun that we can hold in our hand.  The Spirit of Christ is a verb, a movement and not just for a select few.

If the gift of the Spirit resides in us, then it resides in others too.  God invites all people into the Kingdom of the Spirit.  Howard Thurman, one of my favorite theologians, worked to identify and remove any barrier to full human engagement in the Kingdom of God, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or other social markers. He writes, “I draw close to God as I draw close to my fellows,” (Meditations of the Heart, 121), but also that each one of us is “under judgment to make a highway for the Lord in the hearts” of our brothers and sisters (The Creative Encounter, 129-30). That can only be done by loving freely and intentionally.”  Loving Jesus means keeping his commandments.  It means seeing the Spirit of Christ in our neighbors; and not just those who look like us, talk like us, think like us, or maybe even like us.  All means all of our neighbors.

Last week Pastor Aune quoted Matthew’s Gospel and I too want to reiterate and lift up  the connectedness of Christ with humanity. In Chapter 25 Matthew writes,  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

This is the Spirit that Christ pours into the world.  Abiding in the gift of the Spirit means that we as a church continue to keep his commandments.  We are the embodiment of Christ who says to the world, “We will not leave you orphaned. We are coming to you.”  We will stock the food shelves, join hands with congregational partners, pray for justice, embrace those who grieve, speak for those who can’t, cherish the children, protect the earth, and worship our God with praise and song whether we can gather in our building or not.  You see, the gift of the Spirit is bigger than any one of us.  It encompasses the whole church of Jesus Christ.  It unites us today with those first disciples who realized that the gift of the Spirit is ongoing because the work of Jesus Christ is ongoing in a world of suffering and pain. This was how Jesus lived and this was how Jesus died – thinking about others.

Let our gift to the world be what Christ has first given us, the peace and the guidance of the Holy spirit, love without end.  Let us know that the gift of the Holy Spirit is in us.  And let us see the sanctity of the Holy Spirit in others too.  This is the kingdom of God, blowing with the power of the Holy Spirit.  Now and forever.  Amen.

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