As I was away last Sunday I did not have the opportunity to preach but did attend two, yes two church services, over the weekend. Both focused on, rightly so, the Holy Spirit. Who is the Holy Spirit? What does this mean for us in our lives of faith? If you recall Jesus tells the disciples that he is sending them an Advocate which will be with them. This Advocate is the Holy Spirit. I have always believed the Holy Spirit is the guiding force to good.
The Holy Spirit is the one who is going to help us discern what God is calling us to in our lives. This can be in our individual or corporate lives. When a person is excited about being alive and seeing all the possibilities in the world, that is someone who is guided by the Holy Spirit. The same can be said for churches, a lively church we say is filled with the Spirit. But perhaps you have been in a church for worship that just feels dead. Dead to one another. Dead to the world. Dead to the Church. Worship feels lifeless; singing is non-existent and the preaching is boring. Sorry that is how I see it. This is a church that needs to re-commit to the one another, God and the world. What they need is a spring cleaning of their hearts and minds. It is my belief that buildings have auras and when a building has a bad aura, people do not want to enter. Those who do venture in, usually don't stay. They feel the energy is stagnant. This is a church that needs the Holy Spirit to move over them and invite them to a new life in Christ.
Fortunately this is not the case at St. Thomas. We do not allow the Spirit to stay stagnant. We are alive in Christ Jesus, faithful to his Word.
In the World
In the 1960’s situation comedy Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore play Rob and Laura Petrie. Rob is the head writer of The Alan Brady Show which is a weekly variety show. In an episode Rob and Laura are invited to a very exclusive cocktail party of the best and brightest in literature, music and art. They feel hopelessly out of place and their interactions with other guests only affirm their isolation. One guest asked Rob what he did for a living and when he told her she said in a rather sniffy voice, “I don’t own a television machine.”
In our readings today from I Peter and John there is foreboding in the what both are saying. Peter writes about the fiery ordeal that is taking place and Jesus says he is leaving the world but his disciples will remain in the world and the Holy Spirit should protect them after he has returned to the Father. Obviously something is happening in the world to cause both men at different times to utter very similar statements.
In the world. This week in particular I have wished I did not own a television machine. We had the horrific bombing in Manchester whereby the Queen summed it up best by saying it was wicked. It was truly wicked. We have violence in our own country where a reporter is attacked and thrown down to the ground his glasses broken and people call him names. Everything on the news is “breaking news” so we are on a constant state of alert. You may say, Well, Diane, turn off the television. I could but I am worried then it will be the end of the world and I won’t know about it until it is too late.
It is hard to want to remain in the world. It is frightening to remain in the world. Frightening because we do not tolerate difference very well as a society. We want everyone to think like us and those who don’t have something wrong with them. Over and over we are given mixed messages, on the one hand we hear-be yourself and on the other hand we hear be like us and believe like us. It is difficult to know which way to turn.
It is our human condition to never let anyone see us at our weakest. Speak up for yourself. Tell the world they are wrong. And what happens when this is the message people hear all the time? They take upon themselves to right a perceived wrong. They bomb concerts because women and girls should not listen to that kind of music and dress that way. People should not have the freedom to enjoy life. They hit people because they don’t like their questions and they drive down the sidewalk running people over because they want to.
All of these people feel powerless. They are in the world and the world just does not get it. Their world is one in which the strong overpower the weak. Take advantage of the vulnerable and hurt innocents. There was a man who stood silent before his accusers. He refused to answer their questions. He was strong confident in himself and that annoyed the men. They took him away and blindfolded him. Others in the room began taunting him and hitting him. Still the man remained silent, letting the others laugh at him. He was executed the next day. He had not done anything wrong. He was a gentle soul who dared to be different and thought people could live a different way. I would follow this man to the ends of the earth, and I dare say you all would as well. He demonstrated through his life and living like him, we would have the kingdom of heaven on earth.
I believe if we all truly followed him it would be so. It is not an easy way to live. It means watching out for as I Peter says “the roaring lion your adversary the devil who prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith.” The roaring lion is the one who tells us differences are not tolerated. We must all live in accordance to the belief of a group and the weak and the vulnerable are to be objects of ridicule. That is what will make us strong says the devil-watching the weak fall and stumble and then laughing at them.
But we know as people who live in the world that is not the case. It is not the mocking and the ridicule-it is the extending of a hand even when it is your hand that has been bitten. Lizzie Velasquez is one such person. A young woman who has a rare genetic disorder which makes it impossible for her to gain weight. She is blind in one eye and has limited sight in the other. Lizzie rose to fame when she found a youtube video titled “The world’s ugliest woman” only to see herself on the screen. She now speaks out about bullying and shares her story about being bullied all her life for how she looks.
Lizzie could have chosen to not be in the world become a recluse, blamed everyone including God for her disorder but instead, she has chosen to become a bright light on this earth. Her smile is engaging and her love of life infectious. It gives us hope that one day we will see past the physical attributes of a person because as God said to Samuel as he was choosing skinny David people look on the physical appearance, but I look on the heart.
I thank God everyday for people like Lizzie Velasquez as they remind me to look on the heart. It also reminds me there is much good to be had when we live in the world. If each of us withdrew from the world because we don’t want to hear about the bad news or be reminded how we think things have gone off the rails the world would be worse than it already is. God needs people like us to stay in the world. God needs people like us to work for his kingdom on earth. God needs people like us to stand with the man who spit upon and mocked as he went to the cross for us.
As appealing as it is somedays we can’t leave the world-God needs us in it.
"Greetings!" these are the words Jesus speaks to the women as they are walking to Galilee to tell the disciples what they have heard and seen at the tomb. They are walking 68 miles to tell the disciples what they have just seen. It would have taken them some three days to arrive at their destination. Three days seems like such a long time for both groups.
Today, we would be impatient with the journey. But if we think about it as a journey, the women would have time to discuss with one another all they had heard and seen in the past three days. Looking at the story through this lens, the distance is a blessing for the women. It gives them pause to reflect on not only what has happened for themselves but also for the disciples. Did they think about what they had seen and heard still resonate today? Were they so caught up in their own feelings that thinking beyond getting to Galilee was impossible?
But today we still pause and reflect just like the women on this wonderful news. Jesus is alive! Death did not have the last word. We can't stop there though because then Jesus' resurrection would be in vain. What we are to remember about Jesus' resurrection is it is an new beginning for each and everyone of us. We can remind ourselves that death does not have the last word but we also have to act upon that knowledge.
The Easter story is about new life. How is Jesus' resurrection going to be your resurrection?