Chaplain Mel Baars
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
May 27, 2012
“Guided In Truth”
The Pentecosts of my past are some of my favorite church memories. It should be no great surprise that it was the food element rather than the Holy Spirit which propelled me to get dressed extra quickly on those Sunday mornings. For years, my childhood congregation would celebrate Pentecost by hosting a church picnic with a “mile” long ice cream Sunday as the main attraction. Gallons of ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream, and maraschino cherries would be hauled out into the lawn and placed on wax paper on top of at least fifteen folding tables. Ok, so it wasn’t quite a mile, but it was definitely the most ice cream I had ever seen in one place. As long as I didn’t get a position at the table, too close to either of my parents, no one was going to stop me from eating more than my fair share. Dressed in my Pentecostal red, I would salivate through church, with one thing in mind-- the ice cream that would be waiting for me once church was over. Looking back, I realize that sanitation that day was at an all time low. Between the ice cream melting in the Florida sun and the double and triple dipping, we likely received more germs that day than the Holy Spirit.
Some of you are probably relieved to know that Easter is officially over--finally. Jesus is risen so much so that He is now ascended into heaven. Today we celebrate both the coming of the Holy Spirit as well as the birth of the church, hence the need for an ice cream party. Throughout the liturgical world, vestments will be turned from white into red, representing the fiery nature of the Spirit as it descended upon the world in a violent rush.
It is no coincidence that we also happen to share this holy day with our Jewish cousins. For them, the festival of Shavuot is the fiftieth day after the second day of Passover, commemorating both the harvest and God’s giving of the Torah, the commandments to the people of Israel. This “law” was considered an expression of God’s will and a way for the Israelites to be guided in truth, justice, and peace. Similarly, the Holy Spirit is the church’s guide, helping her to act according to God’s will, in ways of truth, justice, and peace. For both Christians and Jews, this is a day of reception. It is the day when we all remember that it is not what we achieve ourselves, but what we are willing to receive which really matters, at least where faithfulness is concerned.
Of course, part of “receiving” is being open. My days as a tee-ball player definitely demonstrate this important principle. I had a terrible problem catching the ball when I first started playing. Every time the ball would come my way I would close my glove and my eyes, too, turning away from the catch. I must have been hoping for a tee ball miracle, that somehow, without any effort on my part, the ball would end up squarely in my glove. I would be responsible for the final out, ensuring our tee ball World Championship. Logic told me, even at five years old, that without my hand- and my eyes- open, I would not be in a position to receive the ball, but my fear of ball as it sailed toward my face always got the better of me. Fear does have a way of thwarting even our best laid plans.
Reading our passages over and over again this week reminded me that whenever the Holy Spirit moves, things get shaken up. Change is unavoidable. In Acts, we have an account of the coming of the Holy Spirit. With the rush of a violent wind, tongues of fire rest on the mouths of the disciples who had gathered together for Shavuot. It is important to remember this next fact. Jews from every nation and every language had traveled to Jerusalem for this holy day. Suddenly, these masses, from every tribe and land, could understand what the disciples were saying. No longer was the gospel limited to the language of Galilee or even to the original group of disciples. From this point forward, through the Holy Spirit, every nation and people would be able to receive this Good News.
Likewise, in John’s gospel, we are told that the Spirit will guide us in all truth. This sounds good, if where the Spirit guides are green pastures and still waters. But, it includes into hostile territory as well, where Jesus says, we will be called upon to testify this message: “that he will prove the world wrong about* sin and righteousness and judgment… 9because the ruler of this world has been condemned (Jn 16:8-11).” Those who have ever testified this kind of news have learned, some even unto death, that the powers of world are not often thrilled to hear it.
What we learn in our readings is, more often than not, the Holy Spirit can be more of a pain than a consolation. After all, it is the Spirit which pushes us beyond our comfort zones. It is the Spirit which drives us to overcome our fears. It is the Spirit which helps us see the right choice, often the harder choice, even when we would rather not face this truth. When we pray for the Holy Spirit, we are not praying for the status quo, for things to stay the same. We are praying that we might be pried open and made new in God’s image. We are praying that we might transcend our complacency and inwardness. We are praying for courage to overcome our tendencies to hide behind what we have always known just because it is easier.
Earlier this week, as a part of our Thursday lunch book club, a group of us discussed the meaning of Truth. Most of us, from whatever place on the theological spectrum we hail, agree that Truth with a capital “T” belongs to God alone. Yet, many are quick to claim unequivocal knowledge of what God’s Truth is. Somehow, they have figured it out perfectly and anyone who comes to a different conclusion is not only mistaken, but on a slippery slope to a very bad place. As if any one of us, any one church or denomination, has that kind of absolute authority. One member of the group told a story of a conversation that recently happened to her. When she shared what she had been reading and praying about in her own faith journey with one of her church friends from home-- about loving her enemies, about tolerance, about how God’s love was bigger and more powerful than human sin, that in the end, no one but God has any say about heaven and hell-- this friend told her that she needed to start praying because she was entering dangerous waters.
But if Pentecost tells us anything, it is that we are supposed to go into dangerous waters. We are supposed to go down paths that are dark, paths that are unknown or uncertain, because only by doing this can we share the Good News with the whole world. Admittedly, it is scary. Dangerous ground always is. But this is what God is calling us to do, to follow in Jesus’ footsteps by loving those who have hurt us and may even hurt us again, by reaching out to those who see God differently than we do, by being open to this truth, that the Holy Spirit is moving and shaping and pulling and stretching us, always, whether we like it or not. What we think we know for sure, may shift and change over time. But this is not because Truth is changing. On the contrary, Truth like God is always steadfast. Instead, it is because we are changing, growing in wisdom and knowledge, through God’s grace and love, transforming into more than we ever thought we could be.
As much as we may face a world that is wrought with peril, pain, and even evil, we never face these things on our own. This is the gift of Pentecost; this is the presence of the Holy Spirit. For as much as we are sent into the world, to preach and pray and love and suffer and share the light of Christ to the very ends of the Earth, we are guided by the Spirit, guided into all the Truth. And that’s Truth with a capital “T.” But, sometimes I wonder if we really believe it because if we did, we would trust that God isn’t going to lead us astray. We would trust that in coming together to pray and to discern where to go next, as a church, and as a people, our choices would not be driven by our fears, but instead they would be inspired by our desire to love and follow God, no matter where that love takes us, no matter who we embrace along the way.
In this season of our lives, we are gathered here, working in the largest US held and operated detention facility in Afghanistan. Some of us deal with detainees. Some of us work with Afghan partners. All of us are briefed daily about the dangers of green on blue attacks, about how we need to be watchful and pay attention because it just might save our lives. It is true. We must be vigilant in our care of one another and ourselves because there are those who want to bring us harm. But, I also wonder if what we gain in this Pentecost is another kind of reminder-- that even here, especially here, we are still guided by the Spirit into all Truth. If we truly believe it, we will have courage to go out in peace, prepared to serve and support and honor all people of every nation and language and tribe. We are sent out into this place to love our neighbors, friend or foe, and everything between. When we follow Jesus, we often find ourselves in dangerous waters. For now, this may cost us our lives. In the end, though, this will also save us. Amen.