Monday, May 13, 2013

Pentecost Empowered for Kingdom Living. A Homily for May 19, Pentecost Sunday, from JOHN 14:15-16, 23B-26

Pentecost Sunday
Homily for 5.19.13
John 14:15-16, 23B-26 
Year C

Today is Pentecost Sunday! Today we celebrate the reality of GOD’s holy presence in the here and now, both in the world and in the church. And, perhaps now, in this present moment, more than in many years, we need to recognize this, the reality of the ever-present-Almighty, who is the third member of the Trinity. 

I say this because we live in the time of clashing and convulsing civilizations. These clashes have always occurred to be sure, but now with mass communication and sophisticated armaments, we are all of us certainly in more danger. This old world is falling apart. The old world that most of us knew is at war with itself, by which I mean the world, in its heart of hearts, struggles with the forces of good against the forces of evil. Of course, by this definition the world has always has been at war with itself. But, something is also different this time. 

In general, one way to describe this conflict is the way St. James defines it:
1 Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? 2 You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. 3 You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 Adulterers! Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:1-4)
In fact, earlier in the letter James tells us the heart-root of this conflict:
14 ...Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15)
That is, James would have us know that what the world is experiencing is a spiritual crisis. The world struggles between a living faith in the God who is there and who is not silent, and the absolute rejection of this God, even while using God’s name. And, the consequences of this struggle are clear -- either a civilization of God’s love and truth, based upon life and the heeding of the community’s responsibility toward each person will win out, or a tyranny of hate and oppression, including a hated of God and his church will win out.

In today’s pericope, the Lord Jesus himself, still speaking from the Upper Room, offers his disciples the ultimate response to this world at war with itself. And, it is a response as timely today as when it was first given, perhaps even more so. For here, Jesus promises the Advocate and the Comforter, who is the Holy Spirit.

First, notice Jesus tells us through today’s text:
“he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.”  
How precious is this promise! 

Elsewhere, when Jesus tells the disciples,
 “I will not leave you as orphans”
“I am with you always, even to the end of the age”
the constant presence of the Advocate, at least in part, is what he means.

But, here we have more than a promise of comfort, as important as this is. Here we also have the promise of the Holy Spirit's power for his discipleship community, for there is no other way for the church to face the watching world or to exhibit the reality of the Kingdom that is both present and coming, other than the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, both individually and as a community. Said differently, we cannot do the Kingdom work to which we are called apart from the Holy Spirit’s initiative, empowerment and leadership.

The reality of the Spirit’s present-ness might have seemed for a time as inconsequential, especially when the church found itself, through Christendom, to be the majority world-view. But not now, now that the culture has shifted away from all institutions, especially Christendom. Now the reality of the Holy Spirit finds a true importance, therefore, within these moments of both defense and desperation. 

We are called upon by the Lord to defend the reality of his Kingdom and Kingship by living out loud, now, what may be termed the practices taught to us by the King for the Kingdom. I have outlined these practices so many times that it almost seems unnecessary to repeat them, but I will do so, if only for my own peace of mind.

The Kingdom exhibition-as-defense of which I speak comes under the two primary headings, that of sacrificial love and reconciling forgiveness. Elsewhere we have defined these praxises by saying:

Sacrificial Love -- the daily practice of loving the other in community -- the ones like us and the ones not like us -- with a love beyond the selfish confines of the sinful heart’s self-interest and false-self.  
Reconciling Forgiveness -- the daily absorption, without retaliation, of the hurts and hates of a world at war with itself, and a world decidedly against any obedience to the King of Kings, who is Jesus, the LORD.

But, how does the Spirit’s present-ness work out in our present reality? How does the present-ness of the Advocate and Comforter bring direction for us when we are under this intense pressure from the culture to succumb to the temptation to the self-life, the ongoing temptation to live only for our own survival? For, such are the times where the church now find herself.

Please be sure that I am not here attempting to defend Western civilization, per se, although a case could be made -- and has been made -- that Christianity gave rise to Western culture at least along side the advent of the Enlightenment.

Instead, what I am saying is that the Church, now so ridiculed and marginalized in the West, once offered her culture the approach to the soul, an understanding that the world is more than what we measure from a telescope and a test tube. But, the culture, for many reasons -- not the least of which was the complicity of the church herself -- finally shifted away from the revealed reality of GOD’s presence, rejecting it for both sense and sensual reality.

With this loss of place in the culture -- through both ridicule and discounted avoidance -- the church sought to make the message of the King more palatable to the watching-world. We sought to market the King -- saying Jesus not only saves, he sells -- which meant we eventually and tragically knocked the sharp edges off the Gospel. That is, we became desperate, but for what? We desperately wanted cultural acceptance?

This desperation can actually be shown in our understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit. As New Testament scholar N.T. Wright reminds us, the coming of the Holy Spirit is not so that the disciples could experience some cool form of spiritual enlightenment, as so many wish.  No, the Holy Spirit became present, sent by the Father and the Son and given to desperate disciples, in order to offer these followers of Jesus the power to live out the King’s life before the tempting pressures of the watching world. 

"I send you as sheep among wolves," Jesus said, knowing the only hope the disciples would have would be the ongoing power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Knowing, too, that this pressure on the church to knee-buckle before the onslaught of the watching world’s playthings and competing world views would lead, to at best ostracism and at worst, martyrdom. But, was this present generation ready for the temptation put to us? We were not. We were not ready to withstand the onslaught. Which leads us to the primary question for us this Pentecost Sunday: How then do we withstand the temptation and onslaught of these rival world-views?

The text gives us the answer to this question, at least in part. And, as we would suppose, the answer is found in the ministry of the Advocate and Comforter:
“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”
That is, the Advocate will remind and teach us of all that Jesus said and did. The Advocate’s reminding and teaching ministry will open to the church a clear understanding of Jesus’ words and works, an understanding that displays both the ways to practice his new humanity and the way to engage in his war against evil and greed and hate and violence, which are the weapons used by the world to wage war.

Just before today's text Jesus also says this to the disciples:
11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. 12 Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it. (John 14:11-14)
Now, I must be very careful here, but I want us to think about what Jesus means for his disciples to understand about the coming of the Holy Spirit and these greater works to which he alludes, and how these greater works might impact our present moment of crisis. I will list five thoughts for you to think-through, and with these as a meditation, we will close today's homily:
  1. Clearly, the Christ’s victory through the cross and the resurrection, and with his coronation as King through the Ascension, Jesus is now present to all believers and to the world in a way he never could be when he walked the earth.
  2. With the coming of the promised Holy Spirit, who is Advocate, Comforter and the Spirit of the living Christ we are indwelt and empowered as Christ’s discipleship community. “The Spirit will dwell in you,” promised Jesus.
  3. The Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son to be with the church and to indwell the church, enables her to become the living and true human community of the King, which is experienced as power, both power to live the life of the Kingdom and power to do greater works of the King.
  4. These works are done not for the selfish aggrandizement of the church -- either its leaders or stewards, but rather they are given as a sign of the defeat of the powers of darkness and to display the coming promised renewed life and the final and complete victory of the King. “As the Father sent me, so send I you,” says Jesus
  5. Finally, as the warfare between the King of the World and the powers of darkness increase and becomes more and more extreme and more and more hostile, and as the challenge to be the church becomes more and more difficult, we should expect the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Comforter, to empower the church to see miraculous like we never would have expected.

JOHN 14:15-16, 23B-26
Jesus said to his disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.

“Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Those who do not love me do not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me.

“I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”