Sermon from May 6, 2018

Chosen and Appointed
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
May 6, 2018   Sixth Sunday of Easter
Psalm 98; Acts 10:44-48; John 15:9-17

Pentecost is just two weeks away, when we will hear the story of the first church being born.  The Holy Spirit came upon the followers of Christ like a rush of wind and tongues of fire.  The Spirit filled them with inspiration and the power to do things they never imagined being able to do.

Jesus said that no one could enter the realm of God on earth without the Spirit giving birth to that life and guiding and empowering it.  He said, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:1-8)

This is an extraordinary, life-changing teaching.  Forget all we have been taught that success means.  The thing that matters most is that we allow ourselves to be filled by this wild Holy Spirit, this creative force of love and life and light over which we have absolutely no control and which we cannot predict or even fully understand.  What defines success is opening to it and welcoming it and handing our will and life over to it however it chooses to blow through us.

We surrender our ego to that Spirit and find ourselves being born into another way of being.  Our life may look as unsuccessful as Christ hanging on the cross, or St. Francis walking out of Assisi like a homeless beggar, or Nelson Mandela suffering for 27 years in prison, or any of us sitting in a church pew on a Sunday morning instead of lying in bed eating bonbons.  Our life may seem senseless or pointless by our society’s standards of competitive self-interest, but following where the Spirit leads is success in the realm of God.

On the one hand, that teaching can be such a relief.  We can rest from all our anxious labor and wait with patience for the Spirit to make our next step known.  The Spirit will give our life the highest meaning and purpose it can have, if we learn how to discern its still, small voice and trust it enough to follow where it leads.

On the other hand, we could run in the other direction, because we like worldly success.  We like the idea of being in control of our lives.  We like the comfort of our familiar ways.

We enjoy feeling free, but the freedom we tend to seek is of our own self-will, which is often enslaved by our fear or addiction or desire for approval.  True freedom, the freedom to follow the Spirit, can feel uncomfortable or scary or foolish.

The Book of Acts is full of stories of the Spirit moving those early followers of Christ to do things and go places they would never have expected.

You had to be a Jew and follow the Jewish law in order to be part of the first church, but in today’s passage Peter discovered that the Holy Spirit could choose anyone who opened to it and could even lead a person to break a holy law.

Peter was with those unkosher Gentiles in today’s story because the Holy Spirit made it clear that he should, even though it was scandalous for Peter to associate with Gentiles.  He began to tell them about Jesus, and as he was speaking the Holy Spirit came upon them, too.  Peter shocked the other disciples who had come with him and probably shocked himself by saying, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”  (Acts 10)

It reminds me of the story I told last Sunday from the movie Invictus where Nelson Mandela felt moved to allow his former apartheid oppressors to keep their national rugby team.  His comrades in the African National Congress were shocked and dismayed, but the Spirit of love, forgiveness and reconciliation flowing through Mandela prevailed, and rugby became an instrument of unity that no one could have imagined.

We are dealing with a real, live power, and there is no telling where it is going to lead us next, if we are open to following.

Jesus said in today’s gospel passage, “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.  I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

Do you see what this means?  The Spirit of Christ chooses and appoints us.  It chooses us as individuals, no matter how far we are from being like Christ.  It chooses this church, with all its gifts and with all its flaws.  All we have to do is be open and receptive, and the Spirit will give us fruit to bear and the strength and resources we need to bear it.  We will know it is the fruit of the Spirit because it will be all about love.  Love will be the means as well as the end.

This world needs us.  It needs this church.  It is not about us being special, it is about the movement of the Holy Spirit through all creation blowing where it will, it is about the movement of Christ’s body rising from the tomb and going out into the world to overcome the force of death with the force of life and light, it is about the movement to establish God’s realm on earth.

The Spirit chooses us to play a role in this movement.  It is why we have been given a heart and hand and voice.  What exactly we will rise to do we cannot know, but our Future Directions Study Group will be sharing on Pentecost what the Spirit seemed to be suggesting through our conversations last fall.

How can we be ready when the day comes when we are chosen and appointed to serve some new cause of love?

I see three ways.  First, keep showing up.  The followers of Christ could have fallen apart after Jesus left them, but they kept worshiping and working together so they were all in one place when the Spirit came looking for them.  The Spirit needs something to work with.  It needs you here.

Second, practice, practice, practice.  Jesus has told us what we will be called to do.  Whatever form our calling takes we know it will be all about love—love not as a feeling but as an act of generous-hearted lovingkindness no matter how we feel.

So love one another.  Lay down your life and practice loving especially when you don’t feel like it.  Love your enemies hard.  Love the person you are least comfortable with hard.  Love the person who has hurt you.  Love the stranger.  Practice letting all that you do be done in love. (I Corinthians 16:14)

And third, continue the journey.  The Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness.  It drives us as individuals and as a church on a journey of developmental growth and spiritual transformation so that we may become ever more effective in our works of loving service.

We cannot know where the Spirit will lead this congregation, but we know what Jesus says is in store for us if we follow his way of love.  “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”  Joy is what is waiting ahead, the Easter joy of new life, the Pentecost joy of the Spirit’s fire within us, driving us like a great rushing wind into the future of our dreams, because they are not just our dreams, they are the Spirit’s dreams.

Let us pray in silence inviting the Holy Spirit to move us as it will…

 

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