Sermon from May 20, 2018, Pentecost

Declaring the Things That Are to Come
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
May 20, 2018   Pentecost
Psalm 104; Acts 2:1-17, 40-47; John 16:13

Professor Carlos Baker was my advisor in college.  He was a New Englander and graduate of Dartmouth with a Robert Frost kind of feeling to him.  Carlos Baker was best known as the man Ernest Hemingway chose to be his authorized biographer.  His course on Hemingway was always packed with students.  One day he was lecturing in the largest old gothic hall, when suddenly a two-story tall, leaded glass window blasted open in a violent gust of wind.

We jumped in our seats, and the vast curtain wafted far out over our heads and then drifted down again.  The wind died as quickly as it rose.  Baker stopped his lecture, leaned close to the microphone and said in an eerie whisper, “The Spirit of Ernest is among us.”

We laughed, but it was nervous laughter, because it really did feel as if the Spirit of Ernest was with us.  We felt a living connection to Hemingway that Carlos Baker gave us through his dramatic reaction to the wind, and through his ordained link to the man and his writing.  Plus the huge curtain floating like a bullfighter’s cape felt true to what the Spirit of Ernest might do.

What if I were to whisper to you now on this Day of Pentecost, “The Holy Spirit is among us.”  Would you believe me?  Would it matter if it was true?

The followers of Christ had an easy time believing that the Holy Spirit was among them that Day of Pentecost.  The Spirit came with a rush of wind blowing open the windows and with tongues of fire.  They spoke in languages they did not know, praising the power of God so loudly that people out on the crowded Jerusalem street could hear what they were saying.  They were drunk with the Holy Spirit, there was no mistaking it.

Then Peter felt inspired to stand up and preach.  He quoted the Prophet Joel saying, “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

As Jesus said in today’s lesson from John, “When the Spirit of truth comes, it will guide you into all the truth…and it will declare to you the things that are to come.”

We know the Holy Spirit by its fruits—gifts like truth and vision, declaring the things that are to come.

There are other fruits as well, described in the last portion of today’s reading.  “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Spirit added to their number.”

Just from this one short paragraph we know many things about the Holy Spirit.  We know it brings diverse people together as one.  It helps us see that the gifts God gives us are meant not for us alone, but to enable us to serve others who are in need.  The Holy Spirit is a force available in every moment, not just a couple of hours Sunday morning.  The Holy Spirit moves us to eat and drink together with glad and generous hearts.  The Holy Spirit moves us to praise God.  It makes us such good neighbors that we earn the goodwill of our community.  The Holy Spirit promotes growth in Christ-like love—the surest sign that it is the Holy Spirit at work.

Vision, joy, growth, love—the presence of these among us would tell you that I was right when I said the Holy Spirit was here.  They would also show why it would matter.

If the Spirit of Ernest Hemingway were among us, it might make a difference.  Our sentences might get stark and run on, our tone, dry, sardonic, our observations hard edged, our claims about the moral universe absolute.  We might drink more, fight more.  We would write best sellers.  That would be good.  But would it really matter?

Hemingway wrote a short story, “A Clean, Well Lighted Place.”  The most famous passage in it features the word nada, which is the Spanish word for nothing.  A character in the story says to himself, “Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada…”

Hemingway writes, “It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that, and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order.”

When the Spirit of Ernest is with us, in the whole vast universe of nothingness he gives us only a clean, well-lighted place to comfort our existential loneliness as we wait to die.

But when the Holy Spirit is among us, new worlds are born out of nada, ex nihil.  In Genesis the Holy Spirit moves over the waters and matter rises out of the formless void.  Psalm 104 says, “When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.”

The book of Acts shows that when the Holy Spirit is within us, we find our voice, and it turns out to be the voice of Christ speaking through us in ways that touch people’s hearts, giving them not just a clean, well-lighted place but also a vision of the world transformed into God’s realm of light and peace and lovingkindness and well-being for all.  The Holy Spirit’s presence matters more than anything else on earth.  It is what makes everything on earth matter!  It gives ultimate meaning and a sense of direction and empowers us to fulfill the vision it gives.

Last fall the Holy Spirit spoke through this congregation as we talked about what we have appreciated most in this church and what we dream the church will do, be or become.  It is not a Spirit of few words—we generated twenty-six single spaced pages of comments through a questionnaire and several small group gatherings.

Danette Harris, John Hawkins and I have been serving as the Future Directions Study Group of the Church Council to try to summarize all those comments in statements of appreciations and dreams.

Now we are asking you to read through the statements and let us know if we have heard the Spirit correctly in your opinion.  Do these statements reflect your sense of this congregation?  Instructions on the Parish Hall wall will tell you how you can respond.

We hope that out of these many words we will be able to craft one concise and cohesive statement that will be the Spirit’s voice, declaring the things that are to come, giving us a sense of direction for the next chapter of this congregation’s life.

We are part of the movement of the Holy Spirit flowing through history.  That movement has left its trace in all times and places.  We can know it is the Holy Spirit at work, and we can know it matters more than anything else, because we can see what it has done before.

We can see how it has moved through the saints of this congregation.  No one is perfect, but we all can show signs of the Spirit.  Think of John Hemenway whose life we will honor at 1:30 this afternoon on the common for all he did for the love of God’s creation.  Think of all that the Coffins did, and Nancy Gerlach and Frances Wilson and Olive Lewis, and pastors like Mary Thompson, Regina Harding and Dana Douglass.

We can see how the Spirit has led the church historically to provide leadership for environmental issues and justice and peace.  We can see how the Holy Spirit has made this sanctuary a beloved home and this congregation a beloved family.

The hymn “Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness” tells the history of the Holy Spirit in four short verses.  The hymn feels long, but compared to the life of the Spirit since the dawn of time, it is short.  Its first verse talks about the creation of the world.  The second verse talks about Moses and the children of Israel in the wilderness, and the ancient prophets.  The third verse sees the Holy Spirit at work in Christ’s life, and at Pentecost.

The last verse brings us up to this moment, when the Holy Spirit is coming from tomorrow, bringing a new day.  It says,

Our women see visions, our men clear their eyes,
With bold new decisions your people arise.

The Holy Spirit is still declaring the things that are to come and helping us fulfill them.  If we listen we may hear what bold new decisions it is asking us to make as individuals and as a church.

Let us pray a listening prayer, listening for the Spirit within the silence…

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