"Whom the Father will send"-Sermon for Pentecost Sunday. John 14:8-17, 25-27:
So, for those who ever read one of my sermons online, you might have noted that I name my sermons using a few words from the scripture reading that I am preaching on…but if I named my sermon today based on the content of what I hope to share, I might call it the “Tale of Two Windows”. And, the two windows I am referring to are the two stained glass windows on either side of me right now in our worship space. And, I want to tell two stories about these two windows to think together about the Feast of Pentecost that we celebrate as a church today. As I am sure you know, at Pentecost, we are celebrating the great gift of God’s Holy Spirit…that is God’s on-going life that dwells among us…in our hearts and in the Church…God’s own Spirit graciously poured into us allowing us to live a fully alive sort of life together. And, sticking with the theme of two’s, I will say further that using our two windows I want to think specifically about two particular life-giving gifts the Holy Spirit provides each of us, as we make our way through each day…whether facing great challenges or celebrating great joys. And, those two great gifts are comfort and growth.
Now, the first story I want to tell, that some of you are surely familiar with, is how we came upon and acquired these two windows. You see after we moved into this space, I just felt like the two white walls on which these windows now hang…were just a bit bland…to much white space…they felt empty to me. And, I thought what might fit perfectly in those blank spaces were perhaps two pieces of art…or two pieces of stained glass. I liked the idea of stained glass, in particular, as that would provide a traditional touch to our contemporary space. Stained glass could perhaps provide some continuity and connection with the history of the church, with the larger Episcopal Church, with those other spaces were generations of Christians have worshiped and gathered…our spiritual ancestors…those saints of God that have gone before us…and whose Spirit led, love-spreading mission we continue in our own day and in our own community. So, what then followed was a casual search for what might fit in those two spaces. It was not huge priority…more of something fun to think about and look for as time allowed.
Well, though I don’t remember the conversation, I suppose I shared my search at some point along the way with my mother-in-law, Mary. For seemingly out of the blue, one day she called. It was a Saturday and she was with her sisters antique shopping in Gruene, TX, and she stumbled upon a stained-glass window in a shop called the Black Swan. I know that because I keep the tag that was on the window in my office to this day. She said, “Miles, I know you are looking for stained glass, and I have found a window here in Gruene.” It took me a second to orient myself, as, again, my search was casual and not top of mind and didn’t recall telling her about it. So, once I figured out what she was talking about, I said, “Well do they have a second and can you take a pic and send it to me, and can you find anything out about them.” So, she did so. She sent a pic and learned that the owner did have a second window in a barn out back that was from the same church, with the same design, and identical in size and shape. And, most importantly, she learned this as well…which gets us back to the Holy Spirit. Though the owner did not know the name of the church, they were from a church in England…and specifically a church in a city named Norwich! I told her I would be there in an hour. And, indeed, I jumped in my station wagon drove to Gruene and purchased the windows on the spot and brought them right here. The windows were then hung by Jim Nance a short time later and they have lived here with us for the past 8 years or so. And, indeed, the windows have brought much beauty to our space. They have been a connection for me and for many not only to larger church, our history, and the saints that have come before us…but even to Julian of Norwich, our Patron Saint.
And, I tell this story, as I believe this was a Holy Spirit moment…one of many moments that I can describe that powerfully point me to the fact that God’s Spirit is, indeed, with us…leading us…providing for us…caring for us…loving us…not just standing beside us…but dwelling in us and between us For, as Jesus promises his friends and followers, including us, in our Gospel lesson this morning, though he will not always be with us in the flesh, that his Spirit, what John calls the Advocate, will always be with us…zero degrees of separation…as close to us as the hearts that beat in our chests. And, this fact, this truth brings me a sense of profound comfort. And, I don’t mean some sort of passing comfort…something like the comfort of gathering with friends while always knowing at some point they will have to depart and return home…as Willie Nelson croons that at some point we have to, “Turn out the lights the parties over”. And, not like the comfort you might feel when you get your paycheck at the beginning of the month and breathe a sigh of relief for we made it another month…only to come to the end of that same month feeling the anxiousness of keeping the wheels of our household turning until we make it to pay day once again. For much that we take comfort in provided by this world, much of which is surely worth being grateful for, is still fleeting. But, the comfort provided by the power and presence of God’s Holy Spirit is something altogether different and more wonderful…for it is eternal…never ending…always present in the present. The Spirit’s presence within us promises that God is never going to let us go. Whether in the darkness or in the light, we are never alone…God is never going to let us go.
And, I know this for you have described it to me. Among our family faith are those who for age or health have experienced this pandemic in almost complete isolation…and all that stood between madness or becoming entirely lost in the darkness of depression was enough faith to believe that they were never abandoned by God…that God’s Holy Spirit was always present with them…pointing them to the light…providing just enough hope to hold on…and often these Holy Spirit moments came when logging on for online church or when one of us reached out with a call or text to check in and express our love for them…all of which were our response to the leading of God’s Spirit in us…that gentle voice within saying to one of us…check in on them…stop what you are doing and pick up the phone and connect. You see, I think the comfort of knowing that God’s Spirit has our lives all wrapped up and is never going to let us go is, at times, lifesaving…and at other times the place where we find the wisdom on how and when to care well for others…and at other times the place we find courage to take risks, be bold, speak up, speak out, stand up, make a difference, especially for those who are unheard and unseen, even when it requires great risk or sacrifice. It is the deep comfort that comes from knowing God’s Spirit is always within us…that Jesus can confidently say to us today…you “will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.”
Which takes me to the second gift I mentioned that the Holy Spirit provides each of us, which is the ability to grow, to evolve, to become. One of our St. Julian’s family members once mentioned to me that when she gazed upon our two stained glass windows that the differences in the two windows always threw her off. I won’t say it deeply bothered her…but again…she was always thrown off, in particular, by how one of the windows is in fairly good shape, for something crafted in the 1800’s and that had been removed from a church and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean ending up in, of all places, an antique shop in Gruene, TX…the one to your left. While, the other one looks a little worse for the wear…more dented, beaten up and faded…the one to your right. And, as she noodled on this, she said to me that over time rather than the difference being a point of consternation, she began to see them sort of as a helpful expression of who we are and who we are becoming. The more worn window being an expression of our brokenness, a reminder that we all remain a beautiful work in progress, and the one in much better shape an expression of who God is shaping us to be…who we are created to be…beautiful and light-giving. And, I love that! And, indeed, this is wonderful metaphor for the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
You see, I believe that humans can change…because I know that I have. We can grow and evolve and become more Christ-like versions of ourselves. And, the work of growth…of being and becoming…is the work of the Holy Spirit. Which is not to say that we don’t have a really important and often hard role to play. I think of growth as a partnership. As we acknowledge God’s Spirit alive and active in us in regular and intentional ways, through prayer, contemplation, study and service, we are provided the gift of accountability. For, if we really believe God walks around in us, then it matters what the walking around looks like. I often think of what it means to have God present with me wherever I am. Thus, how am I demonstrating and living into that presence in the ways that I live and love, how I parent and lead, how I spend my money and spend my time, who I choose to be with and care for.
And, beyond that awareness of the Spirit’s presence that provides accountability, I believe our intentional partnership with God’s Spirit in us provides real spiritual power to do and be more than we ever thought possible…to forgive what seems unforgivable, to begin relationships with those very different from ourselves, to find patience when working with intractable problems and deeply wounded people. And, every time we come out the other side of such situations, we are changed. We have grown. We are more forgiving. We are more appreciative of diversity and difference. We are more patient. And, all of that growth begins at the Spirit’s supernatural urging and encouragement…if we but pay attention to that gentle, sweet voice…pushing us…sometimes into uncomfortable places…but always places that lead to growth. All of life is a journey of being and becoming the fully alive humans that God created us from the beginning to be…but such transformation…requires help…which God, indeed, provides by the Spirit…God’s own Spirit that dwells within us and as we encounter that very same Spirit in the lives of each other. For God’s Spirit in you…has as much to offer my journey…as God’s Spirit in me.
Comfort and Growth, two great gifts God’s Spirit pours into our lives. The comfort that comes with knowing God is always with us…present in the present…God will never let us go, and growth flowing from the accountability and supernatural power of God’s own Spirit…alive and active…within each of us. Amen.