Sermons That Work

This Is the Final Sunday…, Easter 7 (A) – 1999

May 16, 1999

This is the final Sunday of the Easter season. Next week is Pentecost, and the reading from Acts, as well as the Collect of the Day, give expression to our yearning for the Holy Spirit. This yearning for the Spirit is very much a part of the Resurrection faith we celebrate this season. Although as the church we acknowledge that the Spirit already dwells among us and within each of us who in baptism have “put on Christ,” we continue to pray, “Come, Holy Ghost.” We continue to seek divine inspiration for the work we do and the life we lead “in the world.” We pray for the Spirit to come, even while we acknowledge the Spirit’s abiding presence.

The Holy Spirit is with us, just as we are with each other. As God’s family we all share in a familial relationship. In our gathering for the purpose of Christian worship, we demonstrate this inter-connectedness with God and with one another. But it is possible that not everyone here is wholly attentive to what we are doing together. Someone may have “tuned out” a part of the Psalm, or one of the readings, or even, God forbid, this sermon. So you see, it is possible that someone may remain present with another, may engage in relationship-at least externally — and still be disassociated from the person or persons in his or her company.

Haven’t you known people who do this? They may be paying attention to the music playing in the background or worrying over a business deal or remembering something that happened at home last night. But you can tell by the blank look in their eyes when you speak to them that they are not really paying attention.

In our relationship with God, it may often seem that he speaks his word to us when our attention is absorbed in other things. So we answer with a meaningless “Amen” or we repeat words we know by heart without considering their meaning. What the Spirit invites us to do is listen in prayer to what our Lord is trying to say to us. We may feel that we are too busy to respond to God’s communication to us. We may think we would be more attentive if God would wait for a more convenient time to call. Thinking and feeling this way begins to build a habit of inattention to the things of religion. This is why we need to continually pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is not that God the Spirit ever disengages from us. The Holy Spirit is never absent. But we in our distractedness often disassociate ourselves from the inspiring influence of God’s presence. We too easily “tune God out.” This involves more than the little wonderings of mind during the liturgy. In any situation that is dominated by words; lectures, speeches, or whatever, it is natural to miss some of what is being said. And if you have missed a few sentences of the Scripture lessons that were read, that does not necessarily mean that you have not heard the “Word of the Lord” today. Indeed, we might hope that what you are hearing at this moment is God’s word, whether this sermon particularly grabs your attention or not. You see, missing a few words or concepts, even very important, truthful ones will not disrupt a Christian’s relationship with God. What will disrupt it is ignoring our relationship with him. None of us would want to ignore this relationship of love that was established through the tremendous self-sacrifice of Christ.

Being inattentive to a person is naturally destructive of relationship. So often when marital relationships break down, one or other of the spouses will say, “he doesn’t listen to me,” or, “she doesn’t understand me.” A relationship is naturally strained when someone feels that she or he is being ignored. And while we ignore God’s invitation to a life of holiness in the Spirit, our relationship with God, as with everyone and everything God created, is under a strain.

This is not to suggest that God suffers for our neglect and may react in a threatening or punitive way. The steadfastness of God assures us that he will not withdraw affection from us, even when we choose to ignore him. Nevertheless, the love revealed in Jesus Christ is meant to be reciprocal. If as God’s people we recognize his love for us, we will want to return it. It is this recognition that the coming of the Holy Spirit brings. We long for the abiding presence of the Spirit to awaken us to this wonderful and loving relationship with the Living God. Because the resurrection opens the way to eternal life, we may begin to conceive of a love that really endures forever. Such language ceases to be only a poetic attempt to speak of what is immeasurable. We envisage something everlasting in spite of the apparent impermanence of all that we have known. In the midst of the things that pass away, we are encouraged by the hope of resurrection to embrace that which remains for eternity. Our resurrection faith, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, assures us that what eternally endures is the never-ending love of God.

The prayer of Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson offers us an example of confidence in this infinite Love. This text is part of the self-offering prayer which in John’s Gospel prepares our Lord to face the ordeal of the cross. Facing that immense trial, Jesus spoke of being glorified, glorified by the Father that the Father might be glorified in him, and glorified in the people that the Father had given and would give him “out of the world.” This glorification even in the face of suffering and death was grounded in the intimate knowledge of another, and this sort of knowledge is only possible through deep and committed love. It is enabled by mutual self-disclosure and involves reciprocal belonging. It is what empowered Jesus to speak thus: “Thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee” (John 17:21).

This is the kind of love that is properly spoken of as union, and it is never-ending. “This is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ…that they may be one even as we are one.”

This union is what we celebrate today and every time we gather as the church. It is not just an abstract concept that we strain our minds to understand, not just pious words well spoken by the preacher or sung in a favorite hymn. We are glorified in the Father, in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit, even in the face of our own transitory existence. This is so, because through the love shown us in Jesus Christ, we hope for that which is eternal. That hope is made tangible for us in the “holy food and drink of new and unending life in Him,” at every celebration of Holy Eucharist. It is visible in the fellowship of communion we have with one another as members one of another in the church. The community that is formed by our shared relationship in the love of God is one whose foundation is eternal. It is a community formed by mutual love, inspired by God’s own presence. Such a community, such a love, such a presence is nothing short of Divine. It is made possible by the coming of the Holy Spirit for which we pray.

Let us pray.

Holy Father, send us your Holy Spirit. As your Son, our Savior prayed, keep us in your Name, that we may be one, even as You, Father, are One with the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit; for ever and ever. AMEN.

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Christopher Sikkema


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