“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 forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way.
Last week we celebrated Easter. The first Sunday after the full moon after the spring equinox, but more importantly the day we mark to remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Like all our holidays, we find ourselves busy with every possible distraction. Eggs need made and sold, or else stuffed or deviled. Our family gathers to share ham or other roasted meat and our children busy themselves with whatever goodies are put away in their baskets. On the other side of the long week of celebration that we all had, do we remember that it was really all about the resurrection of our Lord and Savior? Are the lingering feelings we hold within us about the busy schedules we keep or the miraculous work of God?
There is a push and pull within our minds, the immensely important and the immediately interesting. There is nothing wrong with being diverted from the important things of life, I would say that that is inevitable. All of us here probably had more than a few times over Easter where the object of our celebration fell behind the ways that we were celebrating. The same is true for Christmas, or Lent, or any time we set aside for our religious devotion. There is a limited amount of focus within our human minds and as human beings we will often find ourselves locking into the more mundane aspects of life simply because they are always near to us, always right in front of our face.
I think one of the problems with how we talk about keeping our focus on the important aspects of life, especially on our life of faith, is that we talk about it as though people wake up one day and find that they are very good and very serious and very pious. I hope that our look into virtue made us all realize that it is never so simple. We all have to practice being focused and serious and committed. It takes time to learn how to do anything well and that includes being a person of faith.
The good news is that we are not in this training period on our own. As we fight to overcome the negative aspects of ourselves and to sharpen the positive, we find that every step we take is onto ground that has already been prepared for us. We are always preceded in life by God, God who is clearing the way to allow us to move more efficiently toward our goal of perfection. God is with us and active and working, because God has sent us an advocate who will never leave us. God who proclaimed the truth of the Torah from Sinai came to dwell among us. The Son who came and lived, Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth for thirty years to show us what holiness could be. The Son left us our eternal comforter and helper, the eternal and Holy Spirit.
God has always been near to God’s creation. There has never been a time when God was not looking over and caring for all people of the earth. An old German hymn sees God’s provision in the coming and goings of the seasons, “We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand. God sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain, the breezes, and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.” If we think of God in this way, as always seeking to be close to what God has made, then the flow of scripture’s narrative makes perfect sense.
After humanity and God were torn from one another by Sin’s interference, God set out chasing after people. Genesis describes God as clothing Adam and Eve, as watching directly over Cain and Abel. Even those directly working against God receive God’s care. The rest of scripture focuses in on Israel and Judah, but the message is still clear. God is working to be close to God’s people. Exile cannot separate them, nor can empires or war, God is eternally near to them. Through God’s prophets the Word of God was proclaimed, as the Spirit rested on individuals.
Eventually, at a time and place no one can fully comprehend the significance of, God sent part of Godself to dwell among us. The Son, the eternal Word of God, took on flesh and set up a home among us. Cut off from the eternal power and knowledge he once knew, but not ever from his Godhood, Jesus of Nazareth lived as a poor son of a wood worker. His mother was an object of scandal, and his family was poor as could be. After his step-father died, he walked from his hometown to Jerusalem again and again as he preached a penniless gospel of salvation. Christ’s ministry ended in his death on a Roman cross, his burial, and his resurrection, all of which we remembered last week.
But what comes after? God has come and dwelt among us, and we are given a reason to celebrate that Sin is finally defeated! Yet, even in the face of the resurrection, Christ has told his disciples he will not be gone from this world very soon. The resurrection is cause to celebrate, but the ascension gives the disciples another reason to mourn. Even though they are given yet another sign of God’s presence in Christ, they now live with Christ far away from them. There is no friend, no teacher there to guide them through life. The sorrow they feel is made to bubble up in them once again, and there is uncertainty seeping into every aspect of their life once again.
They do have a reason to hope though, because before Jesus is raised into Heaven, even before Jesus goes to die on Calvary, the disciples are promised a helper that will not leave them. From the moment that a divine wind sweeps through their lives to the triumphant return of Christ at the end of all things, there will not be a moment that God will not be right with them. Not only will God be with them, but God will dwell inside them. We all are promised to know what it is to join in God’s Trinitarian life, through our unity in Christ, by the power of the Spirit.
The next forty-nine days will take us through the Great Fifty Days that lead to Pentecost. In Jewish congregations, these fifty days are counted from Passover to the Feast of Weeks, a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest and of God’s gift of the Law. For we Christians, we count those days from Easter Sunday, and when we reach the Feast of Weeks, or as we call it, the Pentecost or “The 50,” we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. The visitation of the Spirit in previous eras led to people speaking God’s truth and in the working of wonders. The habitation of the Spirit on that Pentecost long ago led to the birth of God’s new community, the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, the Church.
We here in North View will spend the next few weeks focusing in, one Sunday at a time, upon the various traditions that have birthed our specific flavor of faith. This building we stand in was founded by the United Brethren, it became the Evangelical United Brethren, and eventually the United Methodist Church. So, to understand how we are who we are today we must look at the Anglican tradition that birthed John Wesley and the Wesleyan tradition that birthed Methodism. We also must see how Philip Otterbein and his Brethren came together with the Evangelical Church to make the Evangelical United Brethren. Then we must look at the United Methodist Church they formed, and finally what the future might hold for the legacy of our denomination.
So, in other words, we will be working through some history throughout Pentecost. Every Sunday will be a communion Sunday, and every Sunday the communion we celebrate will be modeled after the liturgy that each denomination utilized. That means that we will have new Eucharistic prayers to pray over the next month or so, and that we will be enjoying a lot of prepackaged juice and wafers. However, I hope that as we look into our history we will see the truth that God’s Spirit has always been with us, always moving us toward something better.
We will see a lot of missteps in our foray into our past. We will see denominations refuse to show mercy and love, refuse to accept all God’s children, refuse to do what is right in the face of evil. We will also see the great good we have worked again and again. Live’s transformed by Christ, people fed and clothed and cared for, and all manner of wonders worked through the love of God and the Spirit’s emboldening power. There will be a lot to take in, but I hope that you all will embrace this journey as more than just historical facts being proclaimed from a pulpit, and see in it a testimony that our past is never too far from us, and that we are all working toward the future God has prepared for us.
We on an individual level strive to be more focused, more intentional, in our relationship with God. However, that is only truly manifested when we come together with one another as the Church. The Spirit of God is not given so that individuals may become holy, but so that God’s church may grow and prosper and become God’s kingdom. The light of this world is shining out from the Spirit which dwells within us, but to see it really overcome the darkness, we cannot shine alone – we must shine together. With God’s Spirit within, beside, and before us, we will see ourselves overcoming all trouble. With a mind of where we have been we will understand that God’s Spirit has moved behind us to bring us to the ample mission field we have today.
We begin a journey now, an examination of our past and its manifested light and darkness, and we look to our future together. The disciples spend the fifty days between Easter and their enlivening visit by the Spirit in prayer and study, seeing how God had been working toward their present reality throughout all of history. We will be doing the same together, because the Spirit which dwells among us is also the Spirit that is coming to be with us. The past is the present is the future in a Kingdom that is truly eternal. Let us walk this long road together, and trust God will see us through it. – Amen.
 Wir pflügen und wir streuen. Matthias Claudius. Trans. Jane M. Campbell