Sermons

"Christ Gives Us Peace & the Breath of Life Amidst Chaos & Fear," A sermon for Pentecost Sunday, Year A

"Christ Gives Us Peace & the Breath of Life Amidst Chaos & Fear," A sermon for Pentecost Sunday, Year A

Jun 04, 2017

Passage:John 20:19-23

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Jill Walters

Series: Season After Pentecost

Category: Peace, Holy Spirit, Pentecost

Keywords: breath of life, holy spirit, love, peace, pentecost

Summary:

Today we celebrate the Festival of Pentecost. Fifty days after Easter we remember Christ's gift of the Holy Spirit to his followers. Jesus gives us peace and the Holy Spirit to carry out God's work in a broken world. These gifts of peace and the Holy Spirit are always with us to comfort us, to give us the truth, and to give us courage to live our lives in the love of God.

Detail:

May the Words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen

Today marks the day of the church calendar when we celebrate the Festival of Pentecost, or Whitsunday as the British and Irish call it.  Fifty days after Easter, we remember Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit to his followers.  It’s the day that the disciples were baptized in the Holy Spirit.  We look to the dove that flew over our heads at the beginning of the service to signify that these gifts weren’t just for the disciples of ancient times, but flow to us as well. We adorn the altar in red and wear red vestments to recall the tongues of fire that rested on the disciples.  These symbols are reminders of the gracious and powerful gift of the Holy Spirit.

The gospel of John offers one account of the gift of the Holy Spirit descending upon the disciples.  In today’s passage, we hear of Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples after his resurrection.  The disciples are scared and hiding out.  They’ve locked themselves in a room.  They’ve witnessed what just happened to Jesus, their Lord.  They know that the Jewish leaders and the Roman rulers could do the same thing to them just for being associated with Jesus.   Mary, Peter, and the “disciple whom Jesus loved” have seen the empty tomb, but they still don’t fully understand its significance. 

Thankfully, Jesus knows God’s children so well!  He knows that they’re scared and confused.  None of this makes sense to them!  So, Jesus comes to them.  He stands among them.  He doesn’t get on to them for their fear or doubt.  He knows their hearts and what they’re going through.  Jesus reassures them.  He comforts them.  He promises them two great gifts.

The first gift is peace:  “Peace be with you.”  Their teacher, their Lord, their dear friend gives them peace.  He shows them his hands and side where he was crucified to calm their doubts.  Then, he again gives them peace.  What a beautiful gift after all the turmoil and chaos they’ve experienced this last week.  They surely need peace.

Jesus knows they’re scared.  He knows they’re in real danger.  But he also knows they have work to do.  They can’t hide out forever.  God sent Jesus to show them the way of the Kingdom.  Now that they have the gift of peace, they can hear the rest of his message and start to understand their mission.

Jesus then sends his followers out to do his work—to bring the message of God’s love to everyone, to take care of God’s people.  But it’s not easy work.  Sometimes it’s hard, dangerous, heart-breaking work.  But it’s also exhilarating, joyous, and soul-feeding work.    So, even though the disciples now carry Jesus’ peace with them, they still have a steep road ahead.  How are they supposed to carry on Jesus’ ministry without him here?

So, Jesus not only brings them peace, but this is when he gives them the second gift of this encounter.  He breathes the breath of life on them.  This is the very breath that comes from the God who created the universe.  This is the breath that swept over the waters of a dark and formless void that was earth.  This is the breath that breathed life into the human.  It’s the very spirit of God that loves and gives life.  It’s the Holy Spirit. 

This is the spirit that will give them the strength and the courage and the peace to carry out God’s work on earth.  In the gospel of John, we’ve heard the Holy Spirit referred to as the Advocate, the Helper, the and Comforter.  The disciples will need all of these to take Christ’s message throughout the earth.

And, although we haven’t just experienced the horror and gruesome events of the death and crucifixion of Jesus, we live in a world that sometimes feels just as dangerous.  We hear of acts of terror. We see violence against people because of their race or gender. We live with the results of greed and fear.  We’re in a state of heightened vigilance, and we wonder how, as Christians, we can live out Christ’s message in the midst of so much evil.  But the disciples’ gifts are ours, too.  Jesus has bestowed upon us these gifts of peace and the Holy Spirit, just as surely as he did the disciples.

I think we might all understand “peace in the midst of chaos, but what is this Holy Spirit and how does it help us live out the love of God in this broken world?  Sometimes people refer to it as a feeling or knowledge that comes over us.  But the Holy Spirit is much more than that.  It’s part of the Trinity.  It’s the presence of God with us.  The Holy Spirit loves and lives with the Father and the Son.  And because we’re a result of the love that created us, the Holy Spirit loves and lives with us as our Advocate, Helper, and Comforter. 

As part of loving and living with us, the Holy Spirit is an Advocate who speaks the truth to us and to all of Creation.  We’re created in the image of God.  We’re created from love.  And we’re infused with love.  Each and every one of us is part of the love that lives within God and all of Creation.  We’re bound together in this love.  And we’re always, always cherished by God...even when we don’t feel like we deserve it. 

The Holy Spirit also comforts us.  We are not alone.  We are never alone.  Even when we feel like we’re so lonely that our hearts will literally break in two, we are not alone.  The Holy Spirit is with us.  Jesus is with us.  God is with us.  God’s people are with us.  We can persevere even through the most difficult times because the Comforter is with us.

The Holy Spirit as our Helper gives us strength to continue in the work of Jesus.  The Helper bestows upon us the courage to take the next step and the next...to speak up for those without voices...to stand up in the face of suffering and pain...to give love to those who feel alone and believe they have no hope...to ask for forgiveness when we are broken and to grant forgiveness when others have lost their way. 

Jesus has faith in those who follow him—more faith than we have in ourselves.  He knows our Creator.  He knows the power of the Holy Spirit and its presence.  Jesus knows that we are created by God’s love and filled with the Holy Spirit.  And that is a combination that can overcome the forces of darkness and evil.  

Today, we baptize Grayson and Annabeth.  We welcome them to the body of Christ and we give them our unconditional love and support.  During today’s baptism, listen for the many ways we invoke the Holy Spirit.  We pray that God fills Grayson and Annabeth with the “holy and life-giving spirit.”  We recount the presence of the Holy Spirit at Creation, in the leading of Israel to the promised land, in the baptism of Jesus, and in his resurrection.  We are brought to this new life in Christ through the Holy Spirit.  The water is sanctified by the Holy Spirit.  As we renew our baptismal covenant today, we acknowledge that we can only uphold those vows with the help of the Holy Spirit. 

“Peace be with you.”  Jesus grants us peace and breathes the breath of life upon us.  This breath of love that was present at the Creation of the world is with us today.  This Holy Spirit sweeps in and around us giving us the courage, the strength, and the peace to walk in God’s love.  These are Jesus’ gifts to us and to all people, today and for all time.  Amen.