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Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
May 13, 2018 – Seventh Sunday of Easter
Happy Mothers Day. Jesus tells us today that everything comes to him from God, and we know that Jesus brought that to us, from heaven to earth, from God to us.
But there is one other one through whom we have received all that we have received. That ‘one other one’ is our mother, who brought us from heaven to earth, from God to whatever…and wherever…and whoever…we are now.
Like a river…our lives all started somewhere else …before we became a thinking creature…with an act of faith and hope and creation… a mysterious and overwhelming journey of discovery…imposed upon our mothers…and something which with they have been blest since the day we were born.
They instantly forgot the pain and reveled in the joy…of life. We were born and they were born anew. May we never forget that we are all miracles, wrapped in a loving embrace…by someone who is part creature and part creator. May they know our love this day. Happy Mother’s day…to everyone.
We have been on a journey to Pentecost during Eastertide. The Holy Spirit has been breathed on the disciples and it has been active among them ever since.
This is a fitting scripture to contemplate on Mothers Day. The Holy Spirit is mysterious and wise and loving.
Last week, he Spirit sent dreams to the Roman Centurion – a pagan – and to Peter – the Rock of Christ – last week. The Spirit fell upon those listening to the Word as Peter shared it with Cornelius’ household.
Two weeks ago, the Spirit guided Philip to the chariot of a the Ethiopian eunuch, another non-Jew …like the Centurion, where Philip was called to explain and proclaim the Word to one who would spread it to the farthest reaches of the world.
And this week the eleven remaining disciples choose a new member of the inner circle, a new Number 12, to replace Judas. They nominate Justus and Matthias and then…they pause to pray that God would show them the right choice.
They ask the Holy Spirit to enter into the process they have invoked. It may seem naïve to us, but it gave the new disciple the hope that it was God’s will that they followed…and those who chose him would look at him as an equal…since it was the Holy Spirit that was guiding them.
Only then do they cast lots, and the lot falls upon Matthias.
Faith, we read in the letter to the Hebrews, is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. The cynical mind would dismiss this process as guesswork, mere chance, a cop out.
But how did any of us get here… wherever ‘here’ is for you now… but for the element of chance.
The disciples have done their best to narrow the choices down to two. Then they pray. They invite the Spirit in. They make a holy space in their lives.
They ask that the grace of God would be part of the life they share…the effort to spread the gospel throughout the world. That, too, may be every mother’s prayer.
When we come to an important decision…when we arrive at a fork in the road…the right way is not always clear…and sometimes when we think it is clear, we get it wrong.
What are we to do? Is it Door No. 1, Door No. 2, or Door No. 3?
The Book of Acts we have been walking through together is the story of the Holy Spirit in action.
We have come to know it as the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, but it is also referred to by many scholars as the Book of the Acts of the Holy Spirit.
Time after time, the game is up…and time after time something happens to save the day…rescue the disciples… move the Word forward.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was destined to be a preacher. He was the son and grandson of Anglican clergymen and he never considered any other vocation.
When he was five years old, the rectory caught on fire in the middle of the night. All of the children were shepherded out of the house …except John, who was trapped in an upstairs bedroom.
At the last minute, with the stairway ablaze and the roof about to cave in, a man on a ladder lifted him out of the bedroom window. This became part of his legend. He was called “a brand plucked from the fire”, and those who knew this story believed he had a special destiny.
But it wasn’t quite that simple. He went off to Oxford where started his Holy Club and became a junior fellow of Lincoln College.
Then he was asked to undertake an exciting pastorate at the invitation of James Oglethorpe the founder of the Colony of Georgia. He wanted John to serve as the minister of Savannah.
But John became attracted to a young lady who was living there, and when she threw him over and married another he refused to serve her communion.
This sounds like a minor thing to us, maybe, but it was not that way in Savannah in those days. He was proclaiming to the colony that the young lady was a sinner and had sinned with her new husband.
This was a ruinous charge in that day and Wesley was sued for defamation, with an award of £100,000 being sought. He fled in the night to return to England.
But he was not offered a pulpit anywhere. Evidently, the word of the fiasco that his mission to the New World had got home before him, and no one wanted him to repeat that accomplishment at their church.
He was deeply pious, learned, and he had a destiny as a great churchman to live into. But how could he do that without a pulpit?
In those days, not everyone was permitted to join the Church of England. You had to be good enough, prominent enough, respectable enough. The working masses of the day were not permitted to enter worship and were seen as rabble to be driven away if they stood outside to try to hear the priest instruct the faithful …kind of like Gentiles in Jesus’… and Peter’s…day.
There was a spiritual revival going on in the country, though, and the Holy Spirit was something everyone had heard about. Poor people who had never been welcome at worship in the Church of England wanted to know what they must do to “avoid the wrath to come.”
Wesley’s friend, Paul Whitefield, suggested that…since they could not come into a church…perhaps a well-spoken young clergyman could find a calling by bringing the Word to them.
Why not go preach in the streets and in the fields and wherever they might gather to hear the way to salvation? Wesley did not like this idea, but he was starved to it, spiritually speaking, and early on thousands came to hear him. He was the Billy Graham of his day.
As he put it later, from that time forward, the world was his parish and this led him to a sustained ministry that was so successful Wesley had to deny many times that he was starting a new church.
The church would not share the Holy Spirit with the masses, but it turns out that the Holy Spirit was anxious to have itself shared with them…some way…some how…through someone or some place…or some Word. The Church of England persecuted the Methodist Movement from the outset and more so as it became more and more successful.
But it could not snuff out the ministry that changed so many lives and made so many people better…even good. The grace of God was open to all people.
And just so, Wesley’s life became a new telling of the Acts of the Holy Spirit. He found opposition wherever he went and criticism whatever he did, but at the end of the day, his ministry had reached farther and deeper than anyone had ever dreamed.
He had followed the Spirit, letting it lead him instead of trying to lead it.
It was kind of like the pastor who was congratulated following a service on a fine message that day.
He was modest about it and told the parishioner that he had to give credit to the Holy Spirit. The parishioner replied, “It wasn’t that good.”
Let’s step back a few weeks in the story from the Acts of the Apostles and look at our reading from the Gospel of John. Jesus is praying that God will watch over the disciples after he has returned to God.
They have given him everything they have…their lives, then, now and into the future. Now he kneels in the Garden and turns his words toward God…even as his life is turning toward God.
Have pity on them and protect them, he is saying. I have given them the truth you sent into the world through me and the world hates them for it.
There is something about being good that seems to attract the attention of something that is not so good. Their goodness will attract the resentment and malice of a restless and idle heart unhappy with itself.
It is like the ring in The Lord of the Rings. It calls for goodness and draws evil to it.
Jesus does not ask God to take the disciples out of the world but that God would watch over them and protect them to continue his work in the world. I cannot be with them, but they will need help at every turn in the road.
Surround them with your presence. Bathe them in your love. Give them the faith that overcomes all things with goodness and endures all things with grace.
This is the Holy Spirit. It makes us one with each other, one with Jesus Christ and propels us – alone – into ministry to all the world.
Everything comes from God…all that we have and all that we will ever be…and everyone is on a trajectory back to God.
But in the meantime we are invited to be partners in God’s good hopes for the world. It is like learning to float.
If we try to dominate the water, we sink. If we give up in the water, we sink. But if we cooperate with the natural buoyancy of the water…if we open our hearts and our minds to the love God holds out to us… our lives become open to the will of God…the Holy Spirit…and we see things differently, do things differently and live and we will die differently…to the extent that we die at all.
Like Paul…and Peter…and John Wesley we become a possibility on a greater plain. All of them showed us how we can climb a higher mountain…and the highest mountain.
Everything comes from you, dear Lord. What is it that you want to do…in your world…through me, your creation…this day? Amen.