I’d like to begin this morning with a little confession. From time to time, when I’m flipping through tv channels, I’ve found myself pausing to look in on a certain kind of religious tv programming. You’ve probably caught sight of them too. They’re those programs with the incredibly glitzy, gaudy sets with the gold gilt pastor’s chairs. I don’t understand all that glitz. And I don’t understand the hairdo’s and the strange glittering clothes some of these preachers and religious personalities wear. Most of the music I hear on those programs makes me cringe. Check that: all of it makes me cringe. I don’t really like the Christian faith all pompadoured up and hair-sprayed and whipped into some kind of a tacky spiritual meringue. But I do find myself pausing to look in.
Because, along with the tacky sets and costumes, I also often see hundreds, of people in those tv studios or rented Ramada Inn banquet halls, fervently, passionately waiting for the miracle of God’s mighty presence and the manifestation of his power. And I often see a collection of people – black folks, white folks, Hispanics and Asians that most of us mainline denominations will never see in our churches.
I do pause my channel flipping and watch, because like all of those folks, I want to see a miracle too. I want to see God move to sanctify life through healing or mighty displays of the power of God’s holy love. I want to be fed with bread baked in heaven and drink Living Water bubbling up from the source of all life.
This time last year, my husband, Tenny, and I were in the middle of a project that took the rest of the year to complete. It was called downsizing! We were moving from a house that we had lived in for 20 years; and the fact that we were downsizing meant that there was no way we could bring all of our stuff with us into our new house (although my husband tried his best to do so!). We had to decide what to keep, what to give away, pack away or sell. It wasn’t easy because we had accumulated things from our own marriage but things that our parents and even grandparents didn’t know what to do with and ended up passing on to us.
Figuring out what to do with the pictures was the biggest challenge. It was easy to keep the ones of us and our children, but then there were some faded pictures of people who had lived so long ago that we had no idea who they were. Why were we still holding on to them? If we couldn’t answer that question, how could we expect our children to know what to do with them? Then we both thought: how many generations would it take before someone would look at faded pictures of us and wonder who we were?
What we just heard from John’s gospel this morning was part of what is known as Jesus’ farewell address or prayer during his last meal with his disciples. The timing is a little out of order since we’ve already celebrated Easter but the message is timeless. After Jesus and his disciples had finished eating their Passover meal together, I can imagine that there might have been an uneasy lull in the conversation giving the disciples time to wonder what was going to happen next.
What happened was that Jesus looked to heaven and prayed one last time with and for them. And from what we heard of the prayer, it sounds like Jesus was wondering who would remember him generations after he was gone. His disciples were the closest to Jesus; they were his eyewitnesses, and the survival of his memory and message would depend on them – which may be why Jesus was understandably concerned.
Biblical commentators on the book of the Acts of the Apostles always point out how one of the great themes of this book about the birth of the Church is that God the Holy Spirit is the main actor in what we read there. It isn’t Peter or Paul. It isn’t the sprawling cast of characters with names like Cornelius and Lydia and Dorcus and Titus. The Holy Spirit of God is the headliner, the star, the one who’s responsible for setting peoples’ feet moving down the road, and blowing ships on just the right course, stirring up dreams and visions, building bridges, opening doors, and generally stirring the whole pot. The Holy Spirit is God’s gift of himself “that we might live no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and rose for us, [as his own first gift] to complete his work in the world, and to bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all”. As I read these stories of the church’s first beginnings – including this story of a tense meeting between Peter and the other apostles – I can’t seem to shake the image of God the Holy Spirit as a divine but clearly meddling and persistent matchmaker who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. The lead up to the confrontation between Peter and his brothers back in Jerusalem is a series of visions and the appearance of an angel and words from above that say ‘you really should meet so-and-so, they’re just perfect for you. I know you don’t get out much but it’s time you did. I tell you what, don’t you worry about a thing, I’ll arrange everything’.
And everyone involved is more than a little reluctant for the match to be made. There are lots of protests, like, That’s really not my thing. I’m not really ready. I like my life the way it is. I’m fine on my own. But there is the divine matchmaker, the Spirit insisting: ‘Trust me. You’re perfect for each other. You just show up where I tell you to and I’ll take care of all the rest. You absolutely belong together.’
The passage from Acts we just heard is the climax to a whole series of events. So let me just recap how we got here.