Sermon
May 23, 1999
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs -- in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" 13 But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 'In the last days it will be, God declares,

that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,

and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

and your young men shall see visions,

and your old men shall dream dreams.

18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,

in those days I will pour out my Spirit;

and they shall prophesy.

19 And I will show portents in the heaven above

and signs on the earth below,

blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

20 The sun shall be turned to darkness

and the moon to blood,

before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day.

21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.' (NRSV)

 John 14:1-17 "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going." 5 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" 6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him."

8 Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." 9 Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

15 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 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. (NRSV)

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Sermon

It is, perhaps, one of the most remarkable stories ever told. A ragtag group of men and women emerge from a fog of shock, grief, and fear, and become the greatest agents of change and transformation that the world has ever known.

These are the disciples of the executed preacher Jesus of Nazareth.

Their story began in good times. They were called out of their ordinary lives by an extraordinary presence - this Jesus, this healer, this traveling teacher who spoke of the ways of God and made them close and familiar. No obscure doctrines, no litanies of references to Rabbi this and Rabbi that. He found the truth of God in the farmer sowing the seed and in the woman baking her bread. He offered hope to the poor and sight to the blind and love to the leper.

And the wonderful welcome of the crowds as he went from village to village, and when he went to Jerusalem for the feast. But how quickly it turned bad, and dark, and evil. One of their own betrayed him. He was arrested, put on trial. And they were scared. They did nothing to free him. They actually denied they ever knew him.

And then came that horrible day when they saw him bloodied and beaten and carrying his cross to the place of execution. And there he died, between two thieves.

Events after that are too unbelievable to tell. The reports of the women, the visions of the twelve, the sightings along the roads and by the sea. And they thought back on what he said, what he told them to expect. Did he not say all this would come to pass? But now what. Now we wait.

As we wait we remember that last night together. How we sat at the table as he broke the bread and passed the cup. And the words he spoke: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going."

But we did not know. Only Thomas had the courage to ask: "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?"

What a good question that was, Thomas. If only our Lord were here so that we could ask again, and hear his answer one more time: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life."

And suddenly, quite suddenly, while this gathered group is lost in longing and fear and bewilderment, something comes over them. How to describe it. It is like the sudden rising of a great rushing wind. It is like the refinement of iron in a fiery furnace. It is like being born again, given a new heart, inspired with a new voice.

Words fail, but the result was clear: their grief was gone, their fear was far away, their puzzlement and doubt has become understanding and faith. A new spirit of boldness and vision overwhelms them and all are ecstatic with joy and fulfillment.

And then the voice of Peter rises above the rest:

This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

'In the last days it will be, God declares,

that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,

and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

and your young men shall see visions,

and your old men shall dream dreams.

Where once they had experienced the absence of Jesus, now they knew his presence, not in the flesh, but in the Spirit. And not only did they know his presence, but they experienced a unity of heart and mind and purpose that would lead one of them to declare: it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. (Gal2.20)

Where once he was with them in the flesh, teaching them about the Christian life. Now, he is creating the Christian life in their souls by the action of the Spirit. Now he truly becomes for them the Way, the Truth, and the life.

The story itself is fantastic - barely comprehensible. A change was accomplished in their hearts that radiated out from their center until it transformed the society, culture, spirituality, and psychology of the whole world. These are amazing historical facts.

But what is more amazing is not in the past but in the here and now. What is more amazing is the proclamation that this same transforming power is present among us here today - that Christ lives in the power of the spirit, that Christ waits at the door of each heart, that Christ makes a quiet knock to seek welcome so that you and I, too, can know this marvelous gift of grace and peace and power. It is the gift of God’s presence.

In commenting on this mystery, the author Thomas Merton wrote:

In the discourse at the Last Supper, Jesus was preparing his Apostles for the Risen Life which they would share with Him when he would send them the Holy Spirit… He is on the point of starting a strange journey which no one but He can travel. It is the journey to God. "I go to prepare a place for you. I am coming again and I will take you to myself; that where I am you may be also." Where is this place? It is not a place. It is God.

Jesus says: "you know the way to the place where I am going." But Thomas protests. So do we. After two thousand years we must still ask the question with Thomas: "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way."

We ask, even though we already know the answer: "I am the way."

The Living Christ knows our questions, knows out doubts, sees our unrealized possibilities, and comes to us in Spirit to guide us into a more trusting, richer, fuller life. "I came," he says, "that they might have life, and have it more abundantly."

This abundant life is not to be ours for the taking. We cannot earn it, we cannot buy it, we cannot seize it. It is a gift of the Spirit. What we can do is make room for it and receive it with open hearts.

Do you and I, in the midst of all the things we are trying to do, make room for the Spirit? Do we make time to wait and receive? Do we quiet the hustle and noise so we can hear the gentle knock of Christ on the door of our hearts? Do we do it in our daily lives? Do we even do it when we come to church?

Let us take a moment, right now, to do that. Let us lay down the weights that burden our daily living. Let us set aside our plans and worries. Let us soak in the quiet of this house of prayer, imperfect as that quiet may be. Let us listen to the rhythm of life that pulses in us and offer a prayer of openness to God and to the Spirit of the Living Lord, Jesus Christ. Even so, come Holy Spirit. Amen

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