Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
May 28, 2023
As I read through today’s scripture readings, two images from the past week came to mind. The first is last Sunday’s celebration. We gathered in the Parish Hall for a great meal to celebrate how far we have come together in the past year. So many people with such a variety of gifts have made this past year possible. We have worked together as the Body of Christ to be the church, just as the reading from 1 Corinthians describes. And as we sang, prayed, ate, and had great conversation that helped us get to know each other better, the Holy Spirit clearly moved among us, energizing us and calling us forward. I will hold the memory of last Sunday in my heart for a long time.
The other image is harder. On Tuesday, there was a terrifying threat against the 6th graders at Hudson Middle School, serious enough to cancel their field trip and for many of their parents to want their 6th graders at home. Many of our youth group are 6th graders and at Hudson Middle School. I cannot imagine the terror the 6th grade parents felt, nor the relief when some answers were found and the situation was resolved. I thought about the 6th graders when I read about the fear the disciples had as they hid behind locked doors on Easter afternoon. The text tells us that they hid for fear of the Jews, which is a reflection of the deep tensions between late first century Christians and Jews. These words should never be taken as a reflection on our Jewish brothers and sisters or cause any harm to come to them in any way. The reading from Acts reminds us that the disciples were gathered in Jerusalem as faithful Jews for the Jewish feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon them, so John’s gospel does not have the final word on first century Judaism. The point of the passage in John’s gospel is that, in the midst of their fear, Jesus appears to them and does not just offer them peace. Jesus gives them peace and breathes the Holy Spirit, the very breath of God, into them. Jesus does not ask them what they need, or condemn their fear, or make any suggestions about how they might move forward. He gives them peace and breathes new life into them.
How are we to live as Pentecost people in a world, a country, filled with gun violence, an ongoing pandemic, climate change, racial injustice, and economic uncertainty, where there is more than enough to fear? How does Jesus speak peace into our deepest fears, whatever they may be?
First, Jesus puts us into community. On the day of Pentecost, the disciples were all together in one place when the Holy Spirit descended upon them. In 1 Corinthians, Paul reminds us that we are each part of the body of Christ. With our various gifts and differences, we are knit together as one. And in the reading from John’s gospel, the disciples, minus Thomas, were together when Jesus appears to them. Jesus’ gift of peace and Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples when they were together. None of us has to find peace on our own.
Secondly, Jesus gives us the promised gift Holy Spirit, the Advocate, to be with us and to guide us. That gift gives us the courage to be bold and to speak out and work to make this world more closely resemble the kingdom of God just as the disciples did. How do we do that in 21st century America? In the Episcopal Church, the Baptismal Covenant guides us in that work. In the Baptismal Covenant, which we renew at every single baptism, we promise, with God’s help, to be faithful in worship, to repent from evil, to seek and serve Christ in all people, to work for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being, and to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ with our words and with our lives. That work takes courage and we cannot do that work without the gift of the Holy Spirit. But imagine what a gospel difference we can make against the fearsome forces in this world, when, guided by the Holy Spirit, we truly live into those promises.
Lastly, in addition to placing us into community so that we face nothing alone, and giving us the Holy Spirit to guide us in making a gospel difference in the world, Jesus calls us to claim the gifts we have each been given by the Holy Spirit and to use them for the common good…not just the common good at Christ Church although that is certainly part of the call, but the common good of all of humanity. Jesus will never call us as individuals or us as a parish to do anything for which we have not been given the gifts to accomplish. Jesus sets us up to succeed at whatever Jesus calls us to do.
Jesus did not tell the disciples not to be afraid. Jesus gave them the gift of peace and the gift of the Holy Spirit, then Jesus sent them out as God sent Jesus out. Jesus does not tell us not to be afraid, either. But Jesus does call us to believe that the Holy Spirit is present with us, to claim the many gifts we have been given as a congregation and as individuals, and then sends us out to make a gospel difference in the world. The disciples did just that in Jerusalem in the reading from Acts this morning and Jesus expects no less of us now.