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the sermon for

The Day of Pentecost

04 June 2017

John 20:19-23
As the Father gives the Son, so the Son gives the Spirit!

04302017Cecil B. deMille was one of America's first great film makers. He, once, said, "Give me any two pages of the Bible and I'll give you a picture!" And he did just that! In 1922, his first biblical epic – a silent film – was The Ten Commandments. Four years later, he directed another silent film, The King of Kings. Then, in 1932, he released his first "talkie" – The Sign of the Cross. After that came a movie about Samson and Delilah and, in 1956, a remake of "The Ten Commandments" Each one more spectacular, more extravagant, than the last! CinemaScope! Technicolor! SurroundSound! Larger than life!

And, of course, there were other moviemakers that followed his lead. Producing other films based on the bible. Noah. David and Goliath. David and Bathsheba. Jesus. Even the end times. Some glorious and grand. Others not so much. But it's funny, looking back over it all, this morning, I don't remember any movie ever based on the second chapter of Acts! I can't recall any film retelling the story of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Somehow, this handful of verses has been overlooked, forgotten. They never caught anyone's attention. Never captured anyone's imagination. And of any two pages of the Bible that you'd think would be perfect for the silver screen, it would be these! Acts 2 . 1-21! Spectacular! Dramatic! The rush of a violent wind! Divided tongues, as of fire! Speaking in other languages! Just imagine what Hollywood could do with all of it! The special effects! The computer-generated graphics! And that's not to mention all the things that came later! Snake-handling! Healings! Slain in the spirit! It would be a blockbuster! But so far as I recollect, it's never happened! No one's ever gone there!

And if no one's ever produced Luke's version of the Spirit's coming, well, you can be sure John wouldn't stand a chance. So ordinary, plain. Blasé, really. Nothing that stands out. It all blends into the background. In fact, I don't know if you remember. . . we read this exact, same passage six Sunday's ago, the week after Easter! And I would bet most of us – if any – thought about Pentecost! But today's gospel is John's version of Pentecost!

It's evening, that first Easter day. The ten are gathered together behind locked doors. Afraid. All day, there have been rumors. About Jesus' body being stolen. About Jesus coming back to life. Then, Jesus is there! Among them! "Peace to you," he says! He shows them his hands,! His side! The wounds! The scar! And the disciples rejoice! Again, Jesus says, "Peace!" "As the Father has sent me," he continues, "so I send y'all!" (and here is the Pentecost part) When he said this, he breathed on them! He breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit!" "Receive the Holy Spirit!

Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit."

According to John, there is no pause, no delay! No waiting, no hesitation! Not fifty days! Not fifty hours! The Spirit comes when Jesus comes! In fact, the Spirit – in John – is the very breath of the risen Christ, himself! But, for some reason, we're drawn to Luke's account! Maybe because it's what we expect! Maybe it's what we want! So spiritual! So other-worldly! Magical! Mysterious! As any self-respecting god should be!

We Lutherans – over the centuries – have been criticized for not being all that. . . well, all that spiritual. They say we talk a lot about Jesus, about the cross. And they're right about that. They say we, even, talk some about god as creator. But we hardly talk about the Spirit, at all! But I don't think that's a fair assessment. You see, it assumes the Second Chapter of Acts as the litmus test! Acts 2 , not John 20 ! According to today's gospel, we are very spiritual, indeed!

Maybe part of the problem is the way King James translated the Greek work 'pneuma'. Holy Ghost, they named 'it'. It makes the Spirit sound more like Casper, the friendly than it does like Jesus! Paranormal. Ethereal. Something that goes bump in the night. But according to John, that's not what – who – the Spirit is! The Spirit is the breath of Jesus! The Spirit is the breath of Jesus that inspires us! The Spirit is the breath of Jesus that raises us up and makes us alive! The Spirit is the breath of Jesus that loves us and forgives us and, then, through us, loves and forgives the people around us!

"As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
When he had said this, he breathed on them!

That's why the Small Catechism – when it explains the third article of the creed – doesn't say anything about fifty days or violent winds or tongues of fire. It's not that we're not spiritual. It's that we're more like John than we are Luke! "We believe that by our own understanding or strength we cannot believe in or come to Jesus Christ our Lord, but instead" Jesus comes to us and stands among us and breathes on us! And that breath, that spirit, raises us up and makes us alive! That breath changes us! Makes us different! New! It's not the outlandish and the strange that saves! It's Jesus! Jesus dying! Jesus rising! Jesus giving us his very breath!

For us, here, in this place, it's not Father, Son, and. . . SQUIRREL! The Spirit doesn't distract us! The Spirit doesn't divert our attention. They're all one! They're all the same! One in three! Three in one! Love that creates! Love that saves! And love that lifts up and makes new! The Lord and Giver of Life! That's what we call the Spirit in the Nicene Creed. But don't let those words fool you. They are just a humble, just as unassuming as any other in scripture. Defined not by the glorious and grand, by the high and the mighty. But by the lowly and the meek. Lord and Giver of Life are reflections of the manger and cross. Echoes of bread and wine. Those are the times, the places, when the Spirit is seen most clearly! Not in the remarkable or the extraördinary, but in the passages just like this one from John! Everyday! Run-of-the-mill!

Jesus comes and stands among them. And Jesus comes and stands among us! No fanfare! No flourish! He shows us hands, side, and he says, "Peace!" When he has our attention, he continues. "As the Father has sent me, so I send you! So I send all of you!" And then he says, "Receive! Receive the Holy Spirit!" And he breathes on us! He breathes on us! And for the first time – for the first time since Eden – we become living, breathing creations! Created! Recreated! In god's own image!

So, my friends, according to Luke's account. . . according to the second chapter of Acts. . . today is Pentecost. It's fifty days after. And many are celebrating this day as the day the church was born. But for John – for John and for John's community – that happened weeks, ago! That moment came on day one! It came in that house where the disciples had gathered! It came behind the locked doors! It came in the midst of the fear! Came when Jesus stood among them! Came when Jesus breathed on them and gave them his very own breath!

"Peace," he said! "As the Father has sent me, so I send you!" Then, he breathed on them! He breathed on them! And he said, "Receive! Receive the Holy Spirit!"

 
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the sermon for

The Seventh Sunday of Easter

28 May 2017

John 17:1-11
Eternal life isn't heaven. It's being loved by god!

04302017Look up the word 'eternal' in the dictionary – any dictionary – and the list of meanings will, pretty much, be alike. Without end! Lasting forever! Always existing! Permanent, as opposed to temporary! Hit shift-F7 in word and the list of synonyms isn't much different! Everlasting! Unending! Undying! Perpetual! Ceaseless! Interminable! 'Eternal'... It's an important word for John. Used extensively! One of those things that set John apart from the other three gospels! Matthew uses the word 'eternal' five times. Mark three times. Luke four. John uses it seventeen times! First John six more! And each time, every time, it modifies, describes only one word. Life! Life eternal! Eternal life!

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have...
eternal life.

That verse is stereotypically John in so many ways. Unfortunately, when we hear those two words together, right away, we start climbing to heaven! Up Jacob's latter! Through the pearly gates! Onto the streets of gold! That's where we find eternal! Up high and far, far away! Endless! Everlasting! We hear that phrase – eternal life – and all we see are white robes and wings, halos and harps! But here we are, once again, on the Thursday of Holy Week! Maundy Thursday! The night in which he was betrayed! But remember, in John, there is no meal. No bread. No wine. Instead, there are only words! Lots and lots of words! Five chapters of them, to be exact! One hundred fifty-five verses! And not once, no one time, during the entire discourse, does Jesus use the word eternal! Not until here... now... at the very end of it all! With just a mouthful of words remaining, Jesus looks up to heaven and says, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him!"

"To give eternal life to all whom you have given him!" And one more time, we hear that word and it all comes rushing back! It unleashes a tidal wave, a tsunami, of heaven! Everlasting! Unending! Undying! Perpetual! Ceaseless! Interminable! And, frankly, we bask in its glow! But then, as he has done so many times before, John adds one more verse! As if he knew, as if he understood, what would happen when we read his words, Jesus continues... "And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."

And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God,
and may know me, Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

You see, eternal life isn't a where! And it's not, even, a when! Eternal life is a who! Eternal life is a person! A person and the love that person brings! We tend to get so spiritual. Faith becomes such a supernatural thing, for us! But in reality, it's so down to earth! So close at hand! Unreined, that word 'eternal' makes us think of another place, of another time, so unlike this one. It conjures up visions of Valhalla and Elysium Fields! But that's not what Jesus is talking about, here! That isn't what he has in mind! He's not saying eternal life is around the next turn or over the next hill. He's saying that eternal life is wherever he is! Wherever Jesus, wherever the son, is!

Eternal life can be right here! In a handful of people on a Sunday morning in West Texas! Eternal life can be the words they hear spoken from behind the altar! Eternal life can, even, be the words they speak to each other! Eternal life can be a bowlful of water or a pinch of bread or a sip of wine! Eternal life can be the greeting they share along the way. Eternal life, simply, isn't what happens once this world is over! When the shadows lengthen... and the evening comes... and the busy world is hushed... the fever of life is over... our work is done... But it's something that happens right here, right now! "This is eternal life: that they know you and that they know me!"

And the crazy thing about that way of thinking... It leads you to believe that this... that all of this... is sacred! All of this is holy! The very world we try so hard to escape... the very world we do our best to leave behind... this imperfect, this broken, this fallen world... all this becomes the dwelling place of god! All this becomes heaven! That's what Jesus is saying, on Good Friday eve... Eternal life can be here! Eternal life can be now! Because eternal life is Jesus! Eternal life is Jesus! You don't need cherubim! You don't need seraphim or the four-and-twenty elders or all the rest! All you need is Jesus! Jesus and his love! That is eternal life! Abundant living!

When the perishable puts on the imperishable! When the mortal puts on immortality! That's how Paul describes it in one of his letters! In a moment! In the twinkling of an eye! At the last trumpet! That's when he says it will happen! That's Paul. This is John! And it all happens wherever Jesus is! Whenever Jesus is! sure, it can happen up high and far away. And it can happen in a moment, in the twinkling, at the last! But it can happen right here and right now, as well! Because, you see, it's all about Jesus! Jesus and Jesus' love! Because that love is the magic! The magic that turns night into day! That changes doubt into believing! It's that love that transforms a stable into a palace! Shepherds into nobility! It can change a ring of thorns into a crown and a cross into a throne! Eternal life – at least, for us – isn't a time and it's not a place! It's a person!

A person who comes from heaven to earth! Who goes from earth to the cross and from the cross to the grave! Just like the song says. But the truth of the matter is that when Jesus leaves the grace, from John's vantage point, he didn't go back to the sky. He remained right here! Where he's needed the most! And where he is, that is eternity!

So, my friends, don't be blinded! Blinded by the glory! And don't be deafened by the splendor. This is eternal life: knowing god; knowing Jesus! This is eternal life: being knowing by the Father and by the Son!

 
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