May 26, 2019    6 Easter, C

 

      Several decades ago I was on the search committee for a rector. We went to hear a candidate preach—a nice trip to Grace Church, Vineyard Haven! He started his sermon by saying that inspiration had come a couple of days before while he was walking. He said it was a two-part sermon, called “Beach plums (and something else)”

      Later, members of the committee said they were concerned that he had prepared his sermon so recently. “Shouldn’t he have done that weeks ago?” they asked.

      How naïve we were! “Prepare a sermon weeks before you preach it?”  A lofty and mostly impossible goal. Who has time to do that, and serve a parish? And, many sermons prepared weeks ahead would be out of touch by the time they are preached.

      So here I am, a couple of days before Sunday, getting my thoughts on paper—or on the screen. This, however, will be a three part sermon.

      There are three words in our readings today that call for a closer look. Word. Advocate. Peace.

      “In the beginning was the Word.” That is how John introduces Jesus to us. “The Word was with God. The Word was God.”

      The “Word” is Jesus. And “Word” in Greek is “logos.”

      Logos means behavior, attitude, creativity, personality.

It can mean “a list” or “narration” from which we get the idea of spoken word. Jesus is not a word by himself.

      Jesus is the Word of God. God’s presentation, representative. God in human form. Everything about Jesus comes from God, because, especially to John, Jesus is God.

      Jesus says, “Those who love me will keep my word.” He means that our behavior, our attitude, our relationship with the Father, will be like his.

      We keep Jesus’ word when we do the things that he did.

      We heal the sick. We may not have the gift of healing, but we have the ability to work for better medical care for everyone.

      We feed the hungry. We go down to the docks in Galilee and take soup. We bring food for the pantry in NK so folks who can’t go to market can feed their families. We serve a free supper every Sunday night. And we have Bible Study and Centering Prayer to feed our spiritual lives, too.

      We care for the outcast, for those cast out by others. We have space for AA and NA and other healing groups.

      We are welcoming and caring for everyone, no matter how different they are, no matter how different their ideas are. As we pray in the Baptismal Covenant, (We) “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

      And, we can’t and don’t do this alone. We have the gift of God’s Holy Spirit to guide and direct, to comfort and to strengthen us as we follow Jesus.

      The Greek word is “paraklete.” This means, “to stand beside.” “Advocate,” as John says, means “to speak for.” It sounds more legalistic, as if we are on trial, and Holy Spirit defends us.

      Other names for Holy Spirit are wind and breath. I say “Holy Spirit” instead of “the Holy Spirit” because, like wind and breath, Holy Spirit is everywhere.

      It is Holy Spirit that gives us the right thing to say when we are at a loss for words and breathe a quick prayer for help. Holy Spirit can lead us to the right decision, help us find the right path for whatever steps we are taking.

      Holy Spirit may be behind those coincidences that my mother called “little miracles that God sends us.”

      A friend of mine has a grandson who has estranged himself from the family. For at least two years my friend has prayed for him to come home. Every Tuesday at the healing service, that has been her prayer.

      Last week after that service we did not all go for lunch together as usual. I went to get a sandwich, and was joined by a mother and daughter who’d been at the service.

      I hadn’t seen them in a while, so I asked the daughter if she was doing chaplaincy work. She told me about her work for hospice. She said she’d gone to see a patient at a nursing home, and was struck by the compassion and caring of the young man feeding him.

      She complimented him, and they started a conversation. In the course of it he asked if she knew a certain church, and said, “My grandparents go there.”

      It was my friends lost grandson! Not back in the arms of the family, but safe and well and doing something he loves.

      I don’t think it was coincidence that brought us to have lunch together. Or that prompted me to ask about her work. I don’t think it was coincidence that took her to that patient at just the right time to meet this young man.

      The breath, the wind, the flow of Holy Spirit is always in us and with us and around us. We can tune into the Spirit, and be led to amazing, miraculous, times. Or, we can focus on our own thoughts and ideas and miss out.

      My friend from lunch could have just nodded to the young man caring for her patient. I could have said, “Gotta go,” and left the restaurant without hearing the good news.

      And the grandparents would have gotten the news some day, but not then.

      The last few weeks we have heard of Paul and Peter having visions, dreams. This is often how Holy Spirit gets our attention and speaks God’s ideas to us.

      And so to our third word, peace. In Hebrew it is “Shalom.” That’s the word Jesus would have used. Shalom means much more than our idea of peace.

      I’ve said before that Shalom means well-being, wholeness. It is participating with God in the healing of the world. It is more than the hippy’s “Peace, man!” More than Robert Browning’s feeling that “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world,” that means peace to many folks.

      Shalom calls us to be involved in the world, to bring wholeness and well-being to others. Shalom is about healing and helping and bringing others into wholeness.

      Shalom doesn’t pretend that everything’s OK when it’s not. Shalom invites us to open our eyes and hearts and see the problems of the world. Shalom helps us have hope even when the future looks bleak. In Shalom we see God’s work in the world and our response to it.

      There’s a parish that used to call itself the “happy parish.” They loved and cared about each other, but were blind to their neighbors and the rest of the world. I remember hearing someone there say “I don’t see anything wrong in the world.”

      That is not the Shalom that Jesus invites us to live.

      These three words are connected and woven together.

      Jesus Incarnates, puts flesh on, God’s nature and shows us God’s will, God’s yearning, for all Creation.

      Holy Spirit inspires us, breathes in us, to open our eyes to all the ways we can participate in God’s yearning. Holy Spirit gives us wisdom, courage, strength, comfort. And sometimes a kick in the pants to get our attention.

      When we follow Jesus with the help of Holy Spirit we are living in Shalom. And so is everyone we meet.

      Shalom, my friends.

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details