May 21, 2017 Sermon

Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 21, 2017, Lectionary A

The Rev. Dr.  C. Clark Hubbard, Jr. Rector                                             Scripture: John 14:15-21

“Stretch out your hand [Oh, Lord] to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  Acts 4:30




Let us pray.  Heavenly Father, send now the Holy Spirit to encourage us to more and more love Jesus and be empowered through Him who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God for ever and ever.  Amen. 



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The TV commercial is an old one, but no less compelling. It does a wonderful job visually to capture in just a few moments what it is like to anticipate eating a juicy hamburger with thick, rich ketchup, making the wait worthwhile.  The burger is going to taste that much better because of that ketchup.  All our senses have been titillated—smell, taste, touch, as well as hearing.  Even now we may be wishing that we were eating a nice, big, juicy burger.  We can taste it and our mouths are watering.


It goes without saying, though without our awareness, that anticipation is an essential part of everything day living.  We anticipate that the sun will rise in the morning or set in the evening.  We anticipate that our car will be in the parking lot when we leave after the service.  Likewise, we anticipate that when we return to our house, it will still be there. The list of things we anticipate is innumerable from the moon in the sky to the very gravity which holds us down.


Because we anticipate something, does not necessarily mean we look forward to it.  We don’t look forward to going to the dentist unless we have a tooth ache.  We don’t look forward to tax season, being ill, or an argument with a loved one.  Even more sobering, we don’t look forward to dying.  In that respect we may have anticipated how much longer we have to live—a month, a year, 10 years, 30, 40, 50, or 60.  Based upon our parents’ longevity, we may have anticipated at what age we might depart this mortal life.


Inherent in the meaning of the word, anticipation is the future. The dictionary gives as a synonym, “foresee”.  We anticipate a certain something, found in the future.  We foresee in the future that our cars will be in the parking lot after this service.


The scripture reading from John this morning anticipates, foresees in the future that the Holy Spirit will come.  Jesus says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will (future tense) give you another Advocate, to be with you.”  This event is recorded in John 20:2 when the resurrected Christ appeared to the disciples,” breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.” John’s documentation of this momentous event is tame in comparison to Luke’s, known as Pentecost.


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” (Acts 2:2 & 3).


Though the anticipation of the Spirit’s coming, as foretold by Jesus, had a very near future arrival date for the disciples, this had not always been the case.  Indeed the original anticipation of the Spirit’s arrival had been lengthy—thousands of years.   We first hear a suggestion of its possibility in the Old Testament book of Numbers 11:29: “But Moses said to (Joshua), ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!’”  In this case seventy of the elders had momentarily received the Holy Spirit, but He did not remain with them.


Later in the Bible, we hear of other occasions when individuals received the Holy Spirit, but it was only a select few.  The heroic individuals found in the Book of Judges all were anointed with the Spirit.  In particular we remember the strong man Samson.  “The spirit of the LORD rushed on him, and he tore the lion apart barehanded as one might tear apart a kid” (Judges 14:6).  In the Book of Samuel, the prophet tells the soon to be king, Saul, “Then the spirit of the LORD will possess you, and you will be in a prophetic frenzy along with them and be turned into a different person” (Samuel 10:6).  Similarly, we hear in respect to King David: “Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward” (Samuel 16:13).


In short, the Spirit was only allotted to certain individuals, such as prophets and kings, in the Old Testament.  The consummation of that singularity to an individual is, of course, found in Jesus when we hear at His baptism that: “the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:22). The anticipation that the Spirit was only apportioned to an individual, however, did begin to change when God, speaking through the prophet Joel, said: “Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 29 Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit” (Joel 2:28 & 29).


St. Peter would explain what happened on the day of Pentecost with this prophecy from Joel.  What we hear from Jesus in today’s gospel foresees, anticipates the coming fulfillment of what was prophesied by Joel around the ninth century B.C—a long wait for sure, a long time to anticipate.

The anticipation, as spoken of by Joel and as promised by Jesus, heralds a new day for all of God’s people, and not just a select few.  It is a new day of empowerment—Holy Spirit, God empowerment for you and me. If we back up to the verses just before those we heard in this morning’s reading, we hear the most astounding words, spoken by Jesus:


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” (John 14:12-14).


Can we believe it?  Does this not peak our interest and give us a rush of adrenaline?  We will do greater works than Jesus.  We will raise the dead, walk on water, turn water into wine (we would love that one), calm a storm, and heal the sick.  So, what could be greater?  Theologians have spent years speculating on that.  For example, maybe Jesus meant that some of us would bring more people to faith in Him than He had.  Indeed, there are certain evangelists who might boast a million or better converts, but is that what Jesus meant?


I would like to suggest that the way in which we might do greater works than Jesus is a matter of perspective, though no less great.  For a man to bench press 200 lbs. is not necessarily much of a feat, but what if a five year old were to press the same 200 lbs. We would say that was greater.  Perhaps, this is what Jesus means to suggest. For Him as “God and man” to raise someone from the dead is great, but for you and me as mere mortals to do so, well, that would be even greater.  So the expectation Jesus is raising here for us is no small matter.  How then do we get to that place of doing greater works by virtue of being empowered by the Holy Spirit?  We are talking about a lot of spiritual muscle here.  How do we get there?  Is there a contingency?  Why may we not being flexing that muscle right now?


Tom had won a toy at a raffle. He called his five kids together to ask which one should have the toy. “Who is the most obedient?” he asked. The children all stared back at him in silence. Then he asked, “Who never talks back to mother?” Again, the kids appeared to be mystified by the question. Then Tom asked, “Who does everything she says?”  With that question, the kids were finally able to come to a conclusion. The five small voices answered in unison, “Okay, Dad, you get the toy.”                                                                                                      We heard the contingency for being empowered by the Holy Spirit, for receiving this spiritual muscle in the first verse of the gospel this morning.  Jesus told His disciples, tells us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate.”  To paraphrase the story of who receives the toy, “Those who do what Jesus says” will be given another Advocate, the Spirit.  As to loving Jesus, we are to understand that loving Him and keeping His commandments are one in the same.


We take note that Jesus describes the Spirit as “another Advocate,” meaning that Jesus was the first advocate. That is to say that everything that the Holy Spirit does is a continuation of what Jesus began. The Spirit spreads the truth about God, offers healing and hope, and shows the love of the Lord — just as Jesus did.  Indeed, we can read that it was by the power of the Spirit that Jesus did the miraculous, no less than Samson or the prophets.  It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we, too, can do the miraculous, but there is that contingency of loving Jesus, of keeping His commands.


It is easy to stumble over, misconstrue and misapply what Jesus is saying here. You see, it is not following the rules that is important.  Rather, it is following the rules because we love Jesus that is important.  Obviously, we can follow rules for any number of reasons—fear, guilt, expectation of reward, or for the sake of appearances.  What Jesus means, however, asks for a deeper authenticity and sincerity without self-justification and rationalization.


A recent article by Jane E. Brody in the NYT on January 30, 2017 gives us some insight.  She writes, “Most people say “I’m sorry” many times a day for a host of trivial affronts,  but when “I’m sorry” are the words needed to right truly hurtful words, acts or inaction, they can be the hardest ones to utter. And even when an apology is offered with the best of intentions, it can be seriously undermined by the way in which it is worded. Instead of eradicating the emotional pain the affront caused, a poorly worded apology can result in lasting anger and antagonism, and undermine an important relationship.


I recently discovered that the need for an apology is less about me than the person who, for whatever reason, is offended by something I said or did or failed to do, regardless of my intentions. I also learned that a sincere apology can be powerful medicine with surprising value for the giver as well as the recipient.


After learning that a neighbor who had assaulted me verbally was furious about an oversight I had not known I committed, I wrote a letter in hopes of defusing the hostility. Without offering any excuses, I apologized for my lapse in etiquette and respect. I said I was not asking for or expecting forgiveness, merely that I hoped we could have a civil, if not friendly, relationship going forward, then delivered the letter with a jar of my homemade jam.


Expecting nothing in return, I was greatly relieved when my doorbell rang and the neighbor thanked me warmly for what I had said and done. My relief was palpable. I felt as if I’d not only discarded an enemy but made a new friend, which is indeed how it played out in the days that followed.


About a week later I learned that, according to the psychologist and author Harriet Lerner, the wording of my apology was just what the “doctor” would have ordered.  Dr. Lerner points out that apologies followed by rationalizations are “never satisfying” and can even be harmful. “When ‘but’ is tagged on to an apology,” she wrote, it’s an excuse that counters the sincerity of the original message. The best apologies are short and don’t include explanations that can undo them.  Nor should a request for forgiveness be part of an apology. The offended party may accept a sincere apology but still be unready to forgive the transgression. Forgiveness, should it come, may depend on a demonstration going forward that the offense will not be repeated.


The focus of an apology should be on what the offender has said or done, not on the person’s reaction to it. Saying “I’m sorry you feel that way” shifts the focus away from the person who is supposedly apologizing and turns “I’m sorry” into “I’m not really sorry at all,” the psychologist wrote.”


Loving our neighbors as ourselves is certainly one of Jesus’ commands.  Indeed, He approximates it to being like loving God.  When a lawyer asked Jesus which is the greatest commandment, He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 38).


Jesus promises us the Holy Spirit, the Advocate.  If we love Jesus, sincerely, following His commandments, if we love our neighbors, sincerely, then Spirit empowerment supernaturally follows and we will do greater things.  If we are sincere in loving, as Jane E. Brody was in her apology (an aspect of loving), then we can anticipate that the results will be life-changing, as Jane herself experienced.


It is a laughable image, but compelling.  If we love Jesus and keep His commandments then we can anticipate that He will pour out the Holy Spirit on us like Heinz ketchup on a juicy hamburger.  Rather, than being flavored with ketchup, though we will be flavored with the Holy Spirit, with God.  We will be that much more appetizing to a world that assuredly needs the flavor of love more than ever.  We will have and be something that the world desperately needs now, something that the world would surely love to anticipate if knew it was available—all the more reason to share the good news in Jesus Christ, and how He has loved us.


In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.