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John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15 May 20, 2018

Hello, I Must Be Going!

One of the best remembered and least helpful quotes comes courtesy of George
Santayana. You may have heard it yourself:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Really? Then why do so many terrible people study the worst things of the past and
strive to imitate them? Not only does history repeat itself, but folks will try to push the
boundaries and raise the stakes. Yes, you can learn from history and choose not to make the
same mistakes again, but that is just one of many options.
This is why we need to pay attention to God’s presence in the work of the Holy Spirit.
Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day of the Christian year in which we celebrate a
particular day in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit came upon a group of Jesus followers and
turned them into the church. You might even call today the birthday of the church. (You can
give the church birthday presents later when we pass the offering plates!)
But you could also call it a surprise party because the disciples had no idea what to
expect. All they knew was that Jesus told them to go to Jerusalem and wait. As Jesus says to
his disciples in the Upper Room: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the
truth.” (John 16:13)
As faithful Jews, the disciples remembered the stories of their faith from the garden to
Eden to Noah and the ark, Abraham and Sarah, Joseph and King David. During Passover
meals they recalled not only how Moses led the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt and to the
Promised Land, but also the story of their captivity in Babylon and Assyria and how God
brought them back to Judah. They also practiced a faith in which the Law of Moses was recited
and remembered. The past was a sacred text.
They had been with Jesus for about three years as he went about during his earthly
ministry. They remembered the parables, they remembered the healings and the miracles and
how hundreds were fed. Jesus spoke to them when they were sharing the bread and the cup
and said “Do this in remembrance of me.”
But as he anticipates his death on the cross, Jesus is telling them that there is coming a
time in which they will not depend upon the past to find their way but upon the guidance of the
Holy Spirit, which will be Christ’s presence with them.
Jesus is quite direct with them about what needs to take place before they will receive
power. Jesus has to be going. It is not going to be good enough to simply continue as his
sidekicks. But three things have to happen. Jesus has to come back alive after death on the
cross (he needs to be resurrected) and then he needs to actually leave (ascend into heaven)
and finally, the Holy Spirit needs to fill them with the presence of Christ so that they can be
Christ for the world.
A lot of good Christians complain about how little the church means in our world today.
But almost without pause, these gripers summon up past glory days from over 50 years ago.
They remember when everyone was in church and Sunday School classrooms were filled to
the brim. I was just a little kid back then, but I have a lot of great memories.
But how about a little Holy Spirit power? Let’s review Jesus’ three requirements for a
living, vital church:
You’ve got to let me rise from the dead. Is your favorite old hymn the children’ song
“Tell me the stories of Jesus I love to hear” or the mission song “I serve a risen Savior, He’s in
the world today?” Not only do we need to spend more time comprehending the love that was
shown to the world through Jesus on the cross, but the power of the resurrection that gathers
all of the sins of the world and nails them to a cross, and then defeats death and darkness to
forgive and save that broken world. You can read all about Jesus and appreciate everything he
said and taught. But there comes a time when you have to allow the Good News of the gospel
lead you to the power of the risen Christ. That’s the point of the Gospels! As John says,
“these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by
believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)
Jesus also says that You’ve got to let me leave you. One person – even if it happens
to be Jesus Christ – is just one person. “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.” (John 14:12) It is hard to separate from people that we have loved and have
learned from, but that is part of becoming responsible adults. Loving parents who truly desire
the best for their children must prepare themselves for the day when the child leaves them to
make their way in the world, often pursuing a vocation that exceeds expectations. If a child will
not leave their parents side, there will come a day when the years run out and that moment of
departure leaves a child alone. Jesus loves us enough to want us to venture into new places
apart from memories of the best times together.
And then we have to let the Holy Spirit lead us. I do not know any way to state this
without sounding brash: If you want God to do great things in your life, you need to allow God
into your life. Some of the best ministries around town began when a small group of Christians
just decided to get together and pray for God to give them a shared vision of something good
to do. I recently read about the New Concord United Methodist Church (near Muskingum
College) that decided to do something new. They knew how to make pancakes and they knew
about how college students often need a break from all-night study sessions during finals
week. So, they offered a pancake break from 10:00 p.m. to midnight. There was a box for
prayer requests. About 70 students came and ate pancakes. A few asked for prayers (you
always ask for prayers during finals week). And that was that. But it was new and it was fun
and everyone was blessed. Will they do it again? Who knows? But if they do it twice in a row, it
might become an annual thing. Watch out!
As many of you know, I will be retiring soon. I am not going to pastor another church,
but I know that I will be doing ministry somewhere, somehow. I intend to pray and wait for God
to lead me in new ways – I only have new ways. But God is going to be doing that here, as
well. I have great hopes for Brayden and Brandon, my two confirmands. If they are open to the
Holy Spirit, they will do much that is good. I can guarantee that whatever I tried to teach them
about Jesus, John Wesley and The United Methodist Church will be forgotten – if they haven’t
forgotten it already! But if they can just live each day expecting God to lead them, that will be
enough. And if Marshall and Katie can patiently surround Mitchell with love and
encouragement, there will come a day when he also will become a true child of God.
It would be great to just sit here this morning and wait for the Holy Spirit to touch us with
tongues of fire. But we have a cookie reception to get to. All right, it will just have to be a take-
home homework assignment. I’m expecting abundant things from God and exceptional work
from you!