While we do have a wonderful building for our church, and we all love it in so many ways, it is no secret that we have a few issues with our aging carpet and windows. I mention this here because someone said to me recently that should they win the lottery, they would give enough money to the church so that we could get new flooring and new windows. The sentiment was kind and heartfelt, but the thought it, I must admit, was also very enticing to me. I would love to be able to announce we have the resources to make these renovations. In a way it would be a little dream come true. But there’s a conundrum here as well. I’m not much of a fan of gambling for a number of reasons but chief among them is that I think gambling is a kind of tax on the poor and the vulnerable. In spite of this, and recognizing the need for new flooring and windows, I found myself thinking, “You know, a lottery ticket is only a couple of bucks… and given the greater good surely it wouldn’t be so bad if….”. Now I have stopped short of actually praying to win the lottery, but I should also honestly say that I have stopped short of dissuading this person from buying a ticket as well. God will of course have the final word on the matter and I thank God for His wisdom and for Her sense of humour as we indulge in some whimsy. If we did win you might say it was St John’s red-letter day, and with that thought we head directly to the sermon for today.
Did you know that today is in fact a red-letter day? Well it is, at least in the BCP. The term red-letter day comes from the church. It did and still does represent an important feast or saint’s day, printed in ecclesiastical calendars in red ink. It is therefore an important and special day for the church. In common usage today a red-letter day means a day that is pleasantly noteworthy or particularly memorable. The reason why this is a red-letter day is of course because today is Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles. In tradition the feast on Monday celebrates the Holy Spirit and Tuesday recognizes the third day of the Trinity. I mention this more than just to provide material for some future game of trivial pursuit, although it might, I mention this because I believe Pentecost is a particularly memorable day.
At Pentecost we are reminded in a wonderful way that God is quite literally with us as we walk our journey through this life and into our journey back to God. I believe the Holy Spirit is a real presence in our lives and guides us and nurtures us in good times, in indifferent times and in our bad times. It seems to good to be true, but the God who created our world and the universe didn’t stop at creation. God sent us Jesus to be a light to the world and to show us the transformative power of love, forgiveness, compassion and hope. But God didn’t even stop there; God gave us the Holy Spirit so that the words and work and guidance and love of Jesus could be with us always.
But in saying that it is hard to believe this news because it is just too good to be true, I think I am touching upon a greater truth and one that can be difficult for us Christians to grapple with. When was the last time you put your whole trust, your whole life into the hands of God? Perhaps for you it was this morning, or perhaps you have achieved a level of understanding with God that your whole trust in Him never goes away, it never fails. Some do realize this stage of communion with God and it is a wonderful and blessed thing. However for me and I suspect most people complete trust in God, the kind of trust where you let Her take care of all the worries before you is an ongoing and ever challenging work in progress.
I am, however, quite earnest in my belief that God wants all of us to put our complete trust in Him. In the Gospel today we hear, “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. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” Jesus says, if you ask for anything in my name I will do it. Here I think lays the crux of the problem I was just talking about. If we can pray for anything in Jesus name and we will get it, then why does that so obviously not appear to be the case in real life? If I pray for an end to war today and war still exists tomorrow then my prayer is not answered. If I pray that no toddler should accidentally fall into a pool and drown, and one does, surely these words are false. If I actually should pray that the person I was talking to wins the lottery and - as chances will have it does not - then what am I to believe. What is going on here? If we can pray for anything and we don’t get it, why should we put our complete trust in God?
In days of old I imagine the answer to this question given by some curmudgeon of a cleric as he looked down upon his congregation through his thin spectacles. He would lean forward, squint his eyes and, no doubt with bible firmly clutched in fist, and say to his parishioners, “Perhaps your faith is not strong enough”. Today this answer is as much a cop-out as it is offensive and quite frankly unbiblical. Jesus said all you need is the faith of a mustard seed and I believe it and I believe we all have that. And Jesus said ask anything of me and I will give it to you. I have a little story.
The meaning of this story is fairly clear. God works through us. Whether by design or necessity God works through human beings to make a better world. It is within our capacity to end hunger and get rid of guns and curb pollution. But there lies the question of faith and trust in God; if we are capable of changing only those things that are already within our human capacity to change why bother praying to God; indeed as many of my atheist friends would say, why bother with God at all? This, I believe, is where the Holy Spirit comes in.
On a Sunday during a beautiful spring day a number of years ago I was alone in my apartment. A thought, a strong thought came into my head that I should go to church. All I can tell you for sure is that I was not the author of that thought. After many years of walking alone, God opened my mind to Her presence and we have been in a life giving and life changing dialogue ever since. What I realize now is that God was there all along; it was I who was not listening to the strong thoughts inside my head. And from that day on forward my life was changed in ways that I literally could not have imagined at the time. In a very real way God answered prayers that I didn’t even know that I had prayed. Looking back I cannot imagine choosing a better path, a better life journey for myself. The Holy Spirit knew better than I could ask or imagine.
In the same Gospel passage we also hear Jesus say, “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you”. Jesus said the Holy Spirit will teach you everything. My study bible is the Harper Collins study bible and it is quite good I think. It also comes with this bible commentary and I think it is pretty good as well. But, I wanted to share with you what it says on this passage. (Read) With deference to Harper Collins I think Jesus does mean everything conceivable. The Holy Spirit will I believe give you with all the knowledge and experience that you need to fulfill the plan God has for you.
So, why pray to God? Why wouldn’t you? Why wouldn’t you want to be in dialogue with the One who created you and who has a plan for you greater than you can ask for or imagine? And the plan God has for you runs through your whole life. The seemingly small things you do to help or guide or encourage other people can have a ripple effect that I believe can change lives. I also believe one day humanity will end war and poverty because as we pray for it, God in the Holy Spirit is putting the ideas in the minds of the many people who will help bring it to fruition. The Holy Spirit has and continues to teach us everything.
When was the last time you put your whole trust in God? When was the last time you opened your heart and let God bathe you in the light of His love and hold you in the motherly embrace of Her arms? For me the time and the place where this is the easiest is at communion. At communion I find the presence of God a palpable reality. At communion today let us all as best we can reconnect with the Holy Spirit and walk the journey that is our lives with the knowledge that God’s plan for us is full of wonder and hope. Let us have a red-letter day and put our whole trust in God, because it will be our first step on a journey that leads to a better world. Amen.
The Rev. Patrick Blaney