28 May 2023
Sermon By: Rev. Dr. Robin A. Reed+
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
The Extra-Provincial Churches
Church of the Incarnation, Oviedo
Church of Our Savior, Palm Bay
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Imagine with me you’re sitting a hospital intensive care unit or a veterinarian’s office waiting room. The doctor has said “The situation is critical, the next few hours are crucial, the outcome could go either way.”
While you try to distract yourself by reading the outdated magazines or playing on your phone it’s not uncommon for your fears of the worst try to pull you deeply into a dark hole and you wonder, What will happen to them? What about all our plans and dreams? If they die, what will happen to me? And where is GOD in the midst of all of this?
As life and death hang in a balance you and I tend to brace ourselves for the worst and hope for the best, that all will be well. And in this powerful internal tug of war between fear and courageous faith you and I yearn for God’s presence and loving touch, to feel safe and not alone.
Each one of us if we live long enough will experience an unexpected crisis like this and all of us experience the challenges of life’s expected passages moving from being single to married, childless to parent and grandparent, full time employee to retired. As we pass through these rooms and doors in our lives, standing on the threshold of unknown territory wrestling with fear and courageous faith we long deeply for God to stand with us and for us.
In life’s unexpected and expected challenges we encounter “hinge moments”, moments we choose to open or close the doors to our hearts and to our lives. The direction we choose is determined by the hinges of our hearts. A hinge, a door’s most important part allows the door to open or to close rotating around a central axis.
As Christians, our spiritual axis is God and our heart’s hinges are our feelings, beliefs, and values which direct us either away from God toward the world or toward God and faith even if we still feel some fear.
This morning, we hear about two very significant events in the early church’s life.
The Risen Christ breathing the Holy Spirit into the Disciples and 50 days later, the Holy Spirit descending upon the Disciples in violent wind and fire empowering them to speak in many languages.
These lessons remind us that God, who is always present, invites us to open the doors of our hearts and lives and to allow the Holy Spirit to guide our lives rotating from our hinges of fear to have courageous faith. (436)
In our Gospel lesson, we hear of the Risen Christ’s first appearance to the disciples, evening, first day of the week. The terrified disciples hide behind the Upper Room’s locked doors. Jesus their leader crucified two days earlier by the Roman authorities after being blackmailed by the Jewish authorities and his death incited by the crowd and hastily buried.
The disciples are not only petrified they are the next in line to be crucified, but also guilty and remorseful that all of them, except young John, had abandoned Jesus at his darkest hour. Their spirits are devastated. their minds focused on their future, their faith, their fears.
Will the crisis pass? or will their hopes, dreams and purpose die with Jesus?
In the midst of their terror, remorse, and sense their lives are unravelling Jesus, the Risen Christ re-enters their life, offering them the opportunity to transform their fear into a courageous faith, a faith willing to risk going forward even when there is risk and opposition and when their knees might still be shaking.
How did the Risen Christ offer the disciples back then and you and I the opportunity to open the doors of our hearts in courageous faith?
First of all The Risen Christ came to them, comes to us to meet us where we are.
The Risen Christ in his resurrected body unlimited by nature’s laws, powerful enough to pass through rock, wood, and even into hearts with doors semi-closed with guilt, fear, and regret.
You and I can trust that wherever we are the Risen Christ is with us, seeking us out.
Secondly, the Risen Christ transforms our fear by reassuring us who HE is with his words and his wounds he appears in the midst of the disciples and in the midst of us teaching, guiding, welcoming all especially those on the margins. He greets the disciples and us as he had promised.. (John 14: 27) Shalom....Eirene (ear-ine)...
peace which is not just absence of conflict but wholeness - God’s gift.
While the disciples or we ourselves expect to be punished for when our fear triumphs over our faith and we stray the Risen Christ doesn’t rebuke us. He greets those us with peace, the work of the Cross and reassures us with his wounds, the price he paid for our salvation that He died, rose in victory and lives for us.
Wisely the Risen Christ diminishes our fears by shifting our focus away from our worries and towards HIM...His life, word, death, and resurrection, reassuring us of His mercy and His grace and encouraging us to rejoice.
As Josh McDowell and Dale Bellis wrote when we have evidence about God, this is a basis for faith that meets your needs for being loved, accepted, secure, and that kind of faith yields joy.
Thirdly the Risen Christ sees joy, their joy and our joy, especially at our baptism but at other times as well and He commissions them and all his Christ followers to take his baton, to be his ambassadors, inviting all people in our ever widening circles to follow Him, focus on His word and work in our world, each other, and ourselves; receive his way of life and love, His victory over sin and death.
Lastly, the Risen Christ transforms their fear into courageous faith with the perfect gift for witnessing, empowering them with the Holy Spirit, just as God breathed physical life into Adam, the Risen Christ empowers the Spirit who dwelt WITH them to live IN them, to guide their lives and mission.
Remember your baptism, you were reborn and sealed by the Holy Spirit, sealed with Chrism oil marked as Christ’s own, nothing no matter how far you stray, forsake our Lord, sink into the dark hole of self-loathing, nothing can separate you from God’s love.
Fifty days after the Risen Christ appeared to the disciples is today’s Feast Day of Pentecost, the Feast of First Fruits, the day the Jewish people celebrate YHWH giving the Law to Moses and as Christians we celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit to the body of Christ, the birthday of the church.
In our scene from Acts the disciples courageously are at the Temple, the Holy Spirit comes with a rush of a violent wind, tongues of fire on each disciple and yes there were more than 11 and believers are empowered to praise God in multiple languages equipping each for their common ministry in order for them, and for us, to witness to Christ throughout the world, use our unique spiritual gifts both within and for the body of Christ in the world.
Pentecost reminds us that while the Holy Spirit was active in the creation, Old Testament history and the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit’s still small voice is sent to dwell not beside, but IN us forever and always.
On that Pentecost day the rush of the violent wind drew the international crowd to the Temple but as we heard it was the believers’ praise for Godin multiple languages that caught the listeners attention. And we see at this hinge moment devout Jewish people, the faithful who attended Pentecost, a required feast day,
exhibited mixed responses. Some were amazed and astonished, curious to explore further “what does this mean? where is God in the midst of this?” and in the midst of being perplexed they turn to one another and to God to seek and answer their questions.
With their axis in God the hinge of their hearts turned away from their own fears and toward God, opening their hearts to have a courageous faith wondering about the possibilities, seeking, understanding, wisdom, and connection.
But others centered their axis of life upon themselves, perhaps because they were not listening well or their underlying fears were screaming at them inside. What lies ahead? How is our lives going to be disrupted? Is Torah Law the only way to live? and leaning into themselves, their fears, and all they had known they blame and discredit the believers who had received the gift of the Holy Spirit and spoke in their own languages, the saving message of salvation not in the LAW but in Jesus Christ.
How do you think you would have responded if you had been there that day?
This morning we hear about two very important hinge moments in the life of the disciples and Christ’s church.
This week I suspect you too will encounter hinge moments, hopefully not as dramatic or unexpected as these two scenes but I encourage you: Listen for those ‘Hinge Moments’. Moments when you can chose to center the axis of your life
around yourself and lean into the hinge of your fears OR you can remember that Christ is the AXIS of your life as a believer and you can lean into your hinge of courageous faith, in the unexpected or expected challenges of life wondering, being curious, asking questions, seeking support, trusting that the Risen Christ is with you, comes to you to turn you toward him, recognizing your fears and reminding you of his peace and his wounds for you, tapping into the Holy Spirit within you to continue to develop your courageous faith going forward even if your knees are shaking.
Cover Image: https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55307