John 13 & 20 – Pentecost & Confirmation Sunday
What a beautiful week this has been. After a cool, late spring, this week was fantastic. Yes, there was some rain, there were moments of warmth and some cooler weather. But mostly, it’s been sunny and pleasant. Now, sunny and pleasant, to me anyway, means time spent in the garden …finally. And as I was in my garden this week, and as I was thinking about today’s message, and as I considered the sermon title: Gathered & Scattered, I was struck by the order of the words. Gathered and then scattered. On first blush, I would have put those words in the opposite order; especially when thinking about our faith …right? Don’t we want to seek the scattered and then gather them into the church?
But as I thought about it some more, and as I continued to work the soil, I decided that I like this order. We must gather before we can scatter. Whether it be seeds or knowledge or faith or people. Before we can be disciples, we must gather the tools needed to reach-out beyond ourselves. Before we can scatter the seeds of hope, we must first find hope ourselves. Before we can forgive, we must be willing to forgive others. And before we can scatter the seeds of love, we must first realize that we are loved, unconditionally, loved, by God.
Now, the text that we heard from John 13 this morning is finally inseparable from the John 20 passage that I read earlier, and, indeed, from Pentecost itself. I say this because these texts both invite us not only to “gather” an experience of the Divine through the Spirit, but they show us how to “scatter” that experience beyond ourselves. Yes, In Pentecost the Sprit has come, and the Church was formed, but how do we (including our confirmands, maybe especially our confirmands) make the Church new, fresh, and relevant for our generation and for generations to come?
That’s the big the question posed to the wider Church today. How can we be relevant in people’s lives? Well, there are any number of ways to go here and believe me, there’ve been many a book written, visioning plans formed, and new ministries launched hoping to solve this problem. But I think, sometimes, in order to solve a new problem, we need an old solution. Jesus’ solution? He says, “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
My friends, if we would like to see our beloved church continue to grow, and I don’t mean just in numbers, but in spirit, in compassion and grace, in how we live-into our faith; then this New Commandment, “Love each other as I have loved you” must be our bedrock. But notice something here. Jesus doesn’t say, “My new commandment to you is to go out and try to save everyone” He doesn’t say, the Greatest Commandment is to judge those who don’t believe as I do, or speak the language I do, or love the one I think they should love. No. Jesus said, “Love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself.” And loving one another, loving one’s neighbor begins, first of all with humility. It begins by understanding that we all fall short in one way or another. Love continues to grow when we decide to meet people right where they’re at. And we gather more and more individuals when we scatter the seeds of love beyond just our own faith community. How? By being inclusive of everyone, consistently faithful, and open to change.
This is where John 20 & John 13 intersect. In this text, like I said before, we have John’s version of Pentecost. “…he breathed on them and said, ‘receive the Holy Spirit’” I’ve made this association before. Rhuwa in Hebrew and pneumatos in Greek both mean “Breath, Spirit, & Wind” Three related concepts all encapsulated in a single thought. So, when Jesus breathed on his disciples, he imparted to them the gift of the Spirit; and, in the more familiar Pentecost account in Acts where the flames are accompanied by wind, we see a more demonstrative demonstration of the Breath of God.
You see where I’m going here. All of this harkens back to the second creation narrative in Genesis where God’s own breath becomes humanity’s breath and then, by extension, across the arc of time and space, God’s Breath, Gods’ Spirit, becomes ours. Our very breath contains a bit of the universe, and the expanse of the universe contains a bit of our being, our essence, …our breath
SO, what does all this mean? Well it means that we’re finally, all, interconnected! to my way of thinking anyway, if all things are interconnected then why in the world would we harm, or destroy, or defame? If we are interconnected with the earth, then why would we not take seriously and try to make a difference as the Global climate changes? If we are interconnected with all people, then why would we welcome some and close our hearts and borders to others? Why would we ever exclude anyone on the basis of religion, or race, or gender identity? In a very real way, whenever we exclude anyone, we exclude ourselves …and God.
How do I know this? Because the foundation of this interconnection, the glue that holds it all together, if you will: is Love. God’s Love. God Is love. “Love each other,” Jesus said, “Just as I have loved you. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
Now, to you, the newest members of this congregation. There can be no lesson more important than “Love each other.” This is a wonderful congregation of people that you’ve joined here today; people who live-into that commandment every day in a whole variety of ways. You already know that. But today, the thing you must try to wrap your minds around, is the fact that you are now fully a part of, intrinsically intertwined with, this group of faithful people. And that’s both a joy and a responsibility. It’s a joy because you get to journey with all of these folks through thick and thin, hardship and celebration; they’ll be there for you when you need them, and you for them.
But there’s also a responsibility. In the United Church of Christ, as we learned in confirmation class, we have a saying: “Make the church your own in each generation.” As we move forward, and continue to grow, you will be the leaders of the congregation. You have the skill, the compassion, and the faith to make this congregation, indeed, the whole of the United Church of Christ, your own in this generation and in generations to come, of that I have no doubt.
So, this my invitation to each of you as you live-into the joy and responsibility of this your calling: Be kind. Be generous. Be humble. Be grateful. Be faithful. But above all else, be loving. Love each other, love your neighbor and the earth, and love God with all your being. And this is God’s invitation to each of us here today Gather kindness and scatter generosity; gather humility and scatter gratefulness; gather faith & scatter the seeds of love. Gather Love from each other, and scatter a love for your neighbor and for the earth, and, in the midst of it all, love God with all your being.
May it be so. Amen and Amen