Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In this spring’s unusually quiet evenings, I have spent a bit of my leisure time putting together puzzles and researching my Norwegian family tree. I was not surprised to find Lutheran pastors lurking there. More surprising to me, however, were the lawyers and judges hidden in this family’s deep roots. Not that I am bothered by lawyers. But it does explain my sleep patterns. You know, how does a lawyer sleep? Well, first he lies on one side, then he lies on the other.
I am sure one of those forward thinking Lutheran preachers in the family tree was the one who proposed purchasing a new chandelier for his church. The congregation, however, was appalled when the pastor brought this proposal to the annual meeting. A stalwart member stood up and voiced his objection. “Pastor, I’ll give you three good reasons why we don’t need no chandelier. First of all, nobody knows how to spell. Two, nobody knows how to play it. And three, what we really is light.”
Interestingly, the deeper I explored their stories, the more I discovered that in every generation these faithful men and women were forced to face their own trials and tragedies. One early pastor was sent from his home in northern Norway to study theology in Marburg, Germany. Unfortunately, the city was under the grips of the plague and the citizens were fleeing to the countryside. A lone German military officer in the family tree who served under the Danish Crown, was killed in the Battle of Akershus Fortress in Oslo fighting against the Swedish army. The family that remained chose to stay in Norway. Another relative was a missionary in Greenland during the Napoleonic War. All supplies were cut off by a military blockade, and he was left as the last ordained pastor in the whole of Greenland.
Those stories are important to me, just as all of our family stories are, in that they remind us that God never leaves us alone. His Spirit abides us with us and keeps us going.
At his last supper in the Upper Room, Jesus told his disciples about his coming departure, which raised in them the disturbing prospect and fear of separation. Yes, Jesus knew that his Easter resurrection would be a joyous surprise after the pain and tragedy of Good Friday’s crucifixion. He also knew that the day of his Ascension to Heaven Above to be seated at the right hand of his Father was drawing nearing as well. 40 days of resurrection appearances would not continue indefinitely. Jesus understood the challenges before them, even if the disciples could not see them. They would continue do his work in the world and keep his commandments. Yes, his disciples, soon to be apostles would be preaching to a generation who would be invited to believe in a Savior they had have never seen nor heard. Yes, Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness and eternal life would be conveyed to them through the tradition of the church in a world that would at times seem indifferent at best and hostile at worst. In such a troubled world, Jesus’ disciples would feel like orphans.
This morning’s gospel teaches us that Jesus truly knew and anticipated the disciples’ fears. Just as he knows our own fears. And so he offered them his assurance, “Do not let your heart be troubled. I will not leave you orphaned.” It is a message just as poignant and relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. Jesus will not leave you lonely or by yourself. Even if you cannot see him, touch him or hear him, he will be with you.
Jesus offered his disciples, the promise of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, at that moment it was difficult for them to understand what Jesus could mean. Of course, the disciples are not alone. We all can be confused by the work of the Spirit. We don’t really know what the Spirit it supposed to do.
We are taught that the Holy Spirit gives evangelists and pastors the power to preach. It is true. Unfortunately, I am reminded of the older pastor who was greeting folks at the door after service. A woman complimented him on her way out, “Oh, Pastor, that was a very good sermon.” The pastor then responded, “Thank you, ma’am, but you’ll have to give the credit to the Holy Spirit.” The woman lifted up her nose and huffed, “Well, it wasn’t that good.”
We’re taught that the Holy Spirit gives voice to our inner thoughts. Apparently it didn’t help the young pastor who was preaching for the first time. He stood before the people speechless as several moments passed. At last, opening his mouth, he slowly began to speak, “On the way here this morning, the Holy Spirit and I knew what I was to share with you today…and now only the Holy Spirit knows.” Maybe as one critic joked, that’s why churches serve coffee after worship. It’s to make sure the parishioners are fully awake before driving home.
And we are taught that the Holy Spirit gives us direction. Well even the great evangelist Billy Graham tells of a time during the early years of his preaching ministry, when he was due to lead a crusade meeting in a town in South Carolina, and he needed to mail a letter. He asked a little boy in the main street how he could get to the post office. After the boy had given him directions, Graham said, “If you come to the central Baptist church tonight, I’ll tell you how to get to heaven.” The boy replied, “No thanks, you don’t even know how to get to the post office!”
Truthfully, the Holy Spirit does all of these things. It does give power to pastors to preach the word in a troubled world and for congregants to hear a hopeful word of witness. The Holy Spirit does give voice to our inmost thoughts. And it gives us a sense of direction in difficult times. But my friends, the most important work the Holy Spirit does, as it has done for countless generations, is to allow every day believer to become the channel of God’s grace and mercy.
You may not know where it came from, but suddenly as you were comforting a friend, the words and consolation of Jesus come to your lips. That is the spirit of Jesus. And it lives on. You are encouraging a friend who is feeling alone and worthless, and suddenly you find just the right word of encouragement that builds them up. That is the spirit of Jesus living and abiding in you. You see challenges and hurdles before you- and you know that you can be successful. That is the Spirit of Jesus dwelling in you and you move on- knowing you are not orphaned.
I imagine that we all want or even need to hear these words of Jesus at some time or another. “Do not let your heart be troubled. I will not leave you orphaned.” My friends, that is God ‘s promise to you. Search your own family tree, and listen to your own family stories, and you will discover over and over again, the presence of God’s Holy Spirit nurturing, encouraging and inspiring one generation after another. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.