“Nothing Standing in Our Way”
Rev’d. Tanya Stormo Rasmussen
Congregational Church of Hollis, U.C.C.
Sunday, 9 June, 2019
Introduction to the Theme
1. The Bible tells some amazing stories. Some of them we’ve heard often enough that we may be able to tell them without even looking. Collectively recount Acts Chapter 2.
2. What do you think about that story? Did it happen just like that, just as Luke reported it?Does it matter if every detail of the account is factually accurate? Or is what’s most important Luke’s point that something powerful and liberating and world-changing happened in that moment?
That Jesus’ earliest followers suddenly felt overcome and infused, fully-charged by the power of the very same Holy Spirit that Jesus himself had embodied?
3. What would Pentecost look like today—what if it happened right here in Hollis? Can you imagine it? Do you believe a 21st-century Pentecost experience might be possible here? Is there anything standing in the way?
There was nothing standing in their way. The disciples had seen it all: their Master, teacher, spiritual guide and dearest friend—the best human being they had ever known—had warned them about how things would end for him. They’d heard Jesus say all sorts of cryptic things that didn’t make sense in the moment—but were powerful enough to stick with them, and suddenly made sense after his crucifixion, and were even more powerful after his resurrection.
They had observed as worldly powers did what worldly powers do: they manipulated, they deceived, they twisted words and facts, all to further enhance their own status, wealth, and personal power. And the disciples all watched in horror as the gullible crowds, full of so many vulnerable and hurting people—including many religious faithful, and including all those for whom Jesus had come with a message of true liberation and empowerment—they ate up the lies of the self-interested worldly powers. The ones who needed him most turned their backs on the only One who was truly for them. And they demanded death for the One who was innocent.
One of their own inner circle, Judas, had been drawn into the web of lies, and as soon as he realized how he’d been duped, he hung himself. So, the friends were coming to grips with that, too. In the hours and days after his crucifixion, the disciples were reeling. Trying to process everything they’d just seen and heard and felt. Trying to make sense of an empty tomb.
And then, the resurrected Christ greeted them in unexpected ways and places: on a road to Emmaus. In a room whose door was bolted shut for fear of being discovered. On a lakeside after they had vainly tried all night to catch a single fish. “Peace,” the Resurrected One had said. “I give to you my peace—and the peace I offer is very different from what the world falsely promises.” No judgment, no disappointment, only love. And life. And the promise that they would receive the same spirit, divine power, and everlasting life that he himself had embodied. The disciples were astonished.
So, they had seen it all. Suddenly, so many things that Jesus had said before the trauma of watching the world have its way with him, made sense.
When Philip had said to Jesus, “Master, show us the Father; then we’ll be content.” He wanted to see God in concrete, material ways. Jesus had responded,“You’ve been with me all this time, Philip, and you still don’t know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. . . . Believe me: I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you can’t believe that, then believe me because of the things I do.”
And then, John says, Jesus made a declaration. It’s a declaration that challenges me, personally. He said,“I tell you for certain that if you have faith in me, you will do the same things that I am doing. You will do even greater things, now that I am going back to the Father.”
And from Pentecost forward—from that moment we re-membered [as different members of this collective body pieced it] together as we know of it from Acts Chapter Two—those early disciples who had seen God at work in Jesus Christ, who had glimpsed his vision, who knew that his work was real, and powerful, eternal, and God-driven: they were unstoppable. They were liberated from their fears of what others might think, or worries that they might suffer for the sake of furthering God’s vision for this world: they had seen Jesus live through all of it—they believed in the resurrection power they had witnessed first-hand. Nothing would stand in their way.
As I read our gospel passage in preparation for today, I couldn’t help but wonder: Am I doing even greater things than Jesus…
… When I find myself so often wrestling with inhibitions and fears about what others might say or think?
… When it’s so much easier to say “my nearest and dearest need me first”?
… When I stop short of doing what I believe Jesus would be doing because I’m afraid I’ll offend or alienate people I care about, who disagree with me about my understanding of Christian morality?
How can I possibly be doing greater things than Jesus, when what seems to come more naturally to me than unconditional love and acceptance is self-protection and emotional reserve? Because, while it’s nothing compared to what Jesus endured, I’m familiar with the pain of betrayal. I know what it feels like to be scorned; I know the sting of rejection. And I’m pretty sure learning how to let the Spirit of Jesus in me prevail over my fierce but fragile human pride is probably going to be a life-long process; it is for most people. All these things and more can get in the way of me moving at the impulse or promptings of the Holy Spirit within me.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed and feel personally inadequate next to Jesus’ words of confidence about what his followers would accomplish. Thank God, we are not alone.
According to John, after expressing his confidence that his followers would accomplish greater things than he himself had done, Jesus gave his word that he would “ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit who will help you and always be with you. The spirit will show you what is true. The people of this world cannot accept the Spirit, because they don’t see or know him. But you [who have faith in me] know the Spirit, who is with you and will keep on living in you.”
Friends, Jesus knows not a single one of us can possibly do more than he himself did in a day: he alone was incarnate God. Individually, we will constantly be aware of the many ways we fall short of God’s vision for us as we strive to emulate Jesus. But, collectively, we are one Risen Body of Christ. Together, spanning space and time, this Body is accomplishing far more than Jesus could have done in the frame of a single man—that was Jesus’ point. The healing, restorative work he started is still active through each of us and all of us together, because it is his Spirit that dwells in us.
Like those who have been filled with that divine Spirit before us, we are liberated to act in ways that may appear foolish to the rest of the world but make perfect sense in the realm of divine Love. When we do not allow anxiety-filled thoughts about the cost of things to inhibit our ability to discern God’s greater vision; when we refuse to be stymied by resistance to change because we know that God has always been about the persistent, steady work of transformation; when we choose to be directed—not by our fears—but instead by the vision Jesus had of abundance and possibility and expansiveness and wide-open welcome, then the Body of Christ here in Hollis will be manifesting the full power that was present in Jesus’ resurrection. We will behave more like the uninhibited apostles in Jerusalem on that first Christian Pentecost morning—that moment that saw the birth of Christ’s Church. We will do the things that Jesus did—and even more. Nothing will be able to stand in our way! Amen.
John 14:8-9, 11.
John 14:12, CEV, emphasis mine.
John 14:16-17, CEV.