May 20, 2018
Rev. Dr. Paul Moore
We just had a Bishop election. Maybe it’s a funny thing, but I was impressed as much as anything by the congregation. It always impresses me to be gathered with a lot of Episcopalians.
The Bishop says, “The Lord be with you,”
And there is this thunderous reply, “And also with you!”
I was sitting next to Pastor Sarah, and she turned to me and said, “Doesn’t that just give you goose-bumps?” She was preaching to the choir.
You know, there are always a lot of politics going on when the church gathers, but that’s not where the life of the Church is for me. The life of the Church is expressed in that thunderous reply, “And also with you.” Down through the ages, the Church has given that reply thousands and thousands of times, in hundreds of languages and tongues and peoples, around the globe, “And also with you!”
“The Lord be with you,” “And also with you.”
How is the Lord with us? By the presence of the Holy Spirit.
My Senior Warden, Phil, told me of a church in Syria that dates to the end of the first century after Christ. It is a cave, but as you walk into it what strikes you is that it is laid out exactly like our church today. There is the Nave where the laity gathers, and the Chancel and the High Altar, and candles, and the whole works. The Church has experimented with a lot of different conformations of Holy Space, but there is something enduring about this setup and the symbolism of it that resurfaces, time and again throughout the ages. The people of God gather to say, “The Lord be with you, and also with you,” in the same kind of space, and by that same Holy Spirit.
It’s as if throughout the centuries the Spirit weaves a Golden Thread that anchors the Church in the life of God. It is expressed in different ways and times and places and cultures, yet somehow, profoundly the same; expressing the same truths of Christ in the language of each age and people, different, yet held together by the Golden Thread. Bishop elections have a way of reminding us that we are more than just a bunch of people with a common cause. We are a people caught up in that Golden Thread, with a life that is larger than our own, a life that continues before and after us, out of eternity and into it once again.
In the Gospel lesson today, Jesus promises us that Golden Thread. He says,
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
There is a lot of discussion in the Church about the beginning of the Church. Some say when Jesus breathes on the disciples after the Resurrection and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and there is some validity in that. Others say, “No, at Pentecost, when the power of the Holy Spirit was made visible in the lives of the believers, that’s the birthday of the Church,” and there’s merit to that, too. I think here, in this passage, Jesus sketches out the life of the Church. Any one age cannot bear the whole truth of God in Jesus Christ, each of us must focus on that which we do get. However, there is a master weaver who sees the whole tapestry from the beginning, and is weaving it out through time and space, catching each of us up in it as the weaving unfolds. Here Jesus gives us a picture of the Church as it is emerging.
And it continues to emerge. I was just talking two weeks ago with Larry Himes. He has seen the coming and going of rectors since the 60’s in this church, and he has stories to tell about each one. If that is true of him in his lifetime, how about the rest of the Church? Throughout the years it has survived every arrow our ancient enemy has hurled our way—not without wounds, and sometimes barely hanging onto life—but survived, just the same. The list of challenges is long.
- Jews vs. Gentile Christians,
- Meat offered as sacrifice in pagan Roman temples,
- The role of women in the Church,
- The role of the Church in society,
- The place of the monastic movement and what it means,
- King vs. Pope, Crown vs. Mitre.
- The challenge of the Plague that wiped out a third of Europe,
- The role of the arts and sciences,
- The role of the individual conscience,
- The Enlightenment,
- Church vs. State,
- Women’s Suffrage,
- Equal Rights,
- Women’s ordination
- Prayer Book Revision
- Race Relations,
- Gender and Sexuality issues
There will be plenty more. We are all rushing headlong into a future that none of us fully understands, and not just the Church, but our nation and the whole of global society. It has been said that World War III will be fought over water. (We in the Southwest know exactly what that means.) Then there are the challenges of
- Human trafficking
- Drugs and substance abuses
- The relative wealth and power of multinational corporations that are more powerful than some sovereign countries
- The Environment
These are all challenges of our day and days to come. If we do not find a way through, it may actually spell the end of the human race, and the Church is intimately caught up in the human race. These issues are pressing human issues, and therefore, must be pressing issues for the Church.
The Golden Thread has a long track record and can be trusted. I believe that somehow, somewhere and in some way, the truths of the heart of God will be revealed when they are needed, and we will find our way through—not without wounds and tragedy, for sure—but the foundations of the future are being laid right now. The Church’s role is that of the holder of the Golden Thread in our day. Our job is to bring to bear on the issues of our day the wisdom and compassion of that Thread.
Today is Pentecost Sunday. We celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit is that Golden Thread through time. She works in the Church and she works in the hearts and minds of individual Christians, teaching us what we are able to bear,
And guiding us into all truth. She works in the Church and she works in society, empowering us to be people of hope, justice and love, and guiding us into all peace. She works in the Church and she works in the world, opening up for the Christian a vision of the Creation as a sacred gift, infused with the life of God, and guiding us into a love that is true.
Pentecost calls us to grab hold of that Golden Thread and hang on, for it leads directly into the heart of God.