In Matthew 4, Jesus starts off on his ministry. The first thing he does is to call four disciples – fishermen, who become partners and co-workers with Christ. Almost half of Matthew’s gospel is spent in Galilee – Jesus’ home province. And Jesus, with his disciples, embody the presence of God – “the Kingdom of Heaven is near”. From these three basic elements, this message constructs a guide for us being disciples, walking in the way of Christ, bringing the Light of God into dark places, to draw people towards the love of God.
On the evening of that first Easter Sunday, Jesus appeared to the disciples (excluding Judas and Thomas) in the upper room, where he showed them his wounded hands and feet. John describes this in John 20:19-23. This narrative is followed by the story of Jesus’ engagement with Thomas. And John ends the chapter with a reflection on his version of the Gospel – that he has selected from the numerous stories about Jesus these few, whose purpose it to facilitate our belief in Jesus, so that we may enjoy the fullness of Life.
John’s purpose in the John 20 narrative is to guide the church towards the end of the first century to be a resurrection church – a church that is centred on the risen Christ, empowered by Holy Spirit and focused on Christ’s work of forgiveness and reconciliation. But this is hard when you are 60 or more years away from the living Christ Jesus. Because of this distance in time (most of the eye witnesses had passed on) John’s message is of particular relevance for us who live two thousand years distant.
This is quite a long sermon for me and our parish – sorry about that! But I hope it moves quite briskly and provides some food for thought about a fascinating and rich passage in the Gospel narrative. To assist with the denseness of the message, I provided my congregation with a slip of paper with the nine points (yes, nine!) written down. Here they are:
This is the start of Sunday worship for Christians – resurrection Sunday.
Jesus’ body is still physical, but also transformed – it does not conform to the laws of nature.
Christ stands in the middle of us, and is the centre focus of Christian life and worship.
Jesus’ presence bring peace (Shalom) and is his central message.
Jesus’ transformed body retains the wounds in his hands and side, and are assimilated into the triune Godhead at the ascension, so that there is now woundedness within the being of God.
Jesus commissions his disciples (including us) to be his presence in the world – when people see us, they should see Christ.
Jesus imparts Holy Spirit to us – we have Holy Spirit in us, not as power and gifts, but as the relational presence of God within us.
Today is Pentecost, the last day of the Easter season, on which we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit among the new Christian Church in Acts 2. It is one of the high days in the Christian calendar. In today’s sermon, I draw on key themes that emerge from Jesus’ teaching on the Holy Spirit in John 16, the Pentecost narrative in Acts 2 and the vision of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37. Based on these passages, I suggest that the Spirit has two main ways of working: he in-fills us in quiet and individualised ways to develop faith, life and truth, and he out-pours in dramatic and public ways to demonstrate the love and power of God and to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.
My thanks to Fiona Langham for sharing her Spirit Tapestry that was part of a Pentecost Art Festival I organised back in 2008. You can see more of our works at adrian.vanbreda.org.
This is not a proper ‘sermon’ – rather, it is my testimony of my experience of God’s Spirit in my life, interwoven with some theology about the work of the Holy Spirit. I hope it will encourage you in your faith. John 15:26-27, 16:4-15. 27 May 2012.