Faith and the Holy Spirit

May 21, 2017

Series: May 2017

Category: Faith

Passage: John 20:19-31

Speaker: Patrice Drew

Tags: faith, purpose, spirit

There are so many subjects to choose from in this passage, there is the Peace that Jesus gave to the disciples, there is “the fear of the Jews” and what that meant for that time (or perhaps didn’t mean); there was the Breath and the references to breath in the Bible, the Holy Spirit and of course Faith.  I chose the last two.  John was, as were the other Gospel writers, writing for his community and reading the passage, his community seems to come up through the words, what the concerns were and what John thought was important for his community.

When Jesus breathed on the disciples—it was of creation itself, a creation of new life.  Genesis 2:7 says “then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being.”  Jesus was infusing, breathing onto the disciples as one body—he was bestowing on them the Spirit of life—of love and wisdom—they were being equipped with the Holy Spirit and commissioned to go out to the world and speak for him.

That first meeting with the disciples was in a locked house, according to John, where JESUS appeared among them.  Thomas, one of the earliest of Jesus disciples, wasn’t at that first meeting when Jesus showed the others his wounds, but afterwards the disciples told Thomas about it.  Thomas told them he wanted to see and touch Jesus to believe it was him.  Thomas was more the pragmatic type!  Eight days later, the disciples were meeting again, and this time Thomas was there.  Jesus appeared.  He offered Thomas to touch his body, his wounds, but Thomas apparently was already convinced because he said “My Lord and my God!” Now, for Thomas to call Jesus “God” he had to recognize him as the risen Christ.  Jesus said “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Jesus must have been speaking universally to those many of us that came after that time—because up to that point, no one who had seen the risen Jesus had believed without seeing or hearing him, one way or the other.  For the Beloved Disciple, he believed when he saw the empty tomb; Mary Magdalene believed when she heard Jesus’ voice say “Mary;” the disciples believed when Jesus came among them in a room behind locked doors, and they saw the marks in his hands and side.  For Thomas to have faith, he needed to see and touch—for him to believe. They all had to have some evidence that Jesus was the risen Christ in order to believe.  We often need reassurance to help us with our faith.  I’ll tell you what it took for me.

I was a young teenager, and it was in a dream that I saw Jesus, walking among crowds of people in long robes, on the deck of an old ship.  He would talk to people as he walked among them.  As I watched him, I felt a great yearning to be with him.  I followed him, but he didn’t seem to see me.  I tugged on his robes to get his attention.  I desperately wanted to talk to him, and I continued to follow him through the crowds.  Finally he turned around and saw me, and said that he would talk to me. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul.” I now knew what that meant. We were in a golden light, and in that light, we talked.  He told me that I would always be cared for, that he would always be with me.  People say that we belong to Jesus, and I can honestly say that that is exactly what the feeling was and it still is.

Dear friends I’ve known for 35 years, Margaret and Archie, were absolute, unwavering atheists, and active in the movement.  They were writers of weather books, and when Archie died, technology had taken over, and they were finishing their last book. They had done everything together for the last 50 years, including sailing around the world in a Chinese junk!  I asked Margaret, who was deeply in mourning for Archie, if she ever felt Archie near?  She said “All the time, I talk to him and feel him near me all the time.”  That’s what it took for Margaret.

One of my classes at the seminary is called Compassion and Contemplation.  We read about Julian of Norwich, who was a devout Christian from the fourteenth century.  She said about faith “Our Faith is a light, naturally coming from our Endless Day—that is our Father, God; in this light our Mother, Christ, and our good Lord the Holy Spirit lead us in this passing life.  This light is meted out prudently, faithfully remaining with us as we need it in our night.” Night for Julian was feeling cut off, not connected to our higher self, to our inspiration, to our God.

My husband and I were sailing across the Pacific Ocean, following the ocean’s currents rolling west.  This is truly raw nature and it’s necessary to have faith in yourself but it isn’t until you are out there that you know there is something much greater than you are.  It’s fine to have faith in yourself and you need that—but this is of an entirely different magnitude.  It is God alive in nature and I challenge anyone to sit in the cockpit of a boat and look behind you and see a giant wall of water reaching up so high you can hardly see the sky—and NOT giving over your little faith in yourself in recognition of something much, much greater.   You are holding on to your faith as your boat sinks slowly down into the trough of the ocean, walls of water in front and back, then your breath slowly comes back when your boat rises—and rises some more—as the water comes rushing under you, and then takes you back up to the top, and the process begins over and over again.  This is what I mean about faith.  Here is a process of living faith, sitting in that boat out in the ocean. You go with it, you can’t possibly do anything else. And with each rise to the top, you know you are safe, that you WILL rise again.  It’s not always so comfortable down there in the bottom—you can’t see anything but water. You begin to rise, just as life does, it’s a cycle.  It won’t let you down.  The only possible way it would, is if we as human beings, intervene—think we know better---go our own way.  Another way we could be swallowed up by the waves, would be if we don’t take care of our boat and something comes crashing down. Then all bets are off.  But even then, if we get busy and fix it, and get back on course, we’ll ride the rollers, we’ll ride the waves of life.  FAITH.  It’s about faith. Faith inside ourselves and our faith in God.

We see our world, now brought to us 24/7, and some of it is overwhelming and frightening at times.  The order we thought we knew isn’t always there, and we see the effects on our streets and in our leaders worldwide.  We can’t entirely depend on that man-made world outside, and so when we look at faith in this way, it is inside ourselves that we will find our rock (this is what my Uncle Phil would have said!), we find our safety, and our deepest belief in the GOOD that sustains us and makes us want to push on, to do our best to help our fellow travelers.  We know there is great good in our world—as well as chaos—and what we do to help that good—MAKES IT GROW.

Jesus gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit to be with us, to help us.  We need to renew that, feed that—always.  To listen to our deepest and best inside ourselves, to consciously recognize it and bring it out to action whatever that might mean for you personally. It is there, our faith, our connection to our highest self—is there, we only have to reach out for it, we have to want it and know, like our little boat, that we will come through safely.  The Holy Spirit is action, it is creative energy for good, it is there for us, and walks with us—always. 

One of the topics students at seminary are interested in is what will our church look like in the coming years?  A few weeks ago in a lecture, one of the professors gave a talk on the future of the Christian church and how blind faith isn’t enough any longer for many congregations.  He said the Christian church is in a transition period and that there were certain key words that people find are important to them when they are a part of a church today.  And they are: insistence on connection; networks, relationships; imagination, story, and interfaith efforts (or as Diana Butler Bass said “the recognition of porous borders between various faith traditions.” People are looking for community—that which touches them and is real to them.  Our church is about community first—within our own members first and then, reaching out to the community at large. We need to keep in touch with ourselves and what is important to us.  To find and keep our personal faith alive, and what that means for us.

I want to thank all of you at Westminster for the wonderful six years here and for supporting me and taking me “under care” as my home church.  Westminster will go with me as I leave for Claremont School of Theology in southern California, and my home in Joshua Tree.  Thank you for the many new friends I’ve made here, who have now become “old friends!”  Thank you and God Bless and keep this church!