Sunday, June 8, 2003

Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 104:25-35,37 (ASV or NIV Psalm 104:24-34, 35b)
Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21
John 15:26-27, 16:4-15 

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I go, I will send him unto you.

Isn't it funny how I am drawn to the one verse that the lectionary skips, "Let sinners be consumed out of the earth. And let the wicked be no more. Bless Jehovah, O my soul. Praise ye Jehovah." (verse 35a, ASV) That is exactly what God did through the work of Jesus on the cross. Those who believe in believe in Jesus are no longer seen as sinners in the eyes of God - they have vanished because Jesus covers them with His righteousness. They are transformed from wickedness into the children of God.

It is instantaneous and continuous, for though we are saved and have eternal life, we still live in imperfect flesh that is perishing. As Paul says, "For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.  And not only so, but ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body." (Romans 8:22-23) We are blessed with a hope for that which is to come, living in faith that God's promises are true and that He is faithful. It is not a gift we can hold with our hands today, but a gift for which we long as we journey in faith. Hope is assured. When we hope, we are not wishing and dreaming of things that may not be, but we are expecting that which has been promised.

One of the hardest questions non-Christians ask is, "If God is so merciful, why is there suffering in the world?" How do we answer that question, particularly since it is usually asked in the midst of pain? Our answers usually sound like a cop-out, but it really is quite simple: though Jesus Christ finished the work of reconciliation on the cross, the world is not yet perfected. Even the heavens and earth groan for the day when all will be restored as God created them to be.

Today's Psalm is a song of hope of how it can be with the world and all created beings living in the shadow of the Most High, trusting Him to provide all they need. In a perfect world, all of God's creation will look to Him for food and all good things. In a perfect world, there is no anger or hatred, no war or violence, no tears or pain. Even the sea monsters - the leviathan - frolic in the ocean, leaving the ships to travel safely from port to port. In a perfect world, all creatures live together in fear of God and tremble in His presence, not because they are afraid but rather humbled by His magnificence.

Unfortunately, we do not fear God, beginning with Adam until this day; we do not look to Him for all we need. This is why there is still suffering in the world. Yet even in this there is hope, "Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created; And thou renewest the face of the ground." (Psalm 104:30) This is what happened at Pentecost.

Before Jesus died on the cross, He promised His disciples that He would send a helper -- the Spirit of truth -- to teach them so that they could testify about Jesus to the world. Jesus seems to speak in riddles in today's Gospel lesson. "But now I go unto him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou?  But because I have spoken these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart.  Nevertheless I tell you the truth: It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I go, I will send him unto you.  And he, when he is come, will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and ye behold me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world hath been judged."

There's more? What could be harder to bear than the thought that Jesus had to leave and who was this promised Counselor? He is the Holy Spirit; the Spirit that the Psalmist tells us creates and renews the face of the earth. He is the One that makes the sinners vanish from the face of the earth because He brings light, life and truth into their lives and transforms them into children of God for the sake of Jesus. He gives us knowledge, strength, courage, love and peace.

The first time it happened was on the Pentecost Day. The Jews were gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks otherwise known as Pentecost, a celebration of praise and thanksgiving for the Lord's blessing of the harvest. The people brought offerings, both mandatory and voluntary, especially bread made from the first wheat harvested from the field. It was a festival of joy. It had been just ten days since Jesus ascended into heaven and the disciples were still hiding in the upper room, prayerfully waiting this promised Counselor. They had no idea what would happen.

Suddenly there was a sound like rushing wind and tongues of fire came upon them. They were filled with the Holy Spirit, such an extraordinary event that the crowds gathered around to see what they were doing. When the disciples began speaking in tongues, the crowd thought they were drunk, but they weren't. God began something new at that moment. The disciples were the first fruits that were spreading the seed of the Gospel message that would bring healing and reconciliation to the people of God. The crowds, no matter where they were from, could hear and understand the Word that came from the mouths of those disciples and many came to believe. The church was born and God began His greatest work - restoring the creation.

From then until now, Christians have been given a new life, a new voice and a new language to speak - the language of Christ. The message of the Gospel is not one that we can understand without the power of the Holy Spirit. The disciples did not understand everything Jesus spoke. Even they, who had lived in the presence of Jesus, needed the Counselor, the Spirit of truth, to dwell within them to be able to do the work Christ was calling them to do. They could not bear all Jesus had to tell them before the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ because it was not until He left that they could be given His power. When He came upon them at Pentecost, He made all things new and sent them in joy and thanksgiving to begin planting the seeds of faith into the lives of others.

We are called to follow them into the world with the power of God so that more sinners will vanish and wickedness will disappear. It will not be immediate, but as the Gospel is shared, more and more of God's creation will be drawn into His heart and covered with the righteousness of Christ. One day, the day for which we hope, the whole creation will be transformed by the power of God and He will be glorified in our lives forever. One day we will truly trust only in Him, we will look to Him for all we need. The whole earth longs for the day when all will respond to Him with songs like that of the Psalmist, "I will sing unto Jehovah as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have any being." (Psalm 104:33)

Until that day we will hang on to the hope that we have in Christ Jesus. We live in expectation of that which is to come, the fulfillment of all His promises. And when we think we can't go on any longer, we find comfort in the words of Paul, who knew first hand that we live in a world that is being transformed one day at a time. "And in like manner the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God."

We were given a great and important gift on that day of birth of Christ's Church. We were given the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, transforming our lives and the world through the Word of God and comforting us in our weaknesses. We are saved and we are being saved. We are transformed and we are being transformed. We are made perfect and are being made perfect. Life in Christ is immediate and it is continuous until that day God has promised when there will be no more sin or wickedness in the world He created. This is probably the most difficult concept of Christian faith to understand - that salvation is a future hope and a present reality at the same time. It all points to the cross of Christ and His grace. Though we may not understand all He has to say, we can rest assured that everything He has spoken is true. Thanks be to God. 

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