THE TAG TEAM
John 15: 26-27
We are in the season when weddings and graduations abound. I have told people recently that we have certainly been in wedding mode, with Matt’s wedding in July and then Jenny’s next April. Those with graduations in their family watch their son or daughter move from high school to work or going college or even the Armed Forces. The nest begins to grow empty, just as a home feels more empty when a spouse is gone. Certainly some rejoice that the chaos, clutter, and complaining will be less evident, and their new life can include order, freedom, and restored personal space! But it was only after the fact that I realized what a hard and empty time it was for my parents when they watched all four of their children go to college in other states, and one become an officer in the Marines. They were proud of each child, but soon a deserted dinner table, a lack of chaos, and the din in the house subsiding made the silence be broken by occasional conversation or television. It was quite an adjustment. They got a dog; they traveled more than before; and they gave back to their community and church in new ways: my father joined the Service Corp of Retired Executives, he went regularly to the local elementary school to read to children, and he volunteered more in our church. My mother became a Meals and Wheels worker, gave more time to her PEO chapter, and volunteered more in our church. In some ways, having a child move out of the house is the event for which you have planned: to have him or her grow to maturity and start to live and stand on their own two feet was one of our parenting goals. Today a small step towards that goal is six eleven, twelve and thirteen year olds, sitting in their own pew up front, making their own statements of faith while families look on from seats farther back. Like a relay runner or swimmer, it is often good that one chapter of our lives closes when it does, for we get tired, or burned out, or need a break; often someone else takes the reins, and we get a chance to rejuvenate or even become better than we were before.
If you have been following the sermon texts this month, you’ll remember that at this point in John’s gospel, we heard Jesus delivering his final words of advice to those he loved and who followed him; then we found him praying to his Heavenly Father, acknowledging that he was coming to him, asking for care to be bestowed on his followers. Today we hear him tell the answer to his followers: A Counselor is coming from the Father, who will guide us, be with us, and bring us Comfort. In times of emptiness, loss, or confusion, we may go to human counselors, or guidance counselors, for help to move on. Our Presbyterian Counseling Center is currently functioning at full capacity because of the needs of others. But for Divine Guidance, it is the Counselor from Heaven who comes. In fact as we read about the life of Jesus in his last days, some actions are apparent—he is teaching, especially recorded in Mark’s gospel; he is encouraging, especially in John’s gospel, and he has words of warning especially in Matthew’s gospel. As the Father Creator grew exasperated with the human race over time, and then it happened with the chosen people, at long last the prophets predicted the coming of a Messiah; the Bible records that Jesus was called that by those later called Christians. Finally, just weeks after Jesus ascended into Heaven, people in Jerusalem began to experience that God’s Holy Spirit was with them, just as Jesus had promised. It was at Pentecost! God had never left them; a tag team of sorts continued to make God present through the ages. God now dwells in the temples of believer’s hearts, Jesus is the Savior or all who call him Lord, and the Spirit is the Counselor. So yes, God is still with us! Do you sense God being with you? Scientists who have studied pigeons noticed their distinctive way of walking. They tell us that they walk the way they do so they can see where they are going! They can’t adjust their focus as they move, so they come to complete stops to refocus on what’s ahead! So they walk like this: head forward, stop; head back stop! In our spiritual walks with our Lord we can have the same problem: we have a hard time seeing while we are moving. We also need to stop between steps, to refocus on where we are going, and consider if we are following the Way of Christ, or if we have gotten off track. Someone has put a formula for Spiritual Success into these words: If you want to be distressed, look within. If you want to be defeated, look back. If you want to be distracted, look around. If you want to be daunted, look ahead. And if you want to be delivered, look up! That seems a little simplistic to me, but as the concept of a Holy Tag Team reminds us of God’s continuous presence and renewal, so the idea of looking up for guidance is a kind of GPS for us. Just a couple of weeks ago, we held a memorial service here for Roger Jones; in the words of remembrance, his son told the listeners that his father, who loved to sail, learned how to navigate by following the stars, (called celestial navigation) and using tool called a sextant he could do what modern GPS devices also do. If we want to see what they earth looks like, logging on to Google Earth gives us the vantage point from orbiting satellites. And if police are afraid they might lose a fleeing robber in a chase, a hovering helicopter almost certainly keeps them from losing his trail. Seeing things from above can let us see what in close proximity is hard to figure out. The notion that God is above, that God is everywhere, and that through the Spirit’s arrival after the Son ascended into Heaven, God is with us reminding us of all the vantage points God has. God can see what our bobbing heads and shaken souls cannot focus on seeing. We can get a glimpse of God’s view up ahead when we take a look back; when we start from Paul’s letters and look back on God’s interaction with the world, we can feel the Spirit, come to know the Son, and appreciate the Creator. We can look back on our lives and, in many cases see how God’s plan is unfolding when, if we try to see God’s will clearly for today, we are quite farsighted, unable to read the instructions God has for us today. And so we trust God who, when we look back in our lives, has earned the title “trustworthy;” we’ll pray that God’s Spirit will give us the spiritual surgery to correct our farsightedness, allowing us to read for today what God would have us do and know. On Pentecost ages ago, the Spirit gave out hearing aids with a translation feature: everyone understood one another! The Spirit did surgeries on people’s eyes so they could see in new ways; the Spirit did open heart surgeries to change people’s attitudes; and the Spirit brought power so that the silent could prophesy and the lame could walk.
With four laps of a pool, each swimmer’s new energy in the relay does what one person would not have the stamina to do. God’s Spirit is, as far as we have been told, the final leg of life’s race until, at the finish line, we see the Son and are in the presence of the Father. It took Pentecost to open the eyes and ears of followers; perhaps a new Pentecost day will happen for you now. If it is this day for you, then join others around you in praying no
t a group prayer, but for today, a personal prayer: “Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.” Perhaps that is your prayer, as it is mine, today.
Jeffrey Sumner May 31, 2009