Sermon for May 23, 2021
In 1995, twin baby girls were born in Worchester, Massachusetts. As with many twin births, these girls were born premature, actually twelve weeks before their due date. Kyrie and Brielle Jackson were taken to the neonatal intensive care unit. Both girls weighed about two pounds and their lives were endangered. Each girl was put in her own incubator. About three weeks into their lives, one of the girls took a bad turn. She struggled to breathe, her heart rate went up and she was turning blue. A nurse decided to take a chance and put the two girls into the same incubator. It was a technique that wasn’t encouraged in the United States at that time.
An amazing thing happened. Soon after they were placed together, the healthier twin instinctively put her arm around the one that was struggling. Almost immediately the sicker child’s vital signs stabilized. Both girls survived and flourished. This event was a miracle for the family but it has also changed the practice of medicine. Now, contact is considered an important part of the early hours of childbirth. Parents are told to hold their child skin to skin. By the way, if you want to see a picture of that small arm reaching out and holding the sister just go to Youtube and enter a search like “twin sister miracle”.
For me, it is an important message about how our presence in someone’s life can make a difference. One of our struggles during the pandemic has been the difficulty for us to spend time with those we love and to touch them. During the worst days of the pandemic, family members were not allowed to visit and touch their loved ones in nursing homes and hospitals. We know that human presence is important. Today I ask you to reflect on the presence of God in your life. How do you experience and turn to the Holy Spirit as you remember that Jesus was the one who said that he would send the Holy Spirit to be with us? Let us also reflect on how the strength of the Holy Spirit encourages us to share God’s love with others.
This morning, we celebrate the beginning of the Christian church and we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. The visit of the Holy Spirit came in great power. There was a sound like the rush of a violent wind. Tongues of fire appeared, and a tongue settled on each of the disciples.
The power of the Spirit was incredible. The immediate result was that the apostles were able to speak in many different languages. The Holy Spirit gave them much more than that. In her book, “The Fellowship of the Holy Spirit”, Georgia Harkness, an American Theologian, described the coming of the Holy Spirit this way, “At some point (the power of the Spirit) is represented as the power to work miracles, as in Peter’s healing of the lame man at the temple by saying to him, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk’ (Acts 3:6)… However, it is the greater miracle of courage and an amazing fidelity in witness under opposition that the power of the Holy Spirit is most often and most clearly seen.” The power of the Holy Spirit was not a one-time gift. The courage that the disciples of Jesus received stayed with them to the end of their days. Their proclamation of the glories of Jesus never wavered despite the number who disagreed with them and sought to stop them. The Spirit was with them throughout their journey.
That courage is still a gift we receive today. In fact, it is something we often pray for. At the beginning of his sermons, Philip Stowell ends the prayer with the words, “Take our hearts and set them on fire”. I think of the fire that God gives us to love and serve, to share and to care and to live fully our Christian Life. Thanks to Jan for her work and Linda for her organizing, we have offered a flame of fire in your bulletin as a symbol of the power that you have received from the Holy Spirit, a power to set your heart on fire.
We often think of the Holy Spirit as a power, a force, a source of strength. The Spirit is often referred to as a blowing wind, a breath that gives us life. And yet I also think of the Holy Spirit as a presence. In today’s gospel, Jesus told his disciples that he was sending the Holy Spirit. Jesus said to his disciples, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.”
In the first letter of John, we hear the words that “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” In today’s gospel Jesus sends the Holy Spirit as an Advocate. Now the Holy Spirit acts as an Advocate on our behalf and ensures that if we ask, our sins are forgiven. We have other names for the Holy Spirit. At various points, Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as a Comforter and a Helper. We sometimes call the Holy Spirit our guide. The Spirit is the source of truth.
Max Lucado, a contemporary Christian writer speaks about Jesus and the Holy Spirit as the way to get to heaven. He said it this way, “The wizard [of Oz] says look inside yourself and find self. God says look inside yourself and find [the Holy Spirit]. The first will get you to Kansas. The latter will get you to heaven. Take your pick.” Let us accept this invitation and see if we can find the Spirit inside of us.
I often think of Jesus as a partner with me along my journey. I think the Holy Spirit can be our partner as well. I think of the Holy Spirit as a presence, God’s presence within us. NT Wright, the well-known New Testament Scholar once wrote that, “Those in whom the Spirit comes to live are God's new Temple. They are, individually and corporately, places where heaven and earth meet.” The Celts speak of places where earth and heaven meet as thin places. We often seek those out. It may be as simple as inviting the Holy Spirit into our hearts.
When Cursillo groups meet, they begin with a prayer. It is an invitation, a request that the Spirit come and be with us. It starts this way, “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love.” Today, let us think of the Holy Spirit giving us the love of God. I started the sermon today speaking about the gift of healing that one twin sister gave to the other. I ask you to imagine the Holy Spirit putting an arm around you and through that touch, that feeling of God being right there with you, you are given a new strength. That strength cannot be described any better than the love of God in us. The Cursillo prayer suggests that you think of that touch, the gift of God’s Spirit, as a fire of love. It is the love of God that gives us the energy to share God’s love with everyone. In the times that we struggle to love another, someone who has hurt us, we can look inside of ourselves and find God’s love and it will give us a new chance to find love for that other person.
That Cursillo prayer speaks of love as a fire. What exactly is the fire of love? If we listen carefully, we may hear the poet T S Eliot describe a choice we have between the fire of hell and the fire of the Spirit. He begins by describing the Spirit alighting on Jesus as a dove.
“The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
T S Eliot then describes where that fire comes from.
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.”
We often think of Pentecost as a time to celebrate, to be thankful for the disciples of Jesus who passed those important messages about Jesus down to us. We are thankful for their courage and steadfast faith in the face of so many who challenged their story. Today, I ask you to be thankful for the Spirit. I ask you to be thankful for the power and the presence of that Spirit. Let us pray that the Spirit will come into our hearts and that the power of God’s love will be with us. Let us use that powerful love to live righteous lives and to share God’s love with everyone. Perhaps we can be like the twin sister and reach out with arms of love to give new life to all we meet. Amen.
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