"When the Spirit comes..."
June 3, 2007
Delivered by Jim Eby at Summit Presbyterian Church John 16:12-15
We finally made it to Trinity Sunday! Have you been waiting with eager anticipation, or are you scratching your head, wondering what is so special about this day, the first Sunday after Pentecost, that we should single it out and call it Trinity Sunday!
What are we talking about when we talk about a triune God? A trinity?
Image of HOH (water, steam, ice) - but that's not enough. JDE (husband, father, grandfather) - not enough either.
When we're honest, we have to confess that we are dealing with a mystery. We're trying to talk about something that is beyond our language, something that can never be limited to our language, and yet our language is the only tool we have to communicate the reality that we know deep inside. And so, with our ancestors in the faith, we make our confession that we believe in God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. We did that earlier in the service when we said the Apostle’s Creed.
God the Father, the creator. The first person of the Trinity. We can talk about and have some understanding of that relationship, can't we? Our personal faith statements include the creation of the world, and we believe somehow, someone, some power gave shape and form to the world as we experience it. And that someone, that power, we call God the Father or the creator.
And we can talk about God the Son, with ease, even though it gets so hard to understand what it means when we say he was "conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin..." But we can talk about the one who redeems us, can't we? We know the reality of being rescued from ourselves, from depression that would swallow us whole. We know and can envision one who was completely obedient, because we have moments when we know the joy of being faithful. And we have seen the integrity in parts of lives of friends and loved ones when they have lived out their faith. So we can begin to comprehend the reality of God the Son, the Redeemer.
But God the Spirit. Now it gets more nebulous, doesn’t it? We call the third person of the Godhead the Spirit, the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit, the Sustainer, the Comforter, the Attorney for the defense. There is a whole list of names in scripture. And when we finish listing them, most of us are still not sure what we mean by them. But we do experience glimpses of what it all means when we recognize the love, the abiding love, the love that knows no bounds. When we recognize the love of God for all creation, then we begin to grasp the mystery of the trinity.
For the Spirit is the bond of love that links the creator to all creation. That Spirit is what makes the difference between living and just existing. That Spirit is what makes it possible for us to pray. That Spirit is what makes it possible for us to say: "Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior" and makes it possible for us to begin to live that way, together, in the community of faith. The Spirit is what makes it possible for us to make vows and then carry them out.
The Spirit we're trying to identify and understand is most usually experienced when two or three are gathered together. There are instances when the Spirit is experienced by an individual apart from the community. Moses was alone when he experienced the burning bush. Ezekiel was alone in that vision of the dry bones and the vision of the wheel. Jesus was alone during that time of temptation in the wilderness, and the Spirit provided for his needs.
But in most situations, the empowerment for ministry of the common people, like you and me, that giving of gifts of grace, happens gradually, almost quietly, in the midst of the community of faith. You read, last Sunday, about the time we usually recall when we think of the work of the Spirit -- Pentecost. That account of the way the gift of language was given so that everyone gathered from everywhere in the whole world, could hear the good news about Jesus the Christ in their own native language. And people experienced the koinonia, the shared life, the oneness of the people of God.
And maybe that's one of the most important gifts of the Spirit -- shared life, koinonia. For shared life is essential for survival. The infant becomes human only through being touched and loved by the mother and other human beings. And we remain human only through the nurture of the shared community.
Ours is a time when there are tremendous strains on the traditional communities. The family is pulled in so many different directions, and so are our schools and our neighborhoods and our towns and even our nation. How important it is for us today to seek that koinonia, that shared life, those shared experiences of worship and education and work which the Holy Spirit gives for our growth. We dare not seek our own individual lives, for we have it on good authority that whoever seeks his own life will lose it.
Norman Rockwell is one of Americas best beloved popular painters. One of his works is a painting of a scene in the Horn and Hardart restaurant that was at Broad and Locust. "The condiment tray gives it away," says Marshall Stoltz, the Norman Rockwell Museum curator. Of the 324 Saturday Evening Post covers drawn by Norman Rockwell, all of which are displayed at the Museum, this is the only one set in Philadelphia. There are no tablecloths on the tables, just the ketchup and mustard jars on the bare wood. It seems to be raining outside. An elderly man turns to look as he is about to leave the place. Another man glances up as he sits there chewing a cigar, reading the paper. Two teenagers sit at a table, one of them with a cigarette in his mouth. They are all looking at the same thing, which is an old woman and a small boy, their heads bowed, giving thanks. The on-lookers are dazed with fascination. The small boy's ears stick out like the handles on a jug. The woman's hair sticks out in strings from under a hat that has seen better days. The on-lookers are looking at they know not what but vaguely remember. The old woman and the boy are there giving thanks for their meager meal, while the rain is falling outside. For a moment, the silence in the place is fathomless. The watchers are seeing the Truth about themselves and about us all, in the witness of koinonia with the one who has provided them all they need.
Koinonia -- the gift of the Spirit, sent by Jesus. Let's accept the gift and celebrate it in the welcome of a new member and in the other Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and share it with a world that hungers for meaning and purpose that only the Spirit can give.
God, we give thanks for the variety of ways you come to us. We give thanks for this ancient formula that helps us recognize your presence with us. Continue to pour out your Spirit on us so we may know the koinonia and may be so bold as to invite others to share it with us. In the name of our Risen Lord, we ask it. Amen.
 The Philadelphia Inquirer, Friday, February 4, 1994, p 20.