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Hymn # 20 All Things Bright and Beautiful
Prayer of Invocation
Holy God, creator of all,
the risen Christ taught from Scripture
of his death, resurrection,
and ascension into your glorious presence.
May the living Lord
breathe on us his peace,
that our eyes may be opened to recognize him in breaking bread
and to follow wherever he leads,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Call to Confession
Prayer of Confession
Almighty God, you have raised Jesus from the grave
and crowned him Lord of all.
We confess that we have not bowed before him
or acknowledged his rule in our lives.
We have gone along with the way of the world
and failed to give him glory.
Forgive us and raise us from sin,
that we may be your faithful people,
obeying the commands of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who rules the world and is head of the church, his body. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
God, who is rich in mercy,
out of the great love with which he loved us
even when we were dead through our trespasses,
made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
and raised us up with him and seated us with him
in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
so that in the ages to come he might show
the immeasurable riches of his grace
in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Passing of the Peace
Prayer for Illumination
God of life, your Spirit raised Jesus from dead.
Your Spirit inspired the prophets and writers of Scripture.
Your Spirit draws us to Christ and helps us to acknowledge him as Lord.
We ask that you will send your Spirit now to give us deeper insight, encouragement, faith, and hope through the proclamation of the Easter gospel. Amen.
15 “If you love me, you will keep[f] my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,[g] to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in[h] you.
18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
Sermon: You’ll Never Walk Alone
Good morning. The other day on Facebook, a friend of mine posed an interesting question. She asked: “What is it about music that it sounds so much better when you blast it?” I replied, “When you turn up the volume, you surrender your mind and body to the physical power of the music. In that surrender, we become one with the music.”
Music has been on my mind while I’ve been writing this sermon, but I was having trouble coming up with a title. As you know, sermon titles are important to me. The title is a structuring device, and sometimes an outline of where the sermon is going. My working title was Fancy Church Words. I wanted to use some words like paraclete and pneumatology; I wanted to teach about the Holy Spirit.
Is this going to be another one of your long, rambling, self-indulgent introductions?
No, I just wanted to point out that we’re all having trouble staying focused.
Everyone knows that, Pastor. We need you to stay focused.
One more thing.
If you’re going to talk about the Holy Spirit, make sure you don’t confuse it with the Force, from Star Wars.
Stay on target!
Stay on target!
I’m sure many of you recognize the title of my sermon. It’s borrowed from the final song in the musical Carousel. The song is sung as part of a graduation ceremony. One of the graduates is a girl named Louise Bigelow. Louise’s father, Billy Bigelow, dies before she’s born—she’s kind of an orphan. During the graduation ceremony, as the song is sung, Louise is visited by her father’s spirit. She’s reminded that she’s not alone in life. It’s a powerful scene.
Our lesson this morning from the Gospel of John continues the story from last Sunday. Jesus is preparing the disciples for their lives and ministry after the human Jesus has died. He is preparing them to do greater works than those that Jesus has done in his brief time on Earth. He is teaching them that he will remain with them, abide with them, even after his physical presence is gone.
These are tremendously comforting words. As I said last week, this is Jesus at his most pastoral. Jesus tells the disciples that he will not leave them orphaned; he will give them an Advocate, who will be with them forever. Though Jesus doesn’t exactly spell it out for them, this Advocate, or Paraclete, is the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the most difficult person of the Trinity to explain. The short answer is that the Holy Spirit is that bit of God that dwells in us, abides in us. This is also the Spirit of Jesus Christ that dwells in us, abides in us. It binds us together—and this is where an explanation of the Holy Spirit can start to sound like the Force, from Star Wars.
The Holy Spirit is difficult to understand. If we try to explain it intellectually, any definition we offer falls short. I can give you definitions, but if you haven’t actually felt the movement of the Spirit, any information I give you about the Spirit just doesn’t cut it. We have to encounter and feel the Spirit.
That can be challenging in the best of times. But we’re not living in the best of times! We’re living in the midst of a pandemic. All of our lives have been disrupted. We feel isolated, cut off from one another. If you’re having trouble feeling the presence of the Spirit, you’re not alone! We’re all having difficulty focusing. We’re all searching for a feeling—and information about the Holy Spirit is a poor substitute for feeling the Spirit!
For me, I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit when I’m lost in an amazing conversation with someone—especially when it’s someone from church. I’m not talking about superficial chats; the how’s-your-day or how-are-your-kids conversations. Those are important. So are meetings. But those are about exchanging information and instructions. I’m talking about the moments when we talk about our lives of faith or how the church has been a part of our lives. I’m talking about the evening conversations on a mission trip, when we wrestle with the things we witnessed during the day. Of course, those are all face-to-face conversations.
During this time of quarantine, we’ve remained connected to one another through our technology. But that technology can be a blessing and a curse. Yeah, it’s great that we can have worship and bible studies online. And it’s good that many of us can work from home. At the same time, we’re all feeling more tired from the same jobs we were doing before we were on lockdown. We have Zoom fatigue. Online meetings are exhausting.
Sure, the technology keeps us connected, but when we feel like we’re always connected to our jobs, then it’s no longer healthy. I don’t know about you, but I want to veg out. I want to turn on the TV and stop thinking. I want to turn off my computer for three weeks. I want to forget Facebook exists.
Yet cutting the cables is not an option for any of us.
Since we’ve been on lockdown, we’ve held our Koinonia classes, that is, our mid-week Bible studies, online. We’ve held these classes as Zoom meetings, and they’ve been wonderful! The members of these classes have said that they feel more connected to one another and to the church through these Bible studies.
That might seem strange, considering that it’s a Zoom meeting.
That might seem strange, as we’re not gathered in the same place.
And yet, it doesn’t!
It’s a Holy Spirit thing!
That’s why we feel so connected during the Koinonia classes; that’s why it’s not like every other Zoom meeting! We’re aware of the connection we share. That’s what the presence of the Holy Spirit feels like; that’s what unites us, even when we’re not gathered in the same place. That’s also what unites us now. Even if I’m not preaching this sermon at the same time you hear it!
To be sure, the Holy Spirit was with us when we worshiped in the sanctuary and when we had Bible studies in person. But maybe we weren’t as attentive. Maybe our physical dislocation from one another has helped us to focus on the more important things that bind us together.
For me, when we met in person for Bible studies, it was more about information, about understanding the scriptures intellectually. For instance, Sunday school was a space to discuss some of the interesting tidbits that didn’t make it into the sermon. Now, Bible study is about human connection and spiritual connection. Knowledge and understanding are still important—vital, even—but it’s our connection through the Spirit that sustains us. For me, these classes are life-giving!
The connection that we share is what keeps us from drifting, from wandering aimlessly. That connection—in and through the Holy Spirit—reminds us that we’ll never walk alone. If you’re having trouble feeling that connection, feeling the presence of the Spirit, reach out! Reach out to someone from church and let them know you need to feel connected.
And if you are feeling the presence of the Spirit, God bless you! That’s fantastic. If you’re feeling it: reach out! Share it with someone else. You’ll feel it even more after you’ve shared it and you might help that other person feel it, too.
The Holy Spirit is real and it lives when we feel it. It surrounds us and strengthens us.
Surely, the presence of the Lord is in this place! In this place, where I’m preaching, and also in your homes—and in each and every one of you! We are connected by the Holy Spirit. We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord! You know the rest. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymn # 720 Jesus Calls Us
Prayer of Thanksgiving
We give our thanks through our talents, our time, and our treasure.
Thanks be to God; whose love creates us!
Thanks be to God; whose mercy redeems us!
Thanks be to God; whose grace leads us into the future! Amen.
Prayers of the People
Finally, we offer a prayer of thanksgiving—and prayers for health and safety—for all of the helpers out there. We lift up all the nurses, doctors, lab techs, nurses’ aides, housekeeping staff, and first responders who are on the front lines of this pandemic. We give thanks for all they do and we pray that God continue to watch over them in this time.
The Lord’s Prayer
Hymn # 366 Love Divine, All Loves Excelling