A group of people standing next to a line

Being Church…Together

ESPERANZA LUTHERAN CHURCH https://myesperanza.org

Easter 6A2023
John 14:15-21

On the night before his crucifixion, because he knows he will leave his disciples, Jesus promises to send them the spirit. You know the Spirit, Jesus says, because the Spirit abides in you, and the Spirit will be in you. Our Lutheran baptismal liturgy echoes Jesus’ promise that the Spirit would reside in the disciples. Indeed, one of the gifts of Holy Baptism, as understood by Martin Luther, is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the baptized by which we receive gifts and talents to be used in service to God and God’s people. But in Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written, the preposition we translate here as “in” may also be translated as “among.” Jesus not only promises the presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individual followers but among the whole people of God, in the ministry we do together.

That may not sound at all noteworthy. You may wonder why I even bring it up. Of course, the Holy Spirit is embodied among us. But consider our culture, our common stories, our beloved heroes. Superheroes like Superman and Wonder Woman. Heroes like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Albert Einstein and Beethoven. Everyday heroes like police officers, first responders, and nurses. We celebrate and lift up these heroes who give of themselves for the sake of the common good, whose work benefits each of us, whose influence pervades our society. We do so quite rightly. Not only do we celebrate our heroes, it feels good to be a hero. A family friend of mine used to be a lineman for his local electric company in the Midwest. After tornados, thunderstorms, ice storms, when his community didn’t have power, he was the one to climb up telephone poles and fix them, restore power to furnaces and A/C units, to refrigerators and medical equipment, to bring power and with it, safety to his community. He loved being the hero, not because he is self-centered. The very opposite, in fact. He loved it because he loves to help and serve and do something truly useful for others.

In a culture that celebrates heroes, we sometimes fail to remember that no one, not even the heroes, work alone, that we need multiple hands and ideas and talents for any project, that the Holy Spirit equips and empowers the whole people of God for shared ministry that is impossible to do alone. Not only that, each of our heroes and each one of us are a product of many people on whose shoulders we stand, a product of parents and other loving adults who nurtured us, a product of teachers and pastors and coaches who challenged us to grow. Certainly, our individual acts of service are the building blocks of ministry together, but we do nearly all work, nearly all ministry together, not individually, no one hero claiming all the glory.

Think, for instance, of our participation in the Kiwanis Easter parade last month. I brought the idea to the outreach team and filled out the necessary paperwork, but Linda generated the ideas for the parade give-aways with an invitation to worship attached and recruited people to prepare them. The army of people Linda recruited sewed hearts and prepared M&M packs and palm crosses, 1200 of them total. You all offered monetary gifts for our entry fee one Sunday morning. At the encouragement of Lynn and by my invitation, preschool students and their families, several teachers, Lynn, Deacon Connie plus others from among us showed up that morning to walk in the parade and distribute the give-aways. Paul showed up in his Thunderbird. Craig loaded all of our booth supplies into his truck, and our booth got set up between he and Judi Wold, a seminary student who is helping out on the outreach team right now. Michael created the Esperanza flyer we had at the table as well as the ad that got included in the booklet for the event. Mary’s Circle participants knitted the prayer shawls that were shared at the booth. Craig, Michelle, Molly, Linda, and Shirley with their welcoming, open spirits spent time attending our booth and then tearing it down at the end of the event. All of us utilized our individual gifts and talents, and those individual gifts and talents shared added up to a successful event.

And this is true regardless of the ministry. You don’t want me to cook for a crowd or count the offering, but I don’t have to because Julie and Jane and many others have got it covered. And Larry and Peggy, along with the counters they schedule and orient, are so diligent and faithful. You may not sing in the choir, serve as an assisting minister, or run the live stream, but maybe you help build the Habitat house, pitch in at the Garden of Eatin,’ or participate in events such as Feed My Starving Children this past week. We each receive gifts from the Holy Spirit and get to use them for the sake of the common good. The Holy Spirit is among us, not just in us.

Not only does the Holy Spirit bring us together to work in ministry explicitly, this is the way the Holy Spirit works in nearly every aspect of our lives. Consider how medical research gets done, for instance, medications developed, diseases discovered, tools pioneered. Rarely does one person work alone; instead, a few or even several people together in a lab. Leaders like Dr. King become historical figures, but there were myriad people who marched on Washington and sat at lunch counters and risked their lives on a freedom ride or desegregating a school.

The disciples didn’t know it that night that Jesus told them the Spirit would abide among them, but the disciples were about to embark on an adventure. Jesus would die and be raised and ascend into heaven. In the wake of Jesus’ ascension, the Holy Spirit would fill the disciples on the day of Pentecost. The Spirit would call them to establish the Christian church on earth, to heal people and feed them, to forgive sin and baptize, to establish and nurture Christian communities. Hardly a job for one person alone.

So too for us. When we look to our heroes or our mentors or just people we admire, we may wonder: how do they do it? How could so much talent and energy and passion live alongside such organization and focus and dedication? The answer to that question is almost always that they didn’t do it alone. The Holy Spirit comes among us as, together, we do the work of God. If we feel stuck today, unable to do the things God is calling us to do, even with the help of the Holy Spirit, perhaps God is inviting us to ask for help, to include others in our vision, to admit what we don’t know and learn from others. For truly, the Spirit not only dwells in each of us but abides among us for the sake of the common good. Thanks be to God! Amen.