Sermon – May24, 2015
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin, KY
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. John 16:12-13
Please be seated.
Back in the early 60’s in Harrisburg, the local radio station broadcast a church service each Sunday. My father, who was Lutheran, heard this preacher, Ray Evelan, on the radio one Sunday and was drawn to attend his church, Messiah Lutheran Church. The Church was farther away than the one he was already attending, but something about the 35-year old preacher drew him in.
At the time Messiah was declining. The neighborhoods around the church were disappearing as state government and office buildings came along, all part of an urban redevelopment plan. Soon after my father started attending the church, he and Pastor Evelan became good friends, best friends in fact, in a friendship that lasted nearly 50 years.
By 1965, Pastor Evelan was Uncle Ray to me – not my blood uncle, but nearly so. Looking back and hearing stories from my parents, I know Uncle Ray saved my life in so many ways. My mother had bi-polar disorder, a chronic mental illness, and she suffered with it before there was lithium and the many medications available today. So many times, Uncle Ray provided support and comfort to both of my parents. He encouraged my parents to seek help at a premier hospital in Philadelphia where my mother was able to be one of the first to receive new treatments, which were amazing.
Uncle Ray shaped my faith and my understanding of what it means to be a Christian. He was an advocate for justice of every kind, including racial justice. When I was 14, he preached a series of sermons on speaking truth to power. I still read those sermons about the importance to work for God’s justice here on earth, no matter the cost. I still hear and see him preaching in his black robe with white cassock, pulling up the sleeves and leaning over the pulpit.
Pentecost is the anniversary of my confirmation and Uncle Ray was one of the people who taught confirmation classes. At the time, the baptism liturgy was changing and Uncle Ray explained how important it was that the service was done within the congregation. I can’t remember all he said in that class, but it was powerful. Until that time, our youth group would always sit up in the balcony, half paying attention. But on the next Sunday after Uncle Ray spoke to us, we came down and sat right up front, close to the pulpit and baptismal font and we never went back to the balcony.
Today, on this birthday of the church…on the day we immerse ourselves in the coming of the Holy Spirit, I can say that Uncle Ray loved God. Uncle Ray loved Jesus. Uncle Ray had the Holy Spirit in him, working through him, and guiding him. The Holy Spirit guided him to speak prophetically about what was required for God’s justice to reign on earth. The Holy Spirit filled him with courage and a passion to stand for truth and to take action for truth.
However, many Christians then and even many now, would condemn Uncle Ray. Because, you see, Uncle Ray was a gay man, who had to conceal that fact for most of his life. The condemnation, and I would say misunderstanding, of the Christian Church would have denied his deep love of God and of Jesus. They would have denied his gift of prophecy…would have denied his Holy Spirit filled courage…his passion for truth and justice and would not have heeded him, nor allowed him to do God’s work if he were openly true to himself.
But in today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus say,
Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment…. John 16:7-8
What….Jesus MUST go away? The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Paraclete, MUST come? What? The world is WRONG about sin and righteousness and judgment? AND the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Paraclete will show us how wrong the world is?
It seems like in much of Christianity today, we deny these words of Jesus Christ. We do not believe that the Holy Spirit is truly at work in the world. Jesus explained in verses 12-13, that there were many more things he wanted to tell the disciples, but they were not ready and could not hear them. Jesus says the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth will come and guide us and will declare to us the things that are to come.
Jesus’ work on earth was not the end. There was so much more Jesus wanted us to know and to understand. There was so much more God wanted us to know and to understand. We couldn’t hear it. So the Holy Spirit came on that day of Pentecost and dwelt within each of us so that we could grow and change and hear, finally, those things Jesus wanted to tell us….those things Jesus wanted us to know.
Unfortunately, for most of his life, my Uncle Ray suffered at the hands of the church. I cannot believe his condemnation by the church of his day was of God or of Jesus. And I am most grateful that the Holy Spirit has continued to move through us, like the “rush of a violent wind,” resting divided “tongues of fire” upon each of us, bringing the things we could not bear to hear previously…that God is love…that God created each of us…that who we are attracted to or desire to love is of God and demonstrates God’s love.
I love the Holy Scriptures. I learn something new about God and Jesus and being a Christian each time I read scripture. AND today Jesus clearly tells us there is more to come. Jesus tells us the Holy Spirit continues God’s work. Jesus tells us all will change until God’s perfect Kingdom reigns.
So, watch for the Holy Spirit at work in our world today in so many ways. My example of Uncle Ray is but one of many. Listen deeply for how the Holy Spirit is moving through you and guiding you. Listen and you will be guided into all truth!