Mother Ann’s sermon preached on Aug. 29, 2021

Posted by on Sun, Aug 29, 2021 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The Steering of God’s Spirit

The 14th Sunday after Pentecost

Aug. 29, 2021

Following the first Easter, as Jesus ascended into heaven and God’s Spirit descended on the disciples, they felt amazingly energized—yet quite unsure just how to go on. For three long years Jesus had personally led them by word and example. Now he commissioned them to serve as a spirited committee of twelve to build up the Church—a bit like commissioning an eager new vestry, without providing them with a building, a priest or a Prayer Book.

Everything had to begin from scratch. They started by pooling their memories of Jesus, completing one another’s sentences and arranging all the stories in order. They told and retold these tales to each other, until everyone could recite them by heart. Then they fanned out along the Roman roads, telling everyone they met about Jesus. Occasionally the disciples were invited into someone’s home to meet family and friends. If so, as dinner was ending they would ask for fresh bread and wine to be brought to the table; they would gratefully bless the loaf, break it and pour out the wine, all in memory of Jesus, just as he had commanded them to do.

After many nights of gathering like this, some natural leader might spontaneously step forward. When that happened the disciples launched into on-the-job-training, preparing this new believer to take up where they would be leaving off. Then they headed off down the road again, telling everyone they met about Jesus. “What a shaky plan for God to rely on,” you might say, and you would be right. Sometimes, many times, these startup churches veered off track. It’s not that they got the memory of Jesus all wrong, but they only got it half right. That’s where the Spirit stepped in.

In the church headed by Mark, new Christians were sitting down to dinner without pausing to ritually scrub each hand, each pot, each dish, each cup as Jews had routinely done before meeting Jesus. Traditionalists among them protested they were growing impure by playing fast and loose with their heritage. But Mark saw things differently: Christ was now Lord, and he had bid them rely on the Spirit to guide them in making all things new. Drawing on his trove of Jesus memories Mark called out, “Listen everyone! Remember how Jesus warned us against just keeping traditions, while our hearts remained untrue? There is no power in rote behavior that doesn’t bind our souls to the living God!’ Mark’s inspired retort was never forgotten by the church he led, and they added the story of that night to their stories about Jesus. We read it to this day: There is no power in keeping traditions that don’t bind our souls to the living God.

Meanwhile other Christians took this new freedom too far. In the congregation led by James, freewheeling folks jumped to the conclusion that there were no longer any rules for believers. So long as they claimed Jesus as Lord, they could do whatever they wanted. By the power of the Spirit James intervened: “Listen everyone,” he called out, “Jesus has given us many commandments, such as ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ Do not deceive your own hearts! You must be doers of the word of God, and not hearers only. Get out there and care for others as Christ cares for you.” James’ inspired retort was never forgotten by the church he led, and they added the story of that night to their stories about Jesus. We read it to this day: You must be doers of the word of God, and not hearers only. Get out there and show God’s love to others.

And so it was that God steered the Church day by day. Through the Spirit-led guidance of liberals like Mark, it let go of old practices that diminished Christ. Through the Spirit-led guidance of conservatives like James, it retained the disciplined neighbor-love that fueled mission to the world. In the end the fullness of truth about Jesus prevailed.

Today you and I still live in the power of this Spirit. Feel free to take a page from Mark’s Gospel by reviewing your own traditions, letting go of any that limit your relationship with Christ, and asking the Spirit to renew your faith through fresh experience. Feel free to take a page from James’ letter by choosing not to rest in faith alone, but asking the Spirit to lead you into action on Christ’s words.

Sunday by Sunday, year by year, our Lectionary assures that we all encounter this fullness of truth. And as we respond, we’ll see for ourselves that pooling memories of Jesus, and taking them on the road with us, turns out not to be such a shaky plan after all. Amen

© 2021 The Rev. Dr. Ann P. Lukens. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.