Sermon Archive

Sunday May 26, 2019
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Moretz

Acts 16:9-15
Revelation 21:10, 22–22:5
John 14:23-29

God on the Move

Since my wife gave birth to our child, Samuel, I’ve discovered that the only language that seems to work when I try to articulate who he really is to us is religious language. And so, please note, that I risk heresy in speaking of all this. Everything now bends toward this cherub that God has brought into this world, and placed in our laps. By a miracle, he entered this world. He has demanded our all, and in our adoration we have gladly given it, with zeal. No matter the cries, no matter the messes. It is like a conversion experience. Because he came, everything has changed. Our ultimate concerns, our identities, they all now conform to the shape of his presence and his needs. This sermon, too, was written on his schedule, during his naps. And now, our home has also changed. It is no longer a place for us to live, it is primarily a place for him. But not just any place, more like a temple prepared for this holy object, our apartment is now a sacred vessel for a heavenly creature from which shines the Glory of God.

But something just started to happen which has upended everything again, a sort-of second Epiphany. Before Tuesday morning, our holy object was quite predictable. Like the holy bread or holy wine, if you placed him somewhere, he would stay there. And if you wished to move him, like the sacred elements, a procession would be needed. But after Tuesday morning, one could look away for just a second (I promise) and that holy object would not be where we had put him, but instead I would look back and he would be on the other side of the room, at a place not of my choosing, but a place of his! Yes, he had learned to crawl. He was on the move!

As a result, our home needed a complete overhaul. It had to account for this new mobility of the holy presence. We needed gates, and covers, and clever locks, every corner needed to be made smooth. For now, we know that, the object of our adoration and near-worship would not necessarily be where we wished him to be. He had desires and plans. He was on the move! And he will be from this day forward! Our home and our hearts need to be ready for that.

For the infant Church, the Resurrection revealed to the disciples that God, too, was on the move in a new way, and would be from that day forward! They experienced God in Christ cast into the valley of the shadow of Death, a place from which no traveler expects to return, and indeed they saw the Lord emerge from that dark place, alive again, walking among them, eating among them. The tomb could not contain him. Over the course of their Easter, they found themselves being prepared for a new time when Christ’s presence would not only grow beyond the boundaries of Jesus’ life, but beyond the boundaries even of his Resurrection appearances.

The grand scale of what was happening in Easter was going to unfold far beyond their band of disciples and friends to remake not just their homeland, but their home planet. In Christ’s name, the Holy Spirit would move like the wind, or like fire, through the realms of living and the dead, through every land and every nation’s boundary, and through the disciples’ hearts to lead them into a boundless country, no longer balkanized by sin, but shot through with the mercy of God on the move!

In this time of new life and new scope, the disciples would have been reflecting on everything that Jesus had told them before his death, especially the more cryptic things. They would have remembered, as we are in our Gospel reading today, how one day, Judas (not Iscariot, another Judas, it was a common name) had asked Jesus, with some frustration, this question: “Since you have made yourself clear to us, why don’t you go ahead and make yourself clear to the world? Why don’t you just manifest in a way so that the whole world might see and know what we are seeing and knowing? Perhaps another miracle, this time in Jerusalem, in the sight of everyone? Or maybe a big sign in the sky? That should do it!”

Unfortunately, Jesus knew that a big show like that, no matter how virtuous, wouldn’t communicate the truth. He saw this disconnect happen so many times with the crowds. And he saw how his disciples, even though Jesus was right there in front of them, speaking plainly about what he was doing, where he was going, and what would happen, even they couldn’t truly comprehend what was happening in their midst. They couldn’t see their Lord through the haze of their narrow and constrained expectations. It wouldn’t be until after his death and resurrection that they would really be able to see him for who he actually was: The One to give them a peace that the world cannot give, that the world cannot contain, a peace that passes understanding, that passes through the grave and that passes to places that they would never expect; beyond their chosen, favored people, and beyond the seas to every land. The love of God was on the move, leading them to people and places thought impossible and inappropriate.

The Acts of the Apostles demonstrate this trajectory in action. Paul, in a vision from God, is called by a Macedonian man to travel to the region, and ultimately to Phillipi. After sailing there, they meet a dealer of purple cloth named Lydia, a Gentile, but a “God-fearer” they called her, a Gentile who knew the Jewish faith and lived in a fond orbit around the small prayer community in that place. After meeting and speaking with Paul, Lydia’s heart was turned to Christ, and she and her house were baptized. And so she became the first convert to the faith in what we now call Europe, and then she became the notable patron and leader of the church in Phillipi, sustaining a community that would have pivotal importance in the early Church. The Spirit made her way to her heart so that she might build up a church, a shelter for the Spirit to thrive in a distant and unclean land.

Easter not only introduces us to the Risen Christ, it prepares us for the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Presence of God that won’t stand still. And if we are to follow it, we can’t stand still either. For we now know that the Presence of God is Centrifugal, first bursting forth at Jerusalem, yes, at the Center of the World, but then whirling with such a force that the disciples and their descendants in the faith follow that Spirit into every corner of the Earth, baptizing and making even more disciples, more friends of Christ, more fruit of the Spirit, hanging from a radiating vine whose tendrils have now found their way into our hearts. And their life is somehow now intertwined with our lives.

Thanks to the Spirit, our faith has had its start. Our first vision of God’s love, too, has opened up to us. But, the Holy Spirit will not stay there. The Spirit is even now calling us, leading us beyond our starting point, beyond our center, and beyond our community, leading us to people and places where the faith of Christ and the love of Christ are new, not just for them but for us! This was the path the disciples took after Easter, and it is the path we continue on their behalf in our time.

For we are being summoned where that mercy has never been made manifest, so that we may manifest it, with God’s help. And we are being summoned where that love has never been given shelter, so that we might build it, with God’s help. We are being summoned to show forth the love and mercy of Christ beyond ourselves and our own so that we might grow in ways that we could never predict. It is our Easter task to begin to look up from our shoes and instead to crane our neck to scan the horizon of our lives, emboldened by the One who leads us out there. For, like the disciples, first we were called to our Jerusalem, our beloved holy beginning, and now we are called to the ends of the earth, to follow the ever-moving Spirit in a world without end.