“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.” Really? How exactly does Jesus propose we pull that off? How exactly can we do any better than feed five thousand people with some bread and fish, turn water into wine, walk on water, heal the sick, restore sight to the blind, or raise people from the dead? How is it even possible to fathom that we can pull off something even close to any of that?
Except it’s not so much about individual miracles that we could somehow unexplainably do with God’s help; it’s more so about what started to happen with the day we call Pentecost long ago. Because as much as we envision these massive crowds witnessing all these miracles from Jesus, in the grand scheme of the world, the message of hope and new life was still only reaching very few people. So comes Pentecost, when the apostles find out, it was their turn to start spreading this Great News all over the world. And today we are reminded it’s still our turn to spread this Great News to all the people who come into our life.
So, if that’s the case, how exactly does God expect us to pull that off? Do we simply wait for parents to bring their children to get baptized and hopefully they’ll keep on coming back so that we can teach them this Gospel of hope? If not enough people show up that way do we go door-to-door and plead with them to come to worship so they may understand all these works Jesus did and continues to do for them? Do we send out postcards with cute pictures of our church family to hopefully convince them to join in the learning and fun? Is all of that spreading the Great News as the apostles did centuries ago?
The reality remains there wasn’t much of a church structure in those days, but that obviously didn’t stop them. It wasn’t so much about membership to the organized Christian religion; they just felt divinely compelled by the Holy Spirit to let people know what happened with this Messiah in small towns of Galilee, and on the Calvary hillside, and out of a dark closed-in tomb. Something happened so life-altering that these followers of Jesus could no longer keep it to themselves, even if they had to risk their life to do so. But how exactly did they pull it off?
The thing is evidently God never stops showing up on the scene, even after Jesus ascends into Heaven. God still shows up through the Holy Spirit and blesses the apostles all these different languages in order to talk with people, to share the stories, to connect with them in a more personal way. So for us thousands of years later, what exactly is the Holy Spirit up to now for us to continue spreading this Great News with just as much passionate fervor as the apostles? Maybe it’s not so much giving each of us a different language native to a certain country, but the Holy Spirit is still at work in us to learn a new language of reaching people in all walks of life with every generation that comes along.
Even with my generation I still I remember in elementary school Mrs. Lee would teach “religious education,” as it was called. I remember the New Testament with Psalms books, the same ones donated by the Gideons, and gradually reading through chapter by chapter. Obviously those classes have gradually diminished from the public school setting. Americans can complain non-stop about the issue, but I have a feeling the Holy Spirit isn’t interested in complaining. I have a feeling God through the Holy Spirit is far too concerned with using other ways of bringing the Great News to all ages instead.
Because, after all, God is still there: in the schools, in the workplaces, in restaurants, and all over the world. We’re not bringing God to life. God already has taken care of that since the beginning. But evidently God is under the impression we’re more than capable to help more people realize that, to help people know they are loved just as they are, to make sure they know forgiveness and grace. Evidently the Holy Spirit can still pull off miracles, can still bless us with the language of faith to reach everyone we know.
As much as I still appreciate what Mrs. Lee did for us in a rural elementary school years ago, it did lead many of us to complacency about our role as disciples. We said, “We’ll let teachers and pastors take care of spreading that Good News,” when all along God had all of us in mind to do exactly that. With each generation the Holy Spirit continues to find new ways to reach people, even beyond the walls of a school or a church. There’s no limit to where God’s love can reach people from blood drives to Relay for Life events to Habitat for Humanity projects, even Facebook and e-mail prayer chains. This is the God Who shapes and molds the church to roll with whatever the world throws at all of God’s children. The Holy Spirit will drown out all the complaining and frustration and unleash the power of hope and new life then, now, and forevermore. And for that we give thanks to God indeed! Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon