Somewhere, long ago, I heard this apocryphal story. Two angels were sitting on a cloud one fine morning sharing coffee and angel food cake. One says to the other, “I heard that the Son is back among us.” The second says, “Really? Where did he go anyway?” “He went down to earth to start the Church,” says the first angel. “Is that right?,” says the second. The first says, “Yes, but I don’t think it will last very long.” “Oh, why not?,” says the second angel. The first one dryly responds, “He left a committee in charge.”
The Christian religion is under attack these days more than it has been in a long time. Long held traditional doctrines are being challenged vigorously by the new enlightened masses, and those who hold to these doctrines are called bigots and worse. Well meaning bishops around the world are giving into the demands of modern culture, and some are attempting to change the way we talk about God.At the service held at the Washington National Cathedral after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, the bishop of the Diocese of Washington, Marianne Budde, gave this final blessing: “The blessing of God Almighty, the creator, redeemer, and sustainer, be upon you and remain with you always.”
Obviously, the words, “Father” and “Son” are simply too masculine for her taste. The problem with that is that the Holy Trinity is depersonalized into some of the modes, or actions that are attributed to the God Head. That heresy was dealt with in the fourth century.
The Holy Spirit is already a genderless term, so He does not get messed with like the others, but there has been a movement to depersonalize the Holy Ghost for some time. The 1928 Book of Common Prayer, formative of my youth, has, in the Nicene Creed, regarding the incarnation, that Jesus, “Was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man,” following the Latin, “Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto Ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est.”
The English Language Liturgical Consultation, formed in 1969 to propose common language texts for the English speaking churches in the world, proposed a new version of the Creed in 1975, which was adopted for our 1979 Prayer Book. This version changed the Creed to say that “By the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”
This is a subtle change, but seems to reduce the Holy Ghost to some depersonalized force, reminiscent of the Theology of Star Wars.
I’m not worried about the Church being under attack, though. She has always been under attack, at some times more or less than others, but She has survived, and I’d dare say She often thrives under persecution. The Apostles faced terrible persecution as recorded in the Bible, and in the history books since.
Even when it was first led by that small committee, the Church thrived. Why? Because the Holy Spirit was there being the Counselor, Advocate, and Comforter, just as Jesus promised.
If Christianity was a religion simply made up by superstitious, manipulative and conniving, men, you would think the Apostles would be heroic men who were smart and strong and convincing in their testimony. Instead, the Gospels tell of ordinary men who are quite fallible, and often very weak.
Take the Apostle St. Peter, or as my New Testament Professor liked to call him, Rocky. Rocky was a mess! Remember the time when the disciples were in the boat on the stormy sea, and they saw Jesus walking on the water, meaning to pass them by. They all were quite fearful, thinking that they had seen a ghost. Jesus says, “Take courage! It is I! Do not be afraid!”
Peter responds, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” Jesus said. Rocky hops out of the boat and is doing great until he looks down at the water! Does he say, “Hey, look at me! I’m walking on the water!” Oh, no! he got scared and begins to sink. Jesus has to rescue him.
How about the time when Rocky says, “O, no, Lord. I’ll never betray you!” You all know how that one turned out.
And who can forget the all time favorite line uttered by Jesus when he told the disciples about how he would go to Jerusalem, and suffer at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and that he must be killed, on the third day, be raised to life. Rocky said, “God forbid! This will never happen to you!” And Jesus delivers the deepest cut of all; “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.”
If you stopped reading your Bible after the Gospels, you might get the idea that this committee of rough talking fishermen, scheming tax collectors, and simple shepherds would surely kill this new Church in short order.
No wonder that angel was skeptical!
Just when you think all is lost, something wonderful happens. In his appearances after the resurrection, Jesus confirmed what he had taught the disciples, and he gave the great commission to the Apostles, which is recorded in the last few verses of the Gospel according to St. Matthew:
“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted.”
(Notice how some still doubted!)
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20
St. Luke’s Gospel ends with this statement by Jesus: “And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)
Then on the Day of Pentecost, which we celebrate this day, the miracle occurs. The eleven had just chosen the man to join them, Matthi’as, so they could become the twelve again. The appearance of the Holy Ghost this day was not like the descending of a dove, in its peacefulness. The appearance is with the sound of a mighty wind, and it filled the house where they were. This must have been very exciting! Put yourself in their place for a moment. What a wondrous event it must have been. Some of you would probably be in the driveway looking for the tornado!
Now the lowly Apostles are filled with the Holy Spirit to be able to proclaim the Good News in every language and in every place.
And remember Rocky? He is transformed with the new life of the Spirit of Christ living in him.
Then St. Peter proceeds to make his mark. He is no longer the simple fishermen saying those foolish, childish things. He is now a great Apologist for Jesus Christ. I urge you to grab a Bible and read Acts chapter 2 again, and see if you, too, are inspired. I know I am every time I read it. St. Peter said, “And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Wonderful words indeed.
And Inspired they were, with the the in-spir-ation, the in-breathing of the Holy Ghost. And not just some force, or puff of smoke, but The Third Person of the Trinity, God, his own self.
With the Holy Spirit of God within, they were ready to fulfill the Great Commission.
And indeed, all of us are inspired with the Holy Ghost. All of you present today are All Saints of God. There are many of the Saints of this parish that have gone before you, and now you take that legacy with you.
You are all filled with the Holy Spirit, just as the 12 were, to go and to teach and to heal the broken hearted. The decades of preaching and teaching that have happened in this church building were all for this moment, to send you out to continue the preaching and the teaching and the healing.
While these doors may close, so ending a chapter in this story, there is so much more to be written. Go and become a part of another congregation, taking your gifts and adding them to theirs, thereby strengthening you both. God will be glorified wherever we are, because the Holy Ghost goes where He will, and He will never be stopped.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and
the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore.
Amen. 2 Corinthians 13:14