It has officially been fifty days since we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Day. For forty days after his resurrection Jesus stayed with his disciples and continued his teachings about the Kingdom of God. Then he ascended into heaven and he was gone just as he said he would be. But the story doesn’t end there because after the disciples return to Jerusalem they gathered together with other followers of Jesus. And the room suddenly filled with a violent wind and tongues like fire, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. The Advocate that Jesus had promised them was there giving them the power to continue Christ’s mission in the World. If this was a movie that would probably be a good place to end. The story of Jesus which began with his birth and reached its climax when he was killed and resurrected would conclude as he ascended into heaven. And all the loose ends are wrapped up nicely as his followers all go out into the world to spread the good news. The End. Role credits.
Now of course we know that life is not a movie, and the end of one story is always the beginning of another story. As summer begins and we enter ordinary time, and it is hard not to feel like the important part of the Christian narrative is over. In many ways this is where the story of Christianity really begins. When Christ was among his disciples the focus was almost entirely on him, he was the leader, and the disciples were perfectly happy to follow him forever.
Do you remember what it was like learning to ride a bicycle for the first time? For most people this is something that happens at a pretty young age. Many people start with training wheels, but eventually the training wheels have to come off and that is when the real training begins. I remember being on my bike with my dad standing behind me holding the bike so that I wouldn’t fall over. The only reason I ever had the courage to start pedaling was because I knew he was back there holding my bike up. And then suddenly he wasn’t there anymore, he had let go and it was entirely up to me to ride or fall. I rode a bit and then I fell onto the neighbor’s front yard. And while I did not want my Dad to let go, he knew that if he didn’t make ride by myself I was never going to be able to do it alone. So I would ride and fall, and ride and fall, but eventually I was able to keep going without falling.
When Jesus died on the cross the disciples were too scared to really do anything, and when he came back and spent time with them after the resurrection all they wanted to do was to continue being a disciple. All of their confidence came from having Christ at their side, any bravery they had came from knowing that Christ was there to help them. The disciples remind me of children who are first learning to ride a bike. They were never going to really learn as long as Jesus was there, they would never really be able to go out and put into action everything that Jesus had taught them because they would always defer to him.
But even though Jesus was no longer there in the flesh it does not mean the disciples were left all alone. The Holy Spirit would be there, giving them the strength they would need to go out and bring Christ’s love to the world.
In the Gospel lesson today Jesus tells his disciples “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, `Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.” Well, in the presence of Christ the disciples drank their fill of living water, it was now their turn to be the rivers of living water for others. And it is our turn too.
The Christian Church has had its ups and downs, we are still learning how to be followers of Christ. It is not an easy thing to learn, like anything worth doing, being a Christian takes a lifetime of practice. And since that first Pentecost when the Holy Spirit blew into the upper room and made that diverse group of Christians truly hear each other, and Peter declared “in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy,” followers of Christ have been practicing their faith all over the world.
Certainly the Church has fallen down, made mistakes, and gotten lost along its way. And as the Church we too will do the same thing. But what is important is that we get up again, brush ourselves off, recognize our mistakes and our wrong turns, and aim to do better.
The celebration of Pentecost is not merely the celebration of the disciples being filled with the Holy Spirit, it is not just the beginning of THEIR journey as the body of Christ. It is a celebration of us as well, we are part of that same body, and like the disciples we too have been given the Holy Spirit. A living spring of water flows in this place, and in each of us. Today we are reminded that God wants each of us to be a part of his story, no matter where we are in our lives and what we do for a living we are called to be Christ’s body, we are called to be that spring of water for each other and for the world.
I suppose the obvious question is: How do we do that? I think Saint Augustine of Hippo offers a simple answer:
“Love, and do what you will: whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love do you spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.”