A u c k l a n d A o t e a r o a N e w Z e a l a n d
a n g l i c a n c h u r c h
Where the Wind Blows
May 25, 2003
Easter 5 John 20:19-31
Imagine the scenario; two churches not ten minutes apart. One church is a thriving and busy community in an inner city suburb. A church with hundreds attending on a Sunday, people queueing up to get on the rosters, early morning prayer meetings, study groups running every night of the week, church sports teams, a roster of musicians to play in the church services. Maybe you've even been to a service at a church like this. At the church I'm talking about, the services are a constant fever pitch of excitement, with spontaneous outbursts of song and prayer and talking in tongues. There are regular healings and anointings, at least a dozen conversions every week at the altar call. This church is so big that they recently ran an all day meeting of the church's medical committee. Maybe you would expect that this is a group of doctors who help out at the hospital. No. This is the group who carry the stretchers and smelling salts and help revive the people who are overcome at the weekly service by the enthusiasm of the worship.
The other church exists in the city and is doing well if there are thirty people in church; a small but highly committed group who care about the people in their neighbourhood. A once large group, many of their members had moved to the suburbs, leaving their church a neo-Gothic island in the middle of a decaying and desperate part of town. Their worship is structured, challenging, and inspiring but rarely spontaneous and outrageous. One of their biggest concerns at the end of the service is security; padlock the doors. And during the week the best that can be hoped for is a message stuck to the door with a phone number on it.
Let me ask you. Which church do you think had the spirit of God in it? Or to rephrase the question, Which church had a greater vision of the risen Christ?
These weeks after Easter take us on a journey through the early church, with two greatly contrasting scenes not many months apart. The first is the picture of the church in Acts leading up to the spectacular Pentecost. The early church was growing not by tens but by thousands we are told in Acts. They were living and worshipping together, sharing what they had with any in need. There were awesome miracles, lives changed radically, speeches to huge crowds.
The other Easter scene is behind the locked doors of a house where a dozen or so of Jesus friends cowered. They cowered for fear of reprisal, already expelled from the synagogue, now fearing worse. Their greatest fear was that they might be linked with the dead outlaw, Jesus. They gathered in the shadow of an event which had changed their lives. Jesus appeared there with them and offered some simple words, "Peace be with you." John tells us, "Jesus breathed on them, with the same breath which had burst through a locked door and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.' " No great miracles here. Just ordinary human reactions and doubts.
Where is the spirit in these two situations? Surely in both. Wherever the breath of God fills places and people with creative and loving power for service and compassion, there is the spirit.
The other gospel text today has Jesus offering his last words to his friends before his death, and the themes include love, friendship and bearing fruit. When seen alongside the gutsy social challenge of the vine text from last week, they offer the personal qualities of a community of Jesus followers. The marks of Christian communities will be mutual friendship and love, no matter what their preferred style of worship.
The breath of God today. Where do we find it? Everywhere and in every situation that a part of the character of God is experienced there is the breath or spirit of God. In other words spirit can be the spontaneous and outrageous enthusiasm of a worship service or it can be the everyday experience of compassion, friendship and love. Let me illustrate the everyday experience of the breath of God.
It is an end to the story of the small inner city church I told you about. Next door to that church there is a large hostel with cheap accommodation and it is full of people struggling with life. A small study group from the church began visiting in the hostel. A few weeks later they moved their study into the lobby of the hostel. Slowly a few residents began to join in. They started up a soup lunch. Eventually about a dozen residents from the hostel were joining in the Sunday worship time. Some of the church members said they began to feel a breeze blowing through a once tired old church. The door had been opened.
Maybe there are people present today who are feeling tired and a little breathless. Maybe your spirits are lagging, needing an energy revival. My hope is that you will feel the breath of God's spirit in your life. My hope is that you will sense the presence of the risen Jesus in your life, not likely with earth shattering miracles, more likely in the ordinary acts of kindness and compassion which a risen community is marked by.
A Jesuit Priest Bernard Lonergan said, "The Church always arrives on the scene a little breathless and a little late." Let that not be true of St Matthew-in-the-City. Let us seek an experience of the breath or spirit of God, and share out lives and struggles, as the first disciples did. Living Easter. Living as a resurrection community, marked by gutsy challenges and loving community.