William Willimon, who is a retired bishop in the United Methodist Church, tells a great story about a friend of his who, in mid-life, decided that he wanted to learn how to fly a small plane. So William’s friend went out to their local airport and signed up for flying lessons.
He was given this great flight instructor…The instructor was friendly, supportive and so, so skilled. The instructor made her student feel completely comfortable in the cockpit. The instructor was calm, reassuring, and guided her student in everything he did. And this student…he discovered that he loved flying!
But, as the student’s first solo flight approached, his anxiety began to climb. He realized that his flight instructor was so good, that the student couldn’t envision flying without her. The student pilot had come to depend on the voice of the instructor, telling him what to do, guiding him along the way. As the day approached, the student got more and more nervous. “How,” he wondered, “can I function up at 5,000 feet without my instructor? I’ll be completely alone!” He kind of panicked. He considered backing out.
But he didn’t. He stuck with it. The day finally came for the man to take the plane up by himself. It went great. He went up…he did the maneuvers he had been taught, and then he successfully and smoothly landed his small plane, as if he’d been flying for years. It was flawless.
After the flight, the man’s wife ran up to him and gave him a big hug and congratulated him. She asked: “How did it go?” “It went great,” he said. She commented on how confident he seemed. He said “No, I wasn’t confident in myself…not at all. So before I went up, I decided to put all of my confidence in my instructor. She had taught me so consistently, so reassuringly, that I just knew what to do. I could almost hear her, like she was in the cockpit with me, whispering in my ear, saying ‘first, do this…ok…good…now do this…ok, now take the next step.’ Even though I was up there by myself, I never felt alone.” I never felt alone.
Rewind 2,000 years: Jesus’ disciples…his students…his followers…were anxious…scared, even. Our Gospel text for today comes from a portion of the scriptures called “The Farewell Discourses.” Jesus knew what was coming. He knew that he would soon be arrested…and tried…and convicted…and then put to death. He had been poking and prodding the religious and political systems long enough that he knew what to expect.
And Jesus was trying to prepare his disciples for life after him. He needed them to be ready to lead…to teach…to preach…to heal…and most importantly, to hold together this fragile little community that had been forming around Jesus and his teachings. He needed to prepare them…to solo.
And in today’s Gospel story, Jesus makes this pretty profound promise to them. He says: “But the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Jesus promises the Holy Spirit…who will teach the disciples everything…and remind them of all he had said to them. And then…Jesus promises peace and says to not be afraid.
Jesus’ words to his disciples 2,000 years ago, are his words to us today. The Spirit comes, and whispers in our ear…Bishop Willamon explains his story about the pilot and the flight instructor by reminding us that “As Christians, we are always beginners, always amateurs. Jesus never expects us to walk his narrow way alone…Jesus gives us his Holy Spirit, to continue to teach us…to guide us…almost as if he’s whispering in our ear.”
You see, God has a vision for the world, and for our lives. And we’re not born, somehow just innately knowing this vision. We have to hear it…we have to be taught it…it is something that the Holy Spirit teaches us.
I am here, with you today, because someone told me the story. I have a list of people to whom I will be forever grateful. People who taught me the faith. The list includes, but is not limited to:
My parents, Jerry and Kathy. My grandparents, Elliiot and Grace, and Elmer and Gertie. Pastor Gordon Bergin. Pastor Nancy Brown. Pastor Phil Peterson. Pastor Ken Kotzer. Brent Johnson. Demps Johnson. Randy Gullickson. Jim Campbell. Chris Johnson. Peter Blackstad. Catherine Anderson. Rollie Martinson. Tiger McLuen. Peter Geisendorfer Lindgren. Lori….Nathan… Samuel…and the list goes on and on and on…
You see, faith comes as a gift from God. We receive this gift in our baptism. But faith requires relationships to grow…to spread…the Holy Spirit works through each other in order to grow faith.
You don’t encounter…I mean really encounter Jesus by walking through the woods by yourself or rummaging around in your ego. Somebody has to nurture the seeds of faith that are within you by telling you a story that you can’t tell yourself. Somebody has to hand it over to you and you have to receive it. I love the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:7: He asks: “What do you have that you have not received?” “What do you have that you have not received?” Nothing. Nothing. Everything we have, comes from someone. And when it comes to our having faith, the Christian faith, it is a gift, all the way down.
As a kid, it was my family, walking over to Diamond Lake Lutheran Church just about every week that made faith real to me. It was worshipping alongside my grandparents at Kansas Lake Lutheran Church. It was this amazing group of friends I made working at one of our Lutheran camps in Wisconsin for 5 summers. It was my good friends in college. It was the people I worked with in my first congregation. It is our family now, praying for each other. And it is what I learn from all of you whenever we talk about life, and faith, or when we serve alongside each other.
Faith, you see, does not grow in a vacuum. Faith grows when it is planted deeply in relationships and is given life by the Holy Spirit.
It is through the lives and faith of these amazing saints of God, that my faith has grown.
You are here, with us today, because someone told you the story. Who is on your list? Who has influenced your faith? Through whom, has the Holy Spirit…the Advocate worked in your life?
Come Holy Spirit!
It is the Spirit’s work, through the people of God, that turned Christianity into one of the very first truly viral movements.
- Remember, first Jesus called Simon and Andrew…and then James and John. And then the other 8 disciples. And these 12 disciples followed Jesus around, listening and learning from him, and then they began telling the story.
- And then there were the other followers, including Mary, and Martha, and Mary Magdalene, and others. And they told the story.
- And then after the resurrection, in the story in Acts 2, in the Upper Room, they were up to 120 people. And they told the story. And it grew from there.
And today, according to the World Population Review, there are approximately 2.38 billion Christians in the world…just about a third of the world’s population.
And it all started with one person telling a story to another, whispering in their ear. And blessed by the Holy Spirit, that story has grown, person by person.
So here is my question for you today: Who do you tell? Who are the ears that you can whisper into? How can the Holy Spirit, the Advocate who Jesus promised, work within you to share the story of love, lived out in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
You can be one of those names who are remembered, for how you live, and for the stories of faith, and life, and grace, and love that you tell.
We do this…we speak the name of Jesus, and we tell his story to people who need to hear it because first, in the water of Holy Baptism, Jesus spoke your name: Steven…child of God. Mary…child of God. Dylan…child of God. Emma…child of God. When I count 3, say your name…1, 2, 3: ____________________…child of God. God speaks your name, so that you might speak Jesus’ name. When I count 3, say Jesus’ name: 1, 2, 3: Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirt, we speak Jesus’ name…we tell his story…and faith is shared.
Remember the promise of Jesus: “Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Be a teller of that story. Speak the name of Jesus. Be someone who brings the promise of peace.
Be the way that the Holy Spirit works in the lives of those you love, and those you haven’t even met yet.
Thanks be to God