A Touchstone of Faith

Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

 John 16: 12-15            June 16, 2019

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.”

Prayer:  Holy Spirit, ever-present, please work and breathe into our consciousness today as we worship you.  Amen.

 Last Sunday, the day of Pentecost, what a joyous day!  We worshiped God while we listened to the authentic faith of six of our Confirmation youth.  The Holy Spirit could be felt as these youth shared their faith through video, through conversation, and through Children’s Moments when they shared words like ‘omniscient.’ We felt the Spirit as they were robed by their parents and given stoles by their mentors, as they  had hands laid on their heads and were prayed over, and as they shared in Holy Communion.  The Spirit of truth came.  The Spirit of truth was and is guiding our youth and each of us into deeper truths about faith, about living a life in the Holy Spirit.

 That was last Sunday.  What about today?  Do you feel the Spirit here in this place today?  Do you sense that God’s divine truth and wisdom and presence are moving among us now?

I hope so.   Because Pentecost is not just once a year thing.  It is not reserved for the drama of tongues of flame and speaking in other languages and confirming faith, and all that.  Pentecost is the gift of the Holy Spirit that happens all the time.  Every day.  I think the Holy Spirit comes, and we have to learn to see it, to recognize it, to sense it guiding us as to God’s wisdom and God’s truth in any situation of our lives.  Let me share some examples of the Holy Spirit’s promise.

 I believe the Holy Spirit is the power that works and breathes in our lives and in our ministry.  As in when we feel the inspiration during worship as we sing.  As we pray.  As we offer our gifts.  As we laugh and love our kids.  As we recognize our fathers and grandfathers today and the core values that reflect healthy fatherhood and healthy relationships.  As we honor our graduates.   Or, when we feel the energy of working together at our Egg hunt, Chicken BBQ or our All-Church Auction.  The Spirit helps us feel that energy.  Maybe the Spirit is the energy.  Do you sense God’s wisdom in understanding that?

Does the Spirit of truth speak when we see the power of life over death?  As in when healing takes place in our heart and spirit after a loved one passes on.  And we find ourselves back on our feet again.  The Spirit of truth comes in those times, I think, and we understand in the Spirit, healing can come. And we’ll be able to move forward.

The wisdom of the Holy Spirit is when we know the hope of resurrection in places where lifeless wreckage seems to have the center of attention.   As in when communities suffer from horrific flooding or terrible tornadoes that ravage homes and businesses, and still the community comes together to help recover and clean up.  The Holy Spirit stirs our consciences and guides us to get our there and help to make the effort.

The gift of the Holy Spirit is what keeps us having faith when we hear of another shooting.   As in when former Red Sox superstar David Ortiz aka “Big Papi” got shot in the Dominican Republic.  The Boston Red Sox organization flew him back to Boston, and he is now recovering after major surgeries.  Can you see the wisdom of God here?  David Ortiz long ago retired.  Yet, the ball club took care of him and brought him back home. Somewhere someone was saying, “we are family.”

This is the gift of the Spirit. It is when we realize a shift out of a frozen state and are being brought back to life occurs.   As in when as a nation, we’re finally starting to address the serious mental illness epidemic we face in our country and worldwide.  I think the Spirit of truth is guiding us to perceive that mental illness is a main issue in the core of our mass shootings or rampant gun violence.

 Life happens.  We know that.  And God says that wisdom and understanding are always present, in all circumstances of life.  The good.  The bad.  The ugly.  At the heights.  At the lows.  At the crossroads.  Right on the square of High Street and Market Street, at the busiest intersection.  Right where the traffic is thickest, or thinnest, out on the country roads and back roads.  God’s wisdom is God’s truth.  Wisdom is a touchstone of our faith.

I’ve always associated the word ‘touchstone’ as something you can refer back to just to be sure you’re on the right track.  It’s like a bench mark, or setting of the bar.  A criterion for high quality, excellence.  Companies that have vision statements use them as touchstones in the sense that the statements reflect the core values of the company, and the goal is that everything the company does is supposed to have that criterion as a fundamental part.

 When Walt Disney was starting to build his corporation, he started out with a simple vision statement: “To make people happy.”  Short.  Sweet.  To the point.  It was his touchstone in that everything he wanted the company to do had this one vision at heart.  Every movie.  Every character.  Every fantasy.  Every musical show.  Every parade.  Every thrill ride.  Every display area.  Every one of their theme parks.  Every hotel.  Every train ride. Every cruise. Everything Disney was designed to make people happy (https://www.reference.com/business-finance/disney-s-vision-statement-say-company-2df08b9830aa0412, retrieved June 14, 2019).  It was the touchstone for Walt Disney.

 We have the Spirit of truth and wisdom as a touchstone for us on our faith journeys.  Jesus promises that the spirit of truth comes to us as our lives grow in readiness to receive it.  There is still so much that the Spirit of truth wants to say to us, but we cannot bear it until we, too, are led and guided and are formed by a life lived in the Holy Spirit.  And a life lived in the Holy Spirit leads us to God’s wisdom which grows from faith and best faith practices.

Jesus is our best example.   He is our touchstone of faith.  Jesus knew that life was happening to him—in all its ugliness.  He knew this was his last night.  He knew he would love to share more of God’s truths with the disciples, but their hearts weren’t ready.  All through their life with him, Jesus showed them that he was the Son of God.  Yet they needed to be led into this truth by the Holy Spirit. They needed to learn the truth experientially through his passion, death, and resurrection.  He assures them that the Spirit will guide them into this deep truth that glorifies God.

 The living Spirit of Jesus is the Holy Spirit that came on the first Pentecost to the Jewish Christians.   And on the second Pentecost experience when the Gentile Christians received the Holy Spirit, and Peter learned that “truly God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34).

 It comes to us!  The living Spirit of Jesus Christ keeps coming to us.  Christ’s Spirit keeps guiding us into deeper truths as we grow in faith and readiness to receive God’s wisdom in our lives.  Jesus is, I believe, Emmanuel.  God with us all.  Today.  Now.  In all of life.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, reflecting God’s message and values.  The Holy Spirit keeps Christ alive in our hearts and our journeys.  The Holy Spirit’s gifts are not found primarily in speaking in tongues and Pentecostal drama and in the high moments of Confirmation, Baptism, Holy Communion, etc.,  but mostly in living in the way of Jesus, in the basics of life, in the welcoming, embracing, healing, and nurturing we do.  Living with God’s core values, I think.

 So, Christ’s words in scripture have the highest authority and the deepest wisdom in comparison to say, the words of Paul, or the writings of Moses, or the prophets.  All of their words point to Jesus as the touchstone of faith.  Which means Jesus’ words are the benchmark, reflecting excellence, illustrating God’s core value of love for all people and all creation.

 Dear friends, know this: the gift of the Holy Spirit guides us to the hope we have in Jesus.  We can entrust our lives to him.  He is the head of our church, and in his name we are free to love one another and share that love with people who are hurting and long to experience of God’s core values of love, acceptance, forgiveness and mercy, to experience of the new life that God provides.

Once, long ago, people believed they could not look upon the face of God and live.  Now, we are invited to look at the face of God in Jesus and live as we’ve never lived before,  with God’s wisdom and Jesus as the touchstones of our faith.  It all becomes real when we live a life formed in the presence of the Holy Spirit.