One of the unique things about being a pastor, is you never know how people will respond when they find out you are pastor. Sometimes they start to tell you all about their church. Usually it is positive, occasionally they just want to tell you how upset they are about something. Occasionally they ask for prayer, but in general most people don’t know how to respond. I remember when we put our oldest in a care program. The director was making small talk asking what we did. I told her and she just looked at me and said “Oh we have never had one of those.” The Reverend Andrew Troutman Taylor shares how on occasion when people discover he is a pastor, “they will challenge the notion of God’s existence.” They often point to the “tragic and terrible- the shootings, the floods, the cancer.” For them they feel like these things disprove the idea of a “loving, creative force.” When he hears this argument he likes to share that it is a good question that he doesn’t really have an answer for. But then he shares a spiritual practice that the poet Charlotte Matthews has taken on — a list that she writes, called her “God Exists” list.
Charlotte Matthews, instead of focusing on dogma or doctrine or theological argument, simply writes a list of those funny little happenstances that bring “welcome, comfort, and joy.” For example, at the end of the terrible day she was walking out of convenience store carrying a microwavable dinner and she glanced down. While looking down she saw a cheap plastic keychain that read “I love you” just sitting there. Charlotte’s only rule for the list is that she only adds and never takes from the list. This makes me wonder what would you put on your God “exists list”? If you made a list what would the funny little happenstances that you would write down?
In our text from Acts the day has finally come; Jesus has ascended to heaven and the Holy Spirit has arrived in force. The disciples are gathered for the festival of Pentecost. The meanings of this festival have changed over time but there is a common thread among all the meanings that God is giving good gifts. At first it was celebrated as part the harvest and it expressed thanks to God for God’s faithfulness supplying the needs of all, households, sons, daughters, male and female slaves, strangers, orphans, and widows. Then the focus moved from a harvest festival to gift of the 10 instructions for faithful living. As Christians we have reinterpreted this even further and it has become associated with the coming of Holy Spirit. In all these interpretations the focus is on the idea that God gives us what we need.  Peter lays out a beautiful vision where God’s spirit is poured out on all flesh, sons and daughters, young and old, male and female slaves. The Spirit equips everyone to speak about God’s deeds of power, regardless of gender, ethnicity, and social status. It is significant that the first work of the spirit is to break down boundaries between people, to build connections to one another, to remind people of the historical inbreaking of God.
In John we see another interpretation of this moment. Jesus says that the “advocate” will come. It is interesting title for the Holy Spirit, and consistent with the way in which John interprets Jesus’ work, it has legal connotations. It is the Spirit pleading the communities in the face of an opposition. Jesus is speaking into the context the disciples will face. Not only will they face opposition from Rome but they will have to wrestle with how they understand Jesus and how they understand this Jesus movement. Will they continue to be a sect of Judaism, or will they become something entirely new? I also believe that texts like these force us to consider how power operates. When this was written Christians were a tiny little sect; they worried about persecution from everyone. But as the church gained power they forgot what it is like to be that tiny, persecuted sect, and rather than protecting others they exerted their power to propagate death dealing systems.
So how do we understand these texts? We have the coming of an advocate, we have a festival that focuses on the gifts God has given us, and we have a God who pours God’s spirit onto all flesh, causing visions and dreams and the breaking of all boundaries. All of these are a record of God’s inbreaking, of breaking into history of destroying death dealing systems and saying I am here in love. They are a list that is thousands of years old, crying out to us saying, “God exists.”
So, what would I put on my God exists list?
I would add to my list the voice of scripture. This may sound like low hanging fruit but I can tell you there are moments in my own faith journey when I didn’t like what I was told scripture was saying. But the more I have studied it, the more I am amazed by it. The beauty, the breadth, the depth of history. But the thing that I am always struck by is that it is a record that shouldn’t exist. A record of a people that were enslaved, a record of a people that were conquered time after time, and in all these accounts voices are recorded that shouldn’t be recorded. The story of Jonah is truly about God showing love and compassion to an enemy. Our God should be on our side, not that of our enemy, yet this record exists. The prophet that calls the very King of Israel out on his own hypocrisy. The recording of first witnesses to the resurrection are women, who at the time had no rights, could not testify in court, and were told to walk at least 7 steps behind their husbands. The people that Jesus surrounds himself with are people who have been rejected. These are not the men that were called to study the Torah, but these are the men Jesus called. We see this pop up again and again throughout all of scripture. God chooses those who have been rejected. God holds power to account and it has been written down.
I would add to my list the testimony of so many believers that I have interacted with over my lifetime. People who take the time care for others, who create community for people in need, who sacrifice for something larger. A volunteer youth leader I worked with, who when a teenager was kicked out of his own home by his own family stepped up without hesitation, showing him care, giving him a place stay, and even helping him to pay tuition for college. People who have actively live out their faith in this world.
I would add to my list the ways in which I see God renewing the church. The church will never look the way it looked 50 years ago. But God is not done with the church. Pentecost is a testimony of that. I recently read an article about the Church of the Open Table in Kansas City. Second Presbyterian put out a call for a missionary to their own community. They realized that they were only reaching a small population. So, they began the Church of the Open Table. They believe they are church community of peace and reconciliation in a city that is divided. They are a committed ant-racist church which seeks to bring in people of color to speak, and they meet around tables for a shared meal to talk about faith, spirituality, politics. They have found everyone learns something new about the city from their conversations and they find new organizations they can partner with. The church has become incredibly diverse with people of all backgrounds coming to engage in dialogue. Wendie Brockhaus described it this way, saying, “I often catch myself just stopping for a moment to look out over the room. It occurs to me that I’m seeing the gospel happening before my eyes. Strangers becoming friends, guest becoming hosts, it is the closest I have ever come to seeing the Gospel in real life.” 
God’s spirit is not done with the church. God is speaking to us this day, asking us what we will be, who we will become, and calling us to renewal.
 Joel B Green. Connections: Year B, Volume 2 (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) (Kindle Locations 9773-9780). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
Living in Joy
The passage from John is a little a wordy, theologically complex, and at times can feel a little stilted. This passage is really the culmination of the narrative that John has been building. He echoes themes from the entirety of John. Some scholars refer to this as the high priestly prayer of Jesus. Often when I heard this passage preached on, the preacher often focuses on the idea that we are “in the world but not of the world.” This type of thinking has been used to justify all sorts bad behavior, from lack of care for the earth, to lack of care for others. This interpretation also misses that greater narrative that Jesus has been describing in the book of John. One of Jesus’ central teachings is that God loves the world (3:16) and has sent his son to save the world rather than condemn it (3:17). The believing community is now sent into the world (17:18), like Jesus was sent into the world so that they come might come to believe (vv. 20-21), and the church should be protected because it is not God’s will that the church should be removed from the world.  The emphasis in Jesus’ teaching is that this is a sending mission that the church is sent into the world to engage in the problems of the world, engage in the tragedies of the world, and co-labor alongside others to find solutions.
We see this theme echoed in our story from the book Acts. The opening question from the disciples is a valid question; When are you going to restore Israel? This is really asking Jesus when are you going to kill the Romans? Will you let us kill the Romans? Do you have an army somewhere? I often wonder at times if Jesus grew frustrated with this question, at times reading the gospels it feels he is addressing this impulse way too often. But instead he offers a quick rebuke and tells the disciples they will receive power and the they will be sent into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. With that Jesus disappears into the clouds and the disciples are left staring at the sky. The disciples are being sent throughout the earth, this idea is again at the heart of the text. So, we have to ask what does it look like to be sent in the world we live in?
Our Book of Order describes it this way: The Church is sent to be Christ’s faithful evangelist: making disciples of all nations in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; sharing with others a deep life of worship, prayer, fellowship, and service; and participating in God’s mission to care for the needs of the sick, poor, and lonely; to free people from sin, suffering, and oppression; and to establish Christ’s just, loving, and peaceable rule in the world.  To be sent means we are focused outward, we understand our community, and that we are embracing change.
To be sent means we are focusing outward. It is easy for any church to drift toward an inward focus, but our call is to be looking outward to engage with those outside our wall or yard. My previous church became affectionately became known in the community as the hotdog church. You see in Doylestown there is one of the oldest Memorial Day parades. It is a source of pride in the community. Every high school marching band participates and thousands of people come to watch the parade, and the parade route is in front of the church. The first year of my call at Doylestown I attended the parade to see my youth group kids march. I realized the only presence the church had at the parade was an employee who was tasked with reminding people not stand or lean on the fence. I raised the question with a few elders, asking if we were missing an opportunity. The following year, the church was open, people could come in and use the restroom. If you’ve ever been in a crowd with three year who needs to use the restroom you know how meaningful this could be to a family. The church went even further, providing a free lunch to anyone. The last year I was there they cooked and gave away about 400 hotdog lunches. When my youth group kids were asked where they attended church, they said the hotdog church and everyone knew what they were talking about.
To be sent means that a congregation develops a deep understanding of their community. Asking the question, who are our neighbors? Who is living in our community? What are their hopes and desires? What are the problems in our community?
To be sent means engaging with new ideas, new solutions, and leaning into discomfort. It is no secret the world has dramatically changed. The church of Jesus Christ adapts in every age. JD Carabin wasn’t looking to start a church when he first went to a skate park in Kalispell Montana. He knew how to weld and he showed up with some rails and a cooler full of water. He got to know some of the kids over a few months, and as he described it, suddenly one day he belonged in their world. He began hearing about their problems, broken families, run-ins with the law. He and his wife turned their garage into a skateboarding space. When too many kids came, they started renting a warehouse. Through the local Rotary Club, they met a Presbyterian lawyer, Tom Esch, who started volunteering with group. He was moved by the stories of poverty, neglect, abuse, addiction and mental illness and how, for many, hunger was a constant struggle. But he began to collect the stories of redemption, of kids graduating from high school, being baptized, mentoring and teaching others. He realized that often the best ministry is the ministry that nobody sees, relationships, love, the word made flesh dwelling among us. Tom’s church become deeply involved in the is community, with church members making weekly dinners, baking birthday cakes for the kids, teaching them to play chess, mentoring them. One church member even began making quilts for kids, letting them pick the colors as reminder that are always surrounded by God’s love. 
What does it mean for Eastminster to be sent? To be a community that makes disciples; to be a community that shares deeply in worship, prayer, and service; to be a community that is participating in God’s mission to care for neighbor, to be outwardly focused, to understand our community, and to engage with new ideas and new solutions? How is God sending us into this world?
 Joel B Green. Connections: Year B, Volume 2 (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) (Kindle Locations 9661-9663). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
Sermon Abide in God Rev. Joshua D. Gill
Jesus is continuing his teaching in this moment the disciples are participating in the last supper. John is unique in that he places a large teaching block in this setting. It is also the final “I am” statement in the gospel. So far Jesus has said: “I am the bread of life,” “I am the light of the world,” “I am the gate for the sheep,” “I am the good shepherd,” “ I am the resurrection and the life,” “ I am the way, and the truth, and life,” and finally “I am the true vine.” This last image is more than just an agricultural image, it is an image that is deeply connected to the nation and the people of Israel. In Isaiah we read “ You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and you planted it…” God cares for this vineyard. At times God has executed judgement and pruned the vineyard, to ensure fruitfulness, connectivity, and unity. In Jesus’ teaching, Jesus is the true vine and the disciples are branches. They must “abide” or “remain” together. A vine and a branch are indistinguishable from one another, yet the branches can be pruned and cut off, and it will enable more growth. Branches are never independent; they are always rooted and growing in Jesus.
Gail O’Day in her commentary on the Gospel John asks the question of the text “What does it mean for the church to live as the branches of Christ, the vine? What would ‘church’ look like if it embraced this model for its corporate life?”
I believe part of a response to these questions rests in a hymn composed in 1847. The Scottish Anglican Henry Francis Lyte composed the hymn “Abide with Me.” Lyte was suffering from tuberculosis as he penned these words. Some believe he was in the countryside trying to find comfort from his sufferings.
Abide with me: fast falls the eventide. The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide! When other helpers fail and comforts flee, help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Abide with me, abide with me becomes a prayer. God, when it grows dark, Lord remain, abide
with me. When I no longer have comfort, when I no longer feel safe, God abide with me. I am sure all of us can identify a moment when we felt profoundly alone. Sit with that moment, sit with those feelings for a minute. Maybe it was during a period of transition, a period of loss, or a period of struggle, sit with that and ask God to abide in that moment. As the body of Christ part of our role in and call is to abide with those who are abandoned, alone, and oppressed.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away; change and decay in all around I see. O thou who changest not, abide with me.
Where the vine is not producing fruit, the vine grower prunes so new growth might take
place. Our focus should not be on what is lost but on what new growth will appear. How is God calling Eastminster to new growth? What are the ways in which God is pruning us and calling us to respond to the changing world around? We can see the decay all around us. Just this week there were four shootings in York City. We can see it in the poverty that plagues so many of our communities; we see it in the climate crisis; we see it in the divisions in our society, the fact that for many political affiliation has become some sort of litmus test. How is God calling us to speak into this decay? How is God calling us to respond?
I need thy presence every passing hour; what but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power? Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be? Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
This is a reminder that the world is not yet what God desires; temptations abound. Even though Christ has conquered death, we continue to see death all around us; poverty, racism, sexism, classism and we might even wonder what has even been changed? How did Christ’s work remake life in the midst of death? Just yesterday I read an update from the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. PDA just sent an additional $20,000 to India specifically to the PDA BIRDS program. It is a rural development society that focuses on two states in India. They work directly with the Dalit population or lowest caste in India. Paul Rao, the director of Birds PDA, said, “The poor are always becoming poorer, their suffering starts form birth to Death! They face hunger, discrimination, poverty, denial of rights, and no dignity.” He goes on to say “their dead are not respected…” The BIRDS-PDA program helps “food, medicines, decent treatment, providing socio-economic and legal support, PPE, and an education campaign, and for people living on the edge.” In the face of all of the problems of the world, there is always a temptation to turn inward and only focus on acts of self-preservation. But to follow Christ is to cling to the true vine in the midst of these temptations.
I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless; ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness. Where is death’s sting? Where, grace, thy victory? I triumph still, if thou abide with me.
This is the gift that we are offered when we abide in Christ. It is not because we abide in Christ, but because Christ abides in us. In Christ, through Christ, and with Christ we can do all things, not because of us but because of Christ in us. We only triumph when we abide in Christ. This is the hope so that the Church is a courageous sign of hope of Christ’s love in this world. Too often the church has been a place of judgement, but Christ’s love is inclusive. St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Texas had made this a cornerstone of their ministry. The church of about 500 has historically helped to resettle refugees, at one point helping many Laotians refugees, many of whom went on to join the church and stay, forever changing this congregation. As a congregation they focus on being multicultural, multigenerational, demonstrating real inclusivity, integrating members with disabilities, and members of many different classes. The expectation is that all people are included and all people are welcomed. 
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes; shine through the gloom and point me to the skies. Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee; in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
As we a fix our eyes on the cross on Jesus, we will become more like Christ, our desires
will align with Christ’s desire. The vine will produce the fruit of Christ as we desire what Christ desires. May this be our prayer that we would abide with Christ.
 Gail R. O’Day, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9 (Luke-John), (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 760