Yesterday, May 24, was celebrated in many Christian churches as Pentecost Sunday. The first Christian celebration of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, is often, for good reason, called “the birthday of the church.”
Two years ago, on May 19, 2013, I had the privilege of preaching on Pentecost Sunday at the Hirao Baptist Church in Fukuoka, Japan. My blog article posted the following day was about that day and that sermon.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to preach on Pentecost Sunday once again. That was at the Dearborn Christian Church (DCC), in a little town about 40 minutes northwest of where I live. It was a good experience worshipping there again in their well-taken-care-of 19th-century sanctuary.
The title of my sermon was “The Spirit of Truth,” based on the Bible reading that morning, which included John 16:13. There Jesus stated that “when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (NIV).
I went from that verse to emphasize that truth is something that is done. That assertion is based on John 3:21, which I read from the new Common English Bible (rather than from the NIV, the pew Bible at DCC): “Whoever does the truth comes to the light.”
Doing the truth: what an important concept!
It may not have been the first time I was impressed with the meaning of those words, but long ago I read “Doing the Truth,” one of Paul Tillich’s sermons included in his 1948 book “The Shaking of the Foundations.”
Tillich began his sermon by referring to the words “does the truth” in John 3:21 as being “a very surprising combination of words.” Consequently, many English versions of the Bible do not translate them that way. The NIV says, “whoever lives by the truth.”
Finally, I talked about “the fruit of the Spirit” as listed in Galatians 5:22-23a, suggesting that those nine products of the Spirit of truth are indicative of what we do, or should do, rather than just feelings or attitudes.
As needs to be recognized always, Christian love is not just a warm feeling toward people we like. Rather, it is seeking to do things that will be most helpful to our neighbors in need, even those we do not like. That was part of MLKing’s point in his powerful book “Strength to Love.”
It is harder to link joy to action, but the third fruit, peace, is easier. The fruit produced by the Spirit of truth is not just an inner feeling of tranquility, although that might be a part of it. Since Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers, the peace that is a fruit of the Spirit is peace made between individuals, families, “tribes,” and nations.
That brings us to think about Memorial Day, which USAmericans celebrate today.
What started soon after the Civil War as Decoration Day, that is, a time to decorate with flowers the graves of those who died in that terrible conflict, and gradually came to known as Memorial Day has now been a federal holiday celebrated on the last Monday of May since 1971.
It is hard to remember the war dead without glorifying war to a certain extent—which is something I do not want to do. So let’s focus on the need to work for peace in order that there will be fewer war dead in the future—in our country and all countries.
I hope you Americans will have a Happy Memorial Day—and that we all will increasingly do the truth, which importantly includes striving to make peace.