FROM THE PASTOR’S DESK
I am not sure that many people here would recognize the name Edwin Booth. But if you were living in the United States during the Civil War that name would be recognized in almost every household. Edwin Booth was recognized as one of the greatest actors that had ever lived. He was the Tom Cruise of the American stage. He did not, however, have an easy life. His father drank himself to death. His first wife died after two years of marriage. His second wife went insane. But perhaps the greatest cross that Edwin Booth had to bear was one of shame. Edwin Booth’s younger brother, John Wilkes Booth, was the man who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. So, despite all the fame and success that Edwin Booth had in his life, he always had to deal with the embarrassment that a member of his family killed one of the greatest figures of American history.
Then, one day later in his life, while Edwin Booth was waiting for a train in Jersey City, there was a disturbance on the platform. Booth saw that a tall, young man was being shoved by the crowd onto the train tracks just as a train was approaching. Booth dropped his suitcase and ran immediately and pulled the man out of the way of the approaching train, certainly saving his life. The young man recognized who Booth was at once and said simply, “Well that was a narrow escape, Mr. Booth.” As the two men began to talk with one another, Booth found to his amazement that the young man whose life he had just saved was Robert Todd Lincoln, the eldest son of Abraham Lincoln.
Now how would we explain such a remarkable connection of events, that the brother of the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln was the man who saved the life of Lincoln’s eldest son? Is that a coincidence? Those who do not have faith in God have no other explanation. Despite the odds being a million to one, people without faith would have to explain an event such as Edwin Booth saving the life of Robert Lincoln as a remarkable convergence of random events. Those, however, who believe in God, who believe in Christ Jesus, have a different explanation. For we believe that there is a force, a power, that is active in our world. That force is the Holy Spirit.
You see, believing in Christ is more than accepting a list of propositions that are outlined in the Creed. It is more than believing that a certain number of events once happened to Jesus thousands of years ago. Saying that we believe in Christ means that we believe that the power of God’s Spirit is active and moving in our world and in our lives. We believe that the Holy Spirit moves us towards reconciliation, towards life, towards salvation. Jesus in today’s Gospel breathes on the disciples, and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” That is His way of saying that He will remain with us, that God’s power will remain active in our lives and in our world. The action of God’s Spirit often appears as a coincidence. Yet for believers there is no such thing as coincidence. For us what appears as coincidence is the action of God in our lives.
Think about it. Was it coincidence that Saturday night when you finally gave in to the demands of your friends and went out to a party even though you rather would have stayed at home and met that night the person you were going to marry? Was it coincidence that you were in an automobile accident, and you walked away and then realized you would have to take steps to deal with your drinking problem? Was it coincidence that you met someone you had hurt in the produce aisle at Stop N Shop and found the courage of saying, “I’m sorry,” and took a step towards healing and reconciliation? Any one of us can recall events in our life that look like coincidence. How we interpret them is up to us. All I can say is that on the deepest level, Christians don’t believe in coincidence because we know that the spirit of God is active, shaping, and directing our lives.
But if we accept that truth of God’s active presence in our life through the Spirit, it changes us. It makes us see life differently. It makes us into different people. For people who recognize the action of God’s Spirit in their life are more humble, more optimistic, more generous.
A person who knows that God is active in the world tends to be a humble person because he or she recognizes that they are not the center of the universe, that there is another power in the world working for good, building the kingdom. Although our decisions are important, we recognize that our decisions are not absolute, that God is working around us and through us. Therefore, we watch humbly for signs of His presence.
The person who sees the action of the Spirit in their life is an optimistic person. If God is active, there is always reason for hope. There is always reason to believe that things will turn out better than we had planned. There is always a reason to believe that as we get up each morning, something good will happen today. If God is active, we can be optimistic.
A person who believes in the action of God’s Spirit tends to be a generous person. Because once we see that God is active, we want to cooperate, we want to take part. Therefore, we tend to give of our time, of our resources, of our talents more freely without holding back, without counting the cost because we believe that whatever is freely given will be used by God for His good purposes.
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