Jun 23, 2022 | By the Rev. Steve Morton*

Everywhere I drive my car these days—and I drive a lot!— I encounter potholes in the road—huge, crater-like, car-swallowing potholes. And nobody seems to be doing anything about it. 

There’s a stretch of road about four miles long which runs from Tobyhanna (on the North District) up toward Gouldsboro, where our home is.  It is notoriously perilous every spring after the snowplows have done their damage that winter. 

I drive it every several times a week; and you kind of learn how to weave and swerve across the two lanes…which is manageable until another car is coming at you from the other direction. Then you have to choose between you life and your wheel alignment. 

My wife Joan was with me a couple of weeks ago.  We were leaving our home, going south on the Tobyhanna Road. As I started to do this road dance, Joan, who’s not really a complainer, nevertheless went into this colorful string of verbal condemnations of this situation.

“This road is horrible,” she said.  “There are potholes everywhere.  Watch out for that one!  I can’t believe that nobody is paying attention to this.  People could get killed.” 

We crested over the top of a small hill as her outrage mounted. “This is ridiculous,” she said, “but I don’t know why I complain. Nobody ever comes.”

And just as that sentence of protest hung in mid-air, we noticed an orange, triangular sign on the shoulder.  It hadn’t been there in the days before.  It read: Road Work Ahead. And maybe two hundred yards farther along we saw not one but two Penn-DOT trucks, each with a crew of four or five guys.

They were shoveling hot macadam into those holes in the road, tamping it down, and the steamroller doing its thing.  I looked across at my now somewhat embarrassed wife, who was kind of wiping those dirty words off of her lips. 

“Well, isn’t that something?” she said, adding, “I didn’t see that coming; but we may be in better shape than we think.” 

As we celebrate the graduation of six beautiful persons as new Certified Lay Ministers (CLMs), we gather at a time when the church in America, The United Methodist Church and congregations throughout the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, are trying to navigate some rough roads. We face:

  • widespread cultural shifts over the past 30-40 years toward secularism;
  • the pervasive political divide which models name-calling and bullying instead of conversation and compromise;
  • the permission somehow for racial prejudice to continue to thrive;
  •  the natural aging of our congregations and our properties;
  • the incessant squabbling of our denomination;
  • and then a nasty thing called Covid (!)

It hasn’t helped our churches.  You can read with me the statistical reports which may hint that we’re in deep trouble. But on this Day of Pentecost 2022, as we crest the hill of all of these very real challenges, even our lips may curse the darkness. But on the strength of these words from John’s Gospel, chapter 14, I want to suggest to you that our God is doing a new thing.

‘Here’s what I believe: Help is on the way.’

As I look around at all the talent and giftedness across our Conference, maybe we don’t always see it right away, but here’s what I believe: Help is on the way.   

On the Day of Pentecost, a scene familiar to us through Luke’s vivid description in Acts, chapter 2, is augmented by these words of Jesus in John 14.  It celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit, called by John, “the Advocate,” “the Counselor,” “the Spirit of Truth.” A gift to accomplish what? To empower disciples to do God’s works, despite incredible challenges.

The lesson, the hope for us as a church is this:  Help is on the way. How? In the form of the Holy Spirit, in the power of the Holy Spirit, which has chosen to land on you. And because of that, we all are in better shape today than we may think.

Now, folks, none of this is to suggest that the fruit of your ministry is a slam dunk.  You might remember how John 14 begins with Jesus speaking to his disciples ostensibly on the night before his death (in what we call the Farewell Discourse). He is giving them responsibility now for this stunning task of building up his kingdom in a world which has no real appetite for it. 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he says in verse 1. Who begins a speech by saying that, unless there’s trouble? Sometimes the church only sees trouble.  Philip says, “Yeah, I hear you, Jesus; but I need to see a whole lot more.”

And Thomas earlier says, “Jesus, you’re talking about ‘the way’ but I don’t see it.” This is the same Thomas who in chapter 11 says, “Whatever!  Let’s go to Bethany and Jerusalem, so we can die along with him!” Sometimes the church only sees the trouble.  

But I want to suggest to you that despite any bumps in the roads that we face (and they’re out there), if we can believe what Jesus says here, if we remember who we are and the power that lives within us, then we are in better shape than we may think. 

A couple of months ago, I went to lunch with several of our North District pastors at a restaurant up the road in Frackville.  As we settled into our seats, a young waitress came to the table. She seemed kind of down in her demeanor.  She asked if we wanted anything to drink. 

When she got to me, I said, “May I have lemonade?”  She said, “We don’t have lemonade.”  I said, “You don’t have lemonade?”  She said, “We don’t have lemonade.”  I couldn’t leave it alone. I said, “Look around the kitchen.  All you need is a lemon, a glass of water and a spoonful of sugar.”  She said, “We don’t have that.”  I said, “Ok, fine.  Please bring me a Diet Coke.”  She wrote it down, and do you know what she asked me?  “Do you want a slice of lemon with that?” 

Here’s the point:  sometimes we are in better shape than we think, if we have eyes to see the new thing that God is doing, if we can repurpose the lemons in the kitchen to fit the need at the time.

‘The Father who dwells in me does his works.’ 

Help is on the way!   Jesus says to his disciples in verse 10:  “The Father who dwells in me does his works.”  Say that to yourselves:  “The Father who dwells in me does his works.” 

Sometimes we think we’ve got nothing but trouble down the road.  We’ve got a crisis of leadership, nobody to help get us through.  Like that waitress, we say, “We don’t have that.”  But Jesus says, “The one who believes in me”—the one who is filled with Holy Spirit power and who allows that power to catch fire through their leadership—”will do the works that I do, and in fact, will do (even) greater works than these.”      

Especially during this season of Pentecost, my friends, I want to promise you that despite any bumps in the roads that the church may face, if we can believe what Jesus says here….if we remember who we are and the power of the Holy Spirit that lives within us…then help is on the way. 

A little while ago, my wife Joan and I were talking together about our little 7- year-old granddaughter, Mia. It’s one of our favorite things to do.  Mia, a first-grader, loves to play school when she’s at home with us.  She’s the teacher; we’re the students.  She loves it, and she’s so good at it. 

Her mother, our daughter Jessica, is a teacher. And even as a teenager and a very young adult, she also was so naturally good at it. Joan is a registered nurse and has been for 35 years. And she’s good. 

“You know, I always wanted to be a nurse,” she said to me that day. “As a child, I always played nurse. I put bandages onto my mom or onto to the dog.  I pretended to take their temperature.”  Then she asked, “What about you, Steve? Did you always want to be a pastor?”  I said, “Oh, mercy, no!”  She said, “You didn’t play pastor as a child?”  I said, “No, not ever.” 

And then I went into that sermon that she’s heard from me for 35 years. And she understands. It’s my conviction that one does not lead in Christ’s church because they want to, or because ever since childhood they always thought it would be cool. 

We are called to do the works of the Father because one day the Holy Spirit grabbed us and wrapped us up, and said, “I need you to help usher in my kingdom…to fill some holes in the road…so that others out there might meet Christ and build his church.”  That’s the only reason for leaders to do it. But here is God’s promise to you:  “Whatever you ask of me, I’m going to help you do.”  

The newest Certified Lay Ministers class pose with certificates, in front of EPA Conference leaders

I say to pastors and CLMs and other leaders: Don’t ever forget who you are, and who called you into leadership, and why you do what you do. And don’t ever forget the power of his Holy Spirit which dwells in you.

Church, we’ve got troubles. But Jesus says, “Enough of that. I understand; but here’s what I’m telling you: the Father who dwells in you undeniably, unstoppably still does his works today.  You’ve got this, folks!”  So, let not your hearts be troubled…. 

People of God, bless you! For every one of us who claims this Holy Spirit power, help is on the way!        

*This essay is adapted from a sermon (John 14:8-14
) preached by the Rev. Steve Morton to new Certified Lay Ministers during their Recognition Service June 5, 2022, on Pentecost Sunday. Morton, Superintendent of the North District, becomes the Eastern PA Conference’s Leadership Development Manager July 1.