A joyous Pentecost to all. This is the day when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, the birth of the Christian movement. The Greek word for spirit means breath or wind. The Hebrew means desert-wind, a powerful and unseen force that blows unpredictability across the face of the earth. The Spirit, as we know, “blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”[i] The mystery of God’s Spirit sometimes perplexes Christians, so this morning let us spend some time discovering more about God’s enigmatic power in and around us.
Let’s start with that Acts 2 text. It reminds us how God’s Spirit empowers and emboldens. Before Pentecost, the disciples were a motley, disorganized crew. Yes. They had experienced the resurrection. But they were far from a cohesive group. That all changed when the Spirit came upon them to make them the church, the on-going presence of the risen Christ in the world. It was a sensational event.
- Wind blowing and howling
- Fire crackling
- Cacophony of languages
- People behaving like they were blotto
Yes. It was incredible. So much so that Peter became inspired enough to preach a sermon that led to three thousand baptisms. Not bad for somebody who less than two months earlier had denied even knowing Jesus. Now, empowered by God’s Spirit, Peter was filled with incredible zeal and courage.
The Acts text tell us that God is always ready, willing, and able to supply the power and energy to us. In some sense, God’s Spirit is like the fuel that powers our cars. With God’s horsepower (let’s call it God’s Spirit power) we can become high-performance disciples. All we need is the courage turn on the ignition and get down the road. That’s our part. Are we ready to “fill ‘er up” and get going?
Okay. Maybe we’re not ready to go. What keeps us from turning on the ignition and gettin on the road? Paul gives us the all-too-familiar reason: We are weak. Or afraid. Maybe apathetic. But there is a solution. Paul says, in this morning’s Romans text, that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
That brings us to our John text. Jesus tells us that there is the “Advocate” who will come along side us to provide both guidance and strength to get us going. What comes to mind when you think of “Advocate?”
- someone to shore us up with we are wobbly and weak in mind, body and spirit
The word in today’s text, in Greek, is parakletos. It can be translated in several ways: Advocate, helper, counselor. It means called alongside to encourage, to defend, to support. In the Greco-Roman world, parakletos was used in legal settings to refer to a lawyer arguing in court for a defendant. Think about God sending an Advocate into our lives to strengthen us, to stand beside us in our temptation and trials. Moreover, the Holy Spirit isn’t just alongside us; the Holy Spirit lives inside us. We proclaim that every Sunday when, in the Nicene Creed, we call the Holy Spirit the “giver of life.”
In a sense, the Holy Spirit is like an “invisible Jesus.” That insight comes from the great Roman Catholic scholar Raymond E. Brown[ii]. He writes that the parakletos’ image in John’s gospel is strikingly like Jesus. The Advocate is, in fact, the presence of Jesus after Jesus ascends to the Father. Brown writes: “Virtually every quality ascribed to the Paraclete has a parallel in what was said of Jesus.” It’s also interesting to note that Jesus says in John 14:16 that the Father will send another Paraclete to guide disciples in the way of truth, namely Jesus. So, I like to think of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate as the unseen but very present risen Christ in our lives.
That’s what the disciples experienced fifty days after the resurrection. The risen Lord, unseen but present with boundless power, had come among them. Impossible to define literally, they described their experience like a mighty wind. Fire ranging among them. Ecstatic words. Disciples so loosened up from their fears and apprehensions that some bystanders thought they had stumbled out of a tavern.
That’s because they had an Advocate. They had received the Holy Spirit. No more were they a motley, disorganized crew. To use my car image, they became super-changed, high-performance disciples. The power of the risen Lord was with them.
What happened to those disciples some two thousand years ago happens to us in our baptism.
- How do we continue the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers? With God's help.
- How do we persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? With God's help.
- How do we proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? With God's help.
- How do we seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves? With God's help.
- How do we strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? With God's help.
On our own, we cannot do these things. We’re just another motley crew. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, the One who makes the risen Christ a reality in our lives makes it possible. All we have to do is turn on the ignition and get moving as God’s Easter people.
Today, the closing words of the mass are: “Let us go forth rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.” Are you ready, Christ Church? Ready to be empowered by the risen Lord? Ready to make him known in Sheridan and beyond? Ready to hit the road in the power of the risen Christ? Amen.
If you are, say Amen. So be it. Let’s get rolling.
[i] John 3:8 NRSV
[ii] From Bernard L. Marthaler’s The Creed: The Apostolic Faith in Contemporary Theology (Twenty-Third Publications: New London CT, 2007) pp. 275-276.