Happy Pentecost! We say things like “happy birthday!” or “happy anniversary!”, so it is fitting for us to say “happy Pentecost!” Let’s say it together on “3”...3-2-1 “Happy Pentecost!” It is the celebration of the birth of the Christian church. It is the celebration of when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Christ-followers, as they gathered as a community. Acts 2 tells us that it was like flames rested on top of each person’s head as the Spirit descended, thus, our balloons are red and orange as symbols of those flames of the Spirit.
How beautiful are the words from our first hymn today: “shaping spirit move among us...many are the ways you seek us, great the joy when each is found, once your faith ignites it all the world is holy ground.” Thinking of the cartoon on the front of the bulletin, Pentecost is a reminder that the church is within us. Therefore, wherever we go, the church goes.
Pentecost is a celebration of the presence of God’s Holy Spirit among us, leading us toward God’s kingdom.
We’ve been journeying through the Gospel of John the past few weeks and today’s verses are a great continuation. They introduce the Holy Spirit as Advocate...or, if reading other versions, the Comforter. The Holy Spirit is our Advocate and our (capital C) Comforter.
The podcast, Pulpit Fiction, reminds us that the “same Spirit that guided the disciples to step out of the Upper Room is the same Spirit that encouraged the John community in its trial. It is the same Spirit which walks alongside us today.” It is God’s Holy Spirit which is Advocate and Comforter.
Through scripture we are told that the Advocate is the “spirit of truth,” an entity who will testify to the truth, and is speaking from God’s Spirit. This mysterious aspect of our God is the spirit that will lead us to the truth about God’s love and presence in this world. It is also the Comforter who will do so alongside us, encouraging us and reminding us that we are not forgotten in this world.
Jesus told the disciples this ahead of his death so that they would have a toolkit, if you will, of information. John 16:12 very clearly states that the disciples, at that time, couldn’t handle everything that Jesus had to tell them, but he had told them what they needed.
It reminds me, in some ways, of the age-old question many math teachers are asked: “Are we ever going to use this!?” As math teachers are trying to make the quadratic formula cool with songs and activities, the students want to know “when are we going to use this?”
Confession from a former math teacher: the actual quadratic formula is used by few in society, however the problem-solving skills in it are priceless! A friend of mine, a great math teacher in NC, always tells her students that they were building a toolbelt of problem-solving skills. In a fully-stocked toolkit, not every tool will be used on every project, but they’re there in case you need them.
Jesus was building a toolkit for the disciples. He was letting them know “I’ve told you all I know that will you help you AND there will be more information along the way.” The things he told them would be sitting in that back of their minds and, hopefully, they would remember it and use it, as prompted by the Advocate and Comforter.
It is a great balancing act that Jesus walked: in John 15:5 Jesus says “I have told you everything I know,” while John 16:12 says “you can’t bear to hear it all.” Likewise, a teacher shows a 3rd grader short-cuts for adding large numbers or division, which will come in handy at a later time when they are trying to factor a polynomial.
The disciples then and the disciples now (us) rely on God’s spirit to bring the necessary tools to mind when needed and to give further information, as well.
Gilberto Ruiz, professor at St. Anselm College (workingpreacher.org), stated “The church in John’s day, today, and always finds itself trying to understand and live its faith in the midst of social, cultural, and global circumstances that change rapidly.”
The church today constantly relies on the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, the Comforter to guide us and lead us and reveal to us the information we need. The Spirit pulls us forward closer to the kingdom of God.
It’s this pulling us forward that allows for growth and maturing as Christians. It is what motivates us to learn the inclusive love of God and to learn how to forgive.
For those of us older than 30, we likely remember the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. On that day, Bud Welch’s daughter, Julie, was one of the people who died. He tells his story about how, in the days and weeks and months afterward, he wished nothing but a violent death upon the two men charged with the crime, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. He wanted the death penalty for McVeigh. Then, about a year later, in his daily drunken stupor, he went to the site of the bombing, enraged with hate and a desire for revenge, and thought “I [have] to do something different, because what I [am] doing [isn’t] working.”
He realized that it was hate and revenge which led to the Oklahoma City bombing, because McVeigh and Nichols were mad at the government for how an incident in Waco, Texas was handled years earlier. Welch realized that if he kept on the path he was on, he wouldn’t help break the cycle, he would only perpetuate it.
Bud Welch had an opportunity to meet Timothy McVeigh’s father, Bill, and his sister; the three of them met at the McVeigh’s home, where they spent an afternoon together. They walked through the garden out back and looked at family photos, including Timothy’s graduation picture. When reflecting on the meeting, Welch said “As I walked away from the house I realized that.... I had found someone who was a bigger victim of the Oklahoma bombing than I was, because while I can speak in front of thousands of people and say wonderful things about Julie, if Bill McVeigh meets a stranger he probably doesn’t even say he had a son.”
Through personal reflection and a willingness to listen to another person’s story, Welch, while still wanting McVeigh to face consequences for his actions, changed his want for the death penalty, though McVeigh was executed. Welch broke the cycle, within himself, of hatred and revenge.
I believe that instances, such as Bud Welch’s, are God’s Holy Spirit leading within us...leading us to greater understanding, to a greater capacity for forgiveness, and to a greater inclusion of everybody into God’s community. I’m sure Welch had heard words on forgiveness and understanding in his life - those words were tucked away in his toolbelt - but he didn’t know when or how he would have to dig deep to use them.
Similarly, the disciples were told what they could bear at the time and promised more to come by the Advocate, the Comforter, God’s Holy Spirit. They had Jesus’ words in their toolbelt to draw on when needed and when they could understand better.
Similarly, today, for us, it is the Spirit of Truth, the Advocate, the Comforter, God’s Holy Spirit that is within us and leads us. We, too, have Jesus’ words in our toolbelt and can draw on them when further understanding is needed. Raymond E. Brown (The Gospel According to John) states that the Spirit makes possible a “deep understanding of what Jesus means for one’s own time” without betraying the core truth of Jesus’ original revelation (ucc.org, Sermon Seeds).
How do we - as individuals and as a community - rely on the Advocate to reveal further information to us and lead us forward?
If you reflect back on your life, can you see where the Spirit of Truth has helped you grow? Can you see where you once had an unhealthy perspective on a situation and now have greater understanding?
Furthermore, can you recognize where in your life right now you need God’s Spirit to work within you - to lead you toward a healthier perspective?
Scripture: John 15:26-16:14