Advocate | Day of Pentecost

John 14:8-17, 25-27

8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.”

9 Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I have spoken to you I don’t speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves. 12 I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask for in my name, so that the Father can be glorified in the Son. 14 When you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion, who will be with you forever. 17 This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you.

25 “I have spoken these things to you while I am with you. 26 The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you. 27 “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid. (CEB)

Advocate

Today’s text from John’s Gospel has so many theological zingers that I could turn this sermon into a thesis on the Trinity that I guarantee would put most of you to sleep. So, before I start preaching, does anyone need a nap?

This section of John fits really well with Pentecost. Not only because it deals with the Holy Spirit’s role, but because it picks up in the middle of a conversation between Jesus and the disciples that already has the disciples entirely confused. The reason I think the text fits is because we’re often confused about the role of the Holy Spirit, too. What is the Holy Spirit? What’s the Spirit’s role in the community of faith? How do we know if we have it? The Holy Spirit is a bit of an enigma.

This section is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse where he told the disciples that he would die and tried to prepare them for his departure. Judas had already left to betray him, and Jesus was talking about going away and how the disciples knew the way to the place where he’d be going. But the thing is, they didn’t. At least, they didn’t think they did. Thomas asked Jesus how they’d know the way (14:5). When Jesus told them that he is the way, the truth and the life, they were probably thinking, Well, it’s a great line, but it’s hardly turn-by-turn directions on Google Maps. They failed to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ words, even as Jesus turned to the subject of the Father by saying that if they have known him, then they also know—and even have seen—the Father.

But the disciples didn’t get that part either. They couldn’t fathom the mutual indwelling that Jesus described. So Philip piped up and said, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us” (John 14:8 CEB). And this is where Philip got chastised by Jesus. The disciples were a Christian community that had walked with Jesus for three or so years, and they still failed to grasp who Jesus is and from where Jesus had come. They didn’t yet understand how Jesus is the essential and full disclosure of the Father.

In fact, Jesus tells them that the Father is in him and he is in the Father. It’s a mutual indwelling to the point that the works of Jesus and the works of the Father are one and the same. Whatever works that Jesus does are perfectly in line with the works of the father: so perfectly in line that Jesus can say that his works are the works of the Father.

Jesus offers a rebuke to Philip, yet it seems that Philip probably wouldn’t have asked Jesus to show them the Father if he didn’t think Jesus could do it. So, it appears that Philip’s problem was that he failed to see the deep connection of Jesus to the Father and the Father to Jesus.

A further problem of Philip is that he still held to the idea that seeing is believing. He wanted Jesus to show them the Father. The Gospel of John uses contrasting symbols that point to belief and unbelief, like light and darkness, sight and blindness. But faith is not based on sight, as Jesus highlighted many times, even in his prayer for us in which he prayed, “I’m not praying only for them but also for those who believe in me because of their word. I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me” (John 17:20-21 CEB).

Seeing is not believing, rather, believing is seeing (c.f. John 11:40). In fact, one of Jesus’ concerns was that seeing can get in the way of the necessity of belief. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 highlights seeing without believing. It also highlights the same kind of indwelling that Jesus has with the Father: an indwelling that we, too, can share with God. The main point of Jesus’ reproach of Philip is to show the disciples—and us—the intimacy of Jesus’ relationship with the Father and what that intimacy means for all who follow Jesus. We get to share in that intimacy.

Then, Jesus tells the Disciples, “I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12 CEB). When we think of great works, we usually think of miracles, signs, and wonders.

But that’s not necessarily what Jesus meant here. The work of Jesus was to bring good news to the poor, to invite people whom the world rejected—people like prostitutes and tax collector—into God’s realm, to set free those who were oppressed by the weight of sin, and release those who were crushed by the oppressive powers of the world. Jesus came to open the eyes of our heart and mind to the good news of God’s healing, acceptance, and reconciliation. Jesus came to show us that God loves us (c.f. John 3:16). Jesus came to show us that God is present with us (c.f. John 1:14).

Jesus did not come to put on a fancy show and do miracles.

The followers of Jesus have done greater works. We are doing greater works. Think about it. Jesus was limited by time and place. He was one person in a small location. His followers have spread around the world. We’ve worked for roughly 2000 years to bring health, comfort, education, and relief to the least, lost, broken, sick, imprisoned, hungry, and hurting. There have been profound failures on the part of Christian people, too, we can’t deny that. But by and large, we’re doing the work of Jesus and, therefore, the work of the Father. The church continues to bring the presence and power of God to bear on human plight throughout the world by befriending the outcasts, housing and feeding the homeless and hungry, serving the marginalized and, in general, speaking truth to the powers of this world by our words and our actions.

We don’t need miracles to show God’s love and compassion. We simply need to remember what Jesus taught, and what Jesus came to do. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 CEB). The expected result of believing in Jesus is that we will keep his commandments to love each other just as Jesus has loved us. Those who love Jesus will love as Jesus loves.

That’s why Jesus provided a way for us to remember his commandments and to teach us. That’s why Jesus also provided a way for us to have the presence of God with us even as Jesus is physically absent. This is accomplished through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus told the disciples that the Father would send another Companion. Another, meaning, one instead of himself. The Greek word has multiple meanings: advocate, comforter, companion, mediator, intercessor, and helper. Instead of trying to pick which nuance is meant, I think it’s best to imagine that all of them are meant.

This Companion is identified as “the Spirit of Truth” (14:17 CEB). In verse 6, Jesus stated that he is the way, the truth and the life. If Jesus is the truth, then one role of the Spirit of Truth is to point to Jesus as the truth.

It’s important that we understand that the work of the Spirit of Truth is on behalf of the community. The Holy Spirit was sent by the Father in Jesus’ name to teach the community of everything Jesus had taught, and to remind the community of everything Jesus had said to them. There is a clear connection between the role of Jesus and the role of the Holy Spirit. Both Jesus and the Holy Spirit teach us about the work of the Father.

The presence of the Holy Spirit is grounded in belief, not sight. Jesus said that the world can’t receive the Holy Spirit because the world neither sees nor recognizes the Spirit. Christians might actually be lumped in with “the world” here because we don’t see the Spirit either. Yet, Jesus tells the disciples that they know the Spirit because he lives in them—and us—and is present with us.

In both Greek and Hebrew, the word used for Spirit also means wind. The Holy Spirit is like the wind. We can’t see the wind directly, but we can see the effects the wind has on everything around us. We can watch it ripple across a field of wheat or corn. We can see and hear leaves rustle as wind passes through trees. We can feel wind waft heat from our bodies on a hot day, or bite into our skin in the frost of winter.

We can see the effects of the Holy Spirit when the community that follows Jesus makes lunches for kids who are hungry, or when they help children with their homework in an afterschool program, or when they host appointments for people in need to get some financial relief, or when we send out missionaries to serve others in places near and far. We can see the effects of the Holy Spirit in a community of faith when the work of Jesus is being done; when we are loving others as Jesus loves us.

We can know and, in effect, see the Holy Spirit through our belief, which is more than intellectual ascent. Belief is faithful loving and faithful living. Belief is adherence to the commandments of Jesus to love beyond ourselves, deeply, even when we haven’t seen him.

Beyond Jesus’ abiding presence in the Holy Spirit, we’re offered peace. Peace represented by the Hebrew word Shalom is more than a fuzzy contented feeling, but real and tangible peace between people and God. The prophets foretell that the coming reign of God will be characterized by peace. What Jesus offers the community of faith is a taste of this peace now.

The thing is, we still mess up. We still hurt each other, gripe about each other, and do damage to our existing relationships. We live in a world of sin, and we mess up. The peace offered to us by Christ and through Christ isn’t magic. It doesn’t just happen. Peace includes and requires the work of forgiveness and reconciliation. That’s part of the work of the Father: to reconcile the world to God and bring about endless peace. Because Jesus offers us peace, the Holy Spirit offers us that peace, too.

The Spirit of Truth continues to teach us and remind us of Jesus’s commandments and examples so that we might love others as Jesus loves us. And loving others isn’t always easy. Oftentimes, we need some direction, if not a reminder, that those who really love Jesus are expected to, themselves, love. Yet, in the Holy Spirit, we have that advocate and teacher. Jesus is never absent from the community of faith because the Holy Spirit lives with us and is with us forever.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Rev. Christopher Millay

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Seventy and Two | Pentecost

Numbers 11:24-30

24 So Moses went out and told the people the LORD’s words. He assembled seventy men from the people’s elders and placed them around the tent. 25 The LORD descended in a cloud, spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and placed it on the seventy elders. When the spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but only this once. 26 Two men had remained in the camp, one named Eldad and the second named Medad, and the spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they hadn’t gone out to the tent, so they prophesied in the camp. 27 A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

28 Joshua, Nun’s son and Moses’ assistant since his youth, responded, “My master Moses, stop them!”

29 Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? If only all the LORD’s people were prophets with the LORD placing his spirit on them!”

30 Moses and Israel’s elders were assembled in the camp. (CEB)

Seventy and Two

I had a plan for my life. Didn’t you have plans? I wanted to be a scientist. First, I was thinking astrophysics because I love astronomy. Then, I realized I’m not very good at math, so that wasn’t going to work out. But I thought some other kind of science would be great. So when I was accepted at The University of Findlay, I declared my major to be Environmental and Hazardous Materials Management. I loved it. I got to study chemistry, biology, geology, hydrology, and play with chemicals that could melt the tables in the chemistry lab if I wasn’t careful. It was exciting stuff!

Then the Holy Spirit ruined my plans. The whole week leading up to this moment, I had heard little promptings of the Spirit: promptings that I recognized because I’d heard them on and off since my youth. I always pushed them aside and did my best to ignore them, but this time the prompting wouldn’t go away. The Spirit refused to be ignored. Finally, the Sprit decided that it had had enough of my attempts to push the promptings away. I was studying my chemistry on Saint Valentine’s Day when God’s Spirit came crashing into me and wrecked everything. In that moment, I heard an inescapable call: it was as audible as a stereo exploding at full blast but I couldn’t quote what was said; it didn’t quite feel like a demand yet there was a finality to it that removed all doubt as to what I was supposed to do. In that moment, the Spirit shouted at me loudly and clearly that I was going into ministry.

So, I did what any normal person would have done. I shouted back. I pushed my book aside, threw my pencil across the room and shouted my disagreeable agreement. I probably could have reacted better, but I was a little ticked off. I was a good Christian boy, I had plans and God was screwing them all up. I didn’t want to be a pastor. Sometimes I still wonder what in the world God was thinking. My call to ministry still feels like an ongoing argument with God that hasn’t quite been resolved. Sometimes I feel like Jonah grumbling all the way to Nineveh with the rancid smell of fish vomit still clinging to my skin. My call to ministry has been a continual thing. It’s been a kind of Spiritual evolution rather than just a moment in time. It’s every day. God has added new elements to my call, such as writing. What we are right now is not necessarily who we will be when God is done with us. God’s Spirit keeps moving and prompting us in fresh ways. In fact, I would argue that God is never really done with us.

The Spirit moves in ways that we find disconcerting. If we can expect one thing of the Spirit, it’s that it will do unexpected things. We find comfort in our walls, in our definitions, in our plans, and even in our ability to determine the outcome of whatever it is we’re doing. But the Spirit has a way of frustrating our best attempts at maintaining our comfort zones.

Take this story about Moses for example. Numbers 11 tells us about a leadership crisis, whereas the section we read is one of those little extra bonus stories. The background is that the people are complaining. They’re grumbling that they don’t have any meat to eat: all they have is this dad-gum manna. Manna in the morning. Manna for lunch. Manna for dinner. Manna, manna, always manna: no vegetables and no meat! They’re ready to go back to slavery in Egypt just so they can get some real food.

Then Moses complains to God that he’s been turned into a single mother for an entire nation of whiney, moaning children and he can’t do this by himself. So, God immediately finds a way to give Moses some relief from this burden of leadership. God has Moses choose seventy elders from among Israel and place them around the tent. Then the Lord descended and took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and gave it to the seventy, and they began to prophesy. The Spirit of God falling upon these seventy legitimized their role as leaders of the community. They would share Moses’ burden.

But the problem is that there were these two other guys who were not placed around the tent. They were out in the camp. But the Spirit spilled over into the camp and landed on Eldad and Medad. And they, too, began to prophesy. Then, some little tattle-tale runs to Moses and tells him about the problem. “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!”

The problem is that these two weren’t authorized by Moses for this job. Verse 24 tells us that Moses assembled and then placed seventy elders around the tent. Eldad and Medad weren’t among them. Joshua is certain that God made a mistake. Maybe God wasn’t carrying the cup with two hands and spilled some Spirit on these two guys accidentally. Who knows? But Joshua sees this unexpected movement of the Spirit as an affront to Moses’ authority because these two weren’t among the elders chosen by Moses. If they had been, then Joshua wouldn’t have been upset about it. Joshua wants to get the situation under control so he starts hollering, Moses! Stop them! The Spirit got away from us again!

I can almost see Moses shaking his head as he responds, “Are you jealous for my sake? If only all the Lord’s people were prophets with the Lord placing his Spirit on them!” Moses was exasperated. He’s ready to take all the help he can get, so if the Spirit got dumped on two extra elders, fine by him. They can help shoulder the burden of leadership, too.

And one of the things we miss here is that the Spirit was placed upon these elders, not for their blessing, but so that they would share Moses’ burden. The anointing of the Spirit is burdensome. The prophets were often ready to give the burden up. But the shared burden becomes a blessing for the community.

Because the movement of the Spirit is unpredictable, there will always be course corrections, new discernings, and adjustments along the way. So we have to make room for each other to fulfill the call that God has placed and continues to place on our lives.

On the Day of Pentecost we celebrate the time God got extremely sloppy with the Spirit. God dumped the Spirit out on all kinds of people. And the Spirit continues to be poured out on the church and the world today. We have our rituals, our means of grace, and our sacraments where we know the Spirit is working and being poured out. We know the Spirit is poured out on us in baptism, in confirmation, in Holy Communion, in our prayers, in our study of Scripture, in our gathering together to worship. We know the Spirit is here, right now, breathing into our hearts, whispering into our minds, tugging at our wills. We call today the Day of Pentecost, but in some ways what happened on the Day of Pentecost has never ended. We live in a continual Pentecost where God’s Spirit is continually poured out on us and the world around us.

We have to keep in mind that the Spirit is also being poured out beyond our walls. Sometimes the Spirit gets really sloppy, at least from our perspective. We sometimes think we are the proprietors of the Spirit because we’re the church. But the Spirit is already at work inside and outside of our faith community. We don’t have a monopoly on the Spirit, nor do we dictate where the Spirit goes.

Tom Heaton told me about one of his plane trips to Guatemala, on which he saw a mission team wearing t-shirts that said, “Bringing God to Guatemala.” And Tom being Tom confronted the leader of the group and told them that he’s lived in Guatemala for years and found that God has been working in and among the people there for ages, long before this missionary team ever put on their extraordinarily arrogant t-shirts. The Spirit is moving everywhere, my friends, long before we even think about it.

Pentecost was only the beginning. It didn’t fix all the church’s problems any more than the pouring out of the Spirit on the 70 Elders plus Eldad and Medad fixed everything for Israel, or any more than our own Confirmation or joining the church fixed everything for us. We still have problems, arguments, and things we need to work out. We need the Spirit to be poured out upon us again, and again, and again. Pentecost needs to be a daily event for us or we’ll get lost in the unimportant and fail to see and hear where the Spirit might be trying to lead us. When the Spirit crashes into your mind and says, “You need to do this! You’ve put it off long enough. No more excuses! Get to it! Now!” Well, what will you do, even if it’s not a call you expect?

In what ways is the Spirit of God tugging on your heart? Every one of us needs to listen and keep watch because God’s Spirit calls us and is poured out upon us in unexpected ways. We don’t know where or how the Spirit will be poured out today or tomorrow, or upon whom. But the Spirit of God is the purveyor of Holy Chaos, so we can be sure that we’ll be surprised.

I pray that, in your life and in mine, God will not hold the cup with two hands, but will let the Spirit be spilled out all over our lives. God never makes a mistake. When the Spirit is poured out, be assured it is no mistake. Answer the call. Take on the burden of the Spirit’s calling no matter what it is. Remember that Pentecost is not an end. Your call and the calls that will yet come, whatever they might be, are not ends. These things are continual, and the Spirit offers course corrections along the way as God makes all things new.

So listen to the Spirit. Be watchful. Who knows what the Spirit will do next?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

~Pastopher