This day is all about the work the Holy Spirit in the community of believers.
What is interesting is that the community has preserved two very different stories about the Holy Spirit, and that today we read them side by side.
In John’s gospel, Jesus talks to his disciples about the Spirit at the Last Supper. He tells them that he will soon leave them.
They are grief-stricken and confused.
What will happen to them without Jesus?
What will happen to them if Jesus really dies, as he is saying will happen?
It seems like their hopes and dreams are dashed –
but then Jesus makes a promise.
I will send you a helper, he says.
I will send the Spirit of Truth to guide you.
The word Jesus uses is paracletos – the Paraclete.
The same word is translated as Advocate, Comforter, Counselor, and Helper.
What it literally means is “one called alongside”
- para is beside, caleo is called
Jesus will send the Paraclete, who will come alongside them to care for them, encourage them, and help them.
Jesus even goes so far as to say that they will be better off when he is gone,
the Paraclete will come, and will help them to understand.
And, Jesus makes clear, the Paraclete comes with work for them to do –
with the help of the Paraclete, they will testify on Jesus’ behalf.
These disciples, who have been with Jesus throughout his ministry,
will share the story of his life, death and resurrection.
In John’s account, the Paraclete is given to the disciples in the upper room
on the day of Easter.
Jesus comes to the gathered disciples, offers them peace,
and breathes the Spirit into each of them.
It is a quiet, intimate scene.
Again, Jesus tells them – as my father has sent me, I will send you.
You, who have been closest to me, who know me best, will go tell my story.
Your job – with the Holy Spirit who comes alongside you –
is to proclaim the good news I have given you,
and live out my command to love.
The writer of Luke and Acts, has a very different story of the Holy Spirit.
In Luke’s account, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit when he is preparing to ascend into heaven.
He tells the disciples that they will be baptized by the Holy Spirit.
He tells them,
you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’
After the Ascension, the disciples go back to Jerusalem.
They don’t know what to expect, or when.
They are in a state of confusion and uncertainty.
And what they do next is an example to any community waiting in faith for the work of Christ – they stay together, and they pray.
On the day of Pentecost, which is a Jewish holiday,
the disciples are all together in one place.
Suddenly, a strong wind comes among them.
Then tongues of fire appear above their heads.
There is nothing peaceful about this experience.
Soon, the disciples are speaking in many languages.
They attract a crowd, and the Jews who are gathered in the city from far and wide for the celebration of Pentecost, can understand them.
And when they know everyone can understand, what do they say?
The begin the work Jesus gave them –
telling the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection,
and how it has fulfilled God’s promises.
It’s a great story.
Two great stories, which together give us a picture of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit of Christ.
The Spirit of Truth.
Encouraging and comforting.
Blowing as it will.
Earlier I said that Pentecost is about work of Holy Spirit in the community of believers.
I didn’t say the church.
This day is sometimes called the birthday of the church, and I think it’s great to remember that this is the day the Holy Spirit pushed the disciples out of the upper room to do the work of telling the good news of Jesus and creating a community of love.
But I think we have to be careful what we mean when we say
“the birth of the church”
I’ve heard repeatedly that instead of Acts of the Apostles,
this book of the Bible should be called Acts of the Holy Spirit.
The book is all about the Spirit giving power and direction
to the Apostles, and then to those who hear them –
the community of believers.
And sometimes, the Spirit sends them where they don’t want to go –
like when Peter is prompted by a dream to go to the house of Cornelius,
a Gentile, a centurion, not part of the Jewish community.
Many people talk about the book of Acts as the book of the beginning of the church – and it is that, in a way.
But I say “the Holy Spirit at work in the community of believers” for a reason.
It is important to remember that nowhere does the Holy Spirit commit herself to an institution – to the maintanance of church buildings, hierarchies, and traditions.
This is the Spirit of Jesus, after all, and Jesus spent a lot more time challenging comfortable institutions than comforting and supporting them.
The Holy Spirit comes alongside the community of believers,
enabling us to do the work of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit empowers the church to do our real work,
which is to point beyond ourselves always to Jesus.
The church exists to complete this work –
but it is not the church that has a mission.
Rather, God’s mission of love and reconciliation in the world has a church.
David Lose wrote in his blog* this week:
We tend to think of the Holy Spirit as the answer to a problem, but what if the Spirit’s work is to create for us a new problem: that we have a story to tell, mercy to share, love to spread, and we just can’t rest until we’ve done so!
. . . we have been joined by our Baptism into communities of faith that look for – and expect! – the Holy Spirit to come along side us and shake things up, preparing and equipping each and all of us to share the disruptive, surprising, and life-giving word of grace of the God who will not rest until all people enjoy abundant life.
We are approaching a new chapter in the life of St Michael and All Angels.
We continue the prayer that has carried us through the past year –
come, Holy Spirit – or, as David Lose says, Come alongside, Holy Spirit –
to enliven us and empower us,
to comfort us but not let us get too comfortable,
to guide us into a new future.
We have to be ready for our prayers to be answered in new and unexpected ways.
We might be pulled to really study the Bible, to come together as a community and listen to what God’s Word says and means to us today.
We might be pushed to serve the poor in ways that are more demanding and less comfortable for us.
We might be asked to put more resources into an alternative worshipping community that reaches out, not to cradle Episcopalians and frustrated members of other mainstream churches, but to those “nones” we keep hearing about – those who have never heard the story of God’s grace or experienced the community of the faithful.
We might be called to give up just a little of what we’re used to at St Michael’s, so that it can truly be a more welcoming place for strangers.
If our prayers are answered, we will be invited into new ministries we’ve hardly dared to imagine and asked to give more than we know we have.
We don’t know where the wind of the Spirit will blow us
We do know that the Paraclete – the Spirit of Christ – will be alongside us, as she has always been, to empower and encourage us to do our work, which is to share the story and the love of Jesus Christ in the world God loves.
Come alongside, Holy Spirit.
Not by ourselves, but by your power, we are ready to go.
* Lose, David; In the Meantime blog, www.davidlose.net. “Come Alongside, Holy Spirit,” May 18, 2015.