May 27, 2012
The Day of Pentecost, Year B
The Rev. Dr. Brent Was
“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father, the spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.”
Today is the feast of Pentecost. What is Pentecost about? _______ The coming of the spirit…. The birthday of the church… Sure, it is all of those things, and more. Pentecost celebrates God’s promise to remain with the Christian community in the wake of Christ’s death, Resurrection and Ascension. Pentecost celebrate the riches of His inheritance, to continue our unpacking of St. Paul’s three Ascension questions. And this inheritance, this Pentecostal vision of the Advocate, the coming of the spirit of truth, this is the truth that will set us free.
A quick historical note. St. John’s gospel was written probably between 100 and 120, so seventy to ninety years after Our Lord’s death. The first years, the first decades of the church were dominated by the parousia. What does that mean? The waiting for Christ’s immanent return. We are still waiting, but it was serious then, “He’s coming back any moment… live like it.” So here is John, writing after decades of this waiting, holy waiting but waiting nonetheless, and you might be able to imagine that something had to give. Some scholars think that this story of the Advocate being sent by Christ from God was St. John’s way of dealing with the disappointment, or at least reassuring the larval Christian community that God had not abandoned them. It is important to remember that from where we sit: 1900 years later and still waiting.
That said, Jesus calls this spirit of truth what? The Advocate. The Greek word is parakletos, and is translated also as “Counselor” or “Comforter” or for real Bible geeks, “the Paraclete”. It literally means “one called alongside.” I think of a companion, a partner, a soul friend. The way St. John uses this word, we are not to conflate the Advocate with the totality of the Holy Spirit. The parakeltosis a specific, personal role that the spirit fills in a person or a community. The Holy Spirit is hard to grasp. By Her nature, She ebbs and flows, She breathes in and breathes out and envelopes all that is within Her life-giving embrace. She is cosmically vast, infusing, animating the creation in Her joyous wisdom. The parakletosis a way to describe one aspect of Her animation, a personal one. If the Holy Spirit is the movement of the tides, the parakletos is the single wave we are carried on in the sea of being.
A word of caution… I know very little about the Holy Spirit. No one does; that is why say “great is the Mystery of faith.” I know very little about the Numinous, that is the technical term for things spirit. I know very little, but I have some very deep feelings about Her if not expiences of Her. When I feel energy, life, movement… I feel the Holy Spirit. When I encounter wisdom, deep learning, inner growth, expansion… I feel the Holy Spirit. When I see children becoming, lambs skipping in a field, plants creeping upward, the force that through the green fuse drives the flower… I feel the Holy Spirit. When I feel passion, when I am moved to tears by a sentence, a painting, a phrase within an aria, or certain stretches of Jerry Garcia’s improvisations… I feel the Holy Spirit. When beauty envelops me, when Brigid and I share a rainbow over the Coburg Hills, or walk through a hayfield just before first cutting, wind rolling on and onward over the Timothy, amber waves almost… I feel the Holy Spirit. Where do you feel her?____ Numinous.
So what, then, is the Advocate? What then is the personal slice of the Spirit that Christ sent to each of us? How do we begin to understand our little wave in the global movement of the tides? Good question.
One way I think about the Advocate is the process of God penetrating our inner being, God making a clearing in our heart in which to build a way of life. In the Advocate we begin to build a way of life founded in truth. Remember, we do not have the Christ with us anymore, but we still have God, now in the Person of the Spirit, and not just with us, but withinus.
So how does the personal indwelling of the Advocate, as understood here, relate to the numinous we encounter in the world? How do we build a way of life founded in truth? A way of life in truth is characterized by openness; an openness to seek truth and an openness to accept truth when we encounter it. A way of life founded in truth is characterized by personal engagement in the mystery of grace. We recognize it in ourselves when we are in a posture of receptivity, able and willing to let the sun shine in. We experience the Advocate working in our hearts when we feel awe in the presence of the awesome, when we feel enlivened in the presence of the radically alive, when we feel gracious in the event of actual grace, generous in the event of true generosity, kind in the face of heart-felt kindness, beautiful in the presence of true beauty.
Has anyone heard of Joe Henry? He’s a musician who has been releasing music since the early 90s. He is fabulous, his old stuff at least. He wrote a song 20 years ago that went like this: One day when the weather is warm/ I’ll wake up on the hill/and hold the morning like it was a plow,/And cut myself a row/And follow it until/I know better by God than I know now.
The Advocate, the Companion, the one called alongside… when you let Her in your heart, when you accept the way of life you are being led to, you live boldly, tenaciously even, but not stubbornly. Cutting a row with a plow is grueling work, much harder to do than it looks. (Or it should be, a 10-bottom plow on a couple hundred hp tractor makes light work for the back but is murder on the soul.) It is grueling work, and decisive work and is a major investment of time and energy. And the world is changed in your wake. But when you learn that you have to go a different direction, or have to pick up and do it somewhere else or even have to stop all together, in the peace of the Advocate, you act based on the truth you have found.
It is that balance. Being fully committed, leaning all the way in to the work you have been given to do AND being humble enough, non-attached enough to change what or how you are doing things when you learn something new.
This is all in the middle of the thing that I am probably most proud of myself for besides our two girls. When I have figured something out, I have made changes, more or less regardless of the cost. When I learned that the Marine Corps was not what I thought; I left. Same with the corporate world and Unitarian Universalism. I certainly should have been more discerning before jumping in to things with both feet. (Mom, you were right.) But when I found out that xwas not what I was supposed to be doing, I changed what I was doing. And a confession: one of my greatest fears is being considered flakey which is a real bummer being as flakey as I can be. And my personal history could be interpreted as the history of an incredible flake. But I do not think it is. I think it is the spirit calling me to a way of life founded in truth. When I find myself doing what I no longer am supposed to be doing, I get this feeling of some twisting existential impatience. I have discerned this as the Advocate, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit saying, “You know better, now follow me.” or “It’s going to be OK once you are back on the right path.”
How has the spirit inhabited your heart? Where do you feel that twist or pull in your life? Do you feel it or hear it? Is the still small voice calling out to you? Do you hear the deep calling unto deep? Are you doing what you are supposed to be doing? Are you living like you are supposed to be living? Are you who you are supposed to be?
In prayer alone or here with us; in worshipping God; living in community; serving the world; learning, loving and growing in the experience of the gifts and the sorrows of this world. In these, and in any of the innumerable moments of your life, you have the opportunity to learn who you are supposed to be, what you are supposed to do, how you are supposed to live. This is the indwelling of the Advocate, the spirit of truth. This is your inheritance as a child of God. Make use of it. AMEN.