Reflections from Sunday, May 21/17
Sunday, May 21, 2017
An Advocate Anticipated
While I don’t share this with many … did you know that as a younger person I actually wrote the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) … twice? The first time I wrote it I did so under duress, that is, my father had decided that this would be a good course of study for me and so accordingly he had arranged for me to write it. I remember the day of the test well as it was a very intense environment filled with a wide variety of people who were very intent on doing well. It is a long test, requiring concentration and focus under rather tight time lines, all in all, not the pleasantest of pastime. However, as you can imagine, as the idea of taking this test was not my own, my heart was not really in it (which was definitely reflected in my mark), and so I thought, well that is that.
However, 15 or so years later, I would try it again, wondering I suppose, whether this was a career that might hold some promise for me. And so, I sat for it a second time, giving it more preparation this time and consequently having a much better outcome, however, other circumstances in my life did not allow for my following up on this interest and as my career aspirations went in quite a different direction for which I am grateful. While my son did go on to become a lawyer, which I’m sure would have delighted my father no end, while there were definite aspects of being a lawyer that did not interest me, as I wondered about why it attracted me, I think ultimately it was the idea of being an ‘advocate’, that had appeal to me, that is, training to be someone who speaks on the behalf of someone else, not able to speak for themselves, to become a person who would support others through uncertain times, bringing to difficult situations a way to proceed forward, presumably a way out of the difficulty…in the midst of chaos to offer a way forward, a way of resolution, a way out.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus will speak to his disciples, about a very special advocate, that they might expect, an advocate like no one they had ever met…the very Spirit of God. In two weeks we will be celebrating Pentecost, an important feast day for us, the day we acknowledge the gift of God’s Spirit, that third, often illusive, mysterious person of the Trinity … this extraordinary gift to the Church. Yet in today’s Gospel reading we find Jesus giving his disciples (and us by extension), something of a preview, a hint as it were about just what they and we can expect. He goes on to explain that this advocate (unlike himself in a physical presence) will be with them forever. He describes this Spirit, as the Spirit of truth, not just available to them … to us, accessible by them … by us, but, if we take Jesus at his words, actually able to live in them and us, presumably after the events of Pentecost morning, when God’s spirit literally will rain down upon the disciples.
The topic of Holy Spirit is not one we address a great deal. I remember noting this as a young person, in the middle of my confirmation preparation. I was puzzled by this as remembering a specific moment where I realized that I knew about God of course, God gets top billing, we all know that … and then there’s Jesus and Jesus was clearly at the heart of everything from Christmas to Easter and beyond, but what was all this talk about a Holy Spirit? It struck me that I really did not know a lot about the Holy Spirit, just where, how did Holy Spirit fit into the picture?
Many of us continue to carry that question around today, just where does the Holy Spirit, fit into the divine dance, into our dance? As we have seen in our reading of Acts over the past number of weeks, God’s Spirit is very clearly evident in the early days of the church, as it is getting established, being birthed and subsequently expanding into the world around it. We read of the disciples speaking to God in a Spirit-inspired way, hearing from God and speaking and acting prophetically on behalf of God with the result that lives are changed and disciples are made.
That is the story of Acts and of the experiences of the earliest Christians as on Pentecost there was a great unleashing on the world, so that a Spirit-empowered body of believers would and could pick up where Jesus had left off and continue the revealing and reconciling work of Jesus. For at the core of our understanding about God’s Spirit being given to us, is the comprehension of why it was given to us … in a nutshell, it was given to us to give us the power to model for the world in which we find ourselves, just what it looks like to live lives based on our model, Jesus.
While we often look at the moment, the gift of the Pentecost event as the birthday of the church, it is that, but it is so much more. God’s Spirit was sent to us, to live in us, to live among us, to empower and enable the community that would gather around the person and ministry of Jesus, to take the message of God’s kingdom out into the world. Because in the end, here is the main point, it is the Spirit in us, among us, that is the very source of all that we will do as individuals, and certainly all that we will do as a community of faith. Only a Spirit-empowered church is able to function effectively as Christ’s body, the representation of Christ in the world.
And perhaps the most astounding point of all is … and hold on to your hat for this one … the Spirit of God’s modus operandi, that is, the vehicle of expression for God’s Spirit in this world … is through the people of God, that is, through you and I … in which we are called to participate in the purposes of God, called to be God hands, God’s feet, God words to both those in our own community and to those hurting people with whom we share our world and our lives. And while we could have very long debates over the wisdom of assigning such an important task to such flawed beings, as Christians it is our aim to see where God’s Spirit is working in the world, in small ways and grander ways, and to get on board with this.
This highlights, of course, that the church is so much more than a building, so much more than a gathering of rather nice people, comfortable with one another, familiar with one another. As church, we are asked to see ourselves as models and messengers, and if you find all of this just a bit overwhelming, feeling a bit overwhelmed, remember that the empowering, the emboldening, the ability to even show up, the courage to lean in and to still our hearts to hear God’s Spirit whispering into our ears … go here, go there, do this, do that, it is all God, and it is all possible by God’s grace.
As we do this, we continue in the great tradition of continuing Christ’s ministry on earth.
Of course, as with anything it takes a core understanding and it takes practice, can we give ourselves to this? Can we find those moments (and there could be many of them in our day to day lives), where we stop for the briefest of reflections to listen; where we stop to hear those whisperings of God’s Spirit, allowing ourselves to speak into the circumstances words of peace, of faith, of hope, of reconciliation … not as empty platitudes ringing hollow to the ears of those listening, but humbly as messengers, as instruments of God’s truth, God’s grace, God’s love, God’s peace?
I think we can. Not because we are great orators, not because we have this whole faith experience all sorted out, not even because all our questions are answers and tied neatly up in a bow. No we can do this because the very Spirit that gives us the words also gives us the ability, as we open ourselves to all this is possible, taking up the opportunity to speak peace through uncertain times, bringing to difficult situations a way to proceed forward, …in the midst of chaos to offer a way forward, a way of resolution, a way through, a way out.
 Gary Tyra, A Missional Orthodoxy Theology and Ministry in a Post-Christian Context (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press 2013), page 326