“I will not leave you orphaned,” declares Jesus in our gospel lesson today from John. “I will ask,” says Jesus, “and the Father will send you “another Advocate” to be with you forever. This Advocate, Jesus goes on to say, is “the spirit of truth” that will be revealed to those who love Jesus, who is and has been the first Advocate on our behalf.
Yes! On this sixth Sunday of Easter, we are invited to remember that God’s resurrection work through Christ has adopted us into new life, resurrected life that pulls us again and again from the chains of brokenness and of sin as individuals and as communities and world so that we can love Jesus and in so doing better learn to love our God-beloved-selves, as well as others and this world around us. And that this resurrection story is not the end of the journey for us, but the beginning of a new chapter. Yes! For on the sixth Sunday of Easter, we are invited into action and reflection and then more action, supported by the Holy Spirit, the Advocate.
What is the Holy Spirit? Christian communities have long held that the Holy Spirit is that third person, third aspect of the Trinity that inspires new ideas, and makes it possible to live out our traditions with inspired, courageous new approaches. The Holy Spirit helps us individually and collectively listen to and for God and God’s leading in our lives.
It is the Holy Spirit that might nudge us to call or text or in some way contact a friend or neighbor “just because we feel like we should,” only to discover that they needed a listening ear or someone to share a joy in their lives. It is the Holy Spirit that gives ideas for new inventions, or a new short story or song. It is the Holy Spirit that calls us to found new churches, as people from First Lutheran Church in Poughkeepsie did when they started Redeemer, New Paltz, and to continue to grow and evolve as church communities, such as we did when we started an ecumenical Sunday School this past year or began developing hybrid worship with videoconferencing in response to the pandemic or founded an on-campus food pantry when we learned that students were choosing between paying rent or eating. The Holy Spirit fosters new ideas in secular realms, too! As Christians we would say, for example, that it is the Holy Spirit at work when a college like one I recently read about, begins a partnership with a local high school called “Dance to Connect,” which fosters meaningful connections for people who don’t know each other through the medium of dance. It was the Holy Spirit at work nudging a young man named Nathaniel Sanders to found “Bookleggers,” an organization that finds creative ways to give books away – an effort that not only gets books into the hands of people who will benefit and derive joy from them, but which also keeps books from ending up in the waste stream and the garbage.
Yes! The Holy Spirit is the most animating, in motion aspect of God whose very nature is relationship, whose very nature is Creating, Redeeming, and Sanctifying -all in-motion words, you’ll notice.
At our Community Meeting that we held last week here at Redeemer, we asked ourselves a series of questions, such as: What is Church? What are we together that we could not be on our own? And, who are we as a congregational community being called to reach and labor alongside in the world? We might have added the “Holy Spirit” to all of these questions: What is the Holy Spirit creating the Church to be? What is the Holy Spirit making us to be together that we could not be on our own? And, to whom is the Holy Spirit calling us as a congregational community to reach and labor alongside in the world?
The youngest among us led the way in answering these questions last week – the kids! Which might, perhaps, remind us of the story in scripture where Jesus was teaching and preaching and told the adults around him to let the children come to him – in other words not to get in the way of all of those who have a part to play in God’s heavenly inbreaking work here on earth. For we are never too young or too old, too new to a community or around too long to make a difference as part of the Spirit’s inbreaking through a church community for the world.
Collectively, from the youngest among us to older folks as well, we said that the Church is, and I share quotes here: “a place where you get to know God,” a “spiritual gathering place,” “people coming together – gathering - to share God’s love,” a “community of praying people,” the “Body of Christ on earth” that supports us “feeling closer to God.”
We said that together we are “called to be a loving sacrifice” (that’s a beautiful phrase, isn’t it?) and a “community that supports one another” and provides a place where “we can bounce ideas off one another” as we seek to “be a positive force in a world that has become increasingly negative.”
In her monthly Living Lutheran article for May, our national bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, reminds us that our ELCA national church constitution states that “The Church is a people created by God in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, called and sent to bear witness to God’s creative, redeeming, and sanctifying activity in the world” (ELCA Constitution 4.01).
Do you notice how discussions of the Holy Spirit always seem to include active words? Yes! The Holy Spirit is the most animating, dynamic aspect of a dynamic, active God! Some of our own words and phrases for church, you may have noticed, included “gathering, praying, bouncing around ideas, and being a positive force in the world.” All action words.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, when Jesus gathered with the proto-Church, that is the group of disciples drawn to Jesus during his earthly journey who would go on to found the worshipping communities that became known as Christian churches; when Jesus gathered with the proto-Church on the night in which he would be betrayed unto his death, Jesus shared what has become known as the Farewell Discourse. That’s where we are in our gospel lesson today. Right in the midst of the Farewell Discourse, where Jesus is telling the disciples that there will be another Advocate given to them, one who will guide them into efforts and undertakings beyond their current imaginings. This is the part of Jesus’ earthly story where he also calls the disciples “friends” because he wants to move them from being passive observers of God’s work through Jesus into being actors-in-motion who understand that they are called to undertake and embody the work of Jesus the Teacher and Jesus who will become the Savior.
We are called as church communities to do and embody the work of Jesus the Teacher who became Jesus the Savior and this is made possible by the work of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit – whose relationship with us is created and formed by Jesus’ relationship with God. We will not be left orphaned, Jesus says. We will not be left alone in our individual lives nor in our community life. God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit is seeking to guide us to what comes next, even as those first disciples were led beyond the good news of the resurrection to organize means by which this good news could be shared with others.
So, dear church, let’s keep this conversation going, and join the action of the Holy Spirit that is already afoot. Where is God calling us together to go next? Amen.