By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
May 31, 2009
Read: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Acts 2:1-21 & John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Last Sunday we heard about the Ascension, when Jesus rose into the air and seemingly disappeared. We talked about God not saying goodbye, but saying Hello in a new and different way. We talked about it being an exchange. Jesus’ Ascension was necessary in order for the coming of the Holy Spirit. And today, is that great feast of Pentecost. Also called the birthday of the church, because of the coming of the Spirit marked by wind and flame.
The decorations and toys all have something to do with the flames and the wind. In our reading from Ezekiel, we heard about the dry bones. And God’s breath giving those dry, dry bones life. New life. “Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” And in Acts, when they were all together in one place, suddenly “from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind” and “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them”.
So what does that seem like to you? Does it seem calm, quiet, meditative, serene? I don’t think so. Pentecost is our reminder that there is another side to God’s Spirit – one that can set us on fire, transform our lives, turn the world upside down. It is not predictable. It is risky and it is beyond our control. And thank God for that! When we think of the Spirit, we remember that “the wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”
In John’s gospel today, Jesus is telling us about this arrival of the Spirit – he will send an Advocate. Other words for the Greek, parakletos, are: comforter, helper, counselor, “one called to assist another”, advocate. What does that mean for us? To have the Spirit’s presence with us always as an advocate. There is a story that illustrates a bit of what that means for us.
A woman named Linda set out in a little Honda Civic to drive from Canada to Whitehorse, Alaska. She stayed overnight in a motel, and asked for an early morning wakeup call. The clerk looked surprised when she asked for that early morning wakeup call, but she couldn’t imagine why. But the next morning, when she got up, she understood. The place was totally “socked in” by fog.
She went to the restaurant for breakfast, and two truckers asked to join her. They asked where she was going, and she said, “Whitehorse.” The truckers laughed, and one of them said, “Whitehorse! In that little Civic! No way! The pass is dangerous in weather like this.”
But she said she had to get there, so the trucker said, “Then I guess we’re just going to have to hug you.”
Linda said, “Don’t you touch me!”
But the trucker said, “Not like that! We’ll put one truck in front of you and the other in back, and we’ll get you through the mountains.”
So Linda spent the morning following the two red taillights of the truck in front of her — and had the comfort of knowing that there was another truck following her — and they made it through the mountains.
Those truckers were Linda’s Paracletes — her buddies — her helpers — her Comforters.
A precious gift that we all receive is the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is a day about celebrating that Spirit and remembering that we need to allow that Spirit to move and breathe within us and through us. The Spirit gives us the power and the courage to speak our own voice; to be our authentic selves.
The Holy Spirit, the advocate, comes to stand with us and within us as we face the world. The Holy Spirit does not come to give us an excuse for not acting, but rather gives us the power to act. It is not the comforter who pats us on the back and assures us that all will be well, but rather the comforter that pushes us along with words of encouragement. “Go ahead, you can do it.”
The advocate is not one who stands in our place, but stands alongside of us and helps us find the words to speak and the approach to take. It is the coach who keeps us focused and on track. The spirit of God comes in so that we may speak out and proclaim the good news of salvation.
Rubem Alves, a liberation theologian from Brazil, says that, “Hope is hearing the melody of the future. Faith is to dance to it.” The Spirit calls us to imagine this world as it should be, to hear the melody of God’s future. And to dance to it.
But that can be intimidating, can’t it. What if we don’t hear the melody and don’t know the steps. And what if we begin to dance to the melody of the future and someone tells us that we’re doing it all wrong? What if we begin to dance to the melody of the future and someone laughs at us, calls us naïve, or drunk, or worse? What if we begin to dance to the melody of the future and we realize that we’re out there all alone? What if we begin to dance to the melody of the future and it sweeps us away, overcomes us, changes our lives and our outlook altogether? (1)
The prophet Joel, as quoted in Acts today, talks about young men and old men, sons and daughters, slaves seeing visions and dreaming dreams.
In the book, Animal Dreams, by Barbara Kingsolver, Codi, who has gone back to her hometown to face her past, corresponds with her sister Hallie, who has gone to teach agriculture to the peasants of Nicaragua during the time that the United States is sending millions of dollars to the Contras. Codi is proud of Hallie, but is scared for her, too, and in one of her letters she writes:
“I feel small and ridiculous and hemmed in on every side by the need to be safe. All I want is to be like you, to be brave, to walk into a country of chickens and land mines and call that home, and have it be home. How can you just charge ahead, always doing the right thing, even if you have to do it alone with people staring? I would have so many doubts—what if you lose that war? What then? If I had an ounce of your bravery, I’d be set for life. You get up and look the world in the eye, shoo the livestock away from the windowsill, and decide what portion of the world needs to be saved today..”
Hallie, in her return letter to Codi, writes this:
“Codi, here’s what I’ve decided: the very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under it’s roof. What I want is so simple I almost can’t say it: elementary kindness. Enough to eat, enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither the destroyers nor the destroyed. That’s about it. Right now I’m living in that hope, running down its hallway and touching the walls on both sides.”
Remember Linda in her little Honda Civic winding her way in the fog, through the dangerous pass, but being “hugged” all along the way. May we be open to the Spirit moving in and through us. May we trust that our Advocate, the Spirit, will be with us as we step out in faith and do a little dancing in our lives.
Breathe on us breath of God! Amen.
(1) The Rev. Cindy Weber, taken from a sermon on desperate preacher site 2008
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