Pentecost 2018: The Comfort of the Spirit

Acts 2: 1-21

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Today we celebrate the day of Pentecost. In the language of the church, it is the third great festival day of the church year.  The culmination of the Easter Season, when after Jesus death, resurrection, and accession, the Holy Spirit descended from heaven over believers from every nation. The day often understood as the birth of the church.

In our reading from Acts (the primary text for the festival), Pentecost is described as the day when the Holy Spirit, like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven over the apostles and the crowds gathered in Jerusalem, bringing to reality, the promise proclaimed through the words of the prophet Joel… that: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy… Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

For Christians, this message of Pentecost begins with Christ. In our gospel reading for today, as a result of some hard questions on behalf of the disciples, Jesus is faced with giving some of his most challenging answers throughout the entire book of John.

At the point where we are at in John’s gospel, it is a Thursday evening, the night before Jesus will be crucified. Jesus knows that he will leave this world soon, and because of this, he attempts to prepare the disciples for what will happen once he his no longer with them.

He describes, that when the Spirit comes, it will be the guide into truth, sent by Jesus from God the Father to testify on His behalf… to prove the world to be wrong about its understandings about sin, righteousness, and judgment…

In the Greek, Jesus uses the word parakaletos, meaning Paraclete, to portray the Spirit. Literally translated, it means “one called along side of”… a “legal assistant”, an “advocate”…

Throughout John’s gospel, the Paraclete, as a noun, is described as a gift from God, one that will be with us and abide in us forever, that will teach and cause the words of Jesus to be remembered forever, that will act as a guide, will glorify Jesus, and make Jesus known.

Its related verb, paraka-leo, further expresses the role of the Spirit as one who brings comfort and consolation through some of scriptures most well known words… From the book of Isaiah, Comfort, oh comfort my people, says your God.” From Psalm 23 “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

With this, the events of Pentecost, become something far more personal. Suddenly, the descending of the Spirit, is no longer this otherworldly event beyond our understanding, as described in the Book of Acts (Of the heavens opening up with the rush of a violent wind, of speaking in other languages and tongues of fire, of people prophesying and seeing visions) but rather, an event in which Jesus promises his Spirit to followers of future generations… to us today… That his presence would be known even after his death… that those who seek to follow Him, would have an advocate and comforter in a world that too often leaves them, as our reading from Romans for the weekend describes… “with sighs too deep for words…”

This coming Saturday, a week from yesterday, will mark the one year anniversary of Olivia’s death… hard to believe…

As I have already shared in sermons and in conversations I have had with many of you, it has been a year of deep reflection, most especially on our Easter promise which we have spent the past 7 weeks focusing on… that of new life, forgiveness, and grace…

In his attempts to help me in these reflections, a couple of months ago, my maternal grandfather, whom some of you know, gave me a copy of the book entitled, “When a Father Loses His Son”, written by Luther pastor and our first presiding bishop of the ELCA, Rev. Dr. Herb Chilstrom.

Throughout the book, Herb describes the experience of loosing his youngest son, Andrew, to suicide, and his subsequent grief in the 30 years following.

After reading some of its’ pages in preparation for our grief ministry lunch this past Wednesday, I emailed Rev. Chilstrom, thanking him for sharing his experience, and going on to share some of my own experiences from the past year.

Not really expecting a response, albeit hoping for one, later that same day, prior to our congregational council meeting, he graced me with a note, and in perfect timing, as we celebrate the day of Pentecost and Jesus’ sending of the Spirit, he draws our attention to such… he writes:

“I have often said to parents who have lost a child by suicide what I can also say to fellow travelers like you: This grief is one you will never “get over ” as long as you live. One must finally come to believe that the One who suffered the ultimate loss, is the only One who can understand us. He promised to never leave us, giving the Holy Spirit, the “Paraclete,” as our Companion, Guide, Helper, Comforter, Counselor, Advocate. And I like J B Phillips’ paraphrase of the word: “Someone to stand by you.” That Greek word in John’s Gospel is one of the most profound in the entire New Testament. So, even when you don’t feel that presence, claim it anyway!”

As we read our Gospel text for today from John chapters 15 and 16… as so poignantly expressed by Rev. Chilstrom… it is the power of the Spirit (our companion, guide, helper, comforter, counselor, and advocate) that allows us experience the intimacy of God and Christ… that allows us to, in turn, deal with the pains of this world that leave us with sighs too deep for words … regardless of what those pains may be… and that, in turn, through this gift, the gift of the Spirit, we find the strength to live our lives as Jesus calls… To testify to the truth on his behalf…

In a world that more and more, appears to be filled with hardship and disappointment, bad news, violence, and persecution…God in Christ offers us the Spirit, sending us the Good News, the promise of forgiveness, and the hope of everlasting life…

The Spirit, the Advocate, is here. Poured out over the Apostles of old, into the hearts of the believers of the past, and into ours as well.

And so we go forth with strengthened hearts, testifying to such through word and deed… as the hymn goes, “A single, great commission compels us from above… to plan and work together that all may know Christ’ love.”

May you experience the gift of the Spirit, the promise from God the Father, that Christ will never leave you… the one who intercedes into your lives on behalf of the One who suffered the ultimate loss for you… May you testify to it for the sake of others… and in those moments when you don’t feel that presence, claim it anyway! For as it was in Jerusalem on that day of Pentecost, so to is it for us as well. That all who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Thanks be to God. Amen.

~Pastor Andrew Geib

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