Two thousand years ago a movement began that changed the trajectory of human history. The movement began with a small group of uneducated fishermen and merchants who came from an obscure outpost of the Roman Empire. They had no political influence. They had no military authority. They had no economic infrastructure. And yet, within a single generation the message of this movement had been proclaimed in almost every major city of the ancient world including the city of Rome, the very heart and capital of the Empire. I’m speaking, of course, about the first followers of Jesus, who went forth in mission, empowered by the Spirit of God, and who quite literally, changed the world. So, this Feast of Pentecost that we celebrate today is all about this world changing, history making, kingdom building, justice serving, creation renewing work of the Holy Spirit. No wonder today is a day filled with images of wind and fire and power.
But this morning, on this Pentecost Sunday, I want to bring us down from that global, even cosmic perspective and focus our attention on the very personal work of the Holy Spirit in each one of our lives. In other words, this morning, instead of focusing on the wind and fire and power, I want to invite us to consider the ways in which the Spirit of God comes to us in the midst of the challenges and realities we face every single day. Because the transformation of the world is only possible if we are first open to the transformation of our lives. So, what does this look like?
In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus is preparing his disciples for the time when he will no longer be with them. He knows that this own death imminent. So, Jesus is preparing his followers to face the challenges and realities of everyday life on their own. And in that moment, he gives them a promise, and the promise is that the Holy Spirit will come as our Advocate. Now in the old King James Version the Bible, instead of the word Advocate, it says the Holy Spirit will come as our Comforter. Other translations use the word Helper or Counselor. The word in Greek literally means “someone who comes along side another.” So, Jesus is saying to his disciples, “When you face the challenges and realities of life, don’t be alarmed, don’t be anxious, don’t be discouraged, because the Holy Spirit will be by your side as your Advocate, your Comforter, your Helper, your Counselor. And more than just being by your side, the Holy Spirit will come and dwell in you. He will come and take up residence in your life.” As Jesus was preparing to send his disciples into the world, he encouraged them with the promise that God’s Spirit would be with them and in them.
This morning, we also heard from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans, where is he says that the Spirit is the One who helps us in our weakness. When we don’t know what to pray. When we don’t know what to do next. When we are weighed down by the challenges and realities of life, the Spirit is our Helper, our Comforter. There are certainly times when we need wind and fire, but there are other times when what we need is wisdom and faith to walk through whatever it is we are walking through in that moment. In moments of confusion, the Spirit brings clarity. In times of grief, the Spirit brings healing. In the midst of the craziness of this world, the Spirit brings peace. The Holy Spirit is the One who comes along side of us.
Now this morning, I proclaim this to you not simply as a theological concept or a spiritual truth, but as a reality that has profoundly shaped my own life and ministry.
When I was a senior in high school, I was active in the church, a leader in youth ministry, and discerning call to ordained ministry. But had no real understanding of the working of the Holy Spirit in my life. Then one day, I was invited to a conference on healing and renewal in the church. The conference was being held at my church and my dad was the priest, so, I was expected to be there. The only problem was that the conference started on a Friday night and as a high school student I really didn’t want to give up a Friday night, especially since I was dating this amazing girl named Shannon.
We ultimately decided to go together, but we were only going to stay for the music and then at the coffee break we would slip out and enjoy our Friday night. We ended up staying for the music, the coffee break, the announcements, the teaching, and the altar call that followed. Like good Episcopalians, we were sitting near the back of the church, and I felt no obligation to go to the front for prayer. The Holy Spirit could find me in the back of church just well as he could at the front of the church.
At one point the preacher said, “If you don’t want to come up alone, grab your neighbor and come together.” Shannon, who was sitting next to me locked her arm in mine and I thought “Oh no.” We made our way to the front of the church, but I stood behind the crowd of people, hoping no one would notice me. To this day, I’m not sure what happened next, but before I knew it, a team of people, many of whom were members of our small Episcopal Church, began to lay hands on me and pray for me. And all I can say is that I had an encounter with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit the changed the course and trajectory of my life.
But here’s the thing! The encounter I had that Friday night could be described as the moment I came face to face with the wind and fire and power of God. But a few weeks later, I was running some errands and dealing with the challenges and realities of everyday life. And there were some significant challenges in my life at that time. I distinctly remembering pulling into the parking lot of our church, I turned off the car, and I just sat there for several minutes. And I remember feeling for the first time in my life what I can only describe as the tangible presence of God’s peace.
I was reminded of the moment when Jesus walked into the locked room where the disciples were hiding on the night after his resurrection. He said to them, “Peace be with you,” and he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Receive your Advocate, your Helper, your Comforter, the One who will come along side of you, the One who will take up residence in your life.” And so, this morning we give thanks for the wind and the fire and the power. We give thanks for the Spirit-empowered mission of the early Church that quite literally changed the world. But we especially give thanks for the personal presence of God’s Spirit in each one of our lives. No matter what we’re going through. No matter where we are or where we’re going. No matter what’s happening in our lives or in the world, we can be assured that God’s Spirit is the One who comes along side of us. The One who dwells in us. The One who gives us peace. Thanks be to God.