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Sun, May 20, 2018

When the Advocate Comes

Duration:21 mins 33 secs

While we might be more familiar with the dramatic, multiple languages, tongues of fire account of the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts, we also find Jesus himself speaking of the gift of the Holy Spirit in multiple places in the final chapters of the Gospel of John. Our text for today is the third reference to the Holy Spirit that Jesus makes at the final meal before his arrest and crucifixion. He knows that he is going away and seeks to prepare and reassure his disciples with these words. So, let us hear this Word of God as found in the Gospel according to John, chapter 15, verses 26-27 and then continuing in chapter 16, verses 4-11.

26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. …

4b “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

It is quite appropriate that this morning is Pentecost and also the day we celebrate our high school and college graduates. Because Pentecost is a day of new beginnings; a day in which through the gift of the Holy Spirit the plans and promises of God begin to unfold in new and surprising ways. Yes, Pentecost is a day of possibility and promise.

And that is what we celebrate with our graduates, right? The future is unlimited; the possibilities are endless. It is as if you have reached the edge of the map and the best years of your life are just a step or two away into the unknown which is yet to be charted. Yes, it is time to celebrate.

All of that is true and yet I do not want you to be unaware that at least somewhere or someday in that uncharted future you will hit a moment of pause. Despite the courage and bravado of graduation, someday you will encounter a minute of uncertainty and even a bit of fear. That moment comes for us all, time and time again, no matter how long ago our graduations might have been.

One such moment, of many in my own life, came the night before my first day of class as a freshman at Davidson College. As I assume is still the case, during orientation Davidson freshmen are given the opportunity to demonstrate their proficiency, or lack thereof, in a foreign language. I had taken French in high school, so I sat for the French exam. My score came back much better than I anticipated. In high school we spent our time learning to read French, but rarely ever spoke it. However, due to my score, my advisor placed me in a third level French conversation class. Needless to say, I was quite concerned about this development and went to bed very troubled the night before the first day of class.

Now I am not sure that I have shared this bit of personal information with you before, but after five years as your pastor you are probably entitled to know that in times of great stress, change, or transition in my life, I tend to sleepwalk. As the story goes, on that night before class at about three o’clock in the morning I jumped out of bed, opened the door to my dorm room, and walked down the hall to my resident advisor’s room. I knocked on his door for several minutes before he opened it, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. When he asked me what was the matter I began to tell him that I had discovered the secret for how all Davidson freshmen could pass French. He looked puzzled as to why I was sharing this information with him at three o’clock in the morning, but he asked anyway, “So Matt, what is the secret?”

At this point I woke up, totally confused as to where I was and what in the world I was doing. So, without a word I turned around and went back to bed. Unfortunately, I never again discovered the “secret” to passing French - at least anything more secret than a lot of hard work and hours of time spent in the language lab.

Our scripture text for this morning is something like that moment before the first day of class for the disciples. Throughout his teaching at the final supper, Jesus repeatedly tells the disciples that he is going away. It is going to be a new day, a graduation of sorts for them. Yet, as preacher Fred Craddock has written,

His followers are confused. They are children playing on the floor only to look up and see Mom and Dad putting on their coats. The children have three questions, always three questions: Where are you going? Can we come? Then who will stay with us? Jesus responds, “I am going to my Father and your Father. You cannot come now; you can come later. But I will not leave you orphans. I will send another friend, another helper who will never leave, but who will stay with you forever.”

My friends, graduates, that is the secret, that is the promise of Pentecost – that even as we graduate and take new steps into a future that has not yet been charted, we are not left alone. For another helper who will never leave; a helper who will stay with us forever is on the way.

The Gospel of John calls this helper the Paraclete, the Advocate, the one who appears on another’s behalf. Yes, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will remind us of all that Jesus has said and will lead us to the truth. As Pastor Isaac Villegas writes:

Jesus tells his friends. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” And the truth is that he loves them—that he will always long for them, that he cannot imagine his life without theirs, that his soul groans with sighs too deep for words at the thought of them. Jesus reassures his beloved friends that in his absence the Paraclete will deliver his love notes to them, words written on their hearts.

And Lord knows we need that reminder of his love. For when the Advocate comes we take those first steps beyond the map and into the world to share the love of Christ with so many who are hurting. It is not easy work. There will be times of uncertainty and fear because the divisions, despair, and distrust in the world today threaten to overwhelm us, to make us forget all that Jesus has said and done, and to think that we cannot make a difference. But it is simply not true. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit will lead us into all the truth. And the truth is that we are loved, we are not alone, and we can show the world a better way.

At the end of Brian McLaren’s novel, A New Kind of Christian, after a long struggle and with the help of a new friend, a pastor named Dan finds his faith and hope restored. He is ready to set out on a new ministry. Talking with his wife about his decision and requesting her blessing during a winter’s evening walk he says,

“I don’t know where this path will lead. It’s like we’ve come to the edge of the map, and all familiar paths are behind us, but a new world is out there ahead of us. I feel this urge to try to find other people who are at the edge of the map too, and maybe if we travel on together we can make some new discoveries, and help each other, and ---"

His wife stopped walking and looked up toward the next street light. “It’s kind of like the snow tonight, isn’t it, Dan? There aren’t any footprints to follow, but there’s light ahead, and there’s a certain beauty in it all.”

My friends, on this Graduates Sunday, at the edge of the map, at the end of the old world and the beginning of a new, we find the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who comes and stands beside us. As together we take new steps to bring love to this crazy world, there are not footprints to follow, but there is light ahead – the light of the world – and there is a certain beauty in it all. So, do not be afraid. Keep your eyes wide open. Join hands. Trust that the Spirit will lead us into all the truth and the love of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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