"I will send him to you"-Sermon for Pentecost Sunday, John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
So, I want you to hear me say that I believe, with all my heart, that the God of love is entirely present in our immediate experience. Or said from the other direction, I do not believe that God is a distant supernatural being who nudged the universe into creation…just got the wheel spinning a bit…just dusted nothingness with a little matter and anti-matter and then stepped back and let things unfold as they will…a distant and indifferent sort of observer…I don’t believe that. I believe, again, with all of my heart, that the God of love is entirely present in our immediate experience, deeply and personally concerned with what we are enduring or reveling in…in any given present moment. God doesn’t just love the world…but everything and everyone in it…in the most intimate way our limited minds can conceive…a love so close…so fierce…so inescapably present that there are zero degrees of separation between our own heart and the heart of God…and that bursts my heart wide open.
I have felt that closeness…both when I was intentionally looking for it…in moments that look like prayer and meditation…and as others, friends and strangers, have laid hands on me and prayed for me…and I was able to just rest in God’s peace and presence. And I have felt that closeness when I did not expect it and was not looking for it…but needed it more than I can describe…like when words that I did not even know where in my head…flowed out of my mouth…that were the exact words that were needed to be heard…in situations like sitting with friends who were facing unimaginable loss…when I needed to speak truth to power…even when I needed to defend myself from false judgments and accusations. And I have felt that closeness when I have found the courage to set aside defensiveness and the desire to self-protect…to say what I did not want to say…like the truth when I have needed to own up to something that I did not want to own up to…admit failure…admit betrayal…be vulnerable…ask for forgiveness…and make amends. My experience is that any and all of these things requires God’s own heart…not just sitting right next to our own but actually leaning on it.
And this is the very thing we celebrate as a church today. We call it Pentecost…which was really just the occasion…a religious festival called Pentecost at which Jesus’ friends and followers were gathered…but the miracle…the promise…the meaningful moment…was God’s presence…what I called God’s own heart…what Jesus calls the Spirit of Truth and the Advocate…what the Church most commonly calls the Holy Spirit…God’s eternal and lasting love-life entering into human lives…zero degrees of separation…enabling all that I have described and so much more. The coming of God’s Spirit is nothing less than a second incarnation…a second Christmas…a second nativity. The first is Jesus, God in flesh, birthed into creation at the first Christmas…God living, walking, breathing…among and alongside humans. And, the second is what we celebrate today at Pentecost…that is God’s alive and active Spirit birthed into the human soul…no longer alongside us…but in us. It is for this reason that Jesus says, “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.” And, friends, he has.
And this is, indeed, worth celebrating…not just on Pentecost Sunday but every day of our lives. There is perhaps no greater gift that God has given to each of us…for God has given us everything…God’s own Spirit. God’s heart dwelling with our own. For I am convinced that every act of courage mustered by a human heart; every life giving word of encouragement uttered by a human mouth; every moment of inspiration, creativity, and wisdom dreamed up by a human mind; every occurrence of growth, healing, transformation, reconciliation, or freedom from compulsion experienced in a human life; every movement that created positive change in our society; every expression of vulnerability; every time two people have fallen in love or a friendship has been forged…all of what we can describe as good and Godly…began with God’s Spirit…that flowed out of the empty tomb at Easter like an unstoppable flood…dwelling within us…God’s heart…right here…leaning on our own.
Surely, this is worthy of our celebration today. Surely, we should take time to stand before God today with grateful hearts for the gift of his alive and active Spirit that is in us…the very source of all that is good and lovely and admirable and beautiful that is birthed out of us and into this world…in every age, in every place, and from every human life. But I say this not only to give credit where credit is due. For it is impossible…not just near impossible…but impossible…to fully express the sort of thanksgiving and adoration that should flow from us for the gift of God’s own Spirit dwelling within our lives. Instead, I say this because I believe recognizing that God’s own life dwells within us, that divinity is walking around with and in us, that God’s heart is co-mingled with our own, has the power to change everything.
When I was the Episcopal Chaplain at the University of Texas, I was fond of reminding my students that God’s alive and active Spirit was just as present in their lives on Saturday night on 6###sup/sup### street or at some party than she was on Sunday night in church. Though I might vulnerably admit that I took some pleasure in seeing them squirm in their pews, I really was not trying to shame them…that would be more than hypocritical for I was an undergrad at the University of Texas myself…and in church on Sunday way less than most of the students in my campus ministry. Nor was I necessarily encouraging them to teetotal or to go home early. But I was hoping that such knowledge that God’s Spirit was, indeed, walking around with and in them wherever they may be might lead to say…recognizing that a friend really needed a friend to call a cab and ride home with them to be sure they made it into their home and then do it…or quietly remind a friend that he really needs to keep his hands to himself…or just be aware enough and wise enough to remove themselves from a dangerous situation…or the like.
But, moving well beyond the still forming frontal lobe of the adolescent mind, I really believe this is the world’s best hope…that good Christian folk like you and me will take seriously what it means to have God’s life, God’s Spirit all wound up in our own. For if we remember this more and more, we will be more and more likely to pay attention to God’s heart leaning on our own…and all the good stuff, and there is so much good stuff that emanates from our lives, will flow forth…well beyond what we thought we were capable of…those healing and encouraging God-given words…the courage…the creativity…the wisdom…the vulnerability…the honesty…the generosity…the non-judgment…the partnership…with which I began...all of this becomes possible…when we recognize God’s heart leaning on our own. This is the healing balm that the world so desperately needs…the people you share your life with…the people I share my life with…so desperately need…from us.
This day is intended to remind us that God is not up there…unknowable and untouchable. God has invaded your life…God, by God’s alive and active Spirit, is in here…leaning on your heart and on mine. I really believe that remembering this…recalling this…naming this…as often as you can…every morning when you wake up and every evening when you go to bed…has the power to change everything. Beginning with your own sense of meaning and direction and peace and impact-fullness and closeness to God…and for all those others…who like the expanding ripples that follow from a stone breaking through water…all those others…who are made more whole, affirmed, cared for, healed and loved through the goodness and glory of God’s Holy Spirit…emanating from your own life…and into theirs. Amen.