We each have an image of Jesus in our minds. He was a man. We can imagine him, even if we don’t know exactly what he looked like.
We can even have an image of God the Father or God the Creator. If we don’t have an image in our minds of what God the Creator looks like, at least we have the creation itself.
But the Holy Spirit is harder to imagine. The images used in scripture are so poetic and metaphorical. The Holy Spirit descends like a dove to rest on Jesus. The Holy Spirit comes in tongues of fire to rest on each of the apostles. These are beautiful and powerful images, but they are not very concrete.
John’s Gospel can help us with this dilemma. John speaks of the Holy Spirit as an Advocate sent by the Father. In today’s Gospel reading we hear,
Jesus said to his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (John 14:15-17)
In John’s Gospel the Holy Spirit is referred to as an Advocate. The Greek word is paraklete. I’d like to look at that word for a moment. Paraklete. Para – Klete. Para means along side of or with. For instance, a “paramedic” is a medic that comes to your aide, coming along side you to aide you.
Klete is from the Greek word kletos, which means to call, to speak, to encourage or to inspire.
So, at the root, paraclete means someone who comes alongside you to call you, speak for you, encourage you and inspire you. In its usage, paraklete is a legal term. A paraklete is someone who speaks for you in a trial. The accused stands before the judge and the paraklete speaks for him. The paraklete has the ear of the judge! “Yes, your honor, I know he is guilty, but I have taken care of it. I have paid his debt.” The Paraklete knows something important. This judge already wants to forgive. This judge is already ready to forgive and bless.
So the advocate stands up for us and speaks for us, encourages us and teaches us. That’s certainly more concrete than an image of wind or breath. That’s more approachable or meaningful than an image of a dove descending or tongues of fire. The Holy Spirit is an advocate that speaks for us and lets us know that Christ is with us.
But there is an even more helpful clue in today’s reading that can help us to understand the Holy Spirit. Jesus says that if we keep his commandments, the Father will send another advocate. Jesus is the first advocate. So, the Holy Spirit is an advocate, or another advocate, like Jesus. The Holy Spirit will abide with us just as Jesus has abided with us. The Spirit is sent in Jesus’ name and reminds us of what he taught (14:25). In a very real way, the Spirit reveals and makes real for us Jesus’ presence and helps to keep his promise that he will not leave us orphaned and will come to us.
So, The Holy Spirit looks like Jesus. And that means I can show you what the Holy Spirit looks like. Right now. I have something here that will help us see exactly what the paraclete, the advocate, the Holy Spirit looks like. (Hold up mirror. Turn the mirror so all see themselves reflected in the mirror.)
The Holy Spirit is an advocate that looks a whole lot like Jesus. Which means that we’ve actually seen the Spirit lots of times. Anytime, in fact, someone stands up for another… Anytime someone acts like Jesus… Anytime someone bears the love of Christ to another… we’ve seen the Holy Spirit.
When you reach out in compassion and love to someone who is suffering,
When you participate on one of our Care Teams, responding to the needs of our congregation and our friends and families with prayer and love,
When you bring treats to share in our social time after the service,
When you contribute to the financial needs of your congregation,
When you help out at the food bank or contribute to Matthew’s house,
These are all the ways that the advocate works with us and encourages us and sends us into the world to be Christ’s heart and hands.
Take a look. (Hold mirror again.) Here is the Holy Spirit. Here is Jesus Christ working among us. Together we continue Christ’s mission. Together we do Christ’s work. Together we advocate for the needy, pray for one another, and go forth into the world to do God’s work and share God’s love.
As we approach Pentecost, the fruits of God’s Spirit working among us are wonderfully evident. Each day for the past couple of weeks the Narthex has been busy with people working on our stained glass window. I love visiting with people as they make careful cuts or fit colorful pieces of glass together. We are celebrating our love for God as we create this prayer in glass and light.
Another fruit of the Spirit is our new Care Teams ministry. Care Teams and the Care Teams list allow us to pray for and support one another. What a gift it is to be able to give love and support, and to know when love and support are needed. If you know of or have a prayer need, call the office and get that need onto the Care Team list. If you would like to be on one of the Care Teams, talk to Dennis Beals, Karen Tynes, or me.
Pentecost falls on June 12th this year and we are again planning a celebration and experience of the presence of the Holy Spirit among us at St. Dunstan’s. The first service, 8:00am at the Henry Chapel, will start our celebration. This service has grown wonderfully this year, both in attendance and in fellowship, with the new “coffee hour” after the service.
The second service, starting at 10:00am at St. Dunstan’s, will begin with an introit that draws from the ancient tradition of monastic chant. The service will be dramatic, beautiful and moving. Like our Palm Sunday Service and the Easter Vigil, we will incorporate movement, drama and music. Our stained glass window, “The Light of God”, will be installed in time for this service (God willing) and we will dedicate the window at this service. Then, gathered under the new window around our Baptismal font we will baptize a new member of our congregation.
This Sunday, Memorial Day Weekend, many of us will be enjoying the traditional beginning of the summer season with family gatherings and events. At St. Dunstan’s Church we are planning a service that will include some of our most beloved music. “Joyful, joyful we adore thee!” Patricia Yeager will grace us with her harp before, during and after the service.
God is certainly working among us and through us. I thank God for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, giving us the will, courage and strength to do God’s work in and through our lives.
In the weeks leading up to May 21st there has been an impressive campaign on the part of Family Radio to promote the idea that Jesus the Christ would return on that date. People who believed this prognostication actually quit jobs and send large sums of money to the radio station to help pay for the public relations campaign. As we worshiped on Sunday, May 22nd, I proclaimed that I, for one, am happy to have been left behind. I am happy, even honored, to have been chosen to continue the work of bringing God’s love to the rest of creation.
In a personal note, I am saddened that so many people accept a description of God that is so cruel and capricious. I believe and preach and trust that God is love. That is what Jesus reveals to us. I am also saddened that people, well meaning or not, take advantage of the credulity of others to promote such ideas and even to amass fortunes. There must always be a reaction when a prophesied date like this one has passed with no “rapture”. I only hope that the reactions to this non-event will be to bring people to a more orthodox and loving theology.
This sermon looks briefly at the very young history of millenarian movements and offers a loving message of hope based on Jesus’ teachings.
Throughout the ages pilgrims have engaged in spiritual practices. There is the central act of worship that Jesus gave us of breaking bread and sharing wine. There is the ritual initiation of baptism that makes us brothers and sisters in Christ. Perhaps one of the most basic and important practices of spiritual pilgrims is that of prayer. This week I want to commend to you the practice of praying intentionally throughout your day.
Prayer connects us to God in a personal and intimate way. When my children were very young we had a ritual for bedtime. Each night, bedtime started with putting on pajamas and brushing teeth. Then came a bedtime story. Finally, and most importantly, came the kiss goodnight. I would tuck their blankets in snugly and give them a kiss. That time together each night was precious. When they were older my children knew that I loved them deeply because of the bond we formed over the years, including that good night kiss. When their lives became more complicated, and their problems more challenging, we had the strength of our love, formed by years of care expressed in part through that bedtime ritual.
Our relationship with God needs the same kind of attention. We pray to God each day to form and strengthen our relationship so that when life gets hard, we will have the assurance of that love. Like a good night kiss, daily prayers give us the experience of God’s love for us and our love for God.
There are lots of different ways we can pray but I recommend starting with something simple. Say grace before eating. Thank God for the food that you are about to eat and for the people you are eating with. Another simple and effective practice is to say the Lord’s Prayer at noon each day. Set a reminder on your phone or computer. When noon comes, take a minute to pray. Make that a priority. Let your prayer remind you that you are a pilgrim seeking to know God. Finally, at the end of your day, try thanking God for all the blessings of the day. What could be better than to end the day recalling all the good things that happened?
Let your prayer be the practice that connects you to God each day. Let your prayer be the good night kiss that forms your love and your relationship with God the Father. Let your prayer be the practice that makes your life a pilgrimage.
You may have noticed something new as you came into church. At the Easter Vigil we placed a font in the entry to our church. This font was used at the vigil for the renewal of baptismal vows. We will use the font again on Pentecost to baptize a new member of God’s family.
Our walk with Christ begins with baptism. As we reach out to welcome new pilgrims to join us in our walk with Christ, the font is an appropriate symbol to have in our entryway. Traditionally, the entryway is the place for a font because we enter into our faith through baptism and we enter into our worship space by walking past the baptismal font. When you visit St. Mark’s Cathedral, the Font is right inside the main doors to the sanctuary.
On Pentecost we will use this font for the first time to baptize baby Iris. The baptism will begin with a procession of the entire congregation to surround the font. Everyone will have a great view of the font and the baptism. The newly baptized child will be surrounded by her new brothers and sisters in Christ, and we will all be able to see the baptism take place.
We will keep the font out, visible, accessible and filled with water from here on out. As you go by, you may want to touch the water or dip your finger in the water and touch it to your forehead as a reminder of your own baptism. Remember your baptism. You have been born anew into Christ’s family. You are an adopted child of God.
Cleopas and his companion had given up. They hope was lost. This was the third day since Jesus was crucified and they had not seen him. The one who was their hope for redemption from Rome and life with God was dead.
How often do we have this same experience? How often have we been disappointed or frustrated in our hope?
This sermon shares one dramatic story of redemption. The family in this story came face to face with the risen Christ, but first they lost all hope. Their story mirrors the story of Cleopas and his companion so perfectly! They suffered great loss, and then, when they had given up, God gave them new hope and new purpose. The Road to Emmaus story, and this modern day version, show us the true and wonderful power of Jesus to save our lives. Jesus gives hope and purpose where there was only death.
A bishop once told me the story of her walking pilgrimage through France and Spain. “I almost died in the mountains of France. It was snowing and sleeting. My feet were torn with blisters. I was so tired and sore. I stopped, freezing, wet and in pain, and collapsed on the side of the trail, ready to die.” She did not die of course. Instead, other pilgrims and people along the way gave her warmth, comfort, food, healing, prayer and love.
Every story of pilgrimage passes through pain, suffering and struggle. Yet, when we travel as pilgrims, what we inevitably find is love. We find that pilgrimage can only be accomplished with the love and support of others. When our shoes break and there is no space at the pilgrims’ hostel, we find a kind soul who knows of rooms we can use just down the street. When we are thirsty, someone offers water. When we are hungry, we find generous hospitality around a table.
When you give your heart to Jesus, trusting in his teaching and his life, you put yourself on the pilgrim’s path. As a follower of Jesus you will encounter struggles, conflicts, and disappointments. Jesus knew that this was true and would remain true through the ages. Jesus knew that the pilgrims that followed in his footsteps would need strength for the journey and so he gave us the Eucharist.
At the Last Supper Jesus took the bread, blessed it, and gave it to his friends saying, “Take, eat… Drink this. All of you…” The sharing of bread and wine is a central practice of Christians given directly by Jesus. The communion meal of Jesus’ body and blood binds us together in love and in caring for one another. When we gather at the Lord’s Table to share the bread and wine, we are strengthened and encouraged.
Our mission statement declares that we seek to provide a welcoming environment where individuals can come together to walk in Christ’s love and forgiveness through worship, prayer and service to the community. Living into this mission and working to accomplish this mission we become pilgrims. Even as we face our own struggles, we are working to aid and bless other pilgrims on their own journeys.
Sharing in the Eucharist as we worship together is both a primary way of being pilgrims and it gives us strength for the journey. We share communion together because we want to be pilgrims and because as pilgrims, we need strength for the journey. We invite others to share Eucharist with us because we want to encourage, bless and comfort fellow pilgrims.
Your brother in Christ,
The Rev. David Marshall
P.S. I find myself struggling this week with the news of and the reactions to the killing of Osama Bin Laden. A dear friend shared a quote that seems greatly appropriate today. Versions of this quote have been spreading around the internet as being attributed to Martin Luther King Jr. The quote does include a reference to MLK Jr. but the original quote comes from Jessica Dovey, a recent Penn State grad living in Kobe, Japan, who posted this as her Facebook status:
I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” MLK Jr.