Sixth Sunday in Easter A
Preached at Faith Lutheran Church, Three Lakes, WI.
1 Peter 3:13-22
There are some things we just don’t talk about very much in Lutheran circles. Not because they’re bad, or because we’re bad, but we tend to focus on some things and not others.
Well, this morning, we’re going to talk about one of those things. We are going to talk about God.
We as Christians profess trust and faith in a triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We talk about God the Father a lot, and Jesus Christ, the Son, like, all the time. But when was the last time you thought about, talked about, or prayed to the Holy Spirit?
Don’t be worried if you can’t remember. While there are parts of Christianity that are very focused on the work of the Holy Spirit, for a good deal of our history, we haven’t really known what to do with this third person of the Trinity.
There has always been some concept of the Spirit of God inherited from our Jewish brothers and sisters: Christ quotes Isaiah talking about the “Spirit of the Lord”, and the story of Genesis begins with the Spirit of God blowing over the waters. The Spirit was understood as an agent of God’s will, making it real.
But the early Christians didn’t have a very clear understanding of this spirit. In the original Creed of Nicaea, the church fathers had this to say about the Holy Spirit:
“And we believe in the Holy Spirit.” That’s it!
Granted, the creeds don’t say much about God the Father, focusing mostly on the work of Jesus Christ, but still, the leaders of the church, gathering in 325 CE, 300 years after Christ died and was raised again, could only say that they believed in the Holy Spirit, and nothing else?
As we pick up Jesus’s speech from last week (or, as one commentator described it, yes, Jesus is still talking), it is important to be reminded that this speech, part of Jesus’s long farewell speech to his disciples, takes place on the night of the Last Supper, which is just before Jesus is betrayed, tried, and executed. He knows that this is about to happen, and, I think, so do his disciples. At least somewhat.
At the very least, they know that Jesus is not going to be around anymore. Remember last week, Thomas, my favorite disciple, is upset that they are being left behind. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, a once in a lifetime, once in all of history occurrence, can’t really leave, can he?
Jesus’s answer, of course, is yes. But just because Christ is leaving doesn’t mean that God is leaving. Enter the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is described as another advocate. What is an advocate? In Greek, the word parakletos, or “advocate” means this:
1) Someone who speaks on behalf of another when the other stands accused.
2) Someone who offers help, comfort, assistance, or support to another,
3) Or, most literally, one who walks alongside.
The job of the Holy Spirit, then, is to walk alongside us, give us comfort and aid, strengthen us, nourish us, to speak to God for us when we find ourselves unable or unwilling, to lead us and stand by us. Or, as one commentator put it: “The Holy Spirit is an advocate that looks an awful lot like Jesus.”
Nearly 2000 years ago, Jesus Christ first left the world in death, and then, after being raised to life again, left to prepare the way for us to the new reign of God. For any other person, that would spell the end of the story. This is Memorial Day weekend, when we as a country recognize the loss of loved ones fighting for what they believed to be right. For those who have personally felt that loss, the disciples’ fear of being left as orphans stings particularly true.
But we as Christians worship a living, breathing, present God, not a dead or absent God.
Faith is not a memory of something past. It wouldn’t be particularly useful if that’s all it was. Christians are not a people who dwell in the past, as if there is nothing for them to be or do in the present.
Instead, Christians are a people who are always looking ahead to the coming reign of God. Just as the Holy Spirit gave life at the beginning of creation, so too does it breathe life into a people called by God to do even greater things than one man 2000 years ago did.
The Holy Spirit is in us, Jesus says. God is never far off, but always near, giving each of us life and each our communities life as well. This is why we have faith. We could not trust a relationship we’d never experienced. Without God’s presence, we have nothing to hold onto. Jesus was only one man and could physically touch only so many people.
I said earlier that the Holy Spirit is an advocate that looks an awful lot like Jesus. But if the Holy Spirit is in us, then the Holy Spirit is an advocate that also looks an awful lot like this congregation.
This community is appropriately named, Faith Lutheran Church. The heart of Christian life is faith, trust, and a relationship with the God who gathers us together. That faith influences how we live, how we treat each other, how we treat our neighbors, and all of creation.
The Holy Spirit is alive and well here in this place. I’m going to ask you to do something I’ve not asked you to do before.
I get up here and I do an awful lot of talking. Now, it’s your turn. I want you to talk with the people around you, especially if you do not know who they are, and tell them how you’ve seen this community of faith be like the Holy Spirit, an advocate, a helper, a comforter, a community that walks beside and supports others.
I want you to discover the ways in which the presence of God has been felt by your neighbors.
“On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” You have heard today how this community of faith has embraced its calling. You have heard today where the Holy Spirit has been working, how the command to love one another as Christ loved us has been lived out.
Don’t stop now. The Holy Spirit is still moving and working. We don’t look to the past as if that’s all there is. Be the kingdom of heaven here on earth, for God is with you.