The Gift of the Holy Spirit

May 24, 2015

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

The Day of Pentecost 
Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

(Gospel text is provided at the bottom of this post)

 

Three years ago, as part of my seminary education, I was an intern chaplain at Grady Hospital. This Clinical Pastoral Education, as it’s called, or CPE, is a time to see what it’s like to be a hospital chaplain, and also a time to learn more about yourself, as a pastoral care giver.

NHS-hospital-ward-recepti-006The various floors and departments of the hospital are divvied up to the six chaplain interns, and my parish, if you will, was a couple of the surgical floors. Now, patients on surgical floors aren’t usually there for a long time. They’re given a room after surgery and stay just long enough to be ready to go home, or go to another rehab facility.

hospitalSo, as a chaplain on a surgical floor, I made a lot of cold-calls, popping in, introducing myself as a chaplain, and seeing if the patient or their family wanted to talk or pray. My hope for my ministry was to be one person from the hospital team that interacted with the patient without poking or prodding them. I wanted to be a presence for them in whatever way might helpful.

Sometimes my invitation was well received and other times, not so much. But, that’s the way it goes.

I remember one day in particular, near the beginning of the summer. The resident chaplain suggested I visit a patient who had actually been there for several weeks. I’ll call the patient Bill.

I learned from the other chaplain that Bill and his girlfriend had been riding together on Bill’s motorcycle. They were riding through Atlanta on their way back to New York after a vacation in Florida. They had a wreck and Bill’s hip was badly injured and his girlfriend – I’ll call her Sue – had extensive injuries including brain trauma. She was in the intensive care unit (ICU), and although Sue was still alive, after several weeks she still hadn’t regained consciousness.

They were in an unfamiliar city with family far away; in different rooms and on different floors of the hospital.

When I met Bill, I found out that he was being transferred to a rehab facility in a day or two, so he’d be leaving Grady soon. He told me that he hadn’t been allowed to see his girlfriend the whole time they’d been there. You see, since Bill and Sue weren’t married, he had no authority in her medical treatment. So, Sue’s twenty year old son and other family members had responsibility, but they were far away.

Bill told me that it had been Sue’s birthday the day before and Bill was really wanting to see her – as you could imagine. He hadn’t been given any reason for not being allowed to see her, so I thought I’d ask around and see if I could help.

I talked with Bill’s nurse and she didn’t know any reason why he couldn’t see Sue, but I needed to check with the ICU nurse. Someone would also need to take him since he needed a wheelchair. I assured her that I’d take him myself if that’s what was needed, then I headed up to the ICU. I talked with Sue’s nurse and thankfully, she didn’t have any objections either, so this was great!

The next morning, right after Bill’s physical therapy, a hospital tech took control of the wheelchair, and we took Bill up to see Sue. He had learned the night before that Sue had regained consciousness, so her eyes were open, but there was still no movement or verbal conversation. Even so, Bill was able to be with Sue, to hold her hand, to talk with her. As the tech and I were stepping out to give them privacy, I heard him jokingly say to Sue that “he could finally get a word in.” That short time together, though difficult I’m sure, also brought Bill some comfort and fortified him for the next phase of his own journey to recovery.

I was thankful that I could be an advocate for Bill and Sue. The nurses weren’t intentionally keeping them apart, but they were focused on what they needed to do for Bill, Sue and many, many other patients in their care. It was a gift to be removed enough to see a broader picture; to be available to hear what Bill needed, and to explore possible ways to allow that to happen. I was happy to know that as a chaplain, one of the roles I could play was that of an Advocate.

In today’s gospel we are introduced to another Advocate – the ultimate and universal advocate – the one we call the Holy Spirit.

For the past few weeks we’ve seen Jesus with his disciples. He’s been trying to prepare them for the challenges they’re going to face when he leaves them. It says:

“But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 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.”

John’s gospel is very explicit about the purpose for this Advocate. Not only will it testify to who Jesus is and empower the disciples to testify; not only will it prove the world wrong about sin, righteousness and judgment; but at the heart of its purpose, the Holy Spirit will guide the disciples, and us, in the way of truth.

John’s gospel reveals that the disciples are troubled and Jesus says:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

In the short time that Jesus was walking on this earth, there was only so much he could share – actually that isn’t quite right – there was only so much the disciples could bear.

So, even if Jesus had some line of sight to all that would happen in the future – all discoveries; all catastrophes; all the things that could make humankind question God and turn against one another – even if Jesus, in his divine state, somehow knew all these things, the disciples were not ready to hear it – they would not be able to bear it.
premillennialism-destruction-jerusalem-70ad-titus-archGiving you one example: even if Jesus had known that the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed within one generation of his life – the place where the Jewish people gathered to learn, to observe their Holy Days; the place that represented God’s presence with them – even if Jesus knew of its impending destruction, he could not say it – the disciples would not be able to bear it.

But, the purpose of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, is to continue to reveal Jesus’ deeper message to the disciples and to the world. To guide them into all truth; to declare to them (and us) the things that are to come.

temple destructionSo, after the temple was destroyed and the Jews were banished from their holy city, Jerusalem, they were feeling lost and unsure. And the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, seeing the bigger picture, grasping the anguish of those scattered sheep, guided the gospel writer of John to convey the true message of Jesus.

In the second chapter of John, written many years after the temple’s destruction, we see Jesus getting their attention by flipping over the tables in the temple. Then,

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”…he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.  (Jn 2:19, 21-22)

The gospel writer reveals and proclaims Jesus as the new temple, not a place made of stone; in a fixed location; but instead, the new means and the TRUE means of connection with God.

You see, our ability to love God and love others isn’t dependent on a physical structure, but is something we can live into wherever we are. Similarly, the eternal life we inherit begins in our hearts and moves outward from there – not from a specific city like Jerusalem, but from the love of Christ.

This re-understanding of how and where we find God is a gift from the Holy Spirit.

Birthday-Gift-PackagingPentecost, this 50th day of Easter, is often called the birthday of the church. The Holy Spirit is the birthday gift to the church that helps it discern what God is asking of us, and calling us to.

Although the Bible was written long, long ago, and much has changed since then, we call it a Living Word of God because God continues to be revealed to us through it. It isn’t a static rule book, but a living story. The Holy Spirit is the advocate that guides us to continue to re-understand who and how God is revealed to us.

And, it is the church, in community, which the Holy Spirit guides in interpreting scripture – not a
Lone Ranger endeavor.

IMG_4400So, as we encounter shifts in the world, when the modern-day equivalent of the temple is destroyed – we, in community, turn to the Holy Spirit to be our advocate and to help reveal God. We can re-understand God’s message of love through Christ even as our understanding of the world changes. In doing this, we are then able to move in the direction God would have us go NOW.

holy-spirit-dove-drawing-The_Holy_Spirit_by_HammerMarioThe Holy Spirit is the birthday gift to the church that can be opened again and again – that MUST be opened again and again.

In turning to the Holy Spirit, we gain strength that sustains us, even when we are confronted by things we don’t understand; by people that see things differently than we do; by those things that seek to divide us instead of unite us.

What a gift it is indeed! We have a generous God that anticipates our needs!

When Jesus was in the world, he could share his message and God’s message to those he met. And when he departed this world, he did not leave us orphaned and alone, but gave us the gift of the Advocate – the Holy Spirit – who is our ongoing source of God’s revelation – a new teacher for all time.

Today’s collect captures this intention of the Holy Spirit being a teacher – a guide to a re-understanding through time; and a source of comfort.

With that in mind, let us prayer it once again.

O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

IMG_3863

Gospel Text:

Jesus said to his disciples, “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. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But, now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, `Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 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 when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (Jn 15:26-27, 16:4b-15)

2 Responses to “The Gift of the Holy Spirit”

  1. Dad said

    Nicely done.

  2. Jim Greenwood said

    Good Pentecost message. Great advocacy at Grady hospital. Nice thought for the day. Love you. Dad

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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