May 19. 2024 Sermon

The Rev. Joseph Farnes

All Saints, Boise

Pentecost, Year B

Jesus promises us an Advocate at the Last Supper, according to John’s Gospel. Jesus says that he will depart – depart to the cross, depart from the empty tomb, depart into heaven in the Ascension – and that his departure will bring us a wonderful joy. The Advocate, the Paraclete, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.

How do we feel about that trade?

Jesus in John’s Gospel says it’s a good thing that he leaves, that it will be to our advantage that he leaves and that we get the Holy Spirit.

If the way we talk (or don’t talk) about the Holy Spirit is any indication, I don’t think we’re sure about that trade. Would we rather have Jesus, or would we have the Holy Spirit?

Don’t get me wrong – we do talk about the Holy Spirit every Sunday during the Eucharistic Prayer. A little bit of history: way back, right after the Revolutionary War, the Episcopal Church got its first bishop thanks to the bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church who were fine with ordaining an American bishop who would not take a loyalty oath to the King of England. But these Scottish bishops were keen on us making sure that we included what is called the “epiclesis” in the Eucharist – that we have a prayer calling down the Holy Spirit to bless and sanctify the elements of communion. You’ll notice that part of the Eucharist where I make the sign of the cross over the elements and then hold my hands over them. Every week, we ask the Holy Spirit to be present, and to do something. For us, it’s by the power of the Holy Spirit that we consecrate the Eucharist.

But for most of the time, mentioning the Holy Spirit usually happens right at the end of the collect of the day that begins our Eucharist service, then during the Nicene Creed … and that’s kind of it.

“The Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth!” Jesus says. We should be excited! We Episcopalians really like that intellectual stuff! We love figuring out things, wrestling with the Bible, we love the life of the mind.

And Jesus says that the Holy Spirit brings us along as we follow Jesus. Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” The early apostles did not have all the answers. The Spirit is the one who makes the truth alive in the Church. The Spirit joins us together in truth with one another and with Jesus and God the Creator Almighty.

The Holy Spirit gets stuff done. The Holy Spirit is not just a thinker, but also a doer. The Holy Spirit enlivens our minds, and the Holy Spirit makes stuff happen in the Church and enlivens us.

And it’s a good thing that the Spirit makes stuff happen – I cannot imagine St Paul writing those letters to all those lovable-yet-pastorally-challenging early Christian communities without the help of the Holy Spirit. And Paul gives us such beautiful language – a language that gets obscured by our translation.

The Spirit intercedes with “sighs”? No, no, that’s not the Greek. The Greek word is the same root word as the word “groans” that Paul uses earlier in our passage this morning. The whole creation groans, we groan inwardly as we await adoption … and the Holy Spirit intercedes with groans too deep for words.

A groan is deeply expressive. A groan of pain, a groan of sadness and defeat, a groan of tiredness. Or that kind of groan I uttered when mom or dad asked me to do something around the house when I was younger. The Holy Spirit matches our emotions and turns our deepest feelings into prayer.

So the Holy Spirit thinks, acts, feels, prays.

The Holy Spirit shows up in John’s Gospel after the Resurrection – the risen Christ breaths out the Spirit upon the disciples, to comfort them in the midst of their fear and confusion, to give them peace. And in the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit descends like a rush of flame, and the community of diverse disciples find unity in prayer as each language is proclaimed.

The Holy Spirit is a dynamic part of our spiritual lives – I mean, we say “spiritual” as if the word literally wasn’t rooted in the word spirit. The Holy Spirit is more than a rushing flame that shows up on Pentecost, more than the peace of Christ breathed out upon the disciples. The Holy Spirit is the giver of life, as the Nicene Creed proclaims. Life, as in spiritual life, intellectual life, physical life, emotional life. Everything. The Holy Spirit gives life, the Holy Spirit enlivens. The power of the Spirit is present in everything in our lives – and we should give thanks and praise.

What a wonderful and powerful gift Jesus has given us! The Holy Spirit might be our Advocate, our guide, our consolation, but the Holy Spirit sure isn’t a consolation prize. Amen.