5-23-21 — Our Advocate — Acts 2:17-21, John 15: 26-27 — Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Home / 5-23-21 — Our Advocate — Acts 2:17-21, John 15: 26-27 — Rev. Joshua D. Gill

“Our Advocate”

Acts 2:17-21

John 15:26-27

 

One of the unique things about being a pastor, is you never know how people will respond when they find out you are pastor. Sometimes they start to tell you all about their church. Usually it is positive, occasionally they just want to tell you how upset they are about something. Occasionally they ask for prayer, but in general most people don’t know how to respond. I remember when we put our oldest in a care program. The director was making small talk asking what we did. I told her and she just looked at me and said “Oh we have never had one of those.”  The Reverend Andrew Troutman Taylor shares how on occasion when people discover he is a pastor, “they will challenge the notion of God’s existence.” They often point to the “tragic and terrible- the shootings, the floods, the cancer.” For them they feel like these things disprove the idea of a “loving, creative force.”  When he hears this argument he likes to share that it is a good question that he doesn’t really have an answer for. But then he shares a spiritual practice that the poet Charlotte Matthews has taken on — a list that she writes, called her “God Exists” list.

Charlotte Matthews, instead of focusing on dogma or doctrine or theological argument, simply writes a list of those funny little happenstances that bring “welcome, comfort, and joy.”  For example, at the end of the terrible day she was walking out of convenience store carrying a microwavable dinner and she glanced down. While looking down she saw a cheap plastic keychain that read “I love you” just sitting there. Charlotte’s only rule for the list is that she only adds and never takes from the list.[1]  This makes me wonder what would you put on your God “exists list”? If you made a list what would the funny little happenstances that you would write down?

In our text from Acts the day has finally come; Jesus has ascended to heaven and the Holy Spirit has arrived in force. The disciples are gathered for the festival of Pentecost. The meanings of this festival have changed over time but there is a common thread among all the meanings that God is giving good gifts. At first it was celebrated as part the harvest and it expressed thanks to God for God’s faithfulness supplying the needs of all, households, sons, daughters, male and female slaves, strangers, orphans, and widows. Then the focus moved from a harvest festival to gift of the 10 instructions for faithful living. As Christians we have reinterpreted this even further and it has become associated with the coming of Holy Spirit. In all these interpretations the focus is on the idea that God gives us what we need. [2] Peter lays out a beautiful vision where God’s spirit is poured out on all flesh, sons and daughters, young and old, male and female slaves. The Spirit equips everyone to speak about God’s deeds of power, regardless of gender, ethnicity, and social status.  It is significant that the first work of the spirit is to break down boundaries between people, to build connections to one another, to remind people of the historical inbreaking of God.

In John we see another interpretation of this moment. Jesus says that the “advocate” will come. It is interesting title for the Holy Spirit, and consistent with the way in which John interprets Jesus’ work, it has legal connotations. It is the Spirit pleading the communities in the face of an opposition. Jesus is speaking into the context the disciples will face. Not only will they face opposition from Rome but they will have to wrestle with how they understand Jesus and how they understand this Jesus movement. Will they continue to be a sect of Judaism, or will they become something entirely new?   I also believe that texts like these force us to consider how power operates. When this was written Christians were a tiny little sect; they worried about persecution from everyone. But as the church gained power they forgot what it is like to be that tiny, persecuted sect, and rather than protecting others they exerted their power to propagate death dealing systems.

So how do we understand these texts? We have the coming of an advocate, we have a festival that focuses on the gifts God has given us, and we have a God who pours God’s spirit onto all flesh, causing visions and dreams and the breaking of all boundaries. All of these are a record of God’s inbreaking, of breaking into history of destroying death dealing systems and saying I am here in love. They are a list that is thousands of years old, crying out to us saying, “God exists.”

So, what would I put on my God exists list?

I would add to my list the voice of scripture. This may sound like low hanging fruit but I can tell you there are moments in my own faith journey when I didn’t like what I was told scripture was saying. But the more I have studied it, the more I am amazed by it. The beauty, the breadth, the depth of history. But the thing that I am always struck by is that it is a record that shouldn’t exist. A record of a people that were enslaved, a record of a people that were conquered time after time, and in all these accounts voices are recorded that shouldn’t be recorded. The story of Jonah is truly about God showing love and compassion to an enemy.  Our God should be on our side, not that of our enemy, yet this record exists. The prophet that calls the very King of Israel out on his own hypocrisy. The recording of first witnesses to the resurrection are women, who at the time had no rights, could not testify in court, and were told to walk at least 7 steps behind their husbands.  The people that Jesus surrounds himself with are people who have been rejected. These are not the men that were called to study the Torah, but these are the men Jesus called. We see this pop up again and again throughout all of scripture. God chooses those who have been rejected. God holds power to account and it has been written down.

I would add to my list the testimony of so many believers that I have interacted with over my lifetime. People who take the time care for others, who create community for people in need, who sacrifice for something larger. A volunteer youth leader I worked with, who when a teenager was kicked out of his own home by his own family stepped up without hesitation, showing him care, giving him a place stay, and even helping him to pay tuition for college.  People who have actively live out their faith in this world.

I would add to my list the ways in which I see God renewing the church. The church will never look the way it looked 50 years ago. But God is not done with the church. Pentecost is a testimony of that. I recently read an article about the Church of the Open Table in Kansas City. Second Presbyterian put out a call for a missionary to their own community. They realized that they were only reaching a small population. So, they began the Church of the Open Table. They believe they are church community of peace and reconciliation in a city that is divided. They are a committed ant-racist church which seeks to bring in people of color to speak, and they meet around tables for a shared meal to talk about faith, spirituality, politics. They have found everyone learns something new about the city from their conversations and they find new organizations they can partner with. The church has become incredibly diverse with people of all backgrounds coming to engage in dialogue. Wendie Brockhaus described it this way, saying, “I often catch myself just stopping for a moment to look out over the room. It occurs to me that I’m seeing the gospel happening before my eyes. Strangers becoming friends, guest becoming hosts, it is the closest I have ever come to seeing the Gospel in real life.” [3]

God’s spirit is not done with the church. God is speaking to us this day, asking us what we will be, who we will become, and calling us to renewal.

 

 

[1] https://pres-outlook.org/2019/06/pentecost-and-building-a-god-exists-list/

[2] Joel B Green. Connections: Year B, Volume 2 (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) (Kindle Locations 9773-9780). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

 

[3] https://vimeo.com/325683871