The Spirit of Truth

Sunday, May 19, 2024
Deacon Stephanie Anderson

John 15:26-27 & 16:4b-15

Grace and peace to you from our God, whose gift of the Holy Spirit moves in and among us this very day. Amen.

A few weeks ago, we gathered on the final night of Confirmation for a closing worship together; it was the Confirmation students and the Club 56 students, gathered together to ritualize these 6th graders moving up and into Confirmation in the fall and to bless and send our 9th graders into today and their Confirmation service. We called the evening Elemental Night, as we gathered around fire, water, wind, and earth, all elements that God uses to teach us about our faith, about our God, and about the church. We splashed in the water at the font; we used our breath (our wind) in song and prayer; we dug our hands in the earth, all set around a blazing campfire. The elements as we know them, as creatures on God’s earth, have much to teach us.

Today, on the fiftieth day of the Season of Easter, we celebrate Pentecost, often marked by imagery of wind and fire, as we remember the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus. The Pentecostal imagery of fire is one that captured me today as we prepared for our young people to affirm their baptisms. Fire, is an interesting metaphor. It can, of course, can be terrifying. It can scorch and burn and scare us, … but it can also warm us when we’re cold. It helps us see in the night. It restores the nutrients to a forest in the wake of a forest fire. Campfires are some of the most vivid places where I have learned truth, where I have been invited into sacred stories, where something about the crackling wood and low lighting and flicker of flame invite honesty and vulnerability and rest in each other’s company.

It’s for all of these reasons and more that the Holy Spirit is spoken of as a flame. In today’s scripture, Jesus is giving his Farewell Discourse – his talk with the disciples as he prepares to leave to be with the Father. These disciples are probably a little sick of feeling abandoned: Judas has left them at this point, Jesus has foretold Peter’s upcoming denial, the people around them are leaving. But Jesus wants to assure them that with him it will be different. That his leaving isn’t abandonment and they won’t actually be alone when he is gone.

Instead, in his absence, Jesus promises them the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the book of John, where we hear today’s passage, Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as the “Advocate” – quite literally defined as the one called to be alongside us, just as Jesus has been to those disciples. Jesus places himself in the past tense and the Spirit in the future tense. This Spirit isn’t just some ethereal or imaginary ghost in our minds, this Spirit is just as incarnate as Jesus. The Spirit will aide, witness, guide, and teach us. These are embodied practices and the Spirit promises to not just be with us in mind or spirit, but physically care for us as well.

So, what does that look like in our lives?

A friend of mine told me a story from when he was in middle school and he got in a big fight with his dad. My friend is from northern Minnesota and their family lived on a lake and my friend was so mad and felt so misunderstood and he knew he needed a break, so he stomped down to the lakeshore and got in his canoe and paddled out into the lake to cool off and to collect himself.

It had been a clear evening and he was sure, like most nights, that the moon would help him navigate back after sunset, but just as dust became night, the clouds rolled in and the overcast sky meant that he was far from home, by himself, and in the dark. The night was so dark and wind so still and the silence so loud; and he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face or make out a horizon line; he was just there, in the night, alone and he was scared. Suddenly he was in a dangerous situation.

It was right about then that he saw off in the distance a tiny orange dot. The dot slowly got bigger and brighter. My friend paddled straight toward it, steady and slow, trusting this light and that it might lead him back to safety. Trusting that beside it would be his dad, building a fire to call him home.

When he got to the shore, his dad simply said, “I wanted to make it big enough for you to see.”

When you feel alone, when you feel abandoned, when you’re not so sure how to find God amidst the ashes of your life, remember that the blaze of the Spirit often shows up in other people, who build a fire of faith that keeps us warm and that shows us the way home; the way to truth; the way to our truest selves, as God’s beloved. Confirmands, you know these people – your families and baptismal sponsors, your small group leaders or Lenten Mentors, your peers, your teachers, your friends, this congregation.

These are the people who help us celebrate that which leads us toward God – toward truth – and the people who stand by us as we let some things burn, in order to find new life amidst the ashes. The people who see our guilt and shame and doubt and belief that we’re not good enough and remind us to let that burn. The people who build the fire of faith when we cannot see our way home. The people who celebrate with us the new life that comes when we trust in this gift of the Holy Spirit and in our own belovedness.

These are the people who tend to your fire and it’s you also, in whom the Spirit lives, to tend that fire for others. Jesus says today, “You also are to testify.” (John 15:27) You have this flame of the Holy Spirit inside you, a brightness that blazes in a world that so desperately needs your light. Each time you testify to Jesus’ goodness; each time to care for someone you love; each time you extend hospitality to a stranger; each time you relieve another’s loneliness with a phone call or a gentle “me too”, that is the Spirit of God within you, extended out in warmth and light to the world that God so loves.

We have the flame within in and it’s here, at church, where that flame is fanned. And the good news about doing this together? You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to hold that flame alone. Today Jesus says, very clearly, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” You don’t have to know it all. You don’t have to do it all. God’s grace is bigger than our certainties or our knowledge or our answers or the things that we do.

This gift from God; the Spirit, this flame, our faith. All unearned. From a God who loves us and who promises to be alongside us – today and always.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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