Jesus promises His disciples that God will give them the Advocate or the Holy Spirit to support and encourage them after He is gone. The ancient word for advocate is a legal term. It denotes a person who will stand up for us in a legal defense. The burden will be borne by the advocate. It is good to know that we have someone in our corner who will protect and defend us. We need to remember that God is in our corner cheering us on.
The context for the promise of the gift of God’s spirit is the Last Supper. Jesus is at the table gathered with his disciples. He tells them that He must leave but God will send the Holy Spirit to provide support and encouragement after He is gone. What a difficult time for the disciples! How would they survive after their leader was gone? They had had such high hopes for the ministry and now everything appeared to be lost. Where could they turn?
This morning let me say three things about the Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit is a gift; the Holy Spirit builds up community and the Holy spirit empowers ministry.
The Gift. As we make our way through life we need support and encouragement. We cannot make it through life nearly so well without God’s active presence. We have questions about meaning and purpose. We experience times of confusion and uncertainty. There is much in the world which is not right. It is good to know that God accompanies us on the journey. We are not alone. God walks with us providing guidance and encouragement. How can we be the best stewards of this precious gift of life? The Holy Spirit will help us discern the path we are called to take. The Holy Spirit also offers us forgiveness. When shame and guilt burden us, the Holy spirit can take away the burden and get us back in the game. It is important to pay attention to the many gifts God has given each of us. Don’t take life for granted. Be sure to thank the giver.
The Holy Spirit Builds Community. The death of Jesus should have scattered the disciples. The ministry had ended in failure. The dream of the Kingdom of God appeared to be a false hope. Then something amazing happened after Jesus had died. His disciples came together in a new way. In fact the biggest proof of resurrection is the transformation which took place among the disciples. One moment they were heading toward the exits. The next they were on fire with a new message of hope. God can transform any situation.
This transformed group of followers became the church. This legacy has been handed down through the ages to us today. St. James’s church is an important community for God. We must let God’s spirit empower our work. We need the gifts of everyone. Together we can make a difference. A church community is much more significant than the sum of its parts. The Holy Spirit takes our feeble efforts and transforms them into glory. The church is the place we can find much needed support. It is also the place where we can be challenged to build a better world.
Since the Holy Spirit is about the business of building up communities, we should take stock of the various communities in which we participate – our families, our neighborhoods, our work places. How can we make them life giving places? The Holy Spirit helps us use our personal gifts to build up all of these communities. Each of us was created by God to be unique and different. As a result each of us is needed for the unique contributions we can make to improve community life. One attitude we can bring to our relationships is the appreciation of differences. We can also make a way for others to contribute their gifts and talents. Communities are stronger when everyone has a place at the table and everyone can contribute. The question for each of us is: How can I make the communities I am part of better? The place to begin practicing is right here at St. James’s Church. If we can be successful here, then we will offer an important witness to the world.
The Holy Spirit Empowers Ministry/Service. This statement sounds like a platitude. But there is something heroic about the life of service. If ministry were easy, preachers would not talk about it so much. The forces of darkness should not be underestimated. It takes courage to step out in faith. We need the support of the Holy Spirit. The dark forces can intimidate us and makes us back away. Fear can infect our hopefulness. We can become paralyzed just thinking about what our first step should be. There are so many choices. We cannot get into trouble if we do nothing, can we? The perspective that God walks with us into the challenges of life empowers us to do more. Our efforts, in turn, push back the darkness in the world.
Richmond Hill is a spiritual community of prayer and worship. It offers ministries of hospitality and spiritual growth. But its primary focus is healing metropolitan Richmond. This means working hard at racial reconciliation. It means supporting inner city school children with tutors and mentors. It means bringing people together around issues which divide us politically, socially, economically, geographically and spiritually. Reconciliation is the key mission of Christian ministry. Every individual is needed. Every individual can make a difference.
The love of God is meant to be shared. The more we focus on our own needs the more elusive deep meaning becomes. But when we share out of our sense of abundance and blessing we create deep meaning not only for others but for ourselves as well. Jesus said: “He who would save his life will lose it and he who loses his life for my sake will save it.” Deep meaning lies on the side of generosity and sacrifice.
At the end of his Gospel John made this statement: “These things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that through believing you may have life in His name.” John wants us to have “abundant life.” The way we find that kind of life is by being attentive to the Holy Spirit and by letting that sprit work through us to build the Kingdom of God here on earth.