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The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson

The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson is pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City.

Member of:

Presbyterian Church (USA)

Representative of:

Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York, NY


The Church's Hope

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

Day of Pentecost - Year B

May 31, 2009

They had been told to stay put,1 and so they had. Jesus had promised them another Advocate whom he would send from the Father, the Spirit of Truth who would testify on his behalf--after all, he is the Truth with a capital "T"--an advocate who would enable them to testify on his behalf, and do so truly. In addition, this Advocate would expose the world for what it was and is, with its distorted notions about sin, righteousness and judgment, and would guide them into not only further truth, but all truth, taking everything that was his and giving it to them. He had told them he was the way, the truth and the life; and they had banked their life on that.

They were the chosen--he had called each one of them--the only eyewitnesses to all Jesus had said and done. In that brief time--whether one or three years2--they had been entrusted with extraordinary treasures, though at the time they did not know it. They had been given the treasure of God's incarnation, the treasure of God's self-revelation, the treasure of God's Word, the treasure of God's presence and work among them--the "mysteries of the kingdom," is how he had put it.3 What was to happen to all of that when he was gone? Would it come to an end? Had this been simply for them? If not, what was to come of all of that?

Have you ever asked yourself what would have happened had they scattered into the night, as they had scattered on that night of his arrest. Think of it: all that we know about Jesus would have been equally scattered, then atomized, only to evaporate and be lost forever--vanish like Camelot. That is what was at stake. To keep that from happening required a simple act of obedience--staying put in Jerusalem; consider what their lack of obedience would have meant. Isn't it astonishing what a simple act of obedience can mean? They, of course, had not a clue, any more than you and I really understand what our acts of obedience mean. Oh, sure, we know what they mean for us, what we tell ourselves "they cost us." But what do they mean in the larger scheme of God's work in this world--what do they mean in the mystery of God's ways? Literally, God only knows!

They had been told to wait for power that would enable them to be Jesus' witnesses, a baptism of the Spirit of God that would not only enable them to tell Jesus' story with truth and power, but would clothe them with and in his presence and power. Up to now, they had been eyewitnesses of the risen Christ, but only that. I say, "Only that," because on Pentecost, they became bearers of the risen Christ--each one a minister of his grace.4 With his departure something far more astonishing was about to take place. He was going away, but he would not be gone.5 He was going away so that he could continue to be with them, and not simply them, but with all, ever after, who would learn of him through them--that mind-boggling number beyond our ability to count who ever after named and claimed Jesus as Lord. What they were waiting for was not simply for them. Though all that they had been eyewitnesses to had happened in a brief moment of time in a relatively isolated and obscure portion of the world, it had happened in order to transform the world forever--as indeed, it has. But for this to happen, the world needed another Advocate. This is the first thing for us to remember on this Pentecost: we stand in a long line of witnesses, all of whom have received this promised Advocate, this promised power from on high, this One whose task is to make Jesus present to us at our every breath, making us participants in his work--whether we are conscious of it or not.

Present to us at our every breath--isn't that breath-taking in and of itself? You and I have been given the Advocate, both in and among us, who continues to make Christ present in and to us, even when we are not aware of it. Think of that! Yes, we have those moments of recognition when we feel Christ's presence, when the power, beauty, and awesome profundity of his presence touches us, whether at a font, a table, in prayer, in acts of kindness, in moments of truth-telling, when lost in the "wonder, love and praise" of worship.6 Personally, that touch almost always brings me to the verge of tears, creating with it a uniquely discernable, delicious pain of emotion in my chest and throat. What are the signs of being touched by God's presence for you? And who of us is not grateful for those moments--the signposts by which we pinpoint, track and trace our journey of faith? But think of it: even when those moments slip away from our consciousness and our cognition is focused upon other things--anything, everything but God and being God's person, Christ does not slip away nor leave us to ourselves. Ponder that for a moment--Christ is still present to us. And though you and I may wander, wonder, question, abandon, even forget, He remains present doing his work in us and through us until that time when he chooses to re-awaken us to him. Have you not had a time when you slipped away, before you came back with renewed zeal and power? Do you think that was simply an accident? Present to us at our every breath, at work in us, whether we know it or not: breathtaking.

But even when we do know it, are we truly aware of who it is that is shaping us, making us his witnesses? Theologian Richard J. Hauser asks, "Do [we] adequately acknowledge the Spirit's role in the good actions [we] perform every day, or do [we] attribute them only to [our] own initiative and hard work?" It's a good question! Hauser continues, "The scripture model insists that if the action was good, the Spirit was present from the beginning."7 It is the Advocate doing his work, turning us not simply into servants or even partners of Christ, but actually, icons, if you will--portals through whom Christ's presence, power and work are visible in this world. The power that fell upon Christ's chosen on that Pentecost is at work in and among us all the time--whether we are aware of it or not. That is the Amazing Grace of it all. God's Spirit remains in and among us today as Advocate, Counselor, Comfort and Help,8 to witness to God's truth and make us witnesses of that truth. This is the church's continuing hope as we face challenges, schisms, and an ever increasingly skeptical world that thrives on conspiracy theories like the Da Vinci Code--the Spirit of the risen Lord is present in his church.

The Reformed Tradition confesses that all of life is ministry and that there is only one ministry--that of Christ. Each of us is Christ's minister of grace--as those eyewitnesses became his ministers of grace--in our homes, our work places, our communities, our families and among our friends. That is where each of us lives out the Christ iconography the Spirit makes possible in us. That is where each of us is called to moments of personal obedience. That same Advocate that enables the historical Jesus to be the Christ of the cosmos, that enables you and me to moments of obedience in our personal lives, is the One who empowers us to acts of kindness, to moments of witness, to acts of faithful service, both within and beyond the walls of the church. That this happens is but one more witness to the fact that Christ is not gone, but present to us, in and among us, giving us what we need to continue our witness to him. You are the chosen--who of us, if we are honest, really volunteered for this? And with our chosen-ness comes empowerment--the gift of the Spirit to enable you to bear Christ and to be Christ in the particular moment you are called to, day in and day out. You are one more link in that almost two-thousand-year chain of people who, though not eyewitnesses, are nonetheless faithful witnesses to the truth--the good news of what God has done and is continuing to do in Jesus Christ. Each day is an opportunity for you and me to see, once again, what a simple moment of obedience can do. The Advocate is here, among, with, and in you and me--the chosen. This is the church's hope.

The Word of the Lord; thanks be to God!

Let us pray.

Come, Holy Spirit, come and fill us with your power. Come and fill us with truth. Come and fill us with Christ Himself that we may bear him faithfully in our lives. This we ask in His name and for His sake. Amen.

---
1 Acts 1:4
2 The gospels differ as to the length of Jesus' ministry. In Matthew, Mark and Luke (the synoptics) it is one year; in John it is three. This is so, primarily, because John reports three trips to Jerusalem for Passover, whereas the synoptics, following Mark's outline, report only one.
3 Matthew 13:11; Luke 8:10. Too often this is translated "secrets of the kingdom." The Greek word is mysterion, regularly translated "mystery," which is far more profound in its dimension and meaning than "secret."
4 Marion Soards, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, Lent/Easter, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1993), p. 173.
5 Beverly A. Bartlett, "Going, But Not Gone," www.mapc.com, Easter 7, May 28, 2006, Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York, NY.
6 Charles Wesley, "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling," The Presbyterian Hymnal, (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990, #376.
7 Richard J. Hauser, In His Spirit, quoted in A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God, Norman Shawchuck and Rueben P. Job, editors, (Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books, 2003), p. 221.
8 The word is Parakletos, transliterated as Paraklete, and can be translated not only as Advocate, but also Comforter, Helper and Counselor. The NRSV translation committee has chosen to use Advocate consistently in the four places parakletos appears in John's gospel: 14:16, 26; 15:27 and 16:7. It also appears in 1 John 2:1, but there is a reference to Jesus Christ rather than the Holy Spirit.


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