When the Advocate Comes
Pentecost May 24, 2015 John 15: 26-27; 16: 4b-15
Rev. Catherine Purves
Back in the day – and to a certain extent this is still true in Bellevue – but back when shopping districts were still thriving, you would go daily to different stores to get whatever you needed. So, on any given day, you would go to a butcher for your meat, a shoe shop to have footwear repaired, a book store for the latest novel, and a green grocer for your vegetables. Then department stores happened; then K-Mart happened; then dollar stores happened. Now, you can get milk in drug stores, paperbacks in food stores, and just about anything (so long as it’s cheap) in dollar stores. One-stop shopping was supposed to be modern and efficient. You just take your shopping list to Target and you can get clothes, food, small appliances, toys, books, greeting cards, and seasonal decorations. It’s all there in what amounts to a warehouse full of everything you may need. You could stock up on a year’s supply of toilet paper, if you want. All you really need is some cash or a credit card, and some way of getting to that one-stop, all-purpose store.
It was over forty years ago now, but I still remember doing a different kind of shopping when we were living in Scotland. Back then, there were only a few big department stores, and almost all of our shopping was done in small specialty shops near our apartment. We went every day to buy a pint of milk, some sort of meat or fish for dinner, a loaf of bread, fruit or vegetables, and the newspaper. Every day, without fail. We knew all of the shopkeepers, and they knew us. In each store we’d have to wait in line, so there was a lot of waiting. Sometimes, the proprietors would make suggestions. “The haddock is good today.” “I just took these loaves out of the oven.” “This pill might ease that pain in your shoulder.” We generally bought what the owner of the shop recommended, and we were almost never disappointed. It did take longer to do our shopping this way, I suppose. It was a different way to get what we needed each day, and we had neither a credit card nor a car, so it worked.
You may be wondering where I’m going with this on the day of Pentecost when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the church’s ministry of proclamation. We could certainly talk today about what it was like in that upper room: the mighty wind, the tongues of fire, the sudden ability to speak in foreign languages. We could join the onlookers who were amazed and perplexed and who asked one another, “What does this mean?” We could celebrate the launching of the church and sing a lot of songs about the Holy Spirit. But here we sit in the 21st century, and our circumstances are certainly very different. How does that coming of the Holy Spirit relate to us today, or is it just something that happened way back in the first century, something that we simply commemorate on this day, year after year? I think not. Jesus’ words, recorded in John’s Gospel, were not just for the disciples who were in that upper room on Pentecost. “When the Advocate comes…” he said. We need to ask today what we should expect “when the Advocate comes…”
Strangely, that’s what got me thinking about our shopping habits. I expect that most of us are more or less converts to the modern way of shopping. We hop in our cars and drive to big box stores to stock up on whatever we think we need. It’s anonymous, quick, and you certainly don’t have to go every day. You’ll probably end up with things you don’t need or even want, and you may not use all of what you buy in bulk. If we’re thinking now of Pentecost, we must admit that, like those big box stores, the Holy Spirit does have everything that we need, but this is not the way we are supposed to get it.
This is not our one-day-a-year big shopping trip when we stock up on all that the Holy Spirit has to give us. I hope that you didn’t come today with your oversized shopping cart thinking that you would pick up a whole lot of Spirit-items that appeal to you, to be used, or not, at your own discretion through the coming year. While it is certainly true that the Holy Spirit has a lot to offer us, all sorts of things that we do need for our life and our salvation, Pentecost is not a wild, one-day shopping spree.
Remember last week I talked about the importance of waiting for the Holy Spirit. The disciples had to wait until after Jesus had returned to the Father. In today’s reading from John, Jesus prepares them for that himself, “for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” And so, they waited, praying and trying to prepare for what would happen, in God’s time. Then, on Pentecost, POW! It was like an ecclesiastical explosion. The Spirit’s gifts and power were everywhere. And the disciples were filled, filled, with the Holy Spirit. Their shopping carts were overflowing. And they could live off of the experience of that big day of spiritual abundance, perhaps for the rest of their lives… right?
Well, actually, no, they couldn’t. While Pentecost was obviously a big bang event of eye-opening power that revealed the purposes of God in new and amazing ways, this was never intended to be one -stop shopping, or a one-time event when the church would stock up on Holy Spirit products to be used in the years or centuries ahead, as needed. On Pentecost Jesus’ followers had their first big encounter with the Holy Spirit, but that was just the beginning of what would be an ongoing relationship.
On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit moved into the neighborhood in order to provide for our spiritual needs, day in and day out. From that time all the way to the present, the Spirit would act in and through disciples as they continued to wait for and seek guidance and empowerment. This is a different way to acquire the things we need, a different kind of “shopping.” Each and every day we must go to the Spirit in prayer, asking for what we need, and sometimes we will be surprised and amazed by what the Spirit wants to give us. We need to be ever attentive, always looking for the promptings of the Spirit, because now, after Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is our one living connection to the risen and ascended Christ.
That’s why it is so wrong to suppose that we can stock up on what the Spirit has to offer on this one special day each year. That is as wrong as thinking that Christ’s incarnation need only be remembered on Christmas or that the resurrection is an event that only impacts us on Easter. These mysteries should be on our shopping lists each and every day as we visit the Spirit in prayer, asking for a deepening of our faith and a strengthening of the bond that we have with Christ. That’s why Jesus told his disciples, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”
But not all at once. Again, Jesus said to his followers, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Day by day, we must turn to the Spirit in prayer, waiting. And the Spirit will come to us, revealing the truth gradually so that we can digest it, and be strengthened by it, and grow in it. You can’t stockpile truth, or power, or spiritual gifts. This is a different kind of shopping. It requires us to wait, and to trust, and to be diligent every day, as we continue to reach out to the Spirit and as the Spirit comes in power to us.
So, Pentecost is not a single day, a shopping spree, a one-off celebration of spiritual gifts acquired by some disciples once, 2,000 years ago. Pentecost was the beginning of a new way of life for us as Christians, as Spirit-led people. What we celebrate today, the coming of the Spirit to the church, is now the way that we get our daily bread, and all that we need to live in Christ. The Holy Spirit has moved into our neighborhood, and set up shop, now that Jesus has returned to the Father. The life and witness of the church are now in his hands. We are in his hands. And the Spirit will provide us with all of the different things that we need, different things on different days, and at different times in our lives. We must simply get into that daily routine of waiting and seeking and praying for the Spirit.
And remember, Jesus never said, “If the Spirit comes…” It was always “When the Spirit comes…” On Pentecost the Spirit did come in power to equip the disciples for ministry. For us, every day can be a Pentecost when the Spirit will come to lead and empower us and to give us what we need today and every day to live in faith and to bear witness to Jesus our Lord.