Archives: Feast of Pentecost

The Comforter Is Not All That Comforting When You Get Down To It

You know, I wish I could translate the Gospel the wrong way.

Or rather, I wish the Bible translation we read in church used the word that I like and makes me feel comfortable to describe the Holy Spirit.

But it doesn’t, and I think I’m finally beginning to understand why.

Today is the great Feast of Pentecost. In the Book of Acts, we read of the tongues of fire lighting on the disciples and enabling them to proclaim the Good News in many languages simultaneously, just like we had in worship here this morning.

And it felt as unexpected to them as it might have to you. That’s precisely why we didn’t warn you that was going to happen.

If it caught you off guard and you wondered what was happening, you had a very authentic apostolic experience of Pentecost.

And that ties into what I wish our translation says, but doesn’t.

The word Jesus uses in John for the Holy Spirit is paraclete, which can be translated as it is in the NRSV that we read in church, as Advocate.

That is by far the most accurate translation. It comes from Greek roots meaning “to call alongside,” and it meant having a friend show up with you in court to help you defend yourself against charges, like having a lawyer only with a closer relationship.

Paraclete has been translated as Intercessor, and also the word I want to use: Comforter.

(Side note: my seminary had a soccer team that played against the other professional schools at Yale—the Div School vs. the Law School vs. the Med School, etc.—and they were called the Paracleats. Get it? Like soccer cleats? The Paracleats? That will never not be funny to me.)

So anyway, I like to think of the Holy Spirit as the Comforter, because frankly, I really am in need of some comfort every now and then.

I know I’m not the only one.

And while I certainly believe the Holy Spirit does bring us comfort and solace, I really don’t see that happening in our texts this morning.

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The Rebirth of the Church: That Which Cannot Be Scheduled

A dear friend of mine and his wife, both priests, are getting ready to welcome their third child.

The baby is expected within the next two weeks, but as we know, even with all of modern medical science at our disposal, there really is no way to schedule or anticipate a birth. The baby comes when the baby is ready to come, and unless there is an urgent medical need to influence the birth more specifically…we wait.

We worry. We anticipate with joy. We guesstimate.

We exchange family stories and histories of other babies being born to hunt for clues as to how this birth might unfold.

And we wait, in a strange in-between world of being hyper-prepared while spinning our wheels.

We know we have to be ready for it to happen at any moment, but we also know that no matter how much mental or emotional energy we put into our racing thoughts, this momentous occasion will unfold at its own pace, in its own time.

As my friend was telling me about the strange liminal space he and his family inhabit while they wait for labor to begin, he mentioned how difficult it was to prepare for one of the most important days of his life while having no idea when it was going to happen.

And I thought: what if all the most important days of our lives were like that?

What if we knew that our wedding was approaching, but not what day it would be?

What if we had to have our graduation cap and gown packed up and ready to go, because our graduation ceremony could break out at any moment in the next two weeks?

When I think about the work I put into planning my ordination service, all the preparation and careful choreography—and how nervous I was that morning—and then to imagine that some invisible but undeniable signal could arrive at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday, out of the blue.

It’s time! Get everyone to the church! We have to ordain her! Get the bishop here, stat! Continue reading

You Are the Voice of God (Don’t Panic!)

Because we know the story of Pentecost so well, it is all too easy to dismiss it. The tongues of fire descend on the apostles and they begin to proclaim the gospel in all the different languages of the multi-national and multi-ethnic group gathered in the city.

If we stop and think for a moment, however, we might question and wonder that this is the way in which the Holy Spirit chose to manifest.

Presumably the Holy Spirit could have come and empowered the disciples to do anything.

They could have been empowered to heal people or feed people, to do the same types of miracles that Jesus did.

But instead they were empowered to speak, not just speak, but communicate. What do you make of that?

Well, it says something about the nature of the work the disciples are called to do to birth the church. It must be primarily a task of communication, both speaking and teaching.

Deeds of power are useless without the words that explain them, that tell who is responsible for them and what they mean.

That’s why we have a sermon on Sunday morning.

The Eucharist is incredibly important, but if we didn’t have the opportunity to listen and speak and reflect on Scripture and the Eucharist and what they mean in our lives, we wouldn’t get very far in our Christian walk.

And the disciples wouldn’t have gotten very far in building the church if they did not have the ability to communicate the nature of the gospel.

The coming of the Holy Spirit is first and foremost a breaking down of the barriers to communication that exist in our lives.

This has important implications for us in two ways. Continue reading

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