Day of Pentecost May 31, 2009

Acts 2:1-21                                                                          

Romans 8:22-27                                                                

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



Let’s call him Adam. He was one of the unhappiest people I’ve ever known. Nothing and nobody could please him. Everything was always against him—and against him personally. If there was a new policy at work, it was a terrible idea and instituted by his boss for the express purpose of making Adam’s life miserable. If his daughter was having trouble at school, she was having trouble just so as to reflect badly on her father. And church—well, every change, every experiment, every new hymn tune, every sermon, was a direct insult to Adam. I had a special file folder labeled “Adam letters” telling me so.


I was on my guard big time therefore when Adam made an appointment to come and talk to me. I dressed carefully, so there would be nothing for Adam to criticize in that department, one of his favorites. I went over in my mind all the things in the last month or two that he might find fault with, preparing my defenses. And still I dreaded our meeting; my heart rate rose as I watched Adam pull into the church parking lot and get out of his car and I felt my breathing constricted.


So I was surprised when, once we’d settled into our chairs in my study, Adam pulled out a small white card and handed it to me. “My therapist said I was to work on these things. And he said if I had trouble, to come and talk to you.” This was news to me: that Adam would seek help in therapy! But there was more. On the card was written: “Practice praying before the Altar in church. Put yourself in the presence of God. Let God show you how much he loves you. Be with God in the light of love.”


“I’m having trouble with this,” Adam said. “I can’t do it. I can’t even begin. I don’t know what he’s talking about.”


In the gospel today, Jesus says to his disciples, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, . . . he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify on my behalf.” This Advocate is, of course, the Holy Spirit, whose coming we celebrate on this Day of Pentecost.


Advocate is an interesting name for the Spirit of God. The name means helper, friend, defender: in other words, God with us, God for us, God on our side. The opposite of Advocate is the name Satan, which means literally the one who obstructs, the one who opposes. In speaking to his disciples, Jesus is telling them that their God, the God whose Spirit they are to receive and to show forth in their lives, is God to Advocate, God for them.


Our bishop, Gene Robinson, is fond of saying that when he starts his day, and especially if he has to deal with difficult people and difficult situations, he says to himself that no matter what happens that day, he is going to go to heaven. In other words, God the Advocate will be with him. It explains a lot about Gene, his ability to overcome so many obstacles and so much hatred in life.


I have given the man in my story the name Adam because, of course, that name in Hebrew simply means generic human being, everyman, each of us. And the Adam in my story is actually a composite of many Adams, and many Eves, including myself. Our story is really the story of the Fall. We are unhappy because we put ourselves at the center of everything; we seek always to dominate and control; and whatever doesn’t go our way must be aimed at us personally. Life lived on those terms is a constant struggle with life against us, God against us—in other words, Satan.


Holy Baptism, this sacrament we are about to celebrate this morning, is a dying to Satan and his whole orientation of life in opposition, and a new birth and resurrection to the life of God with us, God for us, life in the Spirit. Baptism does not magically change the givens, the challenges of the world around us. There will still be hate and fear and nasty people to deal with. These two little babies will still cry, still need their diapers changed, still try the patience of their parents as well as give them joy. But lived out—or, better, lived into—baptism changes our orientation to life. Life is no longer all about us. Now it is about God as revealed in Jesus Christ.  Through baptism, we are made part of this new God life, an important, even a necessary, part. But our joy and fulfillment come from being part of a greater whole, the kingdom of God.


What did I find to say to Adam, that day he handed me his little white card? What can I say to all the Adams and Eves through the years, myself included, about praying and living so that we realize the presence of the Advocate God? Well, two things come to mind, which I share with you this morning. First, it is hard work, lifelong work. Baptism is not magic. The world in which we live is structured so as to seem in opposition to us, a series of enemies to fight, things to complain about, personal insults to suffer. It takes dedication and discipline to school ourselves in a different perspective. That is why the promises and commitments these parents and godparents will make are not idle ones. Bringing up children as citizens of God’s kingdom is a major piece of work.


But second, as help along the way with this work, I want to share a little exercise that a spiritual director gave me a long time ago, and I have found useful in the living out of my own baptismal vows. At the end of every day, spend a few minutes going back over the day’s events. And give thanks for them, each and every one of them, especially the ones you don’t feel thankful for. See everything as a gift from God. Look, in the “hard gifts,” for where the Advocate is present, teaching you something you need to know, strengthening your soul, reminding you that life is not centered on you, but on Christ. That through all things God loves you. It is a simple practice, but persisted in, it can help you live out your baptism; it can help you change your life. The habit of thankfulness is perhaps the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit.




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