Too many times in my life have I walked away from something knowing I had no right to have been through and survived what I had just witnessed or had gone through. I’m not necessarily talking about life and death experiences, but they certainly have changed me. How can I explain, for instance, the time when my family was all gathered at my parents home in Liberty, Missouri to celebrate the college graduation of my brother and sister and we turned on the weather channel only to see that we were under a tornado warning. Like logical midwesterners, we didn’t immediately go to the basement to protect ourselves, no; we went outside to the deck. (This was, of course, after we made sure that grandma—and the beer—were safe in the basement). We faced the direction of the storm and watched the clouds roll as if the sky had an angry stomach. We could see the front of the storm coming closer and closer. And then it happened. A thin, dark funnel dropped from the sky. There it was. The tornado the weather people had predicted but we didn’t want to believe because when is a weather person ever right?
We watched the tornado drop down out of the clouds and we all took off running to the basement, where we should have been in the first place. We took cover and waited, and prayed. From what we could tell, the tornado had dropped out of the clouds, touched down, picked back up over our house, and touched back down a few miles later hitting the college campus in our town. We found pieces of mail in our yard from addresses more than 40 miles away. A set of car keys were later found in the yard and we have no idea who they belonged to. Strange enough, this wasn’t the first tornado I had escaped. It wasn’t the first time I walked away from something I had no business walking away from. A terrible car accident where I was rear-ended, broken bones, times in college I’m not even going to talk about, and more personal battles with infertility and depression. Too many times I’ve come out on the other side wondering how I made it through not only unscathed, but stronger.
Brothers and sisters, I know I’m not the only one who has these experiences. I know that if I were able to take the time to talk with all of you one on one today, all of you have a story of how you came through a situation you had no earthly business getting through. We usually then incorporate that lovely gift called “hindsight.” We employ hindsight and say things like “it was then that I knew God was with me” or “I now know why I did this or that instead of the other thing I was supposed to do.” I’m hoping you know what I’m talking about. But, I’d like to propose that starting today, instead of calling it “hindsight” we call it what it really was and is: the Holy Spirit.
We don’t talk about the Holy Spirit much. It’s not easy to explain. We can talk about God the Father, because we know what a parent should be despite any good or bad examples we may have in our own personal lives. We can talk about God the Son, because by default, if we can talk about parental relationships, we can talk about relationships with offspring–despite maybe not having any ourselves. And then we come to God the Holy Spirit. And people struggle, myself included, to talk about what God the Holy Spirit is. “Well, you know….it’s the Holy Spirit.” It reminds me of being lectured to in school that I wasn’t to use an the actual word to define the word itself. But, that’s what we find ourself doing with the Holy Spirit. You know…it’s the Holy Spirit. You know what the Holy Spirit is. And then we just smile and nod and leave it at that.
The Holy Spirit is just as crucial to our understanding about God as the Father and the Son are. If you think of it like a 3 legged stool, without the Holy Spirit, the stool will fall over. The same goes for us. It’s time we start recognizing the Holy Spirit at work in our lives when it happens. The Holy Spirit saves your behind when your behind really should be in a sling shot. The Holy Spirit is, as we hear in today’s Gospel of John, our advocate. Do you understand what a powerful concept that is? An advocate is someone or something who is working in your best interest. Someone who may want to protect you. An advocate wants the best for you. I want to compare it to a human relationship that we may have, but even that would fall short. I could say that the Holy Spirit is like your oldest and dearest friend, but that’s not good enough. I could say that the Holy Spirit is like a mother or father figure who want to embrace you in loving arms, but even still, that is not enough. I cannot find the words to describe the Holy Spirit in terms that we are used to because our human relationships will, inevitably, always fail us in one way or another. God does not, will not, can not fail us. Ever.
No matter how many times we may fail God, God will never fail us. The amazing thing about Easter is that the tomb is empty! Christ is risen indeed, alleluia! But, that’s not enough, brothers and sisters. It’s not enough for us to stand at the empty tomb and be amazed. It’s not enough to stand there, mouths agape, wondering where the risen Christ went and what we should do now. The Holy Spirit is the one that nudges us, pushes us, pulls us, whatever it may take, from the empty tomb to the streets. It is the Holy Spirit that embodies us with the ability to tell anyone who will hear and anyone who will listen “have you heard the good news of the empty tomb? Of a Christ who died and was raised?”
I think if we’re going to be truthful with ourselves, we don’t like to talk about the Holy Spirit and the things that the Holy Spirit will do in our lives because it scares us. The Holy Spirit is our advocate and companion, yes, but the Holy Spirit will also push us into places we’re not comfortable going; into dealing with people we don’t like; into service in where no one else will go; all this in the name of the crucified and risen Christ which is good news for all people. The Holy Spirit is the advocate, yes, but she is also the provoker. The one who stirs up the pot. Because it’s not enough for us to stand at the empty tomb, we need to run into town telling those we see. We need to bring people to the table, prepared to feed them. We need to show people to the font, ready to wash them. And we need to open our arms to people, ready, prepared, and willing to love them–even when no one else besides God will!
It is time, brothers and sisters, it is time for us to have those moments we know so well. Those moments when we think “we shouldn’t have walked out of here whole” but then when we look at the company we kept in those moments, when we look at the paths we trod in those moments, when we look at the service done in those moments in Jesus’ name, we know it was only then that the Holy Spirit was at work. God didn’t send us the advocate so that we may sit around and rest on our laurels, wearing the badge of “Christian” as if it is our right and others must work for it. God sent us the advocate, the Holy Spirit to stir us up, give us a gentle nudge, or kick us squarely in our pants–whatever it will take to further God’s kingdom. Because God doesn’t send us to the comfortable places; God sends us to the places where we have no business being so that God’s glory will not only be seen through us but by us. Christ is risen (Christ is risen indeed, alleluia). Now stop standing at that empty tomb and get moving.