Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sermon: David and Goliath: Let No One Lose Courage!

Rev. Mandy Sloan Flemming
Sunday, June 28, 2015
I Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49

Listen to the Sermon Here!

David and Goliath: Let No One Lose Courage!

            Sisters and Brothers: I have a confession. I am not a particularly patriotic person.
            I do, however, strongly identify as a southerner, having been born in Tennessee and spent most of my adult life in Atlanta. When my Uncle Wayne, who lived his entire life in the small town of Burlison, TN, met Matt, to whom I had recently become engaged, he asked where he was from. When Matt responded that he was, actually, Canadian, my Uncle Wayne paused for a country minute. He was a man of very few words, and after a small eternity, he responded with, “Welp. At least you ain’t a Yankee.”
            This was as much of a welcoming embrace as Matt was going to get, and I took it as a victory. So, as we come to today and look to celebrate this nation’s independence from England, singing songs of patriotism and national pride, I do so with some trepidation. My identity as an American has never defined me. And yet, I feel particularly defined by my identity as a Southerner. Last week, as I sat in session during the North Georgia Annual Conference and listened to the devastating news of the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, my heart broke as it tried to make sense of the tragedy. Racism is a woven into the fabric of the part of the country I identify as home, and stories like this are sadly unsurprising. I listened as South Carolina’s resident BishopJonathan Holston offered a statement saying that, “As a people of faith committed to social justice and opposed to gun violence and racism, we grieve the lives lost and destroyed by this horrendous act of violence. The reality is that no one is unaffected. We are all impacted by the horror that occurred in this place of worship.” And, what we saw was an unparalleled outpouring of grace and forgiveness from the people who loved and knew the victims of the shooting. Grace.
            God shed his grace on Thee.
            This is our prayer, is it not? God, shed your grace on us. And yet, it is so astonishing when we see it happen. When grace is stronger than hate or retribution. When people look into the eyes of someone so blinded by hate and respond with love and compassion. God, shed your grace on us.
            The conclusion of the North Georgia Annual Conference led us to voting on resolutions that broke my heart. I spent last Friday in prayer, as my sisters and brothers offered speeches on the floor of conference in support of the removal of the discriminatory language in our United Methodist Book of Discipline.  I listened, and hoped, and prayed. And then we voted. The resolutions failed, 60%-40%. The very next day, I sat in Redlands at the Cal-Pac Annual Conference with our delegates, and listened and prayed and hoped, as the resolutions passed with an overwhelming majority. In one week, I watched as my LGBTQ friends experienced a great sadness, as their push for equality in the church was defeated. Then, this Friday, I awoke to the news that the Supreme Court of the United States ofAmerica announced its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, holding that states must both allow same-sex couples to marry and recognize same-sex marriages from other states.
            One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
            And yet, as I celebrated and rejoiced and cried with my friends who were suddenly viewed as people, equal in the eyes of the law, I felt a sorrow in my heart because I still cannot, without consequence, officiate the wedding of a same-sex couple. It should be the hope that the church would lead the world in justice issues, but I cannot deny that the UMC is lagging far behind.
            I watched as Barack Obama offered theeulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and as I received the news of friends receiving marriage licenses, his words became the soundtrack to their joy: “The Bible calls us to hope, to persevere and have faith in things not seen. They were still living by faith... They did not receive the things promised. They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. We are here today to remember a man of God, who lived by faith, who believed in things not seen, who believed that there were better days ahead, off in the distance.” These beautiful words were juxtaposed for me against the backdrop of my news and social media feeds. I thought about my friends Bill and Matthew, an interracial gay couple who will celebrate their 41st anniversary this fall. I thought about Don and Dave, who have been together almost as long as I’ve been alive. I thought about all of the people who persevered in their hope, who believed there would be better days ahead, off in the distance, when they could name – without fear – the person with whom their family was made. It was a day when the giant of hatred and discrimination felt as though it had been toppled by a stone thrown by a courageous and faithful opponent.
            Today, our text is one that is familiar to most of us. The story of David and Goliath is one of the first indications for us that the king that God has chosen from the branch of Jesse is a boy who is equipped with courage and faithfulness. The text is careful to spend adequate time detailing Goliath’s strength and might: he was a man, more than 9 feet tall, bearing armor that weighed 125 pounds. He carried a staff that was as long as the bar on a weaver’s loom, the head of which was 15 pounds. Goliath emerges from the ranks of the Philistines, a champion fighter, unabashedly confident. What is at stake for the Philistines is freedom, as Goliath makes the cavalier promise to become the slaves of the Israelites if any amongst them is able to fight and kill him.
            In the face of this mighty opponent, we find Saul and the Israelites, distressed and terrified. There is none among them who could single-handedly conquer this beast. It would take all of their ranks to begin to defeat him, and they were unprepared for the possibility that this battle wouldn’t be waged in formation. But, morning after morning, for 40 days, they took up their position against the Philistines, prepared and ready for battle. And, morning after morning, for 40 days, Goliath emerged from the Philistine ranks and shouted his speech at them: “Give me an opponent, and we’ll fight!”
            Now David, the youngest son of Jesse, was present on the 40th day. His father had sent him to bring provisions to his 3 eldest brothers who were fighting amongst the Israelites, and he hears the speech that Goliath has repeated each of the last 39 days. David asks his brother, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (v. 26) David is brought to Saul, the commander of the Israelite army, and he tells him, “No one should lose courage because of this Philistine!” as he volunteers to go and fight him. No one should lose courage, David declares, because of this Giant. This enemy. This force of evil in the midst of our company. This boy, a shepherd, not a soldier, tells the leader of the army, to have courage.
            As can be expected, Saul doubts David’s ability to stand up to Goliath. “He has been a warrior since he was a child, and you are just a boy!”  But, David reminds him that he a shepherd, the keeper of sheep. He may not have been trained in battle, but he has rescued his flock from the jaws of lions and bears. David is a boy, yes, but a boy of great courage and determination. “This Philistine will be just like the lions and bears, and the Lord who rescued me from their power will rescue me from the power of this Philistine.”
            The source of our strength, sisters and brothers, is the same as David’s. We draw our courage and ability from the persistent and ever-present God who has been with us through the ages. I think back on this church’s history, and all that you have done for the community. You have provided shelter for the homeless, you have prepared thousands of meals for the hungry, you have worked to teach and support countless people in this community and in Tanzania. You have provided a safe and welcoming place for those who were dying of AIDS. You have said yes to families who were rejected by other churches. You have raised children, grieved one another’s losses, struggled through difficult times and never forgotten that you are a family – the beautiful, beloved Body of Christ, that is unified by one thing: love. God’s love. It is in this that you have always found your identity. It is in this that you have grounded your authentic welcome to all who would walk through these doors. You have never, ever forgotten that you were called to Love God and Love One Another, and it is in this that you draw your greatest strength!
            As we look ahead to the future of the church, I am filled with hope. This congregation is beautiful and ruddy! We are shepherds, not soldiers. We are not trained in the ways of battle, but in the ways of protection and compassion, willing to rescue our vulnerable ones from the mouths of wild animals. I believe this is why the tragedy at Mother Emanuel AME has provided the ability for us to address racism and gun violence as a country; because they were the courageous and faithful people who responded to their loss with forgiveness and grace. They are modeling for us how the church can be the locus of change, leading, rather than following.  
            Soon, we are going to be faced with a choice about our identity as Methodists, and you have already declared what you believe: that we are people with the power of the crucified and risen Lord on our side! You have never backed down from what was right, because of this. The battle ahead of us – the one we will be waging at General Conference – is bigger than we are. The battle to strike down the giant of racism, homophobia and discrimination looms over us.
            But, what that giant doesn’t know is that we have the power of God’s love and might on our side. In our bag, we hold one, smooth stone: the stone we received in our baptismal remembrance. David chose 5 small, smooth stones from the stream bed. But our stone is chosen from the font. This stone is just a small token of the promise made for us before we could ever understand it: that we are created, loved and cherished by God. This smooth stone is our weapon against fear and hatred. This smooth stone is what will protect us when we stand up for what is right, when we face the giant of injustice and when we demand that all people be treated with dignity.
            This smooth stone is our weapon, not because it is designed to do harm, but because it reminds us of our true identity: as people who are called, chosen and beloved by God. In the scripture Marilyn read for us, Paul writes to the Corinthians that they carried “the weapons of righteousness” as they persisted in their faith and ministry. “Look! Now, is the right time! Look! Now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor. 6:1-13) In our right hand, we hold the weapon of righteousness, which will slay the giant of hate with the power of love.
             The difference today is that there is nothing at stake if Goliath loses. Goliath promised that the Philistines would become the servants of the Israelites if he was defeated. The Goliath of racism and homophobia is immense, and yet, if we are able to defeat it, there is nothing lost; no freedom is sacrificed. The only consequence is a more perfect union. A place in which all people may be truly free to pursue life, liberty and happiness, without fear!
            In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
            Amen.


1 Samuel 17, 1-49 - David and Goliath

Narrator 1: Catarina Paton                                     Goliath: Matt Flemming
Narrator 2: Lauren Smith                                       David: Owen Blum
Narrator 3: Jay Sowell                                            Saul: Jackson Flemming

NARRATOR 1: Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; Saul and the Israelites gathered and encamped in the valley of Elah, and formed ranks against the Philistines. The Philistines stood on the mountain on one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armored with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel:

GOLIATH: Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us. Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together!

NARRATOR 2: When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid. Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. David rose early in the morning, left someone in charge of the sheep, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him. All the Israelites, when they saw the man, fled from him and were very much afraid. David said to Saul,

DAVID:  Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.

SAUL: [to David] You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.

DAVID: Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.

SAUL: [to David,] Go, and may the Lord be with you!

NARRATOR 3: Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them.

DAVID: [to Saul, struggling] I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them!

NARRATOR 3: So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine. The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. The Philistine said to David: 

GOLIATH: Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks? 

NARRATOR 1: And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David:

GOLIATH: Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.

DAVID: [to Goliath] You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand!

NARRATOR 2: When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly towards the battle line to meet the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David’s hand.

NARRATOR 3: This is the word of God, for us, the people of God.
ALL: Thanks be to God.




Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Liturgy for the Festival of the Christian Home: A Blessing for All People and All Families

Since beginning pastoral ministry in 2003, it has always been my tradition to celebrate, not just Mother's Day, but "Festival of the Christian Home," which is a beautiful way to consider the inclusiveness of this particular day. This is a United Methodist term, and our tradition believes that we can use this as an opportunity to strengthen our homes as a place for living justly, celebrating the fullness of our creation as individuals and families of all compositions. 

It has always been true - from Biblical times until today - that families have had a variety of ways in which they are expressed. Many of us have dear and close relationships with our families of origin, but so many of us do not. In light of that, we have found ways to create families of choice, form covenant relationships with spouses and partners, and become loving and caring people to children of all ages. 

This Sunday at Laguna Beach United Methodist Church, we will offer a Blessing of Families liturgy, in which we, as individuals, couples, families of choice and families with children, are invited to come forward to be anointed and blessed. This ritual serves a dual purpose, both to honor the people who have mothered and loved us, as well as to honor the many ways in which we have created our families. I wrote this liturgy in 2008 for use at Saint Mark United Methodist Church, as a way to recognize the covenant relationships that existed, but had never had the opportunity of being blessed or recognized in the church. 

I pray that you will bring those dear to you to our service of worship, so that we can celebrate this special day together. 


BLESSING OF OUR INDIVIDUAL CREATION       

Fathering God, you have searched us and known us. You know when we lie down and when we rise up; you discern our thoughts from far away.

Mothering God, it was you who formed our inward parts, you who knit us together in our mother’s womb. We praise you, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made!

Holy Son, you have come into the world as the Word made flesh and dwelling among us, as a constant and abiding reminder that God is always with us, even to the ends of the earth. You are the light that has shined in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Creating Spirit: Where can we go that you are not with us? If we ascend to heaven, you are there. If we make our bed in the depths, you are there. If we perceive the darkness overwhelming us, we know that even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. You hem us in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon us. When we come to the end, you are still with us.

Let us pray:
Loving God, in your wisdom you have created us and given us many gifts.  Today, we thank you for all that we mean to each other and to our friends and families.  We thank you for the love that has brought us to this time and place, and for your love which abides to tie us all together. Where you are, O God, there is love. Amen.

BLESSING OF OUR RELATIONSHIPS         

God, in your wisdom and love, you have created us and called us good. You have created us in your image, and blessed us as men and women. Today we celebrate the joy that we have found in relationship with one another. As you have created us and called us good, so have you said that it is not good that we should be alone, so you have given us helpers as partners. You have given us choice in who we build our relationships with, and we are able to say to one another, as Ruth said to Naomi:
          Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge;
          your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.

Let us pray:
God, your strength is sufficient for us all. We have committed ourselves one to the other in your presence, so we pray that you will continue to be with us in the unfolding of our future.  Give us strength and courage in times of difficulty, wisdom and love in times of opportunity and challenge, and the sharing of joy in times of happiness and success.  May we continue to grow in your love; through the power of Jesus Christ. Amen.

BLESSING OF OUR FRIENDSHIPS AND FAMILIES OF CHOICE
                                                                                     
Incarnate Christ: You have modelled to us what it is to be in relationship with one another. You have broken bread with the weary, comforted the lonely, healed the sick, and wept with friends. We see in your witness what it means to love one another as God has loved us. We thank you for calling us friends, because you have made known to us everything that you have heard from our Father in heaven. Thank you for sharing in relationship with us as equals, and help us to continue to love our friends as you have loved us. Bless us as we form relationships with one another that, as we speak, our souls will be bound up in one another, so that we may love our friends as our own souls, just as Jonathan loved David.

Let us Pray:
God of friends and families, we are linked together in a community of friendship and support.  We pray for one another. We remember those who cannot be with us today. May we all continue to share in your gifts of love, strength, courage and wisdom, and to know your joy.  Give us growing understanding, sympathy with each other's difficulties, patience with each other's faults, and grace to walk in your ways. Amen.

BLESSING FOR FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN      
  
Creator Spirit: You have worked in us to make us open to loving one another in selfless and life-giving ways. For some of us this means the responsibility and joy of raising children. For these lives, which have touched us and blessed us, we thank you. Today we bring to you our children in order that they may be blessed as Christ blessed the children of his day saying, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” And he took them up in his arms and blessed them. Help us to bless them as they have blessed us.

Let us pray:
Loving God: We come today carrying children and youth in our hearts – the children we brought into this world, the children we parent, our grandchildren, nieces, nephews, Godchildren, mentees, the children we care for in our work, and the children we speak out for in our witness. Lord, help us not to be so preoccupied with our purposes that we fail to hear their voices or see their special vision of truth. Keep us with them, ready to listen and to love even as you have loved us, your grown-up and sometimes wayward children. Amen.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

  And now, with the confidence of the children of God, let us pray:

  Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.
  Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
  For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

THE ANOINTING


All are welcome to come forward to be anointed individually. If you like, you may come as an individual, or with your spouse or partner, children, or with friends and family of choice.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sermon: This I Believe: I Believe in the Holy Spirit

Rev. Mandy Sloan Flemming
Sunday, April 26, 2015

Audio Available here.

This I Believe: I Believe in the Holy Spirit

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

‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. 4But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.

‘I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

12 ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.


            This is our third sermon in the series on “This I Believe,” which we are studying alongside our Confirmation Class as they engage the basic theological tenets of our faith. We have taken time the last two weeks to study God and Jesus Christ, as the first two members of the Trinitarian way in which we understand God. Again, allow me to reiterate that I realize that this is a little nutty. But, if we believe that God has been revealed to us in such a way, then it is our faithful task to seek to understand it.
          That means that this week, we are focusing on the most perplexing person of the Trinity: The Holy Spirit. Many years ago, I supervised a Confirmation Class at Lawrenceville Presbyterian Church in Lawrenceville, NJ, and there, the youth had to write out exactly what they believed about the basics of our faith. They wrote beautifully about God: I believe that God is bigger than me, created everything, loves me, wants what is best for me. They wrote directly about Jesus: I believe that Jesus is the son of God, born of Mary, and lived on earth so that I may know the fullness of God’s love and how to live on earth. And then, they had to write about the Holy Spirit: I believe the Holy Spirit is present now, and always, to remind me that God loves me and is always with me.
          I watched these youth struggle with fear and trembling over their statements. They had a lot to say about God, some fine “straight-from-the-Creed” language about Jesus, and a few vague remarks about the Holy Spirit. No one could quite pin that person of the Trinity down, which I suppose is the point. The Spirit is amorphous, androgynous, and atypical. I joke each week with my preacher friends about our sermon prep, and we have varying ways in which we describe the Holy Spirit’s presence or absence in our writing. My dear friend, Sam, once wrote that the Holy Spirit neglected to show up for inspiration until Sunday morning, at which point she dragged in wearing last night’s clothes with an unlit cigarette hanging from her lips. These images are so resonant for us, because the text is so inconclusive about how we should understand the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives.
            Our text today comes to us from Jesus’ great farewell narrative to the Disciples, after the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, but before his betrayal, arrest and crucifixion. At this point in the Gospel of John, Jesus’ ministry has covered everything from healing to feeding to exorcism to prophecy; he has even raised Lazarus from the dead. In order for the message of Jesus’ ministry to sound like anything other than the ramblings of certifiably insane people, there must be a force on earth that can testify to the truth of it. Jesus tells his Disciples, “The Advocate is coming, whom I will send to you from the Father. The Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, and the Spirit will testify on my behalf.” The author of John uses the Greek word “Paraclete,” which is typically translated to mean “one who has been summoned or called to the side of another--literally, an ‘advocate,’ or, by extension, a helper or legal representative in a trial or other arena of judgment.”[1]
            God, in Christ, knows that the way in which God’s presence on earth has been revealed is not going to be received with assurance. So, God has elected to send this Spirit to us, that we might have help in times of judgment. This is the first way in which God ensures that we will not experience life on earth alone – outside of God’s comfort – but with the help of the One who is always with and for us.
            The language of Advocate is deeply resonant to me, because it requires courage to say, in truth and love, things that are difficult to hear. Like the Disciples, we are called to testify – to tell – to proclaim what God has done in our lives, that others may come to share in it. But this is messy, and often falls on the ears of those who cannot hear or perceive it. Think how much more bold we can be when we have support and help. Jimmy Carter, in speaking out about the treatment of women world-wide, said that, “It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.”[2] The courage to challenge. This is what the Advocate does for and with us.
            The Holy Spirit, then, is about more than just the completion of a three-fold way to understand God’s abiding presence in the world. The Holy Spirit is about the gift of Hope.  David Lose writes that it is “The cross by which God dignifies and sanctifies all human suffering by promising to be there with us and for us. If God’s greatest revelation was made manifest in and through the struggle and suffering of a man hung on a tree, then what suffering of ours can ever truly be God-forsaken. Hence, God promises to be with us amid suffering, and even work through that to build character and endurance and increase our capacity for hope.”[3]
            We are still watching as the death toll from the earthquake in Nepal rises, this morning up to 2,200. There are countless ways in which we can identify the need for God’s spirit to be more mightily present in the world than it seems to be. The world’s capacity for suffering is too great, and the need for an Advocate to be in this world with us, arguing with the forces of evil, persuading the darkness to recede, and condemning the rulers of this world is paramount. How, then, do we see this happening? We need the Holy Spirit to be the answer to the looming, perpetual question of, "HOW?!" "How could you let this happen?" "How can I go forward?" "How do I tell them?" "How do I know if this is right?" 
            As I wrote and edited last night, the wind was blowing mightily outside my home. The leaves were battered endlessly as the wind whistled through the narrow passageway between the houses in Arch Beach Heights. It made us all sit still and pay attention, as the normally placid weather has become shrill and attention-seeking.
            When we speak of the Spirit, we often do so with the idea that it is sent to comfort us. This is how the word in John’s Gospel, Paraclete, is often translated: comforter, or helper. But the Spirit of God is not just a serene blanket, wrapping us in a soft, downy nest. She is also a mighty force, pushing us urgently through the darkest of nights and asking us to be more brave and courageous than we thought we could be. There are times in which the vision of Jesus as Shepherd, tender of his flock, isn’t comforting. It’s too benign. Too pastoral.
            There are times when we need the relentless and unforgiving Wind to blow across the face of the deep, so that something moves in us. We cannot be still. We cannot be herded. We can only be pushed to be, do, or become more than we ever thought possible.
            This is the gift of the Spirit, my friends. Jesus says to his disciples, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” It is almost impossible to understand how the absence of such a beloved person could be to the Disciples’ advantage. But, Jesus reminds them that if he doesn’t go away, the Advocate won’t come. It is the most painful thing in life to consider that absence may make space for something new to grow.
            The Holy Spirit is the abiding “I AM,” The substance of heaven that fills all of earth. If God has promised since the dawn of human history to be present in our life and story, then the Holy Spirit is the means in which God does this. I AM that I AM, God declares. This ontological statement of being is more than just a philosophical argument. It is the Divine Promise to be present, always, that we may never be alone.
            Jesus goes on to confess something remarkable to his Disciples: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” But, maybe if we listen carefully, we can hear what Jesus conveys. This text is so challenging, because the Spirit is too obtuse to pin down precisely. And, my experience of the Holy Spirit’s presence in my life may look very different from yours.
            So, let’s pay attention to what is here. If you do a quick survey of any Bible passage, you’ll find that the verbs dominate. “It’s what we do and don’t do that preoccupies human beings. And it’s the verbs we cannot imagine for ourselves (live, liberate, forgive, resurrect) that the church offers, and that we reach for, week after week.”[4] So, as a preacher, it is my job to preach the verbs. And, as hearers of any text, it is our job to enact them.
            The Spirit comes to speak what the Spirit hears and declare the things that are to come. Speak! Declare! Glorify! This is what the Spirit – as our Advocate - empowers us to do. And, we can do them because the things we have understood about sin and righteousness and judgment are wrong. And, it is not up to us to correct them. It is up to God – the Spirit of God – the mighty force that abides with us, which is powerful enough to move mountains and gentle enough to provide comfort to those in peril.
            So, let us be willing to let the Spirit work in our lives. Let us be open to perceiving the still, small ways in which the Spirit is present. And let us speak, declare and glorify the God who is courageous enough to abide in this world with us, now and always.
            In the name of the “God who is with us, for us, and refuses to be God without us.”[5]
Amen.