We’ve reached the end of our sermon series on Len Sweet’s 11 indispensable relationships that you can’t be without and I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. It’s certainly challenged me as I’ve prepared these sermons. My prayer is that you can realize the profound impact your web of community has on your past, present and future and you can search out those relationships that will help you to grow stronger, speak truth over your life, or give you a good kick in the pants. Nathan – your editor, Jonathan – your true friend, Jethro – your butt kicker, Barnabas – your encourager, and Deborah – your back coverer. These relationships come in many different forms and it’s not supposed to be a checklist where you say, “Oh, I have a one of those – a Nathan, someone who both comforts and convicts me, so I don’t need another one.” Although, I’m not sure you would want another Nathan. Likewise, some of us seriously don’t have that many close friendships. Introverts breathe a sigh of relief. There’s nothing wrong with friends or colleagues or mentors playing multiple roles. I’ve agreed with Sweet’s basic premise but I have to admit to taking some poetic license every once and a while.
So this chapter is called “The Invisible 12th: You Need the Paraclete.” Josh mentioned the paraclete in his sermon on Barnabas because part of its definition is encourager. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary simply defines paraclete as Holy Spirit. Helpful, I know. Paraclete comes from the Greek word that can signify “one who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts and/or who intercedes on our behalf as an advocate in court.” In the Greek New Testament the word appears most prominently in the Gospel of John where it’s used as counselor, helper, encourager, advocate or comforter. There are two examples I’ll use here, both in John 14.
JOHN 14:15-17 –
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be inyou.”
What words jump out at you? Advocate, forever, Spirit of truth, abide, and the claim that the Holy Spirit is in us.
JOHN 14:25-27 –
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate,the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Sweet begins this chapter with these words, “Sometimes – Jethros fail. Sometimes – Yodas are no-shows. Sometimes – Jonathans turn into Judases. Sometimes – Deborahs fall asleep. Your VIP’s turn into duds.” That’s when we have another promise, “He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” [Ps 121:4] God works the late shift. God always has your back. And every other part of your being as well.
Las Vegas statisticians set the spread of points between the winners and losers in football. And all sports. And they even had a bet when the royal baby would be due. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that big money flows in and out of Vegas for college football games. This may be something you didn’t know, but they always give the home team a three point advantage just because they’re playing at home. There’s nothing like the energy of the home crowd. I had written this sermon prior to the game and what struck me was how many fans sat through to the bitter end. “In all kinds of weather, we all stick together.”
Texas A&M might have first come up with the 12th man concept, but every team has EMBRACED it. So I triple-checked with Mike before explaining this because I wanted to make sure I got it right. The 12th man or 12th player is a term for the fans within a stadium during football games. As most football leagues allow a maximum of eleven players per team on the playing field at a time, referring to a team’s fans as the 12th man implies that they have a potentially helpful role in the game. The presence of fans can have a profound impact on how the teams perform and an element in the home advantage. Namely, the home team fans often create loud sounds or chants in hopes of distracting, demoralizing and confusing the opposing team while they have possession of the ball; or to persuade a referee to make a favorable decision. It’s like the commercial that says we’ll never know if somehow in some way we can affect the outcome of the game
or the Duke speedo guy that made North Carolina’s Jackie Manuel miss two free throws back in 2003
And little known fact, the speedo guy became a pastor. We never know the affect the crowd, that 12th man on the field, will have. That mysterious, invisible 12th is the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit never fails to appear.
The Holy Spirit is more than a voice from the great beyond a la Obi Wan Kenobi telling Luke Skywalker to trust in the force. The Holy Spirit doesn’t get much fanfare or a theme song, unless you count the cacophony of voices that day on Pentecost. “The Holy Spirit is our garment of protection, our armor of light, our spiritual bodyguard and our battle companion.”
My dad is bald. There’s no other way to say it. I have very few memories of him with hair. He jokes, “They don’t put marble tops on cheap furniture,” but I’ve heard that joke tens of thousands of times. So our family has an assortment of throw blankets or afgans or comforters, all throughout the house because my mom is hot-natured and my dad will be wrapped up in a blanket with a ski cap on top of his head and thick socks on his feet year round. It’s ridiculous. But now I do it too. You’ll find me in the evenings with a blanket on year round. I don’t know why I do it. Maybe it’s the fact that I married someone warm blooded as well. But there’s something comforting about it.
Do any of your churches back home knit prayer shawls? I’ve gotten my fair share of them with both of my surgeries. This is what Indian River City United Methodist Church in Titusville, Florida sent me. With it was a card, and the card reads. “Dear Lord, please bless this prayer shawl. Please comfort the recipient and hold her close. Let her know that the stitches of this shawl were made with loving hands to reach to her heart and bring her peace. As this shawl lies close to her, let her feel the prayers and love that have been knit into it. Let her know that, even in the middle of the darkest night, she is not alone. Let her feel Your constant promise that, no matter what travail she must face, You are beside her. Lord, may Your grace be upon this shawl, warming, comforting, enfolding, and embracing. May this mantle be a safe haven…a sacred place of security and well-being, sustaining and embracing in good times, as well as difficult ones. May the one receiving this shawl be cradled in hope, kept in joy, graced with peace, and wrapped in Your love always. In Jesus precious name, Amen.”
I think of the Holy Spirit in that way. Wrapped around us tight, going with us into life’s conflicts protecting not only our backs, but also our sides, our fronts, our insides, our whole being! Psalm 34:7 says, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.” And these words from Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” People on the front lines of battle, when you’re feeling attacked from all sides, and you’re fighting with your roommates, struggling in your classes, and don’t know what way is up or down – you need the Holy Spirit to intervene on your behalf. In Romans 8:26-28 it says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.”
The Holy Spirit is part of the Godhead. God is 3 in 1 – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. God is our chief advocate, who makes a way when there’s none, who braces us for impact, who goes with us. A group traveled to Anna’s dad’s and Kelly and Kenneth’s uncle’s funeral this past week. His name was Scott Swygert and he lived life to the fullest, squeezing out every moment. Countless stories were told by friends and family about his tremendous impact, so much so, it was clear that he exemplified all that it means to be a Christian. Rev. David McEntire concluded the service by reading this passage of scripture. Also from Romans, chapter 8:31-39, where it starts off with the question, “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not changes of majors, not knowing what we want to do when we grow up, not parent’s expectations, not a broken relationship, not a complete failure, not asking for a do over, not even Gator Wesley “drama.” Nothing can separate us from the love of God. So if we truly believe that, how would we live our lives differently? If we truly believe the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives and in this ministry blowing where it will, igniting and enlivening, fanning the flame and equally putting out fires, how would we live our lives differently both as a community and individually?
We would take GRACE seriously. Such a good Methodist answer. And not just grace for ourselves, but for others. In God’s prevenient grace, God draws us to God’s self. God’s prevenient grace is available to all. And all means all. In God’s justifying grace, we realize that this gift of Jesus sacrifice on the cross was for each of us. It’s nothing we earned for good behavior. It’s only through the grace of God. In sanctifying grace, God does not leave us where we are, it’s a lifelong journey of growing and stretching and seeking to be more and more like Christ. You may have noticed that I also mentioned grace for others. Ie. Matthew 7:3, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” If we always see ourselves as the exception to the rule or think that we have it all figured out, while we judge others’ commitments, looking down our noses at them in judgment – we DON’T take God’s grace seriously. That’s not very grace-filled. As Macklemore says, “Those words aren’t anointed.”
That’s the thing about the Holy Spirit, you can’t control, you can’t contain – because the Holy Spirit won’t be boxed in. The Holy Spirit has the dual roles of being great sustainer and comforter, working to guide and lead us, as well as convicting us when we need it and often don’t want to hear it.
May the Spirit
Bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and
Superficial relationships so that
You will live deep in your heart.
May the Spirit
Bless you with anger
At injustice and oppression,
And exploitation of people and the earth
So that you will work for Justice, equity and peace.
May the Spirit
Bless you with tears to shed
For those who suffer
So that you will
Reach out your hand
To comfort them.
And may the Spirit
Bless you with the foolishness
To think you can make a difference
In the world,
So you will do the things
Which others say cannot be done.
Holy Spirit, please comfort us now, with your healing and perfect peace that transcends all understanding. Holy Spirit, please work within our lives, giving us the tenacity to discern in our personal relationship with you. Holy Spirit, we ask that you guide and lead us in all that we do, as individuals and as a community. And you spread forth your love and grace, that all may see and know your truth, your power, your redeeming love. We boldly pray all these things in your name and we join Christians all over the world with the prayer you taught us to pray saying,