pastorEric aug2014Sermon for the Day of Pentecost - 
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me;
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

Many, perhaps every, occupation and many groups and subgroups have their own “insider” language. The church is no different. We use churchy words for many things – take this building, for example – we call this building the “sanctuary” and this room the “nave” – the front is called the “chancel” and the entryway the “narthex.” We call the room in which we prepare the bread and wine for worship the “sacristy.” We have a pulpit, a lectern, a font. You get the idea. I do not think there is a church word for the women’s and men’s restrooms, but I may have missed that course in seminary!

And, these are mostly wonderful words – I especially like “sanctuary” for the church building. “Nave” is nice for this room, too, reminds me of a ship in which sail together, which is where the term originated.

The danger, of course, is that these become “insider” language, words unknown to new comers who could be put off by them.

quote-pentecostWhenever I think of language, I think of my Mom who was a “wordsmith,” to use another insider term! For a time, my Mom and Dad had a bumper sticker on their car, a bumper sticker which said, “eschew obfuscation.” I quickly learned from them that this means “do not use big words” and that they were actually mocking themselves with that bumper sticker.

I got thinking about language and words this week because of the many words which we translate as Holy Spirit. Appropriate on this Day of Pentecost when we hear in the first lesson from Acts about the first Christian Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled the disciples and they all began to speak in other languages and yet they understood one another. We hear in this text the names of many cities and countries and territories in what we now call the Middle East, southern Europe and northern Africa. Some of these names are familiar, some not. As I think I mentioned to you last Pentecost, while I was in college and seminary this was often a Sunday when I was in my home congregation, Atonement Lutheran Church in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, and I dreaded reading this text, concerned that I would mess up some of the many names.

In today’s Gospel text from St. John, the Holy Spirit is translated as “Advocate.” Other translations say “Comforter.” The word from which we get all three – “Holy Spirit, Advocate and Comforter” – is the Greek word “Paraclete.”

Once again this week, I read scholar David Lose’s reflections on our Gospel texts, among others. Lose likes “Advocate,” rather than “Comforter,” as an English translation for the Greek word “Paraclete.”

Lose makes the point that it is not the Holy Spirit’s “job” to make us feel better, to comfort us. He notes that the Spirit comes as a rush of violent wind in the Acts text and, after giving Jesus’ disciples the gift of many different languages, those around them do not feel comforted. Bewildered, amazed, astonished – yes, but not comforted. And, this is the same crowd who just weeks ago put Jesus to death. Now the disciples are making a very visible witness that this Jesus, who the crowd had helped put to death, is still alive through the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Hardly comforting to those who had only recently advocated for Jesus’ death!

In today’s Romans text, the Spirit is also not providing much comfort. The Advocate does not take away our problems or make everything okay. No, the Spirit helps us name our inmost hopes, desires and longings as people of God. Romans talks about the pain of creation and our sometimes-felt distance from God. Thus, the Advocate intervenes, interrupts and intercedes in our lives, giving voice to our deepest hopes.

The Holy Spirit – a comforter and advocate, yes, but also an agitator and provocateur. Thus, Lose thinks the word “Paraclete” is best to capture the entire sense of God’s Holy Spirit as that Spirit comes to each of us.

You see, the Greek word “Paraclete” is literally, “to come alongside one another.” Thus, the Paraclete is an Advocate, coming alongside of us to defend us and counsel us. And, the Paraclete is also a comforter, coming alongside of us to comfort and encourage us.

However, the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, also comes to us to strengthen us for the work of the church in the world, to muster our courage, and to prompt us, even provoke us, to action.

The Paraclete then, is that Spirit which walks with us to encourage us and equip us for ministry.

Thus, the Holy Spirit does not just come to answer our problems, but sometimes to help us create new problems, to push us beyond what we might imagine and to stir up both us and the world.
We have a story to tell, we have mercy to share, we have love to spread and the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, running alongside of us, tells us that we cannot rest until we have told, shared and loved.

Lose points out that nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus command us to go out and build churches, to take care of old buildings, or devote ourselves to crumbling institutions. Instead, Jesus does command us to “go and make disciples.” Jesus tells us that “when you care for the least of these you are caring for me.” Jesus tells us to “love one another as I have loved you.” And, Jesus continually warns us that this work is not and will not be easy and even might be disruptive, difficult and even dangerous at times.

But, Jesus does not leave us alone for these tasks. Jesus sends his Holy Spirit, God’s Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, to run or stand alongside of us to encourage, equip, strengthen, provoke and then to comfort us so that we can do all these things again.

We like to say, “Come, Holy Spirit.” Perhaps we should be saying “Come alongside of us, Holy Spirit?”

I find these thoughts comforting and challenging. And you should, too, since, of course, it is not just the pastor’s task to go, care and love, it is the task for us all. Our task, yours and mine, this week and every week, is to go out from this place, to tell others about this Jesus we love, to care for others, especially those for whom society cares least, and simply to love one another.

We know these are not easy tasks. But, the Day of Pentecost tells us all that, when we go into this world to share Christ’s love and care, the Holy Spirit is with us, alongside of us. Always.

Spirit of the living God, move among us all;
Make us one in heart and mind, make us one in love;
Humble, caring, selfless, sharing –
Spirit of the living God, fill our lives with love!


The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California

Alongside Us
Sermon for the Day of Pentecost
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
May 23 /24, 2015
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California


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