Acts 17:22-31 1 Peter 3:13-22 John 14:15-21 Psalm 66:7-18

Come Holy Spirit, Come.  Be with us in the speaking; be with us in the listening; be with us in the in between.  Help us always to remember that there is a Third present.

This is a prayer that I treasure.  My dear spiritual director and I begin our sessions together with this prayer.  Occasionally, I pray this prayer at other times of one-on-one conversations and times of counsel.  It is a prayer that is pertinent also at the beginning of a meeting – times when, as always, we seek God’s guidance in the words we speak – words that should be spoken with gentleness and reverence; we seek God’s help in reminding us to listen patiently and with open hearts to the words others will speak; we seek the constant awareness of God’s presence in our recognition of our reverence for one another – God’s presence that, as we pray, will lead us to the common ground we share.  Come Holy Spirit, Come; be our Advocate, as promised by our Lord.

During my clinical chaplaincy experience while in seminary, our group of “chaplains in training” would gather two to three times weekly to discuss our experiences as chaplains in a variety of health care facilities.  In my group was a young Jewish woman, “Ruth,” from whom I learned a great deal and came to admire.

Ruth shared her frustrations in one particularly difficult situation, providing pastoral care for a family in which a family member was at the level of maximum life support – unable to breathe on his own or to communicate in any way.  Yet, the family held out hope that their loved one would recover; they were paralyzed in their decision-making, unable to even discuss the removal of the artificial support.

Conversely, the medical staff felt very strongly that medical intervention was useless, in fact, intensifying suffering, and should be removed.  One particular medical provider was quite adamant about her feelings against prolonged support and even angry that the family was not willing to consider removal.  Advocating for the family as their chaplain, Ruth had become the target of her heated words; they had begun to see each other as enemies.

Ruth struggled with the existing tension of at least three complicated elements:  1) the tenets of her own faith and belief in the sanctity of life; 2) her sense that the medical professionals were correct in that the prolonged care was increasing the patient’s suffering; and 3) her position as chaplain, thus, advocate for this family – her calling to make known the presence of the God in this heart-breaking situation.

How should Ruth respond to this medical provider whose anger was spilling over into her own abilities to provide compassionate care, complicating an already highly challenging situation, and increasingly being directed at Ruth who stood in the middle ground as the advocate for the family?  Our group went round and round as we struggled with her, seeking guidance in finding the right approach to diffuse the anger that was inhibiting Ruth’s duty to be the source of calm amongst the anxiety.

What words would Ruth say in the next dreaded encounter?  We listened and pondered.  Finally, from the Holy Spirit, through the voice of a group member, came the words for her antagonist: “I agree with you.  I, too, am growing impatient and frustrated.  I believe we are needlessly prolonging the patient’s suffering.  BUT, I am, first and foremost, pastor and advocate for this family, and I will not abandon them at this time of such great need.  I will not argue with you; I am not your adversary; I am their advocate.”

Come Holy Spirit, Come.  Be with us in the speaking; be with us in the listening; be with us in the in between.  Help us always to remember that there is a Third present.

Our advocate leads us to the “third way” – common ground on which to begin building a right relationship with one another – relationship in gentleness and reverence about which Peter speaks in his Epistle that we read earlier.

Jesus assures us of his presence with us through the presence of the Spirit of Truth – the Holy Spirit.  In Jesus’ last words to his disciples in the last hours before his earthly death – the end of times together as they had known them – Jesus assured his disciples that he would ask the Father to send “another Advocate” to be with them forever.  The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, as Jesus promised in the waning hours of his earthly life, is with us forever.

In two weeks, Pentecost, we will celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit as it was experienced for these early disciples 50 days after the Resurrection.  Today, we reflect on the blessing of our Advocate’s constant presence in our lives – this Spirit of truth about which Jesus speaks.  Jesus said, the world cannot receive the Spirit of truth because the world doesn’t see or know the Spirit of truth – the world unwilling to speak with lowered voices, unwilling to listen, unwilling to acknowledge the presence of the Advocate.

In our lesson from Acts, we find the Apostle Paul, arriving in Athens, as he journeyed in the awareness of the presence of the Advocate.  Athens was known to be the seat of Greek culture steeped in pagan worship and known down through the centuries for worship of multiple gods rather than the one true God.

Paul’s approach in these introductory remarks to the people of Athens relates his insight through the guidance of the Holy Spirit to seek common ground at the very outset of his Christian mission in this pagan land.

Thus, rather than target the pagan altar of the Athenians as an object of disapproval and dismissal in a display of his contempt and ridicule, Paul introduces his speech by noting an inscription upon the Athenian altar that reads “To an unknown god.”  Rather than shunning the Athenians for their inappropriate pagan-based worship center, Paul begins, wisely, by complimenting the religiously inclined nature of the people of Athens.  He looks beyond their ignorance and misdirected faith and chooses instead to capitalize on their willingness to acknowledge the existence of an “unknown god.”  Finding common ground, establishing a trusted relationship with the people of Athens, trusting the guidance of the Holy Spirit – the Advocate that our Lord promised to all believers – Paul sets the stage for evangelism as he begins acquainting the people of Athens with Jesus Christ, “the known God.”

Our present world, the present state of our country is quite resistant to the idea of seeking common ground.  We’re not willing to listen to others; our own words seem unheard, shouted down by the opposition.   We are unkind to one another.  We label each other with stereotypes and fear any compromise will lead to total loss of position.  Is there anyone willing to seek common ground?  Can we find a starting place that we all value and begin to rebuild reverence for one another?  Where is the gentleness and reverence in our relationships about which Peter writes?  It starts here, it goes with us in the presence of the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of truth; from here we take it out into the world.

Come Holy Spirit, Come.  Be with us in the speaking; be with us in the listening; be with us in the in between.  Help us always to remember that there is a Third present.

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