After Easter: Our Advocate

Heritage Presbyterian Church

6th Sunday of Easter
May 22, 2022

Scripture – Acts 16: 9-15

On this day in which we will be celebrating our graduates and also celebrating some folks who will be joining our church, it is very easy to slip into using the word “my.”  

  • For example: “That man is joining my church.”
  • Or: “My son is graduating from high school this year.”
  • Or even: “My wife has gotten an advanced degree – proving how smart I am for marrying her.”

Now I’m not saying that “my” is a bad word or an incorrect word.  I am just saying that especially on days such as this, the word “our” might be more appropriate.

  • “She is joining our church.”
  • “Our son is graduating from high school.”
  • “Our girl is making us all so proud this year!”

Words are important, and to skip over them might be an easy thing to do.  And it certainly won’t hurt much if we do it.  But the example we have from the Book of Acts demonstrates a much more inclusive message…especially when it comes to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.

Paul travels to Philippi during his second missionary journey.  When he gets there, he finds a city with a lot of retired Roman military officials and tradesmen.  There are scarcely any Jews and certainly fewer Christians.  For us, this might seem problematic, but for Paul…it’s PERFECT!  He starts his work on the bank of the river near the town.

Philippi had so few believers that no synagogue existed.  Instead, believers gathered on the banks of the river to meet, pray, and talk.  The women gathered with no male leadership – lots of possible explanations for this – but Paul joined them in order to talk with them.  There, he met Lydia, a rich woman who would be classified as a “God-fearer” in that day: someone who was not born a Jew but still grew to know, love, and worship Yahweh.  Lydia was also a leader who had the respect of all, including the local Romans and the men of Philippi.  In that role, she was unique – and, of course, Paul’s preaching reached her heart and changed her forever.  From there, Lydia’s status and influence most likely assisted in bringing others to Christ. 

It may have been Paul’s words that reached Lydia’s open heart, but it was her Advocate – the Holy Spirit – that converted her to Jesus Christ.

Now why do I say, “her Advocate?”  Does the Holy Spirit become personal for everyone?

I think it does.  The main reason I believe this is because the Holy Spirit works through each of us in very individualized ways.  Some become teachers, or preachers, or leaders, or organizers, or care-givers, or prayer warriors, or public speakers, or huggers, or singers, or working-behind-the-sceners, or whatever gift the Holy Spirit gives each of us.  

In doing this, the Holy Spirit takes ownership of us, but we can also take ownership of the Holy Spirit too.

Like I hinted at previously, “my” should become “our” when dealing with just about all church matters.  This allows the work of the Spirit to be joined by others working in the Spirit too.  I can’t count the number of times in which an idea has been shared about our church by one individual – only to see that idea take root and grow a million different better ways than just one believer tried to get it going.  Although Paul is the obvious leader in today’s story – as well as many others throughout the Book of Acts, look closely for the others.  In today’s reading, it was Lydia.  In others, it is Barnabas.  Still others…Peter.  And what story of Paul would be complete without the movement of the spirit coming to a believer and telling him to go to Straight Street and find Saul, who was temporarily blinded during his fateful encounter with Jesus Christ?  Saul became Paul through that experience, and he brought countless others into the community of “our” instead of “my.”

Jesus promised his Apostles that he would send the Advocate to help, inspire, and guide them in their future work.  Although few of us share their experience of tongues of fire appearing above our heads and suddenly speaking in tongues, that doesn’t mean the same Advocate is not ours.  

This Advocate became ours because the Lord gave it as a gift to his believers.  It led the early church back then, and it leads us today.  To refuse any gift from the Lord – especially such a wonderful one – is to refuse the Lord himself.  

I’m not ready to do that, and I’m not ready to ask any of you to do the same just because the Advocate makes us… uncomfortable!  How do I know this?  I think because most of us might feel better using the word “Advocate” instead of “Holy Spirit.”

  • Advocate means to work with us and support us.
  • Holy Spirit means turning over leadership and power to an entity we can barely even understand…let alone, follow easily.

Let me close by telling you a story of a righteous woman I once knew who was pretty savvy when it came to church matters.  She loved it when new people joined her church.  She was always one of the first to seek them out and welcome them.  She made it a point to seek them again in future trips to church and often became good friends with them.  She wanted everyone to come to her church.

Notice my repeated use of “her” in this tale.

One time she and I were talking about some big emotional problem that had arisen in the church.  Some in the church were stirring things up in the eyes of many in the congregation; there was even some ugly talk about “those people” and that hated word “outsiders.”  She would tolerate none of that.  

But she also said to me that she understood people claiming the church as “ours.”  She said to me, “It’s their church as much as it is mine.  But it’s mine too.  I want to be here.  I want to worship here.  I want to feel comfortable here.  And I want the people who worship with us to come together and figure out ways to solve our problems and make the church better.”

The Advocate made that righteous little woman into a force within that church.  I wonder if she was the same force that Lydia was in the early church in Philippi.  I have always thought so.

The Advocate is the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is a gift from the Lord.

The Advocate is mine, and yours, and especially ours.

Now let’s get to work together.  Amen!