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Pentecost Sunday

Paraclete, or Parakeets?

Pentecost Sunday is the day God gave the Holy Spirit to the Apostles. Our principal reading today, unusually, is not from the Gospel but is the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

Almost at the beginning of the Acts, which is volume two of Luke's Gospel, Luke tells us of the first Pentecost day. The Apostles are transformed. Before this outpouring from heaven, they were quietly meeting in the upper room behind locked doors. Before this giving of the Spirit they were drifting half-heartedly back to fishing in Galilee. Yes, they had seen the risen Jesus, but that was not enough. Now from Pentecost onwards they are preaching and teaching with energy. Now they have the confidence of the Holy Spirit.

In Saint John's Gospel, Jesus promises the Apostles, and us, that God will send another Advocate to be with us for ever. During his final meal in his farewell speech Jesus, who is God the Son, says that he will ask the Father and that another Advocate will be sent. This Advocate, or Comforter, or 'Paraclete' in other older translations, is the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father in the name of Jesus.

Here I could easily get into a homily on God as Trinity -- but I will save that for a more eloquent preacher next Sunday.

On a discordant note, here in London we have feral parakeets, green birds with a long tail and a harsh squawk. They are the descendants of pets which have escaped and multiplied. I am reminded of the old story of the child who listened to a sermon about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete, but heard the preacher talking of 'parakeets'! The child was puzzled. Why did Jesus, Prince of Peace, have to send us squawking green parakeets?

Jesus promises us that the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, will not only be with us for ever, but also that the Holy Spirit will teach us everything. The Holy Spirit is given to each of God's people be present with us in our lives. The Spirit is our advocate with God, who leads us on paths of goodness and holiness. The Spirit enables us to love Jesus and keep his commandments.

The Holy Spirit animates our prayers and makes our right actions good. The spirit sanctifies us and makes us holy, both individually and together as God's holy people. Although the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to us at our Baptism, they are rooted more firmly and strengthened at Confirmation when the bishop anoints us with oil, so sealing the gifts of the Holy Spirit within us.

In his letters, St.Paul was very keen to stress that the Holy Spirit was given to us so that we might be children of God. We are not born to be servants or slaves, whether slaves of sin, addiction, ambition or of money. For us as God's children, the modern consumerist motto 'I shop therefore I am' is just not true. We are given the Holy Spirit to be free, free to be our true selves, free to be children of God.

As children of God, St.Paul tells us, we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, sharing in his sufferings so that we might share in his glory. Our destiny is heaven, but on our journey there we share in the sufferings of all creation, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must share the sufferings of God's people, the sick, the mourners, the homeless, those who are exploited, those in exile far from their home and families. We do not have an escapist philosophy.

With the courage that the Holy Spirit gives us we must in justice speak the truth, for the Spirit is given us to teach us and lead us in truth. That truth is not always easy to hear but the Holy Spirit is our advocate, our comforter in time of pain and distress. Those parakeets I mentioned are pretty but have a dreadful squawk. Our Paraclete leads us not only to beauty but also to truth, truth which speaks deeply to our true selves.

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