May 22, 2022
Today we are celebrating some pretty big changes. Nine of our young people are about to make the momentous step from high school to the adult world. That’s a big deal, twelve years in the making! Y’all have worked hard, studied, done service hours, projects, sports and band and all kinds of extracurriculars, and now you’re at this moment when you are about to graduate. Life is full of transitions, but this is one of the most important in your lives so far. You’re about to step into a whole new world as young adults.
But graduation isn’t the only big transition happening today. Just a few minutes ago, we welcomed Oliver into the kingdom through the waters of baptism. He might not know it yet, but it is probably the most important transition he’s ever going to experience—one from captivity to sin and death, into the freedom of life in Christ. These two big changes—graduation and baptism—mark today as an important day to hear what God has to say about the transitions in our lives.
Because change can be scary. Any time we go from one place in our lives to another, there’s a little bit of fear. Moving out of childhood, where learning was your first and most important job, into the great unknown of adulthood, can be scary. So much lies ahead that you’ll only discover by experiencing it, and the process of blindly walking into the future is intimidating. What will happen next? What will it be like? How can you be prepared for it?
Jesus was approaching those kinds of questions with his disciples in our reading this morning. Just to remember, Jesus said these words during the Last Supper, surrounded by his disciples but also knowing that he was about to be betrayed, arrested, and crucified. His disciples were on the edge of something completely new. They were about to be leaderless—Jesus would be killed and soon after would ascend to heaven. It was about the biggest change these disciples would face since he called them, and soon, he wouldn’t be physically there to guide them. Like the teachers, counselors, and other adults who have guided you through your school years, the disciples weren’t going to have the ready access to Jesus they were used to anymore. But he’s not about to abandon them to whatever might happen next.
Instead, he says, he will send “another advocate,” the Holy Spirit, to accompany them. The Spirit will keep doing what Jesus has been doing: teaching, guiding, and leading the disciples. The Spirit will help the disciples remember all that Jesus said and will help them keep his words alive in how they lived. And I think the Greek word Jesus uses here to describe the Spirit is particularly helpful when we’re going through these major life transitions that seem so scary. He calls the Spirit the “paraclete,” which literally means “the one who comes alongside.” So it’s not just that we’ll have the Spirit here, present with us to guide us when our lives change. We’ll have the Spirit right next to us, walking beside us, like a friend who will help us along the way.
And what’s more is that Jesus gives this Spirit to us in a way that doesn’t resemble how the world gives things. There is no expectation to be or do something to earn what Jesus wants to give. You don’t have to be holy enough to have the Spirit there for you when you start your first adult job or go to your first college class. You don’t have to meticulously attend church and Bible study for the Spirit to be your comfort when the stress piles on from bills and relationships and decisions. You don’t have to do a single thing to earn what Jesus is freely giving—just like Oliver didn’t have to do anything to earn the Spirit in his baptism this morning.
Instead, the Spirit is a free gift that Jesus gives you because he loves you. He loves you and he will go with and ahead of you wherever you end up in the world. Just like how he went with and ahead of Paul and his companions in our Acts reading.
The thing about that Acts reading is, it tells us so much about how God will always get us where we need to go. As a reminder, Paul was going around to Asia and Bithynia—now parts of western Turkey—and these were places where the Church was pretty well established. Paul would have lots of comfortable congregations to welcome him there; he could preach and people would know what he was talking about. But on this particular trip, he kept finding that he was blocked from the familiar churches he was going to visit.
But the thing is, it wasn’t Satan who blocked Paul and his friends from going to the familiar churches in Bithynia and Asia. Instead, it was the spirit of Jesus. The Spirit was stopping him from doing what Paul thought was the best direction, keeping him from what was genuinely faithful work of building up the church in Asia. Jesus had better plans for Paul than Paul thought of, and it was by the Spirit that Paul was led to Macedonia—to Greece—and spread the gospel there. Jesus knew where Paul needed to go, and he made sure he got there.
Remember that when you make this next big step in your lives. Wherever you are meant to go, Jesus will get you there. It may mean that you run into roadblocks first. It may mean that you get frustrated by dead ends or having to change directions. But Jesus is leading you. The Spirit is walking beside you. You are not alone as God leads you to the work you are called to do in the world. And honestly, that’s not just a message for just y’all graduates.
So trust that God has plans for you. Trust that Jesus is going to lead you where you need to go. And trust that the Spirit will be right beside you, reminding you of all that Jesus said so that you can show others the kind of abundant life that Jesus gives.
Thanks be to God. Amen.