(Not) Second Best

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John 16:4b-15

Have you ever been treated like you were option B, the second best?

I have.  More than once, I’m sure – but the time that stands out in my mind happened in middle school.  The year was 1990 and I had a crush on a guy named Archie.  In fact, I still have a picture of him…

Okay, so it wasn’t this guy.  But my real-life crush was nice and funny and smart, and when I heard that he liked me, I was in 7th grade heaven.

We had a blissful two weeks together.  We held hands walking down the hall, and…  Well, that was about it.  It was 7th grade.  But still, it was awesome.

And then I heard a rumor:  Archie really liked someone else.  A girl named Veronica.

Okay, so it wasn’t this girl.  But I very much felt like Betty there in the background (that’s the blonde if you never read Archie comics).  Archie had settled for me but really wanted to be with Veronica, and I was left feeling like the second-best runner-up.

Oh, how it broke my heart.  I broke up with Archie but it didn’t make me feel any better.  See, once you know you’re option B, it’s hard to rebound.  The only thing that would have made it better would have been if Archie came running back to me, saying, “Mary, I see now that Veronica is a stuck-up snob!  It’s you I really want!  Take me back!” 

We don’t ever want to be someone’s second choice.  And we don’t want to make anyone else feel that way, either.  You know – “love your neighbor as you love yourself” and all that.  I know none of you would do that intentionally, but there may be someone you’re doing it to without realizing it.  Someone we’re celebrating on this very day, as a matter of fact:

The Holy Spirit.

Today is Pentecost Sunday.  Today we remember when the Holy Spirit arrived (during the Jewish festival called “Pentecost,” not coincidentally).  The Holy Spirit is God’s presence with us on earth, which means we could not be “church” without it, because we can’t be church without God.  For that reason, Pentecost is sometimes called “the birthday of the church.”

That makes it an appropriate day to have new members join the church.  We have a special group of new members here with us, ready to profess their faith and commit to following Christ as a part of Sylva FUMC.  That’s a big deal, so to help them decide whether or not they wanted to do this we’ve been studying the basics of the Christian faith together since January.  You know, things like creation, salvation, the trinity, Jesus, the Holy Spirit…

When we got to the Holy Spirit, most of our confirmands said they hadn’t thought about the Holy Spirit a whole lot.  I appreciated their honesty because it made me feel better; I was the same way when I was their age.  At the start of my faith-life I focused mostly on God and Jesus.  God sent Jesus, and Jesus was the one who died for me and rose again, the example I wanted to follow, the one I talked to when I prayed.  When I prayed to Jesus I often felt jealous of the original disciples who got to literally talk to him.  And now here I am, some 2,000 years later, and I have to settle for the “Holy Spirit”… when I’d rather be with Jesus.

But in today’s Scripture Jesus says something interesting.  He says his leaving the disciples is actually better for them if he leaves.  It’s better for them because, if Jesus doesn’t leave, they won’t get the Holy Spirit.  That’s how great the Holy Spirit is – Jesus wants to step out of the way so that he can send them the Spirit.  It’s not a second best, not an option B.  We don’t settle for the Holy Spirit, we get to do life with it. 

So how is having the Holy Spirit even better for us than the disciples having Jesus?

I’ve been wondering that this week, because honestly, there’s still a part of me that’s jealous of the disciples.  I’ve got questions I’d like to ask Jesus, live-and-in-person, and get a live-and-in-person answer.  Wouldn’t it be better he was here with us?

But then again:  Jesus is just one person.  When God came as Jesus and lived and walked this earth, he occupied one human body.  As a result, he could only be around a limited number of people.  Although he went just about everywhere his two legs could take him, he was still confined to a particular geographic region. 

The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, isn’t limited by a human form.  It’s omnipresent and eternal.  It’s everywhere and every time.  It can be with me, here, and with you, there, all at once.  It can be with Sylva FUMC, right now, but also at all the churches of all denominations all across the world, right now.  Not even Jesus’ disciples got to be with him 24/7 – sometimes he sent them off on their own, and other times Jesus went off to pray on his own.  Not so with the Holy Spirit – 24/7/365, it’s here with us.

The Holy Spirit was there with you when you were baptized.

The Holy Spirit is here with us today as our confirmands join the church.

The Holy Spirit is with you in the middle of the day when the sun is shining.

The Holy Spirit is there with you in the dark of night when you can’t sleep.

Today we celebrate that we are not settling.  We didn’t miss out because we weren’t one of the 12 disciples who lived with Jesus 2,000 years ago.  We get to have the Holy Spirit. 

May we never forget that.  May we live into it, embrace it – the incredible gift that it is.

Amen.

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