The birthday of the Christian church will be celebrated around the world this weekend.
Among the beautiful promises of Jesus found in the gospels are the words from John 14:16 when the paraclete is promised to Christians.
The Greek “paraclete” is translated into English as advocate, comforter or helper. Its roots are the two words “para” (alongside) and “kalein”(to call).
Literally, the “paraclete” is the spirit that comes alongside, that comes to our aid and comes to our defense when we need it most.
The Spirit of God is a gentle breeze, a breath of fresh air, a wind at our backs. Its work is to connect us to God, to bring us together with Jesus that we might worship, work and witness.
As Christians celebrate Pentecost on Sunday – the birthday of the church, the coming of the Spirit to the body of Christ – I urge each of us to reflect on the significance of the paraclete, the one sent by God to come alongside us, just as Jesus came alongside us, full of grace and truth.
There are many traditions that focus on the wonders of the Spirit – speaking in tongues, out-of-body experiences, exuberant gatherings, healings and unexplained happenings.
Fair enough. But these are not the only possible ways for the Spirit to show up.
For many of us, the paraclete shows up when we come to the realization that, having climbed the mountain of professional success, having scaled the peaks of academic endeavor, having reached the summit of standing in the community, there is another mountain left to climb.
It may be that amid the COVID-19 pandemic the first mountain is the mountain of scientific understanding, while the second is the mountain of ethical wisdom. Or perhaps that first mountain is the mountain of economic stability while the second mountain is the mountain of moral insight.
New York Times columnist David Brooks writes of this mountain in his recent book “The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life.” He tells us that if the first mountain we have tried to climb is the mountain of self-centeredness, the second mountain is the mountain of other-centeredness.
If the first mountain is the mountain of success, the second mountain is the mountain of service, and if the first mountain is the mountain of independence, the second is the mountain of interdependence.
The late, great preacher Peter Gomes would put it this way: If the first mountain is achieving the good life, the second mountain is searching for a life that is good.
In that climb, in that search, the promise of Jesus is that the paraclete will come alongside and help us find the way, the good way, the true way, the way of Jesus.
The promise of Pentecost in “quiet” churches like mine, and perhaps like yours, is that the paraclete will come alongside us and help us climb the “second mountain.”
The paraclete will come to our aid and help us see that where we truly belong is not in a cave of self-righteousness or a cocoon of self-congratulation but in a community, the Beloved Community where we seek not to be served, but to serve, to walk in the way of Jesus.
Senior pastor of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland, California, since 1989, and a board member of BJC (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty).