A sermon given at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wilton, CT on May 25, 2014 (Sixth Sunday of Easter)
Acts of the Apostles 17:22-31 + 1 Peter 3:13-22 + John 14:15-21
The last six weeks of my father’s life were not pleasant. He was shuffled between the hospital, a rehab facility, and numerous doctors and therapists. He was not capable of making his own decisions and was confused by the chances and changes that were rapidly accelerating into his waning life. My role as daughter changed; I became his advocate to make sure he was fed and received the dignity he was due in his last days. And my role didn’t go away after his death; I realized I needed to ramp up my activism for him so that others did not need to suffer the way he did. My advocacy became a principle of justice.
We all advocate for that which we believe in. We go to bat for our children to make sure they have health care and the best education. We put our money and efforts in causes we believe in – whether it is a candidate running for political office, a community organization or charity such as Habitat for Humanity or finding homes for abandoned dogs. We speak out to the injustices we see around us through writing letters, attending hearings, signing petitions – for equal pay, environmental issues, human rights.
Every one needs an advocate at some point in their life. And we are often called upon to serve in that role, at expected and unexpected times. Advocates are important to those who are helpless and voiceless.
Have you ever wished you had someone to advocate for you when no one else stepped forward in your time of need?
As all of our readings today remind us – we DO have an advocate! It’s not the advocate we think about in our day-to-day life. And I would guess it is not one we call upon when we are in need. Yes, we may cry out, “God help me!” but this advocate is present to us at all times and in all places, whether we ask for it or not.
As our Easter season begins to come to a close, our lectionary texts shift focus from the resurrection of Jesus to the presence of the Spirit as the mode of the Risen One’s continuing engagement with the community of faith. This week we have the promise of an Advocate that is called the “Spirit of Truth.” We might call it the “Coming of the Advocate” season.
On Thursday we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, forty days after the Resurrection. Jesus will depart from us, being elevated to sit “at the right hand of the Father” as stated in our creeds. Ten days later – June 8th this year – we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost when the focus falls directly on the presence of the Holy Spirit, that completion of God as Creator and God as Redeemer in Jesus, to make the Trinity. That holy mystery of three-in-one, one-in-three, which we then celebrate the Sunday after Pentecost. So we are entering a very theological and non-scientific time in the life of our church calendar.
And this human Jesus prepares to depart from his disciples, he does not leave his followers orphaned. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus comes to abide with his disciples of every generation. As Pentecost draws near, we are reminded that the risen Christ dwells in each of us as the Spirit of Truth. We receive this Spirit in baptism and prayer that in our gathering at the Eucharistic table the Spirit will transform us to be the body of the risen Christ in the world.
In the midst of this shifting of seasons, it is fitting that this Saturday we will participate in the Rite of Confirmation with Christ & Holy Trinity – Westport, Emmanuel Church – Weston, and St. Mark’s – Bridgeport here at St. Matthew’s. Bishop Jim Curry will join us as we gather to support those who will make a public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of their Baptism and receive the laying-on-of-hands. We will be reaffirming our belief in the one Body and one Spirit, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism. We will be proclaiming our faith publicly, albeit within the four walls of a church.
What if we were to publicly affirm our beliefs in the public arena, like Paul and Peter did? Our confirmands (and we) face a world much like the world of Paul. He faced the challenge of proclaiming the gospel to Greeks who know nothing of either Jewish or Christian tradition. Reaffirming our faith is committing to be partners in advocacy with the Spirit; to be the voice of Jesus for those who need to hear the Good News.
We live in a society that doesn’t talk about such things openly. We read about “nones” and “spiritual but not religious” in the news. In reading the faith statements of our confirmands, I am always struck by their hesitancy, which is very age-appropriate, to commit to this belief system of a three-in-one God. Bishop Curry will prayer over them for the Holy Spirit to strengthen and empower them to be faithful servants of the Gospel. As they continue go forth, my prayer is that they will continue to be bold in proclaiming their faith beyond these walls.
For Peter, our Christian beliefs and behavior are to be a matter of public record, just as our baptism is. I think Peter would like our confirmation service. In some regards it is safe – the real world is beyond our doors and as Christians, we are faced with all of the temptations that pull us away from our Baptismal Promises: sin, racism, brokenness, greed, and isolation.
But we are giving a glimpse of the truth today that shows us the way. God has given us the gift of love through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and such love creates a life and world God intended from the very beginning. The Spirit is the Advocate that brings the truth of that love and life to people in this time after Easter, which makes faith possible. Jesus glorifies God, and the Spirit glorifies Jesus. Both of them bear witness to the truth and expose us to the sin of the world – all those things which we promise to fight against in our Baptismal Covenant.
How we act and what we do matters to God. We need to be able to respond creatively to the challenges we face as Christians in today’s world. We need to be Paul in the 21st century.
Being strengthened by the Holy Spirit, we CAN be advocates for one another, knowing we are not alone. We CAN proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. We CAN seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. We CAN strive for justice and peace among all people. We CAN respect the dignity of every human being. We can’t do it alone. We need each other for support. We need to gather regularly together to be fed with spiritual food, prayer, teaching, and fellowship.
As Christians, our call is to be an advocate for God.
Jean Vanier has asked, “How can we live and love as [Jesus] did, except through the mysterious gift and power which he gives through his Spirit, so that we become his face, his hands, his heart and body?”
We are given this “truth” from the reality that is God, in whom we live and move and have our being.