A Glimpse of Pentecost

May 26, 2019 (Memorial Day Weekend)

John 14:23-29

I met David during my last J-Term class of seminary. J-term is the 2-3 week period in January before the spring semester starts and the classes offered are usually intensives on a certain topic. The class in which I chose to enroll was Gathered at the Table. A two-week course, led by the then director of education for ELCA World Hunger, where the first week was spent on campus in class learning about how the ELCA was combatting world hunger and how we made our voice heard, and the second week was spent in Washington D.C.

David was passionate about caring for the homeless of Washington D.C. and ensuring that they had every opportunity available to them to step out of homelessness. Why was David so passionate? Because he himself, traveled the United States from Phoenix to Las Vegas, to Dallas and then Chicago, then from New York City to eventually landing in Washington D.C. as a homeless man. He found himself homeless at the age of 29 due to schizophrenia.  He kept moving around the country to find a place where he may fit in, while living on the streets. He always tried to keep up his appearance so that he did not appear homeless. However, he told us that in Washington D.C. he started looking the part and probably looked like the person he used to cross the street to avoid encountering. It was in Washington D.C. that David met people from the National Coalition for the Homeless. The coalition was a voice for the homeless and helped him get off the streets. They advocated for him and assisted him in finding an apartment. They were a voice for him when his was silent. Once he got back on his feet, he started working as a member of the National Coalition for the Homeless by talking to groups like ours and ensuring the voice of the homeless are heard. He had become an advocate.

Jesus promises to send an advocate, the Holy Spirit, in his place when he leaves. This advocate will teach us and remind us of Jesus Christ and how we are to live into the grace and love of God in this broken world. David was living this out in his life and carrying it to the next step and following in the steps of those that had lifted him up. How are we being an advocate for our brothers and sisters around the world?

This is a tough question that some do not want to even be bothered with. It requires us to dig deep into the heart of the gospel and listening to what Jesus teaches. Some choose to walk away while others simply go through the motions. Judas Iscariot has chosen the latter. He has walked away from the promise of Jesus to fulfill the plan that was set in place from the very beginning. Judas himself would suffer in the motion of eventually handing Jesus over to the authorities. He has stepped away from the truth of Jesus Christ and set into motion the passion that would pull all of us into the greater story.

As Jesus spends this last night with his disciples, he leaves some challenging thoughts for them to discern as they choose or choose not to follow him. He challenges them when he says, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” What exactly does it mean to keep the words of Jesus? Have we been listening to his teachings from the very beginning? The disciples must be pondering some of these same questions. They have been traveling with Jesus for the last three years and now he starts to point out what separates you from God. Note, this does not mean that God does not love us, but our own lack of love for Jesus separates us from knowing the truth that is found in the word.

We not only do this with Jesus, but we do it with those that choose to get close to us, to know us, and want to be in a relationship with us so that we can build community. God works through various relationships to draw us closer to Jesus. As in David’s case, it can take some time to wake up to those that are speaking out on our behalf and reaching out with a love that is reflective of God’s love for us.

Jesus knows our hearts!

Jesus knows that we get lost!

Jesus seeks us out because of these very truths. Jesus will leave the ninety-nine behind to find just the one that is lost. That is the very thing that an advocate does. An advocate speaks up on behalf of those whose voices are getting ignored. As Jesus prepares to enter the passion journey that will lead him to the cross, he promises the disciples that he will send an advocate in his place. This advocate that he speaks of is the Holy Spirit! This is a glimpse of the Pentecost that is to come, and the Pentecost that we will be celebrating in two weeks. The Holy Spirit will continue to be a teacher for the disciples and remind them of Jesus’ words. The Holy Spirit will assist them as they are left wondering where to turn next as Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection begins to set the tone for the ministry to come and their calling to share the good news.

The Holy Spirit is our advocate as well. The gospels teach us how to live out this Christian life and follow in the steps of Jesus Christ. We are God’s hands and feet in the world. David began to learn this as he finally opened his heart up to those in the National Coalition for the Homeless as they advocated on his behalf. He in turn, heard the call to do the same for those that are still on the streets and wondering where their next meal will come from or how they will warm up on those coldest days and nights.

So, I return to my original question. How are we being an advocate for our brothers and sisters around the world?

Are we being bold and carrying out the gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ, as he has called us to do?

There are many things that we can be advocates for. We can choose to advocate for those that hunger and support various organizations, such as Bread for the World or ELCA World Hunger. We can support our ministry partners in Haiti and assist in their care and teaching of those that need it the most. We can speak out against gun violence and the deaths of our sisters and brothers in schools, places of worship, and workplaces. We can be a voice for the environment and the care of creation. We can walk alongside immigrants and those seeking refuge and asylum.

We advocate because we are Easter people. We follow and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Following the gospel is not always easy and it means going against the grain at times. Maybe you feel called to a particular cause to advocate, maybe you are praying for the Holy Spirit to guide you.

As Jesus prepares to leave the disciples, he promises them an advocate. Our hymn of the day, Come Down, O Love Divine, speaks of that advocate. In verse 4 we hear, “No soul can guess love’s grace till it become the place where in the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.” It is this advocate that comes to reside in us in love and grace. May we be a reflection of that advocate to share love and grace with our sisters and brothers around the world.

Let us pray. God, creator of all things, you promise to send us an advocate, the Holy Spirit, to teach us and remind us of Christ in our midst. May we be open to your words of love and grace as we reach out to share your gospel with our communities and remain strong in our faith as we speak a gospel that seems counter-cultural at times. Amen.

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Are You an Advocate?

advocate

John 14:15-21

When you grow up as a white heterosexual male in a middle-class family most everything you need is within your grasp. You are in the majority and there is very little that you can do to erase that privilege you receive when you are born.

Therefore, in the first half of my life, the idea of an advocate was foreign to me. I honestly did not face any struggles or challenges that I didn’t think I couldn’t handle. I had no need for an advocate. I am not saying this because I am lifting myself up. I am saying this because I was naïve. An advocate is someone that walks alongside you to comfort you. An advocate is someone that walks alongside you to help. An advocate is someone that speaks for you when your voice is not being heard and encourages you to raise your voice.

The first time I truly remember hearing that word was in my home congregation when I was assisting in worship one Sunday. While preparing for worship with the supply pastor, an Eaton County Sheriff’s Victim Advocate walked into the church. She informed us that one of our member’s sons took his own life in the early hours of the morning. I did not know what it meant to be an advocate at that time and since I was the first connection to the members of the church, I was left speechless. I had no clue what to say or do. I had not been to seminary yet and felt immobilized by fear of what to say. Fortunately, there was a member in the congregation that was a trained lay minister and he went to sit alongside the family and be their advocate.

How naïve we are to think that we can do everything on our own. That is what our dominant culture would like us to believe. The truth is, that in the midst of trying to hide our true selves, and putting on the mask of our false selves, we can feel abandoned and orphaned. There comes a point when we realize that we cannot do everything on our own and are then afraid to ask for help. We do not want to appear weak. We do not want to be looked down upon. Yet, this happens in our work lives. It happens in our political lives. It happens in our social lives and with family. I am sure that we all have at least one experience of this that we can recall. Being abandoned. Being orphaned. It hurts.

This is when we must be open to the inbreaking of the Spirit. Jesus tells us, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live” (vs. 18-19). In this, the light breaks through the darkness. It is not God’s will to leave us orphaned or abandoned. God’s will is to love. A love for all of creation. For every plant and animal. For every bird of the sky and creature in the sea. For all of humanity as we are created in the image of God.

It is because of this love that God is not done with us yet. God’s love is continuously gracious and generative. There is no deadline that we have to meet or no requirements of being perfect in any way.

It is because God loves us so, that Jesus knows we cannot carry-on in this world without some help. As he professes that he will be leaving the disciples soon, he promises to send an advocate. Not just any advocate, but the Holy Spirit. This Spirit of truth abides with us and is in us. Are we open to the workings of this advocate that Jesus sends to walk alongside us, comfort us, encourage us, and intercess on our behalf?

The Holy Spirit is a reminder of God’s love. How do we respond to this love? Jesus says in the first verse of our gospel lesson, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Out of God’s graciousness we should be compelled to share that love with our friends and neighbors. One way to share this love is to follow the Holy Spirit and be an advocate for someone else. Just like the victims advocate that came to my home congregation looking for support for a family in need.

To advocate is to walk alongside our brothers and sisters. Be present to comfort them. Give them words of encouragement. Help when we can. This past Thursday, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton called on members of the ELCA to join her and Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church in making the 21st of every month a day of prayer, fasting, and advocacy for those living in hunger and poverty in our country. Why the 21st? Because this is when 90% of the money runs out each month for families receiving support from the SNAP food program, and with recent proposed cuts in the federal budget, this could get much worse. One in five children in the United States are already wondering where their next meal is going to come from.

In caring for one another, through fasting, prayers, and advocacy, we show Jesus how much we love him. While the world may not be awake to the Spirit at work, we the church know that the Spirit helps, comforts and encourages us to share the love of Christ with our sisters and brothers.

Let us pray,

In God’s everlasting promise, may the Spirit of Truth continue to guide us in ways yet seen. May the Spirit of Truth evoke us to reach out and love our neighbors. May the Spirit of Truth be a constant presence of comfort. Amen