Monday, 24 May 2010 18:19

May 23, 2010 Sermon

“The Advocate”
John 14:8-17, 25-27
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
May 23, 2010
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

We are really blessed to have so many great musicians here at UBC.  You add so much light and flavor to our congregation.  You inspire us and make our hearts soar.  Thank you Terrance and Jean for your leadership.  Thanks to our section leaders, John, Heather and Sheila.  Thanks to all of the choir and the bells and the instrumentalists and the congregational singers who make this place ring, especially when we sing a capella.  It’s one of the ways we express our spirit—a spirit that comes from beyond us and yet dwells within us, like, well, like an advocate.

Today is Pentecost Sunday.  It is the time that commemorates the arrival of the Holy Spirit upon the people.   In John’s Gospel, Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to be with the people after he leaves this earth.  There are all sorts of fancy names for the Holy Spirit:  The Paraclete, the Divine Comforter, Lady Wisdom, the Advocate, the Holy Ghost, the Counselor, or simply the Spirit.  Do any of these adequately describe the presence of God continuing in our lives?

You see this scripture comes about halfway through the several-chapter-long farewell discourse of John’s gospel.  Jesus tells people to love on another and to be good people.  He says, yes, he’s going to die, but this is not the end.  The disciples, I imagine thought it was the end.

Impetuous Philip asks to see God.  Even Moses only saw God’s backside.  In John’s gospel Jesus said over and over again that he and God were one.  But the disciples weren’t buying it and certainly weren’t comforted by it.  Jesus, trying to be a caring and pastoral presence, said, “don’t let your hearts be troubled.  I will send you a comforter.  Not only a comforter, but an advocate.  That’s how God’s presence will continue in this world.  It continues when the ultimate advocate invades our hearts and points us in the right direction.

In the Pentecost story, this advocate danced from person to person and focused people on the way forward instead of the way back to the earthly Jesus.  The advocate broke down barriers of the people and translated languages of others.  The advocate reminded them of the message of Jesus to welcome the outsider, to advocate for the lost and forgotten.  The very first thing they did was to sell all of their property and hold their funds in common so that the church could better take care of the poorest among them.  The early church did not insist upon one uniform language.  It encouraged people to do the hard work of understanding those different than themselves.  When we defend the rights of the minorities, we call what we do advocacy.  It is the presence of the Spirit and it is the soul blood of the church.

Jesus said, even though I am leaving this earth, I am sending a presence, an advocate for you.  And this Advocate will be with you always, like a piece of music that fills your subconscious.  And whenever you feel out of sorts, this advocate will remind you of who you are and whose you are.

You know, this word, Advocate actually is a translation of the word Paraclete.

Paraclete is a combination of two words.  Para which means beside and kaleino which means to call.  So the paraclete is the one who calls us together, or the one who is called to be alongside us.  In Matthew 5, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”  The word for comfort is parakaleino.   Blessed are those who mourn for God shall call them together.”  Call alongside.  Comfort one another.  Advocate for one another.  When we come together as a church, we feel God’s presence as an advocate.  And we garner the power to become advocates for others.

I sure do enjoy singing with you all.  It’s not just the beauty of the sound.  It’s that the sound is made by us all singing together.  We make this sound parakaleino, called alongside each other.  And it transports us to a different place.  One of the things I like about our old church building is that we can hear ourselves sing.  I have been to fancy new churches with comfy seats and carpet and a great sound system.  But you need the sound system to sing and be heard.  Here, we only need the paraclete, the Spirit that calls us to be alongside each other.   It’s something that happens uniquely in a church.  As my friend Terry Brooks said, “you can’t well take a pipe organ to the lake.”  Joy comes in community—joy comes in song.  We can sing by ourselves, but when we sing alongside each other, there is something more powerful.

Terry Brooks and I serve together on the Board of the Baptist Peace Fellowship.  He just retired after many years as a prison chaplain.  Over lunch this weekend we spoke about this today’s scripture reading.  He told me about how prisoners really needed people alongside them.  They were often forgotten and disregarded.  And when they are in such a state, they do things to get attention—sometimes with awful consequences.  We can be better than that for each other.

He told me about livestock on the prairie.  He said that cows and horses deal differently with the wind.  When a cold wind blows, cows will point their noses to the wind.  If they don’t get shelter, some will eventually die.  Horses on the other hand will turn their noses toward each other.  They will huddle around in a circle.  One horse will take the brunt of the wind and then trade places with another horse when it gets too cold.  They advocate for each other.  And they live.

We are meant to know God in as much as we put our noses together and advocate for one another.  When we sense a cold wind of indifference or even violence, are we going to turn our noses toward it, dying like a lonely hero?  Or are we going to comfort each other and garner the strength to advocate for the entire herd?

“I will send you another paraclete, another advocate, another intercessor.”  Jesus is the first advocate.  The Spirit is the next advocate—the one that lasts forever.  Gandhi called this Satyagraha, the Spirit of Truth, the force of the soul, truth force or soul force.  The Advocate is the Holy Spirit, the ultimate intercessor who is always there and always known in community.

Our Spirit-led work is the work of advocacy.  This is related to but different from activism. Activism seems to be work you do for a principle, like health care, war, violence, immigration reform, environmental protection.  Advocacy seems to be what you do for an individual—someone you know—and care about.  It’s specific and it’s based upon relationships.  We need activists.  But we need advocates more.  We need advocates.  We need people behind us and before us.  Advocates help us to live into our calling.  They help us to see who we are.  They remind us of our best self.

I know many of you are already advocates.  You show it by your presence, your steadfastness, your ability to stand by people when they are in a challenging place.

The church is a Spirit-led church when we are advocates for one another.  We are called to be together, alongside each other.  We are called to help people recognize their true potential.  I hope we can do that alongside you jay.  I hope we can do that with each of us.  It means calling out the best from each other.  It means being alongside each other and celebrating the music we make.  It means being lead by the spirit to be alongside others who might be alone forgotten out in a field and in need of your presence.

Because of the presence of the Advocate, there is no loss of the presence or power of Jesus. We have the ultimate comforter, the ultimate advocate.  And because of that presence, we are set free and encouraged by the divine spirit to stand alongside another, to be a comforter, an advocate.  That’s how the Good news is spread.  We are inspired by the Advocate to be advocates.  God’s Spirit is spread from person to person as we comfort and advocate.  When we do that, we not only receive the Good News, we are the Good News.