Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 17:22-31 (Paul’s message to the Athenians)
1 Peter 3:13-22 (The days of Noah, a sign of baptism)
John 14:15-21 (Christ our advocate)
More than 700,000 children experience abuse or neglect each year in the United States. 700,000. Instead of playing with neighbors and making happy family memories, these children are attending court hearings, adjusting to new foster homes and transitioning to new schools. That’s a heavy burden for a child to carry. The judges who determine what comes next for these kids are advised by many different voices—everyone from social workers to lawyers representing parents or foster parents or the state. But who speaks exclusively for the children?
I am grateful that the Canopy Center, a child abuse and prevention agency which we support as a congregation, includes a very special program specifically designed to address that question, “Who speaks for the children?” This program is called CASA, which stands for a Court Appointed Special Advocate. CASA ensures that each child has a volunteer dedicated to their case, speaking up for their best interests. The volunteer spends quality time with the child, listening to their concerns, wishes, and hopes. The volunteer has access to everyone connected to the child—teachers and coaches, doctors and therapists and relatives.
Then, when the child’s case comes before a judge, the volunteer goes to speak on behalf of the child. This is what an advocate is. This is what an advocate does. An advocate has your back. An advocate is on your team. An advocate hears you, and makes sure you know you are not alone. I am so grateful that there are people volunteering with CASA to make sure these children know what that feels like.
And you know what’s even better? Those kids aren’t the only ones who have an advocate! YOU, too, have an advocate! Someone who is looking out for you. Someone who is on your side. Someone who encourages you and supports you. Someone who speaks up for you and is willing to hang in there with you through thick and thin. When you feel like your back is up against the wall, doesn’t it feel empowering to know that someone is with you and for you?
This is exactly what Jesus promises to the disciples in today’s Gospel reading. This is a continuation of the Farewell Discourse we heard from last week. Jesus is talking to his closest friends on night in which he will be betrayed. He knows that the events that are about to transpire will be difficult and scary for his disciples. He knows that they will be overwhelmed by the path set before them, that they would sometimes feel abandoned, orphaned. So he washes their feet, so they can recall his tender touch. He feeds them and gives them something to drink, so they remember that he would always provide for them. And he promises to send them another Advocate. Another one because he was the first. And now he promises to send someone who will love them just as much as he did. Not only an advocate, but the Advocate – capital “A” – because it’s the Holy Spirit.
Jesus promises that the Advocate who is coming would continue to assure them that God is with them, every day, to pick up where Jesus left off. God came in Christ in order that the disciples and all of us might see what God wants for us – all of us! – health and healing and community and blessing and all the good stuff John’s Gospel sums up in the phrase “abundant life.” God came in Jesus and lived and offered this abundant life to all, even when it upset the powers who wanted to control life, even when it cost Jesus his life. God came in Jesus Christ and was willing to suffer and die on the cross in order that we might know just how much God loves us and just how far God is willing to go to show us God’s profound love. But even that wasn’t enough. So God also raised Jesus from the dead to show us that nothing—not even death itself—can keep God from loving us and redeeming the whole world.
And still that wasn’t enough. God continues to come every day in the Holy Spirit in order to encourage us and look out for us and care for us and stay with us and walk along side of us. In short, God comes in the Holy Spirit to be like Christ for us. God comes in the Holy Spirit to be another Advocate, our Advocate, who will not give up on us…ever! Take a deep breath and know that God is in you and with you and for you.
In my experience, Lutherans don’t talk much about the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is referred to as the “shy figure of the Trinity.” Maybe it’s because it’s so hard to pin down what the Holy Spirit IS. God as a loving parent we can easily picture. God as Jesus is also an image we can conjure up readily. But the Holy Spirit? Biblical images of flames or doves or wind just seem too nebulous. I find it is easier to talk about what the Holy Spirit DOES than what the Holy Spirit IS.
So what does the Holy Spirit do? In the very beginning of Scriptures we hear about God’s spirit moving over the waters and creating life. Throughout the Old Testament, the Spirit blows through the people as breath and wind. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is very busy! In John’s Gospel, specifically, the Holy Spirit is said to teach, remind, abide, and testify about Jesus. And like Jesus, the Holy Spirit deals exclusively in truth.
So when we are baptized into the Holy Trinity, and the pastor says we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever, it means we are filled with all the gifts and opportunities that the Holy Spirit brings. We are empowered to communicate the truth, supported by the Counselor, the Comforter, forevermore. What does it look like to live a Spirit-filled life? How does knowing that someone is always looking out for us affect our daily living? If our calling as the church is to be Christians—little Christs—then our work should build on what we know of Jesus’ work. Which means we are to extend mercy and grace to those who do not experience it. It means we make sure that people receive food and drink and respect. It means we share the gift of knowing God is by our side, no matter what. It is not just a pastor’s calling, but all of our callings to teach and testify about Jesus, to seek abundant life for every living thing.
And that feels like a tall order, I know. But you have an advocate, so you can take risks, you can try things you didn’t think you’d try, not because you won’t ever fail, but because failure won’t destroy you when you’ve got this kind of support. You can try, and try again, and try yet again because the Holy Spirit’s got your back. When we feel like our voices are unheard and no one is looking out for us, we have a hard time being kind or generous or compassionate. But because we have an Advocate, we can be that advocate to and for others.
I’m not saying everyone here can or should be a CASA volunteer (although some of you might find such a task rewarding), but everyone here knows of a person or group who needs to hear that they are loved beyond reason. We all know about those who need someone to speak up for them, to defend them, to reaffirm their value and worth. Who do you know who needs to hear that message today? What do you need to do for God’s sake? I mean literally for God’s sake. Go do it. God’s got your back.
~Pastor Sue Schneider