the road

faith, jesus, and a conversation on the road

Tag: comfort

an advocate

A sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, preached at the 5:30pm Saturday and 10:30am Sunday services

John 14:15-21

The ministry of Jesus, the ministry which we as followers are called to live into both individually and as a church, is an active, engaging, moving ministry, not static, stuck, in place. Unfortunately, many churches are described today as static, stuck, in place, either too afraid to venture too far out into the community, to actively engage, to move into the life of the community, or too assure of their understanding of their place that they fail to grasp the fact that the life and ministry of Christ that we must model, is one of a public preacher who did ministry where it was needed most, which was rarely in the synagogue. And, in this active, engaging, moving ministry of Jesus, is a grounding of faith in an authentic relationship building that only comes from seeing each person for who they are, creations of God known by name. Part of the disconnect that has occurred from the lessons of the gospel and the practice of the church, is an understanding of  the reality of what has been given us for the task of doing Christ’s ministry here and now. When we hear of Christ in us, we picture Christ as a part of us, drawing inspiration and power from this reality. But this concept does not fully encapsulate what we have among us. By speaking of only Christ within us, we fail to grasp how God’s presence is truly amongst us.

Jesus names today the Advocate who is to follow. This Advocate, whom we better know as the Holy Spirit, is promised to be with us forever. And, it is important with how the Advocate is introduced. Jesus does not say that the Holy Spirit, amorphous mist creature with questionable intent, is amongst us forever. The Holy Spirit is the Advocate that is with us forever. An advocate who stands besides us and fights with us. An advocate who fights on our behalf. An advocate who is every much a partner in doing the work and ministry of the church as it is a defender and protector of us as we strike out to do this ministry. This is important imagery because it serves to help us in understanding how we may be successful in doing an active ministry that is out in the world, rather than a static or even passive ministry that is solely focused on an insular understanding of what it means to be church. The advocate stands with us forever, ready to be with us as a partner in our ministry and a defender for when that ministry is hard, when that ministry touches us deeply in our souls, when that ministry forces us to call the church to task for being too concerned with its (supposed) imminent demise, that it fails to understand what we have been promised through our faith in Christ, fails to understand that our faith cannot die, even if the church dies around us because it can’t get out of its own way.

In truly understanding the role of the Advocate in relation to our own call for ministry in and of the church, we can begin to build real ministries that make real impacts on our community and on our world. It is faith in the Advocate that must drive us to do the work that is left for us. For if we accept that the Holy Spirit, in the form of the Advocate, is with us, then the ministries that lay before us are not simply accomplishable, they are necessary to make a real impact on the lives of those who need us to be doing this ministry, as much as we need the ministry to remind us of what it truly looks like to follow Christ.

In this place, we are on the verge of becoming so insularly focused that we will forget that the church was not established as a bastion of believers but rather a hospital for sinners. We will forget that doing the work of Christ, means actually doing real active work. Individuals in this parish are following the call of Christ to do the hard work that is ministry, but how is this place, this unified group of believers that we call church, modeling that example for more to follow?

I’m not saying that this cathedral needs to solve all of the world’s problems, but there is no reason why we can’t solve (or at least work towards a solution for) one or two very direct and pressing problems for people in our immediate community. In fact, there are two ministries, one directly tied to this place and one directly tied to the people of this place, that we really need to be backing with our fullest support, in the form of people doing active ministry and in the resources we can allocate to ensuring they continue, and not just continue but thrive.

Family Promise of Spokane is one of (and perhaps is) the only organizations that does not separate families who are experiencing homelessness and job loss. It’s a novel idea that shouldn’t be so novel. Removing the stress of being separated from family enables program participants to find homes, find jobs, and get back on their feet. St. John’s is one of many participant churches in this program, but if we’re truly to be the Cathedral for Spokane, as was an original hope and vision for this place, then we need to be one of the leader’s for this program, not one of the places that can barely scrape together enough volunteers to sleep overnight. It’s not that hard to spend a night on a cot, well it is, it is a cot after all, but spiritually it’s not that hard when you have the power of the Advocate standing with you as you enter into this work.

West Central Episcopal Mission stands as a beacon of light in a world of dark for many in the West Central neighborhood of Spokane. Being able to procure a hot, home-cooked meal on Wednesday nights is one thing, but being able to do so in community with neighbors, with volunteers who see you and treat you as an equal (for we are all equal in the eyes of God), is something else entirely. This ministry has gone through a re-birth in many ways in the past year, and while it may still be finding its ultimate future direction, the Wednesday night dinners continue unabated. It’s hard to do ministry in-person with people who are on the complete other side of the socio-economic scale. It’s hard because our insular wedge of society tells us that these people are at that other end because of poor life choices, because they are criminals, because they are unable to live in “polite society.” It’s hard because we’re afraid that we won’t know what to say, we won’t know what to do, we won’t know, so we won’t go. But through the Advocate we need to be reassured that we do in fact know how to interact with people who are economically, socially, different from us, because (spoiler alert) that’s all that is different between them and us. They are real people who want real conversations, real relationships, real connections, realness that we all seek out in our lives.

It is in engaging with these two ministries as a church, a unified group of believers, not simply as individuals, that we can move the needle on the injustice, pain, suffering, and hunger that seems to permeate throughout our society. It is in engaging with these two ministries as a church, not simply as individuals, that this church, you people unified, will become a model of active engagement in the world, standing in stark contrast to the insular static monolithic building on the hill that many view it as. When we shift into an active place of outreach as a church body–and I feel like I need to keep emphasizing this part because I want you to know that I do see each and every one of you making a difference as individuals but I don’t see that same difference being recognized with “St. John’s Cathedral” as the leader–when we make this shift we will draw others to us because they will see a place where Christ’s life and mission is still actively being lived into today, here and now. St. John’s Cathedral should not only be thought of as that big beautiful church on the hill.

And I know some of you disagree with me on this point. Some of you believe that church is a place for spiritual comfort, not a source of civic engagement and leadership. I hear you and I respect that opinion, but I challenge you to ask yourself why can’t it be both, and why wouldn’t we want it to be both? I believe that in being both, we will more fully live into the model of life and ministry that Jesus Christ has left for us.

Today we gather on the Sunday before Ascension. On that day, Jesus leaves us for a final time, leaving us to go about doing the work that he has left for us to accomplish. We have the blueprint for doing that work in the life and ministry of Jesus as described in the gospels, as fought for by the Apostles, by Paul, Peter, James, and John. And, in today’s gospel we are reminded that in addition to the blueprint for doing that work, we also have an Advocate among us. An advocate who is among us to fulfill a promise that even as Jesus goes to be with the Father, the Holy Spirit continues to be present with us, to fill us, to encourage us, to defend us. If we accept this reality for ourselves, if we accept this reality for our gathered community of believers that we call church, then we (both individually and as a unified church) cannot help but become part of the active model of ministry that Christ so clearly laid before us. We cannot help but move out of the static, afraid, state of being that we (both individually and as a unified church) often find ourselves in. When we accept the reality of the Advocate among us, we accept the reality of the promise of Christ that is fulfilled through his death and resurrection, and accept that God is continually present with us, forever.

Amen.

a “good” life

A sermon preached on the Fifth Sunday of Easter at the 8am service

John 14:1-14

Easter is a season about life. We have the promise of resurrection realized and experienced in Christ. Jesus comes back to us from death, defeating death, to teach us, to inspire us, to fill us with hope. The hope of the resurrection is what makes Easter, and it is this hope that we experience throughout this season. But the gospel today, which in many ways is an Easter gospel in the vein of what has preceded and what is still to come in this season, is not about the hope in life we experience, at least not in the mortal, one-time experience of life of the here and now. This gospel today is an Easter gospel because it is about our death. And in our death, the hope that Easter brings. Hope that we must know. Hope that we must share. Hope that is our faith in the resurrected savior, Jesus Christ.

We often avoid conversation of death until it is unavoidable. There is so much joy in this world, in our lives, that death is not something which we want to dwell too much on. Even when there is a lack of joy in our lives, death still is not talked about, death still remains taboo. It’s because we should be happy in this world, with our lives, regardless of whether we actually are happy or not, we should be, or at least that is what we’re often led to believe. And because of this, we celebrate life. We celebrate the occasion of our births with great joy over the fact that we’re still alive, at least for another year. And we mourn deaths. We mourn loss. We mourn the fact that we are reminded that we are in fact mortal, regardless of how immortal we may feel. And because mourning is not a joyous occasion, we try to avoid it as much as possible. We try to avoid death, in any real sense, as much as possible.

It is because of our insistence on avoiding death that it is in fact hard to handle death when we are forced to come face-to-face with it. But in particular, we are greatest at avoiding any notions of our own mortality until it is too late. I’m a healthy young (or for some of you, youngish) person, you think to yourself, what sort of use do I have for a will (apart from the fact that you have dependents, a spouse, one or more children, to think of)? We avoid our own mortality by making death fantastical and ridiculous. We see this in film and television where regardless of it being a drama, a horror movie, or a comedy, death plays a character with which we interact, failing to acknowledge it as a reality in our real lives. We deal with death in a relatively safe manner, but still keeping it at arm’s length. Still protecting ourselves from the reality that supposedly comes with death.

This avoidance of death is compounded in part by the societal desire, and often pressure, to measure our lives, to make sure that we have lived what others may deem a “good life.” A life that was full of every experience possible. We checked off every item from the bucket list, for once that’s done than surely we’ll be ready to die. We have made sure that we have not missed out. And it is here that we begin to lose the point of Easter. We begin to lose ourselves in a pursuit that forgets what Christ has done before us, the promise that has been fulfilled for us, the life that is awaiting us after this life.

But, what if we took this life, acknowledging the very real presence of death at the end of that life, and saw the life we have been given as an opportunity to prepare. What if, instead of seeing life as something that must be lived to the fullest, as seen through skydiving, swimming with dolphins, and climbing Mt. Rainier, we thought of a life lived to its fullest wherein we worked to better the lives of others, we worked to protect God’s creation in all its forms, we worked to bring about the kingdom of God, we worked to prepare ourselves for our deaths. When Thomas asks Jesus, how can we know the way, he is asking a question that is asking Christ to quantify how we can measurably follow Christ, measure whether or not we have achieved the standards of a good life so as to be rewarded in the end.

If we are truly living a life in Christ, how could we not know the way? If we are truly living a life in Christ, following the way, the truth, the life, we can begin to answer the question of what is really important to measure a life well-lived. For there is a pretty clear answer as to what makes a “good” life, when it is a life lived in Christ.

A “good” life in Christ is one where we see the hungry and give them food, the thirsty and give them something to drink. A “good” life in Christ is one where we see a stranger and welcome them in, be they Christian, Muslim, Jew, or any of the myriad of faiths in this world, be they Atheist or Agnostic, be they immigrant, refugee, or illegal alien. A “good” life in Christ is one where we see the naked and give them clothing, simply give it to them, with no qualifications. A “good” life in Christ is one where we see the sick and take care of them, regardless of how much money they have, regardless of how good of medical insurance they can (or can’t) afford, regardless of how they choose to live their life, the choices they have made in that life. A “good” life in Christ is one where we see the imprisoned, imprisoned by cruel and unusual mandatory sentencing laws, imprisoned for minor drug infractions, imprisoned for doing what they had to do to survive in a society that only works to keep them down, imprisoned for committing the same crime as a rich white college kid but being black so parole and community service were never going to be offered, and visit them, see them as human beings and not as thugs and criminals, stripping away their very humanity.

If we begin to understand the measure of a “good” life in Christ, and the stark difference it strikes with the measure of a “good” life in society, then we can begin to understand Jesus when he says do not let your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me. The place where Jesus goes, to prepare a dwelling place for us, enables us to re-define death. Death becomes for us not death, but life. Death becomes for us a new birth, where we will be with the Father and the Son. When we acknowledge this reality of death, that it does not hover over us like a reaper, waiting to harvest our souls, we can change our understanding of this life that we have been gifted with. When we begin to see death in the light of Easter, the light of resurrection, we see death as our reward for a life well lived in Christ.

And, you know the way. You know the truth. You know the life that is in Christ. We simply have to acknowledge and celebrate this fact. We have to celebrate that what society might deem a good life is not a standard that we need to be beholden to. We have to celebrate that we have been given this one life to do as much good in this world as we can manage, taking up the mantle as a follower of Christ, creating good. And when that one life comes to an end, whether it be at the end of a long life or a short life, we will be rewarded with a dwelling place in the father’s house.

When we gather for funerals in this church (often hearing this very gospel in the service), when we acknowledge the deaths of our friends and family every Sunday, we say that we mourn the death and celebrate the life lived. It is important that we be given space to mourn for these deaths, it is hard to say goodbye to someone we hold near and dear to us. It is especially hard when it feels like that person’s time with this life, in this place, was cut short. It is important to mourn, because it is in our mourning that we acknowledge that the world is losing someone who put good into the world. And, it is hard for us to accept that their good will no longer be actively created. But, we also celebrate their life because we are resurrection people, and in this gospel today we know that through Christ, there is life.

We know that through Christ, the good that has been created in this world will beget more good as we celebrate the life of those who die, by carrying on, supporting, the good they created when they were with us. Christ is the way, the truth, the life, and because of this, we cannot help but celebrate a life well lived, we cannot help but be comforted by the fact that our loved ones go to the dwelling places, and one day we too will be amongst them in a new life, a new life experienced because of Christ’s salvific act on the cross and his subsequent resurrection, defeating death for the final time.

Amen.