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Sermon: Easter 6 Year A

May 17, 2020

The Rev. Eileen Weglarz

Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:7-18; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

Today’s gospel begins and ends with the relationship between love and obedience. Normally in the scriptures, the text speaks of God’s love and what that love means in the context of forgiveness, mercy, provision, and care. But in today’s reading from John’s gospel, the emphasis is on our love for God and what that love means in the context of the major benefit and blessing of our relationship with God.

Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” We know the all-encompassing ultimate commandments of Jesus: love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and might, and love your neighbor as yourself. As he said, these two laws encompass all of the Law and the Prophets. 

That means love each other as he has loved us, so that all people will know that we are his disciples, see our good works, and glorify God. And while you’re at it, go, and preach the gospel of this love from and for God, bringing others into the household of faith. Tell the story of Jesus’ss love with your life as well as your lips.

Everything depends on and is defined by this love. What is the benefit of keeping Jesus’s commandments? You receive and have access to another Advocate—The Holy Spirit. Jesus is clear: the world (and by world he means those who do not know and love him), the world does not know or see and cannot receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the gift of a loving God who does not want to leave the disciples as spiritual orphans after Jesus has died, risen, and ascended. The Holy Spirit is the One who will enable them to carry out Jesus’ss commandments and work after he is gone.

The Greek word for this Advocate is parakletos, which can be translated as “one who is called alongside.” This particular use of the word is found only in John and is identified with the Holy Spirit. It is so important that this part of the Gospel of John, Jesus’s Farewell Discourse, which we have been reading the last few weeks, is read this time every year of the three-year cycle, years A, B, and C.

The idea of the Holy One being ever present with us should be comforting, even if we can’t see this Holy One. We rely on this One’s presence, strength, power, protection, guidance, and counsel.

Do you remember when we were children and the third person of the Trinity was called the Holy Ghost? It still is in Rite I liturgy. The word ghost conjures up all kinds of images, doesn’t it? A mysterious “almost person,” an elusive entity that is present but not visible.

So, who or what is this mysterious Holy Spirit or Ghost? Throughout the scriptures the Holy Spirit is called by many names, or roles within the Godhead: advocate, counselor, comforter, teacher, sustainer, intercessor, and spirit of truth. In other words—all that we need to live a full, healthy, abundant life as God intends for us. Don’t we have a fantastic, loving, giving God?

We can rely on our Advocate to empower us to do the works that Jesus did and more, and

• to inform and enlighten us in the ways of God and in the way we walk as followers of Christ,

• to warn us of that which will cause us to stumble or get into trouble,

• to teach us and call us to righteousness,

• to comfort and sustain us during the difficult and painful times,

• to pray on our behalf when we sit in silence before God and have no words, but only tears and groaning, and

• to give us more love for God.

Jesus goes on to describe this Advocate as “the Spirit of Truth.” This helper is a gift for each and every one of us who obey Jesus, and a gift for the community of faith; but many in the world are not able to accept the Advocate, since the Spirit of Truth serves to reveal all falsehood. Besides, those outside of God are not able to see the truth of God because their hearts and minds are closed to that which is born of Spirit. Why? Because they continue to disobey Jesus’s command about love, and willfully sin against both Jesus and their brothers and sisters.

Yet the Advocate will remain with the disciples, as Jesus has taught them to recognize and value the truth. As they recognize and value truth, the Spirit will abide with and in them. A lesson for us: Speak truth, live truth, seek truth. Lies and deception separate us from God, Jesus, and the Spirit’s indwelling presence.

But back to the disciples…When the disciples can no longer see the human Jesus, he will nonetheless continue to be with them everywhere and at all times. How? Through the Holy Spirit, who is sent to us after Jesus ascends from the Earth. However, the Spirit is far more than a substitute for the physically absent Christ, and will prepare the disciples for God’s continued revelation. Just as Jesus is forever united with God, the disciples are forever united to Jesus, and he to them.

That is how God will continue in them the work that was begun in Jesus. The defining characteristic of the Church is the enduring love, power, and presence of God. Let me repeat this… Or it should be, or it is not the Church.

It might be a large gothic building with stained glass windows, beautiful religious artifacts and relics, and an organ that would knock your socks off. It might be a place where people gather for fellowship and worship. But without the Holy Spirit’s presence and the love of Jesus exhibited, it is not the Church Jesus died for. Jesus said, “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved of my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

The Holy Spirit came and filled them with power and love, as Jesus promised, on the day we call Pentecost. And Jesus continued after he was gone, through the Holy Spirit, to reveal himself to them as they spent their lives committed to building the fledgling Church.

St. Augustine in the fourth century wrote: “Fill yourselves first and then only will you be able to give to others.” It was this “filling” with a love and acceptance that was true, real, and steadfast that enabled the disciples to go into their world and hit the streets as change agents for the way, the truth and the life.

This coming Thursday is the Feast Day of the Ascension. I’m going to ask Jamison to post the scripture readings for Ascension Day on Facebook, so that you can prayerfully remember the event. I will personally be reading the scriptures in Evening Prayer format, along with the prayers for Ascension Day at 5 pm. If each of us does the same, or at least reads the scriptures, we will be united in faith and observance.

And then, our annual celebration of the Feast of Pentecost is coming exactly two weeks from today, when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is one of the major feast days in the Christian Calendar next to Easter and Christmas.

How will we prepare ourselves to be filled afresh and anew with God’s life-giving Spirit so that we, too, can hit the streets as change agents in our world, for the way, the truth and the life, that is Jesus? Filled with his love, and sharing that love with each other and the world?

Well, for starters, we spend time in prayer, asking God to forgive us for the ways we have failed to live into Jesus’s command to love God and each other and all humanity. And then we ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit to take over our hearts and minds and wills and ways.

Let us pray: Oh God, we thank you that you did not leave the disciples helpless and comfortless; rather you sent your Holy Spirit to be their advocate, strength and guide.

We thank you for the Spirit’s empowering presence in the many ways we see sacrificial love bestowed on humanity during this pandemic by health care workers risking their lives, and essential service personnel, by ordinary people giving extraordinary volunteer service through picking up groceries and household items for their neighbors, by cooking all day in a church kitchen to have meals delivered by volunteers to those in the community with substandard financial means, by donating funds to food pantries, and many other ways.

Help us, Lord, to intentionally and faithfully prepare ourselves for the coming of the Spirit, that we might do the works Jesus did and more, in life-giving, sacrificial love. Help us, Lord, to continue to allow the Spirit to move us in the ways of sacrificial love after the pandemic has subsided.

Help us to put away forever nastiness, critical spirits, self-serving behaviors, and stinginess, as things return to whatever form normal might take. During crises, we often let go of nasty behavior, but then when the crisis is over, we go back to our sinful ways. Good Lord deliver us!

And Oh God, we pray for the soul of the high school senior Torrell Starr, who was shot to death last night in the park next to the Chamber of Commerce building by the river. And we pray for another young man who was shot and is in critical condition. Lord, bring an end to gun violence in our country. We pray that the lives of our young people will be more valuable than “gun rights.”

Why, oh God, should someone’s rights to own something nonessential to life take precedence over the lives of our children and young people?! While people are dying from a pandemic, why do we kill each other intentionally? We pray for the families of these young men. We pray for righteous thinking and action on a matter such as gun rights! This is not a political issue! This is common sense and love! We pray that our government will stop being owned by the NRA and will start serving ALL the people of this country. Government officials are basically ALLOWING our young people and us to be gunned down because of a group that gives them re-election money! Lord have mercy… Christ have mercy… Lord have mercy!

And Oh God, then fill us, we beg of you, to continually overflowing with the Love of Jesus so that we can do your will. And may it never end. In his holy name we pray. Amen.