Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | May 25, 2014

2014.05.25 “The Ministry of Advocacy” – John 14: 15 – 21

Central United Methodist Church

The Ministry of Advocacy

Pastor David L. Haley

John 14: 15 – 21

The 6th Sunday of Easter

Memorial Day Weekend

May 25th, 2014


If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

“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. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.  They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them. – John 14: 15 -21, New Revised Standard Version

Ah, Memorial Day weekend: how long we have waited! This winter, with its harsh weather, was an exercise in patience and endurance, wasn’t it? Aren’t we thankful we have finally made it to Memorial Day?

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, began after the Civil War to remember those killed in that war. Because many killed in battle were buried near where they died, far away from home and family, it fell to nearby residents to decorate the graves of the fallen on both sides. In time, with subsequent wars, Decoration Day became Memorial Day, a time to remember those who died in all our country’s wars. Tomorrow, all across the country, in rural areas, small towns, large cities, and especially military cemeteries, such as Arlington, this will take place.

In my last appointment in West Chicago, out in DuPage County, our back yard faced up to the oldest cemetery in town, Oakwood Cemetery.  In that cemetery rested not only Civil War veterans, but also the town’s Soldiers and Sailor’s Monument. So every Memorial Day – including tomorrow – several hundred people will gather to remember and honor those who died in our country’s wars.  The VFW and the American Legion will supply the honor guard, the high school band will play, and the Mayor or a distinguished veteran will speak. Inevitably small children will cover their ears and cry at the 21-gun salute, and inevitably, especially if it is a warm day, several members of the high school band will faint and fall into the grass.  It is a slice of Americana if there ever was one.

Of course, for those Gold Star families who have lost loved ones in war, especially our recent wars, Memorial Day is not a pleasant experience, but a painful one. Their lives have never been and never will be the same since the day they received their notification.  And the numbers are significant: in the two wars we have fought since 9/11/2001, Iraq and Afghanistan, 8,245 were killed (4804 in Iraq, 3441 in Afghanistan).  I’ve met some of those Gold Star families, our hearts goes out to them.  While I think the solemn remembrances of Memorial Day must be comforting, knowing that the sacrifice of their spouse or son or daughter is honored and not forgotten, it must also be a sad day, a day when they are reminded of their loss.

While remembering our war dead is the original and primary purpose of Memorial Day, like all holidays, its meaning continues to change over time.  After our most recent wars, we have come to understand even more clearly that the costs of war extends beyond the fatality list, and includes those who lost limbs or returned from war with severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It is a sad truth that more soldiers and veterans die by suicide than are killed in war.  And not only sad – but disgraceful – that the waiting times for treatment at our Veterans hospitals still remains inexcusably long. How abused, mistreated, and even forgotten, many of our veterans must feel.

This is why the prestigious Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government estimates that the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, taken together, will be the most expensive wars in US history — totaling somewhere between $4 trillion and $6 trillion – because it not only includes the cost of the wars, but also the long-term medical care and disability compensation for service members, veterans and families, military replenishment and social and economic costs. The largest portion of that bill is yet to be paid.

Though not its primary purpose, for many of us Memorial Day may also be a time when we remember our loved ones who have died. When we can, we may visit cemeteries to place flowers on graves, marked with tombstones with our name on them.  Out of this may come not only fond remembrance, but our own sense of loss, that with a mother or father, a brother or sister, a son or daughter’ loss, we, too, may feel alone in the world.

At such times, when we feel alone, for whatever reason, how good to hear the promise of Jesus in today’s Gospel:

“I will ask the Father to give us another Advocate, who will be with us forever . . . You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you . . . On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”

To appreciate Jesus’ promise, it is helpful to know the chronology and context. At this point in John’s story, it is Thursday, the evening before the crucifixion. After sharing a meal with his disciples and offering them an example of selfless love and service, Jesus is preparing them for his imminent departure. He is about to leave them and they are understandably distressed. In response, he has told them – in last week’s reading – not to worry, that he was going away to prepare a place for them. But they are still upset, for the fear of loss is not easily defeated. And so he tells them that he will not leave them orphaned, abandoned, or alone. Instead, he will send to them an Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, who will be with them.

It is also helpful to remember that Jesus was speaking not only to his first disciples, but to all future believers, including us. Remember John’s Gospel was written late in the 1st century for Christians who had never met Jesus. By that time, most, if not all, of Jesus’ original disciples were dead, the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, and Jesus had not returned, as many expected.  So they began to wonder, in what sense was Jesus still with them, more than just as a memory?  John’s answer, quoting Jesus, was that he was with them through the presence of the Spirit, who would be among them and in them.

The specific term Jesus used is that the Spirit would be an Advocate. Translated literally, it means “one called alongside,” and is variously translated as friend, comforter, counselor, or helper, depending upon which translation of the Bible you are reading.  It is someone who stands up for you when you need it; who speaks on your behalf; who takes your side, and won’t leave you when you’re down.

As an illustration, a few years ago, I was privileged to be an “advocate” for one of our parishioners.  One of our people had to go to court, and like some of us, English was their second language, so they asked if I might accompany them. When the Judge called us forward, he whispered to me: “You talk.”  So I said to the Judge, “Your honor, I’m not a lawyer, I am his Pastor, and I have come to support him and stand with him.”  The Judge said, “While I appreciate your support of your parishioner, you have no standing and should not be here.”  From that point on, I was a silent Advocate, keeping my mouth shut and supporting our parishioner with my presence.

If we understanding the Spirit’s presence in this way, it means we’ve seen how the Spirit works lots of times.  Whenever we have seen someone stand up for others, whether by speaking out or in silent support, we have seen an example of how the Spirit works. Whenever we have seen someone bear the love of Christ in the world, we’ve seen a demonstration of what the Spirit does. No wonder Jesus says, “You know him,” because, as it turns out, the Holy Spirit looks and acts a lot like Jesus, or like you or me, whenever we stand up for others and bear the love of God in the world.

If this is what the Spirit does for us, we are never more a community of the Spirit than when we do this for each other, when we come alongside of each other, to be advocates for each other, not only during times of celebration, but during times of loss.  By doing so, we keep Jesus’ commandment, that we love one another.

But what if we take this one step further, and become a community of the Spirit, and carry on the ministry of advocacy, not just for ourselves, but for those outside the church?  On this Memorial Day weekend, I suggest one place we might start would be as an advocate for those who have served our country (and therefore us), who seek to regain their physical, emotional, and moral footing following war.

Brite Divinity School, in Ft. Worth, Texas, has established what they call a Center for Soul Repair, to help returning veterans recover from the moral injury they have suffered in war. Listen to the Rev. Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock, co-director for the Center for Soul Repair, explain what this means: Video – Center for Soul Repair

If, by the Spirit’s presence with us, we are not alone, but always have an Advocate who stands with us, let us emulate the Spirit’s work, the ministry of advocacy, and be an advocate for those who need our help, to let them know that they are not alone on their journey or in their struggle.

As for the legacy of war, Abraham Lincoln, speaking about a month before the end of the Civil War in his Second Inaugural, put it most eloquently:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” (Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1965)


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