Sixth Sunday of Easter

Prayer of the Day
Almighty and ever-living God, you hold together all things in heaven and on earth. In your great mercy receive the prayers of all your children, and give to all the world the Spirit of your truth and peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Acts 17:22-31  Paul’s message to the Athenians
Psalm 66:8-20
1 Peter 3:13-22  The days of Noah, a sign of baptism
John 14:15-21  Christ our advocate

Title:  Our Advocate:  Object of Worship, Model for Living

If Paul came to New York, like he came to Athens as recorded in our first reading for today, what altars to other gods might he see?  Now if you know anything about Greek mythology, there was a whole Mount Olympus of gods who were always fighting with each other and putting poor lowly humans in the middle of their conflicts, or using and abusing humans for their own pleasure.  Their jealousy and their conniving made them sound like spoiled children.  But subject to them and eager to please and pacify them, the Greeks built temples to try to keep them happy and at peace.  The people tried any way they could to win the favor and protection of their gods.

Paul had gone to Athens, and his preaching had caught the attention of some philosophers of various schools of thought and they wanted to know just what this guy stood for.  So he was brought before the Areopagus (a council of philosophers and religious leaders who were charged with examining the credentials of those who came to Athens teaching and preaching.  Especially if it was some new religion or cult.)  And, as we heard read, Paul makes his case before them.  Wisely, he starts with a little sweet talk. He compliments them for being religious and having lots of altars and temples for their objects of worship.  It is a bit of a back handed compliment, might even be a little sarcastic, the way he says objects of worship rather than saying gods.

So back to my original question, with slight rewording – if Paul came to New York today, like he came to Athens back in the first century, what objects of worship might he see?

Perhaps he would make his way down to Wall Street, where trading and selling go on at a feverous pitch.  Where at times that big deal is pursued with little regard for the effects on folks who work in factories, hold mortgages, invest for their future.  Where companies are bought and sold, built up and dismantled all for the sake the that great object of worship that sits at the heart of a capitalistic system on hyper-drive.

Perhaps Paul would make his way to Fifth Avenue, to Million Dollar Mile.  He could see those objects of worship that fill our dreams and drive our working.  Those sparkling items that we believe ownership of will bring a sparkle to our life and happiness to our days.  There is a church in the midst of all those high end stores with a statue in the back that is labeled Our Lady of Fifth Avenue and she has a huge jewel in her crown.  I always wonder which store she bought it at.  And I half expect to see shopping bags at her feet.  Patron saint of bargain hunters.

Then again, Paul could make his way to any one of the hundreds of places where those obsessed with beauty daily go to fine tune and bulk up.  Now I am certainly not suggesting that he would take issue with people working out and using exercise in their self-care plan.  After all, it seems that Paul was a bit of a sports enthusiast himself.  He loved to weave athletic metaphors into his writings about faith.  But in our time, when we consider the rampant use of steroids, and the billions paid to the doctors of nip and tuck.  That elusive thing called beauty can certainly be seen as an object of worship in our youth fixated society.

Now if Paul were visiting LA, we would have to give mention to that great four wheeled object of worship – the car.  You are what you drive, right?  While living out there I once had an insurance agent on the phone, never met him face to face, and he was telling me that I was buying the wrong car because I wasn’t getting the stylish convertible.  I was opting for the useful Isuzu Trooper that would be helpful in my work.  He didn’t seem to understand that I wasn’t looking to become the object of worship of some car-obsessed woman.

There are so many objects of worship that Paul could observe, that we revere, that we pay homage to, that we are distracted by.  Each of us has our own priority list.  Family, fame, popularity (and the new form of that – social media attention).  These are the things that we think will bring us fulfillment, meaning, happiness, purpose, peace.  But Paul tells those Athenians who, along with worshiping any god that came along, thought having the right philosophy in life would bring on all that satisfaction and contentment.  He tells them that the one worthy of our worship is the God who created us.  Because God didn’t stop there.  Since we are God’s obsession, Jesus was sent.  Jesus died.  Jesus rose from the dead so that he might share victory over the grave with us.  So that we might never be separated from the God who loves us, who is so totally dedicated to us such that nothing is held back.

And now we prepare to again celebrate God’s never-ending commitment to us by following the sending of Jesus, with the sending of the Spirit.  (Pentecost is the day we set aside, June 4 this year.)  But in today’s gospel, Jesus is giving a preview of this Spirit that will come after he is taken up into heaven.  Jesus calls the Spirit, our Advocate.  Have you ever had an advocate?  Ever needed one?

Typically, advocates speak on our behalf, they represent us when we can’t do it ourselves.  Either we can’t get access to those in power.  Or we don’t speak the language of the system that has control of our fate.  Or we are not strong enough to stand up for ourselves.

In the Advocate that God gives us, we have access to the power of God and we are joined to one another as the Body of Christ.  God – the one perfect in compassion – empowers us so that our fate is new life in Christ.  The God of life through the Spirit stands up for us, strengthens us to stand, invites us into a life that no other object of worship can offer.  Through the Holy Spirit, gift of God and presence of the resurrected Christ, we are not left alone.  There is no fluctuation in markets.  There are no changing trends.  There are disappointments of droops.  A promise has been made in baptism and is being fulfilled.  We are not orphans.  We are adopted, cherished children of God.  When all the other objects of worship in our life fall away, prove short of true power, reveal the emptiness of their promises; God’s Advocate, the Holy Spirit, continues to guide and strength, bringing peace and life, proving worth of our worship.

And we give thanks for this Advocate by being an advocate for others.  Last summer, at our national church gathering, we voted to be Advocates for young people migrating north from difficult lives in Central America.  The program is called Amparro.  Seafarers International House, a Lutheran ministry here in our city, continues to be an Advocate for Immigrants, Refugees and Asylum Seekers.  This past Monday, our council approved that St. John’s join the network of safe spaces and advocates for immigrants through the New Sanctuary Movement.  We also dedicated monies collected during our Pride Month Events to go to Rainbow Railroad – an organization the works as Advocate for LGBTQ people who are oppressed and endangered in their own land, aiding them in coming to a safe place in the same way that the Underground Railroad helped slaves escape in the 19th century.  They have recently set their attention on Chechnya.

Jesus knows how hard it is to have faith in this Advocate that works for us and calls us to work for others.  He said to his disciples: 17This 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.  In our anxiety and the challenges of life we seek that which we can see.  But joined as one in the Spirit, our Advocate, we can grow together in faith and trust.  Together, we teach and witness to one another of God’s presence and power that advocates for us.  Together, in the Spirit, we have the strength and endurance to be advocates for those who are calling out, those who are silenced, those who are alone, those who feel powerless.

Let our worship be dedicated to the unfailing one who created us in love, redeemed us in love, and now sustains us in love.  The one who abides with us this day and forever as we pray, Come, Holy Spirit, Come, because…

Alleluia!  Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

The Rev. Mark Erson,

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