Sunday, May 17, 2020
Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A
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
1 Peter 3:13-22 The days of Noah, a sign of baptism
John 14:15-21 Christ our advocate
Title: Rejoicing in God’s Commitment
Leave it to a pandemic to bring to the forefront our true beliefs, our core values, our top priorities. One might even say it makes clear who or what are the gods that we worship. After all, our beliefs, values, and priorities point to that in which we “live, move, and have our being.”
Whether it be in posted videos or memes, articles or sermons, rants or protests, to what gods are you seeing altars built these days of pandemic life and times?
Certainly, the most obvious one is our economy. We hear people blatantly and boldly willing to sacrifice lives for the sake of restarting our economy. Some (thank you for your honesty) have not even tried to sugar-coat their prioritizing gross national product over gross national death toll. Others have even sounded a call that some, less important people, those less beneficial to the bottom line, should be sacrificed for the sake of the greater economic good.
While some of the protesters who have taken to the streets will also claim to be doing homage to the economy god, they also mix in shouts of praise and adoration for the god of patriotism and individualism. Also known as the god of “It’s all about me.” With signs and shouts, marches and motorcades, they are claiming that measures to keep the greater good safe and well are violating their dedication to their own civil rights and their very self-centered independence.
Even more confusing are those who claim that they are speaking for the God, made known in Jesus Christ, that we too worship. Confusing because their testimony seems to represent a god that is foreign to us and is not reflected in the person, ministry, and teachings of Jesus. These modern day, self-proclaimed prophets serve and speak for a god who they say reigns down judgement in the form of disease and death, punishing the marginalized and the outcast, as they themselves see things and judge others. And yet, we read in the gospel that the Jesus who they say they speak for, and who we acknowledge as risen savior, spends his time on earth healing and welcoming, restoring and befriending those who, in his day, were judged as outcast, unclean, and unworthy.
That’s just a sample of the pandemic pantheon. I’m sure you can add to it from what you are seeing and hearing.
In our first reading this morning from the Acts of the Apostles, we find Paul in Athens, which, though it is not a city wrecked with pandemic, is still brimming with a variety of gods to worship.
Paul had gone Athens in the name of and to introduce one more god, the one he and we believe is the one true God – the God of creation, the God of Abraham, the God who raised Jesus from the dead, the God who is Alpha and Omega. And Paul’s preaching about our God made known in Jesus Christ had caught the attention of some philosophers of various schools of thought and they wanted to know just what this guy and his God 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, (if we knew Paul better, we might even think it a little sarcastic,) the way he calls them objects of worship rather than referring to them as gods.
But Paul tells those Athenians who, along with worshiping any god that came along, (even one without a name, just to make sure no one was excluded) his Greek listeners also thought having the right philosophy in life would bring on complete satisfaction and contentment. So he tells them that the one worthy of our worship is the God who created us. Because God didn’t stop there. God didn’t sit on some mount Olympus and watch humanity suffer for divine sport. God doesn’t put the world and us in the middle of disagreeing deities. Since we are God’s obsession, since we are claimed to be God’s children, 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.
The psalmist joins in Paul’s testimony. For even though the psalmist thinks that their trials and tribulations might be a testing by God, the people are still called to worship God, to testify to all that God has done and is doing. God is still worthy of our offerings and our praise.
And our rejoicing and our thanksgiving should know no end, because God’s commitment to us is never-ending. As we hear in today’s gospel reading, Jesus comforting his disciples the night of his arrest with the promise of continued presence, so 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 just two weeks away.) This morning we hear Jesus 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 work of the Holy Spirit— gift of God and presence of the resurrected Christ — we are not left alone. There is no threat of loss. There is no qualification of value. There is no insiders and outsiders, essentials or expendables. There is no abandonment or condemnation. 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 strengthen, bringing peace and life, proving worthy of our worship.
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 are called to 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. Even separated in isolation, we are still joined together in the Spirit for the sake of the world.
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. And we can have confidence in this Advocate, because…
Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!
The Rev. Mark Erson,