In honor of my wife’s 13th anniversary of ordination, I thought I’d share my favorite Pentecost sermon. It’s about being an advocate, something that Jeanette does so incredibly well.
A quick note: this was written to be heard, not necessarily read.
Based on John 14:15-21.
In today scripture reading, Jesus tells us a few things. In preparing this message, I became particularly interested in three things Jesus says: 1) “I will not leave you.” 2) “I will send you an Advocate.” 3) “Keep my commandments.”
The connection between the three, in my mind, goes like this:
Jesus said “keep my commandments.”
So, what did Jesus command us to do? To “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Well, how do we do that? Be an advocate for them particularly when they are in need. (That’s interesting knowing that Jesus told us in today’s scripture that he would SEND an advocate).
And, as Christians, we are trying to imitate Christ, to be a small version of Christ. Which is interesting because, also in today’s scripture Jesus tells us he will not leave us.
Sort a a beautiful balance to the whole thing, don’t you think?
Think about it: if we will be Advocates to everyone, Christ will be our Advocate and it is in us BEING Advocates that Christ Advocates.
If we are going to understand what it means to show we love God, there is one very important word in today’s scripture that we need to understand – ParaKlete. It’s the word that is translated as “Advocate” in today’s scripture. It literally means “one-called-along-side.”
It’s a word very closely related to the Hebrew word hacham which shows up in the 23rd Psalm “Thy rod and thy staff they (hacham or) comfort me.”
So, let’s put that all together. We have a word, ParaKlete, that means a person who is called along side of another for comfort – that’s the word used for “Advocate” – one called along side of another for comfort. It is the one thing that Jesus very specifically says he is going to send to us when he leaves – so, it seems pretty important, right? Particularly when it is so clearly something that we all can be for each other, if we chose to do so. Which brings us to the crux of my message today, “How do we live into being an advocate? How do we comfort the afflicted? How do we show our love for God?”
Well, the simple answer is, “by sharing that love with others,” (which, very conveniently, is a big part of what Jesus was talking about in today’s scripture when he says, “keep my commandments”) – share the love of God with one another, but how do we share that love with others? Well, as you delve into that question, you begin to understand that in contemporary society, the answer has everything to do with the difference between charity and justice. Not just any justice. We’re talking about the justice of God here – a justice that is to roll like mighty waters.
We show the authentic love of God, we become good advocates, by not only in giving those in need a handout IF they need it but by giving them a hand-up BECAUSE they need it. That’s the question of charity versus justice. Charity temporarily fixes people so that the systems seems to work better. Justice permanently fixes systems so that all people have a real opportunity to be better.
You see love is not complete when it is temporary.
You do not share complete love when you give a dollar to the guy on the street corner. It is a beginning, but it’s just a beginning. Love begins to extend past the temporary and into the future when, as you hand him that dollar, you ask him his name. You find out how he got here; you listen to him and not judge him; you recognize that he wouldn’t be here if he had a better choice.
From his story you learn how the systems in which we live are perfectly designed to receive the results we have.
Perfectly designed –
to let some snack on caviar while others scrounge for scraps.
Perfectly designed –
to let some jet around the country while others sleep under bridges.
Perfectly designed –
to let some fall into money and others fall into poverty.
And then you set yourself to changing the system.
You do CHARITY, because you must.
You do CHARITY, because it changes a life for the moment.
But you do not stop there.
You become an Advocate.
You fight for JUSTICE,
because from your place in life you can.
You fight for JUSTICE,
because it changes lives forever.
How do you know if you are following Jesus’ instructions to obey his commandments? You examine your life to see if it speaks justice into the darkest places of this world. You look to see if your life is one of Advocacy; if you find yourself being one-called-along-side. You see, if you’re truly loving your neighbor, you will practice justice.
Unfortunately, as a whole, the Christian church is much more comfortable with charity than justice.
Personally, I see as a general malaise that has fallen across Christianity. We have bought so far into a kumbaya, turn-the-other-cheek, Jesus-is-more-of-doormat-than-a-door theology, that we have rendered ourselves ineffectual. Frequently, we’ve come to think that “loving our neighbor as ourselves” means not making anyone upset by demanding that the poor and sick be cared for (even though that’s exactly what Jesus did). Worse yet, we have started measuring our success at being THAT kind of Christian by how many people ‘like us’ compared to how many people don’t.
Need I remind us all that so many people didn’t like Jesus that they nailed him to a tree. Not because he was a bad person, but because he did not make nice when people distorted God’s message of love. He was busy being an Advocate, demanding justice. He didn’t turn the other cheek when politicians and religious leaders conspired to step on the ‘least of these.’ He stood up for what was right. He flipped tables in the name of God. He did not lash out violently at another human being, ever, but he did lovingly confront them. He was always motivated by love… but he did not back down, he did not sacrifice the Word of God for the comfort of humanity; he did not keep his mouth shut in the name of being nice. He didn’t do those things because he loved the world to much; he wanted to love his neighbor as himself; he was busy practicing Advocacy.
For too long the children of God have suffered – for far too long.
God has claimed the meek and the poor in spirit and those who morn and those who thirst for justice and the merciful and the pure of heart and the peacemakers and those that suffer persecution for justice sake as God own. Those who take advantage of the meek and persecute people who work for justice, have been given a pass by Christians who think that ‘turn the other cheek’ means to sit passively by like a doormat as they and the marginalized get stepped on, used and abused, by the powerful who wipe their feet of the world’s sometimes gritty reality so that the houses that they have built on the backs of the rest of us don’t get soiled with the pain, the abuse, the hatred of the world that they themselves have created. When Jesus was confronted with people that had distorted the purpose of the house of God, he flipped tables.
When Jesus was confronted by people using God’s name to dupe those who had little, who were meek, who were abused and marginalized, he flipped tables.
If we wish to love our neighbors as ourselves, to walk along side them, to be advocates in the name of God’s love, there are certain things that should move us to the point of wanting to flip tables as well. People using God’s name for false purposes. People using religion to further marginalize ‘the least of these.’ God’s justice not rolling like mighty waters. Philanthropy stopping at charity rather than living into the future through justice.
When those things happen, it’s time for us to not only flip the tables but to turn them. It’s time for us to live into being the advocates we are called to be. It’s time to no longer stop at charity, but rather to extend our love of neighbor into justice. It is time for us to confront injustice at every turn. We must profess love in every moment. We must see Christ in every face… and it might just take flipping a few proverbial tables.
Consider supporting Mark’s blogging. Help create a market for Progressive Christianity. Not through big publishers or big denominations, but through the grassroots. We need to encourage the growth of progressive Christian voices in the marketplace. Even a dollar will help.
Facebook continues to make it increasingly difficult for me to let you know about new blog posts like this. Please consider signing up for my mailing list where we can insure you are notified.Just click here!
Mark is a co-founder of The Christian Left. Come and join the conversation!