Sunday, May 29, 2011

Have you seen the Spirit? (Easter 6, May 29 2011)

Homily:  Yr A Easter 6, May 29 2011, Huntley
Readings:  Acts 17:22-31; Ps 66:7-18; 1 Pet 3:13-22; Jn 14:15-21                       

“Have you seen the Spirit?”

One of the most both wonderful and sorrowful parts of my job is ministry at the time of death.  It is sorrowful for obvious reasons.  But it can also be a wonderful time.  It is a privilege to be present with those who are dying and with family and friends who gather with them when that is possible.  Because in those final gatherings, words are said and gestures exchanged in a way that just doesn’t always happen in our day to day lives.  Death, or impending death, has a way of stripping away the superficialities of our lives, a way of allowing us to set aside our masks and concerns and to really be with each other, whispering words of love and gratitude, exchanging small gestures of warmth and compassion.  It is of course a time of sorrow, a time when tears are shed.  But often, it is also a time of reconciliation, a time when relationships are deepened among both the living and the dying, a time of closure, a time of faith, a time when questions are asked, a time of grappling with the deepest mysteries of life.

The gospel that we just heard takes place at one of these times.  Jesus and his closest friends, men and women, have gathered together in the upper room knowing that Jesus will be put to death the following morning.  Jesus has told them plainly that he is to be arrested and put to death, Judas has already scurried out into the night to betray Jesus, and Peter has been told that over the course of that night he will deny Jesus three times.  Their last meal together has ended.  This group of friends who have lived and traveled and experienced the most amazing things together for the last few years, this group who had known the presence of the living God in their midst, is gathered for the final time.
Those of you who have experienced gatherings at the time of death of a loved one can imagine what that the atmosphere was like in that room.  I’m sure there were tears, I’m sure there were expressions of love.  And there were questions.

“Jesus, what are we to do when you’re gone?” 

“If you love me, you will continue to do as I’ve taught you.  Love one another as I have loved you.”

“But we’re worried, we don’t know what we’ll do without you.”

“Don’t be troubled.  Put your trust in God the Father”

“But we don’t know God.  Show us the Father so that we can trust him.”

“Don’t you know that whoever has seen me has seen the Father?”

“Yes but you’re leaving us!  How will we know God once you’re gone?”

And Jesus tells them, “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.  This is the Spirit.  You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

This is Jesus’ final promise, the solemn promise that he makes to his disciples, and to us, on the night before he dies, the promise he makes in response to their fears and concerns.

Did Jesus keep his promise?

Jesus of Nazareth is the one who made the presence of the living God known to his contemporaries, his friends and disciples. But how is the presence of the living God made known to the disciples after the resurrection appearances were over, to those who came later, to us today?  Jesus’ promise is that God would send his Holy Spirit to be with us always, to abide with us, to be in us, so that our faith would not simply be a relationship with a memory, but rather a relationship with a real, present, living being.

Did Jesus keep his promise?  Do you know the Spirit?

How many of you have seen the Spirit?

At first that may seem like a tough question to answer.  After all, you might say, we don’t know what the Spirit looks like!  Sure, there are some images in the Bible, images of a dove, or of rushing wind, or flames of fire, but surely those images are metaphorical.  How can we know the Spirit if we don’t know what the Spirit looks like?

Actually, today’s gospel reading gives us two incredibly helpful clues as to what the Spirit looks like.

The first clue is this:  the Spirit is an Advocate.  An Advocate.  You know what an advocate is.  An advocate is the one who stands up for you when you need it;  the one who speaks on your behalf; the one who lends you a helping hand, takes your hand and won’t leave you when you’re down.

You know what an advocate looks like.  In fact at some point in your lives, you’ve been an advocate for someone.  And at some point in your life, someone has been your advocate.  Parents often act as advocates for their children, in the school system, on the sports team, in the playground.  But it’s not just children who need advocates.  Think of a time that you or someone else was sick, and had to go to the hospital or got tangled up in our health care system.  Think of how important it was for the person in need to have an advocate, to speak on their behalf to doctors and nurses, to make sure that they were fed and washed and cared for, to ask questions, to make sure they got the right treatment and medication.  That’s what advocates do.

That’s the first clue in today’s reading.  The Spirit looks like an advocate.

But there’s more.  Here’s the second clue.  Jesus says that the Father will send another Advocate.  Not a first advocate.  Another advocate.  Because the first advocate sent by the Father was Jesus.  Jesus is the one who reached out to those in need, who sat at table with the poor and marginalized, who stood by the side of those who were oppressed, who loved them without judging them, who served and helped others even at great cost to himself. 

And so when we put these two clues together, we get the following:  The Holy Spirit is an advocate who looks a whole lot like Jesus.

Now, let me ask again.  Have you ever seen the Holy Spirit?  Have you ever seen an advocate who looks a whole lot like Jesus?
Some of you may have heard recently that Centre 454, the day program for the homeless which is a community ministry of our Diocese, intends to move back into the basement of St. Alban’s church on King Edward Avenue downtown.  As part of that process there has been a series of meetings with neighbours and people in the community, during which people have been given an opportunity to express their concerns.  During those meetings some legitimate concerns have been expressed, but there have also been some very hurtful and degrading things said about the folk who use the services of Centre 454.  And at those meetings, Mary-Martha Hale the director of Centre 454, has had to stand in front of all those angry people, listen to all that is said, and calmly and patiently advocate for the poor and homeless and marginalized.  I know that this has been tremendously stressful for her.  But this is what she does.  She has been an advocate who looks a lot like the Jesus.  And when I see her, I know that I have seen the Holy Spirit.

Have you seen the Spirit?  Think about it for a moment.  I want you to take a moment and think of the times that you’ve seen the Spirit, up close and personal.

Have you seen the Spirit?

Yes you have.  Whenever you see an advocate who looks a lot like Jesus, whenever someone has taken your hand and walked you through the maze of our health care system, or spoken out on your behalf, or offered you a helping hand when you needed one, the Spirit has been with you.  If you want to see the Spirit, look around you.

And whenever you have been the advocate for another, loving another as Jesus has loved you, going the extra mile, reaching out to one who has been marginalized, then once more you have known the Spirit, for the Spirit has been in you, working through you.  Do you want to see the Spirit?  Have a look in the mirror.

You know the Spirit, the Advocate who is with you, the Advocate who works through you, the one who reveals the presence of the living God in our midst, the one who will be with us always.

Did Jesus keep his final promise?

You bet he did.      Amen.

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