A sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, preached at the 5:30pm Saturday and 10:30am Sunday services
The ministry of Jesus, the ministry which we as followers are called to live into both individually and as a church, is an active, engaging, moving ministry, not static, stuck, in place. Unfortunately, many churches are described today as static, stuck, in place, either too afraid to venture too far out into the community, to actively engage, to move into the life of the community, or too assure of their understanding of their place that they fail to grasp the fact that the life and ministry of Christ that we must model, is one of a public preacher who did ministry where it was needed most, which was rarely in the synagogue. And, in this active, engaging, moving ministry of Jesus, is a grounding of faith in an authentic relationship building that only comes from seeing each person for who they are, creations of God known by name. Part of the disconnect that has occurred from the lessons of the gospel and the practice of the church, is an understanding of the reality of what has been given us for the task of doing Christ’s ministry here and now. When we hear of Christ in us, we picture Christ as a part of us, drawing inspiration and power from this reality. But this concept does not fully encapsulate what we have among us. By speaking of only Christ within us, we fail to grasp how God’s presence is truly amongst us.
Jesus names today the Advocate who is to follow. This Advocate, whom we better know as the Holy Spirit, is promised to be with us forever. And, it is important with how the Advocate is introduced. Jesus does not say that the Holy Spirit, amorphous mist creature with questionable intent, is amongst us forever. The Holy Spirit is the Advocate that is with us forever. An advocate who stands besides us and fights with us. An advocate who fights on our behalf. An advocate who is every much a partner in doing the work and ministry of the church as it is a defender and protector of us as we strike out to do this ministry. This is important imagery because it serves to help us in understanding how we may be successful in doing an active ministry that is out in the world, rather than a static or even passive ministry that is solely focused on an insular understanding of what it means to be church. The advocate stands with us forever, ready to be with us as a partner in our ministry and a defender for when that ministry is hard, when that ministry touches us deeply in our souls, when that ministry forces us to call the church to task for being too concerned with its (supposed) imminent demise, that it fails to understand what we have been promised through our faith in Christ, fails to understand that our faith cannot die, even if the church dies around us because it can’t get out of its own way.
In truly understanding the role of the Advocate in relation to our own call for ministry in and of the church, we can begin to build real ministries that make real impacts on our community and on our world. It is faith in the Advocate that must drive us to do the work that is left for us. For if we accept that the Holy Spirit, in the form of the Advocate, is with us, then the ministries that lay before us are not simply accomplishable, they are necessary to make a real impact on the lives of those who need us to be doing this ministry, as much as we need the ministry to remind us of what it truly looks like to follow Christ.
In this place, we are on the verge of becoming so insularly focused that we will forget that the church was not established as a bastion of believers but rather a hospital for sinners. We will forget that doing the work of Christ, means actually doing real active work. Individuals in this parish are following the call of Christ to do the hard work that is ministry, but how is this place, this unified group of believers that we call church, modeling that example for more to follow?
I’m not saying that this cathedral needs to solve all of the world’s problems, but there is no reason why we can’t solve (or at least work towards a solution for) one or two very direct and pressing problems for people in our immediate community. In fact, there are two ministries, one directly tied to this place and one directly tied to the people of this place, that we really need to be backing with our fullest support, in the form of people doing active ministry and in the resources we can allocate to ensuring they continue, and not just continue but thrive.
Family Promise of Spokane is one of (and perhaps is) the only organizations that does not separate families who are experiencing homelessness and job loss. It’s a novel idea that shouldn’t be so novel. Removing the stress of being separated from family enables program participants to find homes, find jobs, and get back on their feet. St. John’s is one of many participant churches in this program, but if we’re truly to be the Cathedral for Spokane, as was an original hope and vision for this place, then we need to be one of the leader’s for this program, not one of the places that can barely scrape together enough volunteers to sleep overnight. It’s not that hard to spend a night on a cot, well it is, it is a cot after all, but spiritually it’s not that hard when you have the power of the Advocate standing with you as you enter into this work.
West Central Episcopal Mission stands as a beacon of light in a world of dark for many in the West Central neighborhood of Spokane. Being able to procure a hot, home-cooked meal on Wednesday nights is one thing, but being able to do so in community with neighbors, with volunteers who see you and treat you as an equal (for we are all equal in the eyes of God), is something else entirely. This ministry has gone through a re-birth in many ways in the past year, and while it may still be finding its ultimate future direction, the Wednesday night dinners continue unabated. It’s hard to do ministry in-person with people who are on the complete other side of the socio-economic scale. It’s hard because our insular wedge of society tells us that these people are at that other end because of poor life choices, because they are criminals, because they are unable to live in “polite society.” It’s hard because we’re afraid that we won’t know what to say, we won’t know what to do, we won’t know, so we won’t go. But through the Advocate we need to be reassured that we do in fact know how to interact with people who are economically, socially, different from us, because (spoiler alert) that’s all that is different between them and us. They are real people who want real conversations, real relationships, real connections, realness that we all seek out in our lives.
It is in engaging with these two ministries as a church, a unified group of believers, not simply as individuals, that we can move the needle on the injustice, pain, suffering, and hunger that seems to permeate throughout our society. It is in engaging with these two ministries as a church, not simply as individuals, that this church, you people unified, will become a model of active engagement in the world, standing in stark contrast to the insular static monolithic building on the hill that many view it as. When we shift into an active place of outreach as a church body–and I feel like I need to keep emphasizing this part because I want you to know that I do see each and every one of you making a difference as individuals but I don’t see that same difference being recognized with “St. John’s Cathedral” as the leader–when we make this shift we will draw others to us because they will see a place where Christ’s life and mission is still actively being lived into today, here and now. St. John’s Cathedral should not only be thought of as that big beautiful church on the hill.
And I know some of you disagree with me on this point. Some of you believe that church is a place for spiritual comfort, not a source of civic engagement and leadership. I hear you and I respect that opinion, but I challenge you to ask yourself why can’t it be both, and why wouldn’t we want it to be both? I believe that in being both, we will more fully live into the model of life and ministry that Jesus Christ has left for us.
Today we gather on the Sunday before Ascension. On that day, Jesus leaves us for a final time, leaving us to go about doing the work that he has left for us to accomplish. We have the blueprint for doing that work in the life and ministry of Jesus as described in the gospels, as fought for by the Apostles, by Paul, Peter, James, and John. And, in today’s gospel we are reminded that in addition to the blueprint for doing that work, we also have an Advocate among us. An advocate who is among us to fulfill a promise that even as Jesus goes to be with the Father, the Holy Spirit continues to be present with us, to fill us, to encourage us, to defend us. If we accept this reality for ourselves, if we accept this reality for our gathered community of believers that we call church, then we (both individually and as a unified church) cannot help but become part of the active model of ministry that Christ so clearly laid before us. We cannot help but move out of the static, afraid, state of being that we (both individually and as a unified church) often find ourselves in. When we accept the reality of the Advocate among us, we accept the reality of the promise of Christ that is fulfilled through his death and resurrection, and accept that God is continually present with us, forever.