A sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, John 14:23-29
Being a Christian, doing the work that we are called to do, to live a life that runs counter to the prevailing culture, to stand against those who would make others less than, who would create levels of society where lack of care and concern, where degrading and inhumane actions are acceptable “solutions,” is weary making. Holding to conviction. Taking action. Doing the work that is following Christ in the purest sense of the call that is before us, is hard work. When the news comes out that those in positions of authority and power are actively working to diminish and make other our fellow siblings in creation, when the members of our community, those who we know and interact with on a regular basis, respond with such hate in their hearts towards those who need the most of our love, it is easy to understand why the emotional state of being for many a Christian is weariness. Our very souls become weary when we have to keep rising to the fight. When the grinding gears of society continue unimpeded, even as we work to simply slow them down, let alone break the cycle and create a new society, it is understandable that weariness, heaviness would fill our souls, would discourage us in our call to follow Christ.
But, even though our task comes from Christ, even though our call to stand up and advocate for those who are threatened, who are excluded, who are diminished in any way, shape, or fashion, and this rising time and time again is what weighs us down in weariness, we only engage in this work, we are only willing to answer this call because when we turn back to Christ, whether it is in a simple moment of prayer in the midst of the struggle or it is here, amongst the community of believers who come together to lift each other up and be literally and spiritually fed by and with Christ, when we turn back to Christ we find that peace that passes all understanding. Christ has left his peace with us and for us, within us and around us. This peace is what gives us rest. This peace is what strengthens our resolve. This peace is what enables us to take on the heaviness of the weariness we face in standing up and against, this peace is what encourages us to live into our call to seek and serve Christ in all persons, striving for justice, for peace, for the dignity of every person.
In connecting to Christ, here in this place, out in the world through others, when we call out to Christ in those moments of prayer where we seek that peace, we connect to the advocate who has been left with us, the advocate found in the Holy Spirit who stands besides us. The advocate, the Holy Spirit, fills us with the truth. The advocate found in the Holy Spirit, fills us with righteousness and allows us to connect to that truth and righteousness and make it known to the world through the support of that advocate, through the knowledge that we are living into the call that Christ has left for us to live into. The education we receive, that we access, through the Holy Spirit, is power. This education in what it means to follow Christ through truth-seeking connects us to a power that transcends the political authority that has been afforded to others through man-made structures and constructs. This education enables us to stand up and name evil at work in our world. To stand up and name evil at work in our very own community. To know that, who else but me is called to stand up and make the truth known. The truth that is Christ’s love. The truth that Christ’s love is not to be limited or qualified for. The truth that Christ’s love knows no boundaries of housing status, economic stability, addiction, orientation, culture, and on and on and on.
This education through the constant presence of our advocate in the Holy Spirit is powerful because it connects us again to Christ and the reality that even in our weariness, Christ comforts us in saying “do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.” Yes, Christ seems to acknowledge, this is hard work, particularly hard work because I will not be with you to continue to guide and teach and inform and lead you. But, through the Holy Spirit, I am always with you. To advocate for you. To support and strengthen you. To be your source of peace so that the burdens of this world can be laid down before me and you can be reinvigorated to tear down the man-made systems of this world that seek to diminish and make other.
I want to take a moment to pause and connect to our own reality here in Longview, the reality we face as Christians who feel compelled and convicted to serve rather than harm those who most need our help. Obviously the issue of those experiencing homelessness is front and center right now in our community. I have preached about this before (perhaps more often than I would’ve thought I would). I have written weekly reflection articles on aspects of this challenge and call. As a community, under the leadership of the vestry, we are actively working on understanding how we as St. Stephen’s serve those on the margins of our society, and how we can work to better serve the needs in our community. I don’t want this to dominate every aspect of our ministry. I don’t want this to be the only problem you hear me preaching about from this pulpit. But, sometimes we don’t get what we want. When we are weary, when we are tired of the same message, the same problem, of course we don’t want to continue addressing it, but that doesn’t stop the rest of our community from continuing down a dangerous path.
Our love for Christ keeps us connected to Christ and to one another. And, we show that love for Christ, show that love of Christ, in how we treat one another as disciples of Christ, and in how we treat the least and last among us. Again and again we must turn back to Matthew 25, again and again we must hear the answer of Christ when asked by the righteous “‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”
When we choose to disconnect from this call, when we choose to go against this call, when we choose to make the least of these other than, to diminish, degrade, demean, we choose to disconnect ourselves from the love of Christ. Christ is not disconnecting from us, Christ’s love is not withheld from us, but if we choose to go against that love, if we choose to disconnect ourselves from that love, then Christ cannot help us, the advocate cannot help us, if we are actively turning away and turning down that peace, that love, that strength. That is a dangerous path to follow. That is a path that encourages us to give into the evil of this world, because we are presented with “real solutions,” except they aren’t solutions of any sort because they are not founded upon that firm foundation that is Jesus Christ, our Lord. Without that firm foundation, these “real solutions,” are avenues and opportunities for the enemy to infiltrate the very soul of our community, to turn us against one another, to live into a culture of hate, a community that actively encourages harm to be done to its own.
As people of the way, we cannot let this happen. As people who turn to Christ, who live into Christ’s love, who turn to Christ’s love, who welcome the advocate to educate and stand beside us, we can change our community, we can change our society. It starts here, with us, as followers of Christ. We are not people of fear, we are people of faith. And, we know that as followers of Christ, we will win, for Christ has already won. Christ has trampled death by death. Christ has won the victory. It’s time we make that reality known to all. It’s time we show what this really means through our love for all.