This sermon is deeply indebted to the reflection of Dr. David Lose, whose writing on his blog inspired my direction as I prepared to preach on the 6th Sunday of Easter.
1 Peter 3:13-22
13Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. 18For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you — not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
15“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. 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.
18“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
You have an Advocate!
Did you hear that?
YOU HAVE AN ADVOCATE!!!!
How does it feel to know that you have someone who is on your side? Someone who is, who has been, and who always WILL be FOR YOU?
This world is facing an epidemic of loneliness—that creeping suspicion that nobody is with me. That nobody understands ME. That nobody is for ME. It can make you feel more than a little paranoid—this idea that the world might be against you. Or worse, depressed, that maybe you don’t matter all that much. Or even angry—enough to hurt other people the way you have been hurt yourself. We see this. We see this.
And then into the picture comes Jesus Christ himself. And he tells us:
You have an Advocate. And not just any Advocate, THE ADVOCATE.
The Holy Spirit, God herself.
Who, like Clint Eastwood, will be there in the Good, and the Bad, and the Ugly.
Or, if you prefer a scriptural metaphor, will, in the words of the 23rd Psalm, be there by green pastures, and in the valley of th shadow of death.
She’s there. Through it all.
When you need encouragement—you’ll get it.
When you need to be reminded that someone is rooting for you—She will raise her voice and cry out your name.
The Holy Spirit is one of the most confusing parts of God’s presence amongst us. It’s the point in confirmation class where I get a lot of blank stares. Because she’s hard to understand.
Jesus is easy—he was a literal man, who walked the earth we live on, who had a mother and siblings and friends and enemies just like we do, and who said a bunch of stuff that people thought was interesting enough to write down. We can understand him.
And that Holy Roller, the Father himself—who hasn’t imagined a voice within the thunder? Who hasn’t wondered whether there was something bigger out there, who made the earth and everything in it? What is man that you are mindful of him?
But the Holy Spirit?
All we have are metaphors.
She’s like the wind. Or was it a dove? A breath, even? Maybe she’s more like a Ghost? No, that can’t be it….oh yes, a still, small voice! Or wait–is she your conscience?
The problem with the Holy Spirit is that none of us have ever met her in person.
Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit shows up when we are together. That somehow she is amongst us, and through us.
In other words—the Advocate makes her appearance whenever we are church to each other.
Whenever you support a brother or a sister in Christ
Whenever you encourage the fainthearted
Whenever you support the weak and the afflicted—
THAT IS HOLY SPIRIT ADVOCACY.
Whenever you love someone else’s baby like he is your own;
Or take the time to get to know that quiet teenager in church;
Or visit the elderly member because you know she might be lonely—
YOU ARE THE ADVOCATE.
You are testifying to God’s power moving through Y-O-U.
Which is pretty amazing, when you think about it.
It is utterly amazing to think that you could be the conduit through which God’s power might be felt in the world. It’s as though you were the electrical in a house that God has been building, and it wasn’t until you were Grounded in the Word that Jesus showed up and threw the circuit breakers on, and the Spirit coursed through your body as it flooded that house with light. To illuminate the world we live in.
See, Jesus isn’t content to just have us look back to the story of God’s presence amongst us. He wasn’t interested in a backward-looking faith. He knew that we needed to feel God’s presence, alive and active, amongst us now.
He knew that if those words he spoke were going to matter, we needed someone who would love us as much as he did.
He knew that we needed an ADVOCATE to show us how to be an Advocate for one another.
So how does it feel, knowing this? That you have someone?
Because remember what we said in the beginning—the world is a dark and lonesome place. Perhaps it gives you the strength, in the words of Peter, to endure, to suffer for what is right, to resist fear, to defend your difference in Christ with gentleness and reverence. Perhaps it helps you to put your hope where it belongs—in Christ, the defender and author, pioneer and perfector of our faith.
And perhaps it gives you the courage to share what you know—that we are not alone. To embrace one another, to baptize babies in defiance of the darkness because you know the power of the light that courses within you. To be with and for one another because we are better together than we are apart. Because THAT is our Testimony. That is HOLY SPIRIT WORK.
Just be warned—the Holy Spirit cannot be contained. Once she is in you, she may take you somewhere you did not expect. She may ask you to open your heart wider than you anticipated. She may change you, or challenge you, or bid you follow her into unknown territory. But she’s worth it. She’s worth it, friends. Because in her, we are alive. And God is with us. Amen? Amen.