Tag Archives: Advocate

Spiritual Tagline

The Promise of the Spirit

There are plenty of taglines going about at the moment, so maybe it might be appropriate to have one for the Church. This and other thoughts are explored in this sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter 2020

Reading: John 14:15-21

A recording can be accessed here or the transcript follows below

May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

If you love me, you will keep my commandments’.

I suspect all of us have at one point or another walked past a sign on a building or an object that said ‘Wet Paint. Do not touch’? I wonder, were you able to walk straight past it, or were you tempted to touch it a little bit – just to see if…? ‘No harm to try’, we might think, but if your fingertips or your hands came away covered in sticky paint, you would have to live with the consequences for some time and possibly be embarrassed and annoyed with yourself.

For logical reasons, most of us are happy to follow the instruction. We know that paint is a liquid that takes varying degrees of time to dry, we know that paint is very viscous and sticks to anything it comes into contact with, we know how hard it is to remove paint from our hands, our hair, our clothes, so we weigh up the risks and decide it’s better to obey the rules.

So what’s the difference between a rule and a commandment? Everyday life is filled with rules and commandments, none more so than at the moment as we look to find ways to control and eradicate the Coronavirus. The phrase, ‘Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’ sounded very much like a commandment (only couched in ‘government guidance only’ speak) and it was fairly easy to understand and obey, with the majority of people complying with the request). Now, as we attempt to restart our economy and everyday lives, we are given a different kind of edict. ‘Stay alert, control the virus, save lives’.

Yes, there are still rules, but how those rules are applied it very much up to our own interpretation and common sense. Now that this is no longer sounding like a commandment, we are given the choice as to how we obey, and some people are finding this hard. Ways are being sought to ‘bend’ or interpret the rules in a way that gives personal advantage. People are asking, ‘Why can’t we just go back to doing exactly what we want to do’? ‘Why are other countries allowed to do certain things that we can’t’? Starting a shift away from the ‘we’ to the ‘me’.

Of course, not all rules make logical sense. We’re still not allowed to meet up with our families from other households, yet we could now be employed by them as cleaners – as long as the vacuum is switched on at all times and the tins of Pledge are weighed before and after visits to check sufficient sprayage has been achieved!

But all of this misses the point. If we are to continue to love and care for our families and friends, for the vulnerable and disadvantaged within the wider community then we need to follow the rules, to obey the commandments.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments’.

There are 281 instances of the word ‘commandment’ in the bible. From the blessing of Abraham in Genesis, ‘Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws’ through the ‘big ten’ commandments given to Moses (twice) in Exodus, the many commandments of what was required of the Israelites in their journey through the wilderness to the promised land given in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, to the rebellious disregard of God’s commandments in Chronicles and Kings.

Finally to Jesus’ reiteration of the value of God’s commandments, before his declaration that there were really just two commandments that mattered and which encompassed all of the others, ‘Love God with everything you’ve got and likewise, love your neighbour as yourself.’ In doing just this we shouldn’t find it that hard to follow the ‘rules’. If Jesus did it, then we should do it; if Jesus said it, then we should say it; if Jesus showed love, then we should show it.

Yet Jesus knew that following these commandments and the rules of everyday living was not going to be easy; but if the disciples and in turn, ourselves were prepared to show that our love for him meant that we were willing to do so, then we would not have to face the inevitable struggles alone. As he prepared to return to be with his Father in heaven, he would send someone in his place. Someone who would be a helper, a comforter, an advocate. This person would be with them forever after and he would reveal the truth about Jesus, and about God to everyone who loves them and wants to know them.

The Spirit of truth, a sounding board when we are trying to work out what we should do or say, a conscience tester when we are indecisive about what the right thing to do is and who acts as a mediator when we find that we have made the wrong decisions and want to ask for forgiveness.; and a confidante when we were are struggling with our faith.

God know what each of us is dealing with in our lives. Whenever we feel confused or alone, we simply have to remember that we have been left the wise and comforting Holy Spirit, the third person of the indivisible Trinity… so clearly illustrated by this passage when Jesus declares, ‘I will not leave you orphaned, I will come to you’.

The Spirit that abides with us and in us just as the Father and the Son do, ‘On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you’. The Spirit that empowers us to respond rightly. As Corrie Ten Boom, the Dutch Holocaust survivor puts it, ‘Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments’.

Whether they are rules or commandments, I believe that those rules are there to help us to be the best people we can be and that the Holy Spirit gives us wisdom so that we can stay on the path that God has for us. Maybe by following those rules we will find peace and contentment. But even greater than this, it will be love that will bring us closer to God. It should be our love for him, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that reveals to both us and the world around us the love that he has for all people who are willing to see him and know him. So, let’s all be patient for a little while longer.

Stay true

Reveal God’s Love

Save Lives

Amen

Not In Our Own Strength

 

The Promise of the Holy Spirit

An Advocate, a comforter, a helper, an assistant… the gift of the Holy Spirit means that we never have to rely solely on our own strength; and some days you need it more than others. After an exhausting few days, I explore this thought in my talk yesterday morning (6th Sunday of Easter John 14:15-21)

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

The gospel passage we heard and read this morning is often subtitled the promise of the Holy Spirit. In this instance not as a rushing wind or tongues of flame that we will hear about in a couple of weeks, or the gentle dovelike descent that was seen at Jesus’ baptism; but a breath that we inhale and which resides deep within us.

Jesus is about to ascend from his earthly life and resurrection back to the Father. His disciples will doubtless be feeling even further bereft bearing in mind the great task that he is setting them up for. We could reason, and I’ve heard people say it, if only Jesus were here today he’d explain what we need to do – yet look at the time he did spend with his disciples and followers and how they themselves so often showed a complete lack of comprehension or understanding. But if we look closer at what he is saying he is not abandoning them or us; instead he is to send an advocate.

The word Advocate here is a translation of the Greek word parakletos or Paraclete which is often also translated as comforter or helper. For the disciples, and for us as well, the idea of a comforter is very apt. In the sense of bereavement or tragedy, which the disciples were facing, having someone with you and alongside you, giving you the odd hug or silent hand holding, gives strength to face the next moment – the death or tragedy is still a tragedy but having support and comfort enables you to cope with that moment.

Here though we have the word Advocate; a legalistic word as an advocate stands up in a court of law and explains to the judge or jury how things are from their clients perspective and pleads their case.  In the same way the Holy Spirit does this for us, but in ways that are more than just acting as an assistant, helper or comforter; more like bridging the gap between us and God.

As we get to know who Jesus is, so we find ourselves drawn into his life and love and sense of purpose – we are then able to see what needs doing and what resources we might need to do it – and to help us do this Jesus promises his own Spirit, his own breath, his own inner life – the Spirit of Truth.

You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
John 14:17

I must admit that I wrote this sermon yesterday when I was very tired. I’d been out on Friday evening with Southampton Street Pastors and hadn’t gone home until just before five o’clock on Saturday morning. By a quarter to ten I was out with the Love Harefield crew, including several others here, picking up litter around Harefield. By noon I was visiting my mum in Abbey House, Netley, where she is undergoing rehabilitation since having a fall in February when she broke her hip. By two o’clock I’d had a sandwich for lunch but knew that I still had this talk to write before I went out in the evening to hear my daughter, Lizzie, sing with the Singsational Voices choir at All Saints, Botley.

Now I don’t say all of that seeking sympathy or to be told that I’m over-stretching myself, because each of these things I felt were equally important to do. No doubt we’ve all had times when we’ve faced similar periods, when we feel that we’re running at full speed with our petrol gauges hovering over empty. Yet for all the physical tiredness there is joy to be discovered when we realise that we do not have to rely on our own strength or capabilities to engage in each task.

I can tell you at nine thirty on the Friday evening I could quite easily have remained sitting on the sofa and not got up and changed into my Street Pastor uniform and driven into Southampton. Yet the moment I did I began to feel energised as to what situations we might be called to during the patrol.

I could have stood back and simply poured out cups of hot chocolate to our homeless friends on the street, but then I wouldn’t have felt moved to bob down beside Mark, who told me his dyslexia was preventing him from filling out the necessary form in order for the council to provide accommodation for him, and having signposted him to a group that could help him with this, have him grasp my hand and bless me.

I could have hesitated to go over to assist a taxi driver who was dealing with a very drunk young man who had resolutely sat himself in his cab, despite having no money, and gently persuade him to dismount, very precariously I might add, so that we could sit him down on a wall and offer a bottle of water, sitting next to him and listening as he poured out his story of why he was in such a state, as he gradually sobered up enough to be able to start his long walk home instead

I could have ignored the high-heels-abandoned bare-footed girls, knowing that I’d already cleared up two areas of broken glass further down the road, instead of calling out whether they’d like some flip-flops and then explaining in response to their incredulity as to why we would be doing this in our own time and all for free

I could have stayed under the duvet instead of donning a hi-vis jacket and operating a pick-up stick, doing a menial task that would help bring the satisfaction of a job well done to improve our neighbourhood, and which was much appreciated by the people I spoke to as I walked around, and I would have missed the fun of working together and the doughnuts!

I could have been quite irritable with my mum, who nowadays asks me the same thing several times and whose memory means that a lot of the times we’ve shared in the past are often forgotten or denied. Rather than sitting and doing a crossword together and her telling me that she’ll know the answer as soon as I say it.

I could have missed the joy yesterday evening of being filled with the Spirit as I listened to nearly a hundred voices sing in harmony and rhythms that touched my innermost soul.

These are all things that I don’t always want to or feel comfortable doing in my own strength, but I am aware that it is the gift of the Holy Spirit that enables me to achieve so much more, to live for God and to witness to his love in the world, and it’s a gift that is offered to everyone.

Yet not everyone can receive it because they choose not to see or hear the message. There is a large part of the world that lives as if there were no God and a person who has eliminated God from their thoughts never listens for him. When we open ourselves up to receiving the Spirit we wait in expectation and prayer and in doing so will be joined to Jesus and God the Father by an unbreakable bond of love. We will recognise that Jesus never leaves us to struggle alone. As William Barclay puts it, ‘The Holy Spirit gate-crashes no-one’s heart – he waits to be received’

Jesus asks us to keep his commandments – a commandment that boils to down to just one thing – love one another as Jesus loves us. Jesus expressed his love in many different ways, the gospels show us his immense compassion for the suffering, his attentive listening presence, and his energetic celebration of the lives around him. He healed the sick, he fed the hungry, he released those held captive, he sought justice and invites us to do the same; all with the assistance of the Spirit that he sent in his place.

The Spirit that abides with us and in us. So maybe next time that we feel unsure, ill-prepared or uncertain of what we need to do or how we’re going to cope we can remember that invisible bridge bringing us closer into a relationship with Jesus and the Father so that they are revealed more clearly to us and in turn reveal God more clearly to others through us.

Amen

 

A Chinese Legend

 

The Noble Bamboo

The Noble Bamboo

In the church, we have just celebrated Ascension, when the risen Christ traditionally ascends to heaven, having been crucified on the Easter cross. Ahead, we look forward to Pentecost; when the promised Advocate or Holy Spirit will be given to his followers. Without these things happening we would have nothing distinctive about our faith. 

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised;
and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain
and your faith has been in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:13-14

So for his death not to have been in vain there had to have been a purpose. The son of God, who came to earth, and set aside his divinity to take on earthly flesh had to die in order that he and us might live and there is no doubt that giving your life for the greater good is the ultimate sacrifice anyone can make. Throughout history men and woman have made this sacrifice, as martyrs, as servicemen and women and civilians serving their country, as ordinary everyday people; in the hope that it helps others to live.

At Morning Prayer in college recently a fellow student read a beautiful story which illustrated this selflessness perfectly. However, it also made me think that God does not contain himself to our slightly arrogant assumption of exclusivity. For example, I have always been amazed at the fact that creation stories from around the world contain so many similar attributes. For those who believe in a creator God, this is not so strange, as we cannot be so precious that we think God only revealed the story of creation,  based on a Mesopotamic myth and passed down in verbal form, before being adapted to Israel’s belief in one God, by a group of Yahwehist writers in the late 7th or 6th century BC

God indeed reveals himself time and again in all of his creation, both physically and linguistically and so I hope you enjoy reading this legend from China and draw your own conclusions about where God could be working his purpose out in the world right now

A Chinese Legend

Once upon a time, in the heart of the Western Kingdom, lay a beautiful garden. And there in the cool of the day was the Master of the Garden wont to walk. Of all the denizens of the garden, the most beautiful and most beloved was a gracious and noble bamboo. Year after year, Bamboo grew yet more noble and gracious, conscious of his Master’s love and watchful delight, but modest, and gentle withal. And often, when Wind came to revel in the garden, Bamboo would cast aside his grave stateliness, to dance and play right merrily, tossing and swaying and leaping and bowing in joyous abandon, leading the Great Dance of the Garden which most delighted the Master’s heart.

Now upon a day, the Master himself drew near to contemplate his Bamboo with eyes of curious expectancy. And Bamboo, in a passion of adoration, bowed his great head to the ground in loving greeting. The Master spoke:

“Bamboo, Bamboo, I would use thee.”

Bamboo flung his head to the sky in utter delight. The day of days had come, the day for which he had been made, the day to which he had been growing hour by hour, the day in which he would find his completion and his destiny. His voice came low:

“Master, I am ready. Use me as thou wilt.”

“Bamboo ” — the Master ‘s voice was grave — “l would fain take thee and — cut thee down.”

A trembling of a great horror shook Bamboo. “Cut. . . me.. . down! Me… whom thou, Master, hast made the most beautiful in all thy garden. . . to cut me down! Ah, not that, not that. Use me for thy joy, 0 Master, but cut me not down. “

“Beloved Bamboo” — the Master’s voice grew graver still — “if I cut thee not down, I cannot use thee.”

The garden grew still. Wind held his breath. Bamboo slowly bent his proud and glorious head. There came a whisper:

“Master, if thou canst not use me but thou cut me down.. then… do thy will and cut.”

“Bamboo, beloved Bamboo, I would . . . cut thy leaves and branches from thee also.”

“Master, Master, spare me. Cut me down and lay my beauty in the dust; but wouldst thou take from me my leaves and branches also?”

“Bamboo, alas, if I cut them not away, I cannot use thee.” The sun hid his face. A listening butterfly glided fearfully away.

And Bamboo shivered in terrible expectancy, whispering low.

“Master, cut away.”

“Bamboo, Bamboo, I would yet… cleave thee in twain and cut out thine heart, for if I cut not so, I cannot use thee.”

Then was Bamboo bowed to the ground.

“Master, Master. . . then cut and cleave.”

So did the Master of the Garden take Bamboo and cut him down and hack off his branches and strip off his leaves and cleave him in twin and cut out his heart. And lifting him gently, carried him to where was a spring of fresh, sparkling water in the midst of his dry fields. Then pulling one end of broken Bamboo in the spring and the other end into the water channel in his field, the Master laid down gently his beloved Bamboo. And the spring sang welcome and the clear sparkling waters raced joyously down the channel of Bamboo’s torn body into the wailing fields. Then the rice was planted, and the days went by, and the shoots grew and the harvest came.

In that day was Bamboo, once so glorious in his stately beauty, yet more glorious in his brokenness and humility. For in his beauty he was life abundant, but in his brokenness he became a channel of abundant life to his Master’s world.

Living Water

Living Water