Sermon – May 17, 2020 – Sixth Sunday after Easter

 Grace and peace to you from God our Father ad our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
        My siblings in Christ at St. Matthew, thank you. Thank you for the ministry you are doing in these days. Every congregation is rethinking ministry and how worship happens, how to maintain connections within the community, and you have an extra challenge as well, because you are in an interim time, waiting for a new pastor to be in ministry with you.
        Congregations often find the interim time to be a bit unsettled; things are in flux, people are finding new roles; everything has to be flexible, moving into an unknown future. And now, not only do you wonder, what will things be like with a new pastor, what kind of future will that be?; you are also navigating this time of pandemic when we all wonder what will anything look like? We are in a time when even experts are adjusting and readjusting what they know and what the potential outcomes could be given innumerable factors that change the models every week.
        So thank you for your faithfulness in your calling as disciples of Jesus. Thank you for being the St. Matthew community. I want you to know that Bishop John and the synod staff pray for your regularly and give thanks to God for you.
        Our Gospel reading is from John, a continuation of last week’s reading, and we’re in an interesting kind of time loop. In our Christian calendar, we are post resurrection, that is, this is the time after Easter, after Jesus has been raised from the dead. He is with his disciples again, and so we heard those resurrection stories the first few weeks after Easter. IN the biblical story, it is forty days after Jesus was raised that he ascends into the heavens. This week then in our Christian calendar, we mark the festival of the Ascension on Thursday. So that’s where we are in our Christian calendar that tells the story of Jesus, we are between his resurrection and his ascension.
        Our Gospel reading though, takes us back to an earlier time in the story. The words that Jesus speaks in chapter 14 are part of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, before he was arrested, before he was crucified and died. We could call this his farewell speech to the disciples. And that is why those who assembled our assigned readings bring us back to these words. Jesus is preparing his disciples for what will be coming. He will be leaving them, but he wants them to know that they will still be in him and with him in a new way, and they will be guided by another Advocate, the Spirit. Now, did they understand all this then at that particular moment? MMM, maybe? But I’m guessing not really.
        I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ words this week and how the disciples really didn’t have a grasp on what the future would hold for them. At that meal with Jesus, they didn’t know that he would be crucified. Or comprehend that he would be raised from the dead. But Jesus told them what they needed to know at that meal: love one another (that was in chapter 13), keep my commandments, which has the sense of “remember all my words”, and God will provide you another Advocate when you can no longer see me; you will not be alone.
Love one another
Remember my words
The Advocate, the Spirit, will be with you.
        As we consider our future, I think these are three pretty good things to be reminded of. What started in March as “we will shelter at home for two weeks,” has turned into “we have no idea how long this will last,” and, we probably won’t enter the new normal until 18 to 24 months from now. Everything will be in flux; be prepared for waves of virus, there may be times when you need to shelter at home again. We have no idea what that will do to local businesses and the world economy, except that it’s not likely to be good. We are heading into an unknowable future.
        Except there is this: Jesus has told us that we belong to him. Jesus has told us we will not be alone. Jesus has told us that we have the Spirit as an ever-present companion to guide, strengthen and empower us. Jesus’ farewell speech, given to the disciples who would face all sorts of new challenges and persecution, are also good words for us in these days. Jesus has told us all that we need to know. Remember all my words; love one another; you are not alone. We, the church, all of us, are sent into the world with hope in our hearts and courage in our actions to be a certain kind of people that witness to a God who is close, and offers life in the midst of the darkness of struggle, pain and death.
        So we remember what Jesus has said: Love one another. Love your neighbor. Trust me with your life and in your death. The love that we show and the confidence we have to care for others in this time is a reflection of God’s love for the world. It is a witness and a testimony, that even when the world seems about to undo us, we hold fast to one another, and to the calling to care for those around us, even those who do not know. Loving others grounds us in our purpose and our calling to reveal God’s light in the darkness.
Of course, what loving others looks like changes depending on our circumstances. We may do things like make masks, or put hearts in windows visible to healthcare workers. Love may be working in a food pantry or donating money to an organization, or sending cards to those who are alone in this time. And in this time love even means staying away from other people, not worshiping together, so that others are protected and safe. Yes, we would like to worship together, but it isn’t ultimately about just us and what we want. We are called to consider our neighbor, which means not exposing him or her to undue risk right now. Even choosing our words carefully in a time of heightened polarization can be an act of love. We may even find that our prayers for others become more intentional acts of love during this time. This past week I learned a colleague of mine lost his 34 year old son in a motorcycle accident. Another colleague shared that a pastor starting a new congregation has lost ten African American men to COVID-19. I cannot be with these people; and so my love is prayer, bound together with the whole great communion of saints that upholds all who suffer, who grieve, or who struggle through this time. This is what it is to be the church together, and to be people who remember Jesus’ words and take them to heart.
Our acts of love ground us, help us to know our purpose as God’s people, called to witness to God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to this world.
        But it’s that we do this all on our own. Jesus says that his followers will be accompanied by the Spirit, whom he calls another Advocate, Jesus being the first. Advocate isn’t usually the way we think of the Spirit, but here in John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the Spirit as one who called to stand by our side, and who is the continuing presence of God-with-us and God for us. And as we come to see, the Spirit is the power behind God’s people as they witness to the love, the forgiveness, and the hope we have through Jesus Christ.
        Friends in Christ, the Spirit, the Advocate is with you in these days, and always. The Spirit is the strength of God at work in you as you find ways to build community among your congregation even when you cannot gather together. The Spirits is the strength of God at work in you as you find the best ways to love one another. The Spirit is the strength of God at work in you to declare hope and life in the midst of fear and the unknowable. God has given you what you need for this time. Have confidence then in your calling as the Church, to be a witness to love and to peace and to hope. Amen.

In the name of Christ, who makes all things new,