When you grow up as a white heterosexual male in a middle-class family most everything you need is within your grasp. You are in the majority and there is very little that you can do to erase that privilege you receive when you are born.
Therefore, in the first half of my life, the idea of an advocate was foreign to me. I honestly did not face any struggles or challenges that I didn’t think I couldn’t handle. I had no need for an advocate. I am not saying this because I am lifting myself up. I am saying this because I was naïve. An advocate is someone that walks alongside you to comfort you. An advocate is someone that walks alongside you to help. An advocate is someone that speaks for you when your voice is not being heard and encourages you to raise your voice.
The first time I truly remember hearing that word was in my home congregation when I was assisting in worship one Sunday. While preparing for worship with the supply pastor, an Eaton County Sheriff’s Victim Advocate walked into the church. She informed us that one of our member’s sons took his own life in the early hours of the morning. I did not know what it meant to be an advocate at that time and since I was the first connection to the members of the church, I was left speechless. I had no clue what to say or do. I had not been to seminary yet and felt immobilized by fear of what to say. Fortunately, there was a member in the congregation that was a trained lay minister and he went to sit alongside the family and be their advocate.
How naïve we are to think that we can do everything on our own. That is what our dominant culture would like us to believe. The truth is, that in the midst of trying to hide our true selves, and putting on the mask of our false selves, we can feel abandoned and orphaned. There comes a point when we realize that we cannot do everything on our own and are then afraid to ask for help. We do not want to appear weak. We do not want to be looked down upon. Yet, this happens in our work lives. It happens in our political lives. It happens in our social lives and with family. I am sure that we all have at least one experience of this that we can recall. Being abandoned. Being orphaned. It hurts.
This is when we must be open to the inbreaking of the Spirit. Jesus tells us, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live” (vs. 18-19). In this, the light breaks through the darkness. It is not God’s will to leave us orphaned or abandoned. God’s will is to love. A love for all of creation. For every plant and animal. For every bird of the sky and creature in the sea. For all of humanity as we are created in the image of God.
It is because of this love that God is not done with us yet. God’s love is continuously gracious and generative. There is no deadline that we have to meet or no requirements of being perfect in any way.
It is because God loves us so, that Jesus knows we cannot carry-on in this world without some help. As he professes that he will be leaving the disciples soon, he promises to send an advocate. Not just any advocate, but the Holy Spirit. This Spirit of truth abides with us and is in us. Are we open to the workings of this advocate that Jesus sends to walk alongside us, comfort us, encourage us, and intercess on our behalf?
The Holy Spirit is a reminder of God’s love. How do we respond to this love? Jesus says in the first verse of our gospel lesson, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Out of God’s graciousness we should be compelled to share that love with our friends and neighbors. One way to share this love is to follow the Holy Spirit and be an advocate for someone else. Just like the victims advocate that came to my home congregation looking for support for a family in need.
To advocate is to walk alongside our brothers and sisters. Be present to comfort them. Give them words of encouragement. Help when we can. This past Thursday, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton called on members of the ELCA to join her and Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church in making the 21st of every month a day of prayer, fasting, and advocacy for those living in hunger and poverty in our country. Why the 21st? Because this is when 90% of the money runs out each month for families receiving support from the SNAP food program, and with recent proposed cuts in the federal budget, this could get much worse. One in five children in the United States are already wondering where their next meal is going to come from.
In caring for one another, through fasting, prayers, and advocacy, we show Jesus how much we love him. While the world may not be awake to the Spirit at work, we the church know that the Spirit helps, comforts and encourages us to share the love of Christ with our sisters and brothers.
Let us pray,
In God’s everlasting promise, may the Spirit of Truth continue to guide us in ways yet seen. May the Spirit of Truth evoke us to reach out and love our neighbors. May the Spirit of Truth be a constant presence of comfort. Amen