Monday, May 10, 2010

Easter 6, Year C, May 9, 2010

Acts 16:9-15, Psalm 67, Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5
Advocate, preached by Rev. Peter Courtney

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name.”
I don’t know about any of you, but my experience with advocates is very limited. Now this may be a very good thing. Advocates are usually required by folks who are under some kind of duress; they are being accused of something; they need something that only someone else can help them procure; they are afflicted with that terrible disease of being unknown as in “you are not from around here are you.” Only a very persuasive advocate can overcome the natural resistance of distrusting the stranger.
Most of us have heard of a Devil’s Advocate. This is a person appointed by the bishop of Rome to attack the credentials of people who have been nominated for sainthood. The devil’s advocate tries to prove that the nominee is unworthy. For instance the pope appointed the well-known atheist to be the devil’s advocate in the process to canonize Mother Theresa!
When I moved to Honolulu in 1996 I found out that it was generally expected that the dean of the cathedral which was my new job would be a member of the Pacific Club. This lovely institution just two blocks from Queen Emma Square was and is the meeting place for all of the Honolulu business and social community.
I duly filled out the application form and wrote a generous check for the reduced rate initiation fee which the club reserved for members of the clergy. On the one hand I was on my own. I was expected to pay the fees although any professional use of the club’s dining room would be reimbursed. On the other hand I had to produce three advocates who would vouch for my moral and social quality. It wouldn’t do to have a member who couldn’t use a fork, or worse couldn’t pay his bar tab
The lovely man who volunteered to be my sponsor also got two more volunteers to advocate for me. None of them knew me from Adam. I got in. I used the club a lot to the delight of the board of governors who needed the money. Now that I think of it I got into the Harbor Club in Norfolk, Virginia under the same roomy umbrella.
I appreciated having an advocate. The memory of being invisibly supported by people I didn’t even know is comforting in an odd way.
I’m an American male. I like to think that people would take my sincerity and competence for granted and that an advocate would be unnecesssary. But it just doesn’t work that way. I have needed advocates more often than I would like to admit and happily they have been in good supply.
Jesus promises the church that it will receive an advocate from God. The reason the church needs an advocate is because of Jesus’ confusing statements, at one minute saying he will not leave them alone and in the next saying he must go to the father.
All of us have had those confusing statements made to us by people who say they are staying yet clearly have one foot out the door. It really seems like cold comfort for Jesus to take credit for telling the disciples in advance that he is out of there. He is still leaving and they are understandably bereft.
This is a great text for any congregation in transition to dwell on. Clergy of all sorts come and go. Some we are sorry about, others less so. But nonetheless, it is easy to feel as if the rats are leaving the ship. One of the reasons we have interim clergy is so that these lonesome times can have a measure of continuity instead of a different face at the altar and in the pulpit each week. But we interims are a lot like Jesus. We tell you the same thing he did. I will stay and I will leave. In my case I promise to be with you until the Vestry calls a new rector for you to deal with. I hope that I represent the spirit of God well in assuring you of your adequacy for the work the spirit gives you to do. When a new advocate comes I will be gone, very likely forever. For some this will be a relief, for others not so much. But it doesn’t matter in the long run. Our call is to live in the promises of God that she has sent an advocate and with that spirit we will do what needs to be done.

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