Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Sermon: The Child Advocate

John 14:15-21

When the home life of a child is not safe, when there are drugs involved, or physical abuse that threatens the child’s life, our society has to make a difficult decision. Should the child stay in that situation, or would it be better for the child to move to a new home, a foster home or perhaps even an adoptive home? Often in the midst of this process the court appoints an advocate for the child. That person’s job is to listen to the child and to speak what he or she cannot in the court, which could be a very frightening and confusing place for the child. But even more than that, the hope is that with the help of this person, the child’s best interests are looked after.

An example, Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers Connie and Pam have working together with a boy named Cal since 2006. The Agency has had permanent custody of him since he was 10. Cal was placed in two pre adoptive homes, but both ended up not working and Cal returned to foster care four years after entering the system. Despite the families not working out, “one positive came out of the second pre-adoptive placement; that family had enrolled Cal in an excellent Charter school that was a perfect match for his special needs.”

But when Cal returned to foster care, “the new Foster Mother decided she couldn’t provide transportation for Cal to and from the Charter school and wanted him moved to a public school in her neighborhood. The Agency who held custody of Cal agreed and decided to remove Cal from the Charter school.”

The two advocates knew Cal better than anyone else on the case because they had worked with him for so long. They “objected and asked the Agency to find alternative transportation. The Agency declined, stating that no transportation was available. Knowing this Charter school provided something very special for this troubled child,” they asked their Court Appoint Special Advocate Office for assistance. “This request was not made lightly.” Connie had been a volunteer for 25 years and had asked for attorney assistance only once. Pam had been a volunteer for 9 years and had never had an attorney to represent her.

“To say they felt strongly about the Charter school being in Cal’s best interests is an understatement.” A motion was filed on behalf of the volunteers, “and the Agency was ordered to keep Cal in his Charter school for the time being. Pam and Connie immediately went to work looking for transportation for Cal that would both accommodate him and meet with Agency approval.” They found that the city had a special bus service for riders with disabilities that transported some other children to that Charter school. Two months later Cal was approved for that transportation without ever having to leave the school that met his needs. Cal is 15-years-old now and his volunteers continue to advocate for him.[1]

That’s a great story, right? There was someone to speak up for Cal and what was best for him when he couldn’t do it for himself. I tell that story because in our scripture lesson, Jesus tells us that although he is leaving earth, God’s spirit will remain with us, and that spirit will act as an advocate for us. Let me read it so you can hear it as the gospel of John tells it. Jesus says,

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This 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.

“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. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They 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.”

It is a bit of a confusing passage, I admit. But focus for a moment, just on the idea that the Holy Spirit that Jesus has sent us is an advocate. In many ways the word used here for our advocate is like the work done by a child advocate. The spirit’s job is like that of a protector and defender, who is meant to encourage, help, comfort, and above all make sure that our best interests are looked after. If you look at the scripture carefully you will see that Jesus tells us that the Spirit will listen to us, love us, and ensure that we are not orphaned or lost in the system. Which is all wonderful. Especially in those days when we feel like no one is listening to us.

So even though Jesus is no longer physically here on earth, even though he isn’t walking along side of us, he has made sure that another is looking out for us. Great message, and we could stop there and feel good about ourselves, saying, “Yay! We have an advocate!”

But if we stop there with Jesus’ message to us, we will miss an important piece of what he is teaching here. He is not simply telling us that we have a person we can go to so that we can have all our wishes fulfilled. Our advocate isn’t just a wishing well.

The advocate also has a role in shaping us. It is clear from the Bible passage for the day – the Spirit must teach us to love as well.

Five times in this passage the word love is used as a verb[2]. Jesus is not talking about the idea of love, but reminding us that love is an action, a thing to be done, an activity to be pursued. It is a commandment to be followed, but also a power to be received.

Think about it for a moment. Imagine that you are a puppy in the shelter awaiting adoption. One day two families come in and both want to adopt you. The first family says that they love you. They tell you that they have a loving home, they say that they have strong feelings for you, and that they are very interested in you. The second family also tells you they love you but when they come in they give you hugs, they have brought a toy and they sit and play with you, they let you lick their faces and laugh. Which family would you want to go with? The one that talks about love as an idea? Or the one that loves through their actions?

Most of us would probably choose the second because the love is lived. That is what it means to say that love is a verb, an action. Likewise, Jesus isn’t talking about an idea that comes from God which we receive with our mind, but Jesus is talking about an active power that flows through the Spirit, and then fills us until that same love flows through us to others. It moves through us and is shown, and lived in our actions towards others.

So Jesus when he says that he will not leave us orphaned, and that he is sending us an advocate, and then speaks of love using a verb form of it five times, he seems to be suggesting that the Holy Spirit has a role in our learning about love.

Going back to my initial metaphor, our Child Advocate, the Holy Spirit, is in many ways working to make sure that we are brought into God’s home, but also that while we live in that home we experience love, and we learn to love others.

In a sense you could say that we are being sent to a charter school by the Holy Spirit, and the lesson we are expected to learn is a lesson in love. This is how God looks after our best interests. God knows that one of the problems that sometimes happens to those who feel abandoned, to those who are afraid, is that they don’t have anyone to teach them how to love, and so God has left us the Holy Spirit to dwell within us and do just that for us.

So as I read it, Jesus is quite clear, that our advocate not only listens to us and our needs, but also is striving to push us and challenge us – even commanding us – to love. That command in this passage is to love Christ, but in the very next chapter Jesus will also command us to love others. In a sense, the advocate is like that person who looks out for us and shows us love, and we learn to love that person in return. Eventually we learn that this individual’s unconditional love is an example to us on how we can love others, and so in learning to love them we also learn to love others.

So let me summarize: I realize that the scripture today was complicated, but think of the Holy Spirit as though Jesus appointed a special advocate who wants the best for us, who dwells with us through thick and thin, who shows us love. This is good news. In doing that, the advocate expects us to learn from the example we have been shown, and to grow in our ability to love. This is the challenge to put the good news into action.

[1] http://www.casakids.net/stories-of-hope “Cal and the School Move That Wasn’t”
[2] Seasons of the Spirit

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