The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - May 1, 2016
Scripture Reading: John 14:23-29
Sermon Title: "The Advocate"


The Rev. Robert Vodra


     I was about 14 or 15 when I met David.  I was a boy scout and part of our troop activities was camping out once a month, year round.  I had done it one or two years.  The first year you got a patch, and then each year after that you got a little patch to add to that patch, I think it is called a chevron, a little part of a circle attached to the round patch.  If you looked at our senior scouts, they had full circle around their patch, so I was getting older and also wanted a full circle around my patch.  But I had missed a camp out.  This was not a problem, your parents could vouch for you, as long as you camped out one night during that month, it was OK if it happened with the troop or in your backyard. 

     I donít remember if Randy had missed that month also, or it was just me, but since I needed to make up a night I called him up.  We decided that we would go to Kettletown State park in Southbury, Ct for the night.  My parents would drop us off, and then his parents would come the next day to pick us up.  It was early spring, so we figured that there would be plenty of room.  My parents dropped us off with our tent, sleeping bags, and probably some snacks.  We built a campfire, and were sitting around talking.  We had noticed a campsite set up a few sites down from ours, which looked like it has a lot of stuff, but no car.  It looked like someone was planning on staying there for a while, some tarps, several coolers, not messy just a lot more stuff than we had.

     I donít know what time it was, but we were staring to think about going to bed when a man walked up.  He said that his car had slid off the side of the road, and wondered if we could give him a little push to get it back on the road.  We helped him, it really was just his tire had slipped off so a little push and he was back.  He pulled down to that campsite then walked back up to thank us.  We offered him our fire to warm up, and we started chatting.  Turns out that he was from California, had broken up with his girlfriend and decided to try the east coast.  So he had moved to Connecticut, moved into a campsite and was working as a welder, saving up money to rent an apartment.  Seemed like a legitimate story to me.  The only problem that he ran into was that the state park only allowed a two week stay.  He was approaching the end of his second week, at that park.

     Now I had been brought up in the church.  Just think of all the stories of people helping each other.  We had Bible stories, and we collected money for soup kitchens, homeless shelters, always had some kind of special offering collecting money for something.  And here was my chance, a homeless man, who was trying to get on his feet, living in a state park near my house who was about to be kicked out with no place to go.  Now I was not foolish, not going to offer my sisterís bedroom to someone I had just met, although I did consider it, she had left for college.  But he could set up a tent in our yard for a while.
  Or maybe just needed a place to take a shower, get warmed up. 

     So I made the offer.  Here is my address and phone number, if you need a place to set up your tent or take a shower or something, give me a call.  Oh, and here is the name and address of my church, good place, you should come by sometime. 

     It was about a week later when we got a call.  This is David, can I take you up on that offer for a shower?Ē  Sure, come on by.  My mother was less than pleased when she learned I had invited a homeless man to our house to live in our yard or use our bathroom, and he was on his way over.  David came over, took a shower, thanked us so much.  A few days later he was in church.  Again, thanked us for the shower.  He had, to my motherís relief, found another campground to stay in, so would not take me up on the offer to live in our back yard for a while.  About a week later he called me.  He said that he had made up with his girlfriend and saved enough money for gas to make it back to California.  But wanted me to know how much he appreciated my willingness to help him out. 

     This turned out well, and although I did get a good talking from both my parents about inviting strangers into my house, it felt good.  We are told over and over again to love others like God loves us, and certainly something like that was easy for me to do. 

     And this is the commandment of this passage, love one another as Jesus taught us.  But, I will be honest, there are times in which I have not been as loving.  A few years ago I was in Raleigh, North Carolina.  When we had a Presbytery meeting many of us would stay at a hotel the night before the meeting.  For some of the staff, it was a chance to share a bottle of wine, or two, and have some fellowship.  I generally lived 2 or 3 hours from the meeting location, so for me it was more practical.  Rather than leaving a 5 am for an 8:00 am meeting, I could leave the hotel at 7:30 and be over to the meeting by 8:00.  At this particular meeting the suggested hotel was some big, multi-story hotel downtown.  I had gotten a later start, so it was about 8:00 at night before I arrived.  I didnít know where the staff had gathered, and was getting pretty hungry and tired, so figured I would grab some dinner and go to bed.  I went down to the lobby where there was a fancy restaurant.  I looked at the menu, they wanted $18 for a salad.  Not $17.99 just an 18 next to the salad.  I thought I had passed a McDonalds on the way in, I could spend 99 cents on a burger, which sounded like a better deal to me.  So I slipped out the side door of the hotel to walk down the street.  I heard the door click and lock behind me, and before I knew it there was a man with his arm around me, telling me about aliens that had were in town and were after him.  But he was going to protect me, I just needed to help him out since he was hungry.  Well so was I, but rather than invite him to join me at McDonalds, I pulled a $10 bill I had pulled out of my wallet earlier, gave it to him, and thanked him for looking out for me, and quickly walked back around to the front of the hotel where I could get in and pay 18 for a salad. 

     Love others as Jesus showed us how to love is not easy at times.  There is fear, there is not wanting to get too close, and in some cases there is a legitimate safety concern.  In fact, for me, most of the time, it is hard to love as Jesus taught us. 

     But there is a promise in this passage also, and it is wrapped up in the commandment to love others as Jesus loved us, and that promise is that we can do it.  I love reading the e-news letters that come out from denominations.  They often contain stories about things that our denominations are doing.  They scour thousands and thousands of newspapers looking for United Church of Christ or United Methodist church or Unitarian Universalist Church and put those stories into an email.  This little church in Texas collected $500 which they sent to an orphanage in Central America.  This church saw homeless and started to serve dinner out of their church basement every night.  I was reading one the other day of a church that was closing down.  Their congregation had shrunk down to just a handful, but the land that their building sat on was worth a lot of money.  The building was built in the 1960ís, and was nothing fancy.  So they voted as a congregation to sell the building and land, and use that money for missions.  There was another church not too far away they could go to, so this was their opportunity to love others as Jesus showed us.

     We tend to forget how many good things are happening around us, people doing good things, but the promise is that these things are happening.  Even if I am not inviting the homeless to live in my backyard and shower at my house, I can still do good things, to love others as Jesus loves us.

     The other promise that that we will not be alone in this.  Jesus will send ďan Advocate.Ē  The disciples were confused about this, we now know that is the Holy Spirit.  But honestly the Holy Spirit has always been the hardest part of the trinity for me to understand.  God, lots of descriptions, probably none of them accurate.  Mother, Father, Creator, Immortal, all knowing, the list goes on.  Jesus many of us relate pretty well with.  The whole fully human and fully divine, harder, but still we can see in Jesus someone that we can follow.  But Spirit is something that we donít see in each other, directly, and it is harder to understand, at least for me.  But advocate I can understand.  Like a court advocate, they are there to support you, to guide you, and not there to judge. 

     And I think that is what we need when we are trying to love others as Jesus loved us.  Someone or something to guide us, to encourage us, to support us.  It is not easy to love others, even when I have done it to the best of my ability, I have probably fallen short.  The advocate, the Spirit of God can show me how to do it better, and encourage me to try. 

     This scripture really wraps up all three things.  The challenge to love as Jesus loved us, the promise that we have done it before and we will continue to do it the best that we can, and the promise that we are not left alone to figure it out.  We say in the United Church of Christ that God is still speaking.  There are a lot of things happening today that were not around when Jesus was here.  There are a lot of moral and ethical questions we are faced with regularly that the Bible does not talk about.  And while we do view the Bible as a source of wisdom and knowledge, we also know that there are things in it that people have pulled out of context to support a certain view.  I believe that all 3 of our denominations have the view that we need a mix of Biblical teaching, and help from the spirit of God, or the advocate, to figure out how God is responding to the big questions we are faced with. 

     So I leave with a challenge, and that is for you to listen for the advocateís voice.  Each day we are faced with questions about how to deal with each other, how to love each other, not just in the church, but in the grocery store, or the post office, or any place we meet others.  When there is any question, I encourage you to listen for the voice of God as a guide, and love anyone you meet as Jesus showed us how to love.