This past week I was asked to write a recommendation letter on behalf of a young man in our congregation to the Henrico County Parent Teachers Association. I love this young man and as I wrote, doing everything I could to craft the best letter possible, I imagined trying to find the details to the zoom meeting of the board that makes these kinds of decisions and doing what we’ve heard so much about recently – crashing into their zoom meeting in order to say, “You have to give this scholarship to this young man. No matter who else applied! He deserves it. Give it to him.” Of course, that would probably do more to hurt than to help his chances.
But every time I get to write one of these recommendation letters, I recall all the wonderful people along the way who wrote letters like this for me. People who took the time to think of every possible good thing that could be said about me, and to carefully put it down on paper, and send it along on my behalf.
To be completely honest, I remember thinking about the possibilities of the different people who could write a letter for me and trying to think whose letter would carry the most weight and be most impactful.
We have someone who advocates for us with a power and an authority that is unmatched in all creation. Jesus gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit as an Advocate, who pleads our case and assures we receive the gift of God’s mercy and love.
No doubt you have had mentors, teachers, and coaches to write recommendation letters for you on your journey, because you can’t recommend yourself. Someone with authority has to advocate for you.
In the Holy Spirit we have an advocate who makes a way for us, and who opens doors we couldn’t on our own. In the Spirit we have a helper and a rescuer who comes alongside us to be with us, guide us, and bring us Jesus’ presence and promise.
The promise of this advocate came first to disciples in an upper room who were terrified about what the future held for their teacher and for themselves, and this promise comes to us today who are also unsure what is ahead.
We look around and see that there’s not one national plan to move forward together, even as we see governors and states make different plans for different places on different timelines for next steps, when it feels like everything disjointed and unknown.
But Jesus promises us that in the Holy Spirit we have an advocate who abides with us in the unknown, remains with us in our fear, and stays with us to help us through. We have a friend who holds us in God.
God is at work connecting us in new ways as the Spirit continues to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify us.
The Spirit advocates for us, is making a way for us, is helping us take life in these strange times step by step, day by day, knowing we walk and live and exist in God’s love.
The Holy Spirit makes a way for us by showing us what love looks like.
Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” and “those 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.”
This commandment – this law of love Jesus speaks about — is his command that we love one another as he loves…
And Jesus’ love looks like washing the feet of the friends who deserted him, dying on the cross for those who betrayed him, rising again in order to continue to be with them (and us), so that he can continue to advocate for us, so that he can continue to make a way for us no matter what the obstacles, even if when they seem in insurmountable.
Today is May 17th …and on this very day, sixty-six years ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously and finally that racial segregation of our public schools was unconstitutional.
Prior to that day, racially segregated public facilities were completely legal and widespread. So long as the facilities for blacks and whites were “equal,” African Americans could be made to ride segregated buses, go to segregated schools and were made to use segregated public facilities.
But… a father by the name of Oliver Brown, in 1951, with love and devotion for his small daughter Linda filed a class action lawsuit against the Board of Education in Topeka, KS, after she was denied entrance to Topeka’s all-white elementary school.
In his lawsuit, Oliver Brown stated that he believed schools for black children were not equal to the white schools, and that segregation violated the 14th Amendment, which says that no state can “deny to any person the equal protection of the laws.”
Mr. Brown argued that segregation had a “detrimental effect upon children [of color]” and contributed to “a sense of inferiority.”
So, the case went before the U.S. District Court in Kansas, and ultimately to the Supreme Court, where Thurgood Marshall, who would later become the first African American Supreme Court justice, served as chief attorney for the Brown Family.
In a unanimous decision, issued on May 17, this day, in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education, established the precedent that “separate-but-equal” education and other services were not, in fact, equal at all and that they have no place in our country.
The decision became one of the cornerstones of the civil rights movement, and made a way for Linda Brown and children of all races and backgrounds to attend school together.
Linda had an advocate in her father. She had an advocate in Justice Marshall. And she had an advocate in the power of the Supreme Court.
A law of love was handed down that made a way for Linda, for African Americans and people of color of all ages, and for us all to live in a better, freer, and more beautiful nation.
We have an advocate in the Holy Spirit who stands up for us.
We have an advocate who transforms us to see that all are included in God’s mercy and care.
We have an advocate who has the authority to guarantee us what God desires for us and to confer upon us the kind of life he intends for us.
And we have an advocate that comes from God to us to remind us that we can trust God’s goodness, even in these terrible times.
Even in these times I have seen you and heard you advocating for others, continuing to write cards, continuing to make phone calls, sharing stimulus money that seems like it could be better used by others in greater need, continuing to pray, and give blood, and collect food, and make masks for others…
I have seen and heard about God our advocate at work in you to advocate for others…
I am here at our baptismal font in the sanctuary of our church because it is in baptism that we receive this advocate.
In baptism God holds us all together in the love of Jesus and pours his Spirit out on us.
And I wanted to show you something. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but our baptismal font here has 8 sides.
It wouldn’t have to, of course, it could be designed some other way, but it does have 8 sides and this isn’t a mistake or a coincidence.
The eight sides of this font are intended tell us something about who God is and what God is like.
One of the meanings is recalled at every baptism, when we pray what we sometimes call the “flood prayer”…when we recall that Noah and his family… eight of them in total, were saved through the flood, when the flood washed away the sin and wickedness of the world and God gave his people a new start, and we remember those 8 people who saw in that rainbow a sign of God’s covenant and his determination to save humankind.
But a deeper meaning of the eight sides of the font is that we say in the church that we live on the 8th day…that we now live in a new time….because Jesus was crucified on a Friday, the penultimate day of the week, then he rested on the last day of the week, the sabbath day, in order to fulfill the command of God, and then early on the first day of the week, he was rose from the dead…
…but we say that even as it was the first day of the week, it was also the eight day….a new day beginning not just a new week but a new creation on par with the first day of creation in the very beginning.
With Jesus’ resurrection a fundamental shift, a new epoch began, because God had destroyed the power that death and sickness and sin have in this world and began a whole new creation.
In baptism, we are born into this new creation.
We receive the advocate who reminds us that each day we die to ourselves and are raised with Christ to live in a new age, so that we all live on this eighth day forever…
This gift of baptism holds us all together in God, keeps us in his law of love, and washes us in the Spirit who guides us, keeps us, stands up for us, helps us, and makes a way for us.
By now you know me well enough that most everything makes me think of music…
This promise of the eighth day reminds me of the gospel according to John, Paul, George, and Ringo…reminds me of the song “Eight Days a Week”…
In baptism, God says to us:
I Love you every day,
You’re Always on my mind
One thing I can say
I Love you all the time…
Yeah, I ain’t got nothing but love….Eight days a week.
God’s love for you is bigger than you can imagine…
It breaks the calendar,
It is more and it is better than can be described.
God’s love has burst the gates of heaven and God’s love has come down to us in Jesus
Who gives of himself totally and completely,
Who even on the night of his arrest and betrayal is thinking of us
Promising to send an advocate,
who will not to leave us orphaned, and who Promises to hold us and love us…so…
May you know that we have been given Jesus’ promise in baptism…
May you know the help, the guidance, and the care of the Spirit who remains with you forever…
May you know that Christ’s law of love will keep us together in God…
May you know we have an advocate who prepares the way ahead for us…
May you know that God holds you and loves you and always will
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 00000000