Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Easter
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
May 2, 2010
One of the things that many of us find disturbing and hardest to deal with is the concept of a moving target. Think about our relationships with one another. Just when we think we have someone figured out, things change, we change, situations change. Those things that we thought were fixed end up changing and we no longer have a point of reference.
In order for a ship to be able navigate or a plane to fly, they have to have complex navigational instruments such as gyroscopes or GPS systems that help keep them tied to fixed points so that they know where they are at all times. I’ve never spoken to a pilot about this, but I could almost guarantee he would never start-up his plane if his orientation devices were not functioning properly.
We’ve all heard the old saying by Benjamin Franklin that there is nothing certain in this world but death and taxes. Even though those two things are indeed most certain, our lessons this morning tell a very different story, and there are some things in this life that are quite certain, and the Lord that we worship and serve is the most important of them all.
In our collect appointed for today, we acknowledge the reality of those sundry and manifold changes of this world. The changes of this world are both sundry – varied and diverse and they are manifold – in that we can count on them happening. Thankfully for us the collect continues and asks God to fix our hearts upon him because that is the one and only true source of joy.
If you were to poll most people, they would probably say that joy is one of those things in life that they would like to achieve. Our collect declares with certainty that true joy comes in fixing our hearts, minds and wills upon Jesus.
Our Epistle lesson for today comes from St. James. How appropriate to have commemorated the Feast of Ss. Philip and James yesterday, and hear the first few verses from his Epistle. I’m really not sure why Martin Luther once quipped, “St. James’ Epistle is really an epistle of straw, for it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it.” I find the Epistle of St. James to contain some of the most practical lessons for the Christian life.
He has a great deal to say about the topic of Christ as our point of reference. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” There is no variableness nor shadow of turning. What a beautiful name for God as the Father of Lights. In the Greek there is actually a definite article in front of light, and thus literally, the father of the lights. And God said let there be light. And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years. And as the Psalmist declares, “Who hath made great lights, for his mercy endureth for ever: The sun to rule the day: for his mercy endureth for ever; the moon and the stars to govern the night: for his mercy endureth for ever.” God built in change and variableness as the day passes into night and back to day again, but He as Creator of the lights of both remains constant forever. He does not move as a shadow moves due to the light of the sun or moon.
As the author to the Epistle to the Hebrews declares, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever. Be not carried away with divers and strange doctrines.” We are to anchor ourselves to the one thing that is solid and unmovable. It is most fitting that the symbol that the church has used to denote hope is an anchor. In the sixth chapter of Hebrews, we hear, “we may have the strongest comfort, we who have fled for refuge to hold fast the hope set before us. Which we have as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm.” The goal of an anchor is to provide solid mooring to a ship that is being tossed about by the waves, and our solid mooring is the Lord Jesus.
Our Gospel lesson addresses the hope that the Apostles were seeking as Jesus was telling them some words that they were finding difficult to hear. Jesus, during his Farewell Discourse in John, is trying to help them comprehend the fact that his departure is all part of man’s salvation and that he must in fact return to the place from whence he came. He had to go back to the Father in order that the Comforter might come to the Apostles and to us as well.
There are places in the Bible where we need to learn a little bit of Greek and this morning’s Gospel is one of those very places. The word that is used to describe the Holy Ghost is the word paraklhtos. We need to begin to use the word Paraclete, and learn all of its intricate meanings because that word carries so many connotations, and I think it’s important to hold them before us whenever we encounter it.
Many times we will see this word translated as Comforter, and certainly that is one of the attributes of the Holy Spirit. But in addition to comforter it can be translated as advocate, or intercessor, or teacher, or helper. You notice that comforter alone isn’t enough, we need these other meanings as well.
The meaning that gets perhaps the least amount of attention, but most certainly applies to everything that I’ve said thus far is the notion of an advocate or intercessor. This isn’t simply a character witness, this is the supreme defense attorney that you can ever hope to have plead on your behalf.
If you were on trial, you don’t just want someone who will simply represent you, you want someone who is willing to trade places with you, step into your shoes, and completely advocate on your behalf.
That is what Jesus promised to his Apostles and he has promised to us as well. We have been given God Himself in His Spirit, to guide us, comfort us, advocate on our behalf, and help anchor us to the sure rock of Christ Jesus our Lord.
Life is most certainly going to toss us about, to and fro, and we are going to search desperately for something to hold onto. Something that is not going to collapse under our weight, sink when things get too rough, or disappear like a mirage in the sand.
We are called to cling fast to the one and only source that can in fact order our unruly wills and affections so that we might then love the things which we are commanded to do, and then desire those wonderful things which our Lord has promised to give to us. Through the power of the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, our advocate, counselor, comforter, intercessor, teacher, guide, and helper, may we ever embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of Eternal Life, which comes to us through the shed blood of Christ Jesus our Lord. Then will we know those joys that are ours to have, and we will be anchored to the one who was and is and is to come.