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          A sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on Sunday, May 25, 2014.

    The Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A (RCL): Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:7-18; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

       “Seek the Truth, Come Whence It May, Cost What It Will.”

       

That quote is attributed to The Rev. William Sparrow, a faculty member of the Protestant Episcopal Seminary in Virginia from 1841 to 1874, and Dean of the Seminary from 1868 to 1874. His words are captured in stone at the entrance of the Bishop Payne Library at VTS, where I spent a good amount of time for three years and more recently this past week, in particular, as my wife Chrissie graduated with a M.A. in Biblical Interpretation cum laude. “Seek the Truth, Come Whence It May, Cost What It Will.” These are words which seem to resonate throughout our scripture readings today.

       

First in Acts, we have the Apostle Paul in Athens facing the challenge of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Greeks who know nothing of either the Jewish or Christian tradition. Paul proclaims that the “unknown God” to whom an altar is dedicated where they worship is the true Lord of heaven and earth who will judge the world with justice through Jesus, whom God has raised from the dead. Even entering onto foreign ground to preach the relevance of God, Paul tries to find common ground to usher them into a growing community of believers who follow and know a compassionate God. “For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’” Paul offers the Athenians a spirit of generosity rather than an attitude of exclusion, and hopes to enter into dialogue and religious conversation with them.  

       

“Seek The Truth, Come Whence It May, Cost What It Will.”

      

We also hear the Psalmist who offers grateful praise to God, who does not let slip the feet of those who follow, and delivers them from tests which could overwhelm them.

       

“Seek The Truth, Come Whence It May, Cost What It Will.”

       

We hear also in First Peter that Christians have a zeal for doing what is right in God’s eyes, no matter what the circumstances, because in Baptism we are saved and made alive. This reading is rich with imagery of the church being an ark, floating above the chaos of the seas, and bringing the community upon which the heritage of the world will be renewed through the flood.

       

I’ve heard some Christian bishops direct their clergy, if parish architecture or the surrounding environment allows for it, to hold baptismal candidates down under the water three times until they rise gasping for air. Father Randy has preached about this. This signifies that the waters of Baptism not only cleanse the individual infant or adult; but it also joins them to the death and resurrection of Christ.

       

“Seek The Truth, Come Whence It May, Cost What It Will.”    

Today we welcome Ryan Scott Rodriguez through the faith of Christ crucified into the household of God. And while symbolically we both wash and drown him, we witness that Ryan is delivered through the waters of Baptism to be saved by the grace and love of Christ Jesus. We hope that Ryan will live and grow into that Spirit of God which dwells within him, that he will be made alive in Christ to share that life with others. Our Christian beliefs and behavior are on the record just as is our baptism.

       

“Seek The Truth, Come Whence It May, Cost What It Will.”

       

Finally in the Gospel, Jesus speaks to us through his final words to his disciples on the night of his arrest; Jesus encourages obedience to his commandments and speaks of the Spirit, who will be with them forever.

       

The life of faith is defined and maintained through acts of love which lead to obedience. “Keep my commandments” refers to all the content of the Lord’s teaching. This principle of observing commandments through the motive of love is a revolutionary advance over what had been the Jewish approach to Mosaic law. The promise which immediately follows is intended to be closely linked with loving obedience. He will give you another Advocate. This is the first of five important statements regarding the Holy Spirit in these discourses.

       

The Greek word parakletos, or Paraclete, includes the idea of one called in to help, but is not to be restricted to a legal advocate. Other descriptors are Comforter, Exhorter, Companion, Helper and Guide. This which is called to be ‘alongside’ us, to abide with us and in us, is not any intermittent presence, but rather a continuous one. Our Lord lays special emphasis on the characteristic of the Spirit as truth because of its obvious importance as a counselor. The Spirit brings out the opposite nature of Christ’s disciples from that of this world.

       

Jesus assures His disciples of His continued presence with them, even when the world can no longer see Him. “I will not leave you orphaned” adds a special point to Jesus’ promise about the Father’s love. “In a little while” points to the resurrection when the disciples will see Christ in a new and wonderful way. Finally, loving Christ and keeping His commandments are inseparable. Love is the mark of obedience and discipleship. Jesus’ love for us is all about His self-revelation to us.

       

“Seek The Truth, Come Whence It May, Cost What It Will.”    

Jesus calls the Spirit of truth our Advocate. This image implies a trial and the probability of judgment. Standing before God, we need someone to speak for us. Jesus has great concern for his disciples then, and for us, now. He would not leave any orphaned with no one to care for us. Thus, Jesus assures that he will ask the Father to give a helper. He speaks of this gift of the Spirit, or Advocate, immediately after encouraging his disciples to ask for anything in his name that he would give, that glory might be given to the Father.

       

Festivals in the life of the church year like Epiphany and Ascension (which is May 29th) are rich occasions deserving our observance on the proper days, that help complete the ritual narrative told during the rest of the liturgical season. Epiphany is the manifestation of Christ as the Son of God and salvation of the world to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi. Ascension is the 40th day after Jesus’ resurrection from the tomb when the Son of Man returns to heaven to be seated alongside God Almighty to intercede on our behalf.            

       

Jesus does not leave his followers orphaned. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus comes to abide with his disciples of every generation. As Pentecost draws near, we are reminded that the risen Christ dwells in each of us as the Spirit of truth. We receive this Spirit in baptism and pray that in our gathering around the Lord’s Table that that Spirit will transform us to be the Body of the risen Christ in the world.

       

There may have been a last clause to William Sparrow’s quote: “Lead Where It Might.” Seeking truth is the work of discipleship. We are called to see clearly, to listen carefully, and to consider choices, make decisions, and take action in our lives that coincide with our love of God and our faith in Christ Jesus. The seeking is noble. The path can be hard. The cost could be great. But in doing so, the Love of God for us and the Spirit of truth abiding with us will be revealed and our journey of transformation will be amazing.

       

“Seek The Truth, Come Whence It May, Cost What It Will, Lead Where It Might.”

       

AMEN.