(John 14: 15-27)
I grew up in the country with little, if any exposure, to the outside world. My small town had a K-6 school, a couple of mom-and-pop stores, two brothers who each had a car repair shop, three churches, a restaurant-tavern and a volunteer fire department. There were no minorities or anybody different. Just a town of people just like me. If we were poor, we sure didn’t know it. Life in the 50s and early 60s was pretty idyllic, other than that bomb shelter my father tried to build in the backyard. Even when I went off to a high school of 2400 students things remained pretty simple until my sophomore through senior years when Walter Cronkite brought the world into our living rooms and my awakening process began. There was some pretty serious stuff going on and it was all very confusing and there was a lot of finger-pointing.
After college and marriage, I got a job with the Houston Police Department in the late 70s and patrolled areas consisting of Hispanics, African-Americans, Vietnamese and some of the poorest people you’d ever expect to meet. I also learned a new term, slum lord. Most did not own their homes but, nevertheless they were clean and well-kept. I was struck at how nice these people were. Gee, they were a lot like me and my family. After law school, I started practicing in rural East-Texas in an area that had more than its fair share of poor people, both black and white. You really get to know a person when you spend time visiting them in jail trying to help them navigate an unsympathetic criminal justice system. Then I practiced in Tyler, Texas where, if you were poor and broke the law, you were prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and then some. These people really needed someone in their corner. When I finally got to Jefferson County, I had a chance to maybe do something as a prosecutor to help some of these people. Drug Court was a real eye-opener into the world of drugs over life. And the mentally ill who found themselves in trouble with the law moved me to create the first Mental Health Court in Jefferson County to keep them from being ground up by the wheels of justice.
I thought I had seen it all until I became the pastor of a small Methodist Church in the Tri-Area. Now my eyes have been opened to the plight of people struggling for their daily bread and fighting to keep a roof over their heads if they are fortunate enough to even have a roof. All they want is what I had growing up in the 50s and 60s; food, clothing and shelter. One of the many things they don’t have is an advocate, someone to speak for them as they don’t have a voice or, at least, a voice that anyone hears.
And, that’s what I take away from our scripture reading for this morning. Jesus knew that after he ascended to heaven his people would need someone to guide and counsel them. Someone to show them the way, a counselor, an advocate to speak for them. Jesus said to them; If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth. The word translated as Counselor combines the ideas of comfort and counsel. The word could also be translated Comforter, Encourager, or Advocate. The Holy Spirit of which Jesus speaks is a powerful person on our side, working for and with us. Jesus continues by saying that; the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Remind us of what? To love our neighbor as we love ourselves. To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the forgotten, and tend to his flock.
So, what does the United Methodist Church say about all this? In paragraph 162 of the Book of Discipline, The Social Community, it says; the rights and privileges a society bestows upon or withholds from those who comprise it indicate the relative esteem in which that society holds particular persons and groups of persons. We affirm all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God. We therefore work toward societies in which each person’s value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened. We support the basic rights of all persons to equal access to housing, education, communication, employment, medical care, legal redress for grievances, and physical protection. The Book of Discipline then breaks it down into components with one of them being Urban-Suburban Life and says that urban-suburban living has become a dominant style of life for more and more persons. For many it furnishes economic, educational, social, and cultural opportunities. For others, it has brought alienation, poverty, and depersonalization. We in the Church have an opportunity and responsibility to help shape the future of urban-suburban life. Massive programs of renewal and social planning are needed to bring a greater degree of humanization into urban-suburban lifestyles. We must judge all programs, including economic and community development, new towns, and urban renewal, by the extent to which they protect and enhance human values, permit personal and political involvement, and make possible neighborhoods open to persons of all races, ages, and income levels. We affirm the efforts of all developers who place human values at the heart of their planning. We must help shape urban-suburban development so that it provides for the human need to identify with and find meaning in smaller social communities. At the same time, such smaller communities must be encouraged to assume responsibilities for the total urban-suburban community instead of isolating themselves from it. In short, the Book of Discipline says that, as a social principle, United Methodists must be an advocate for those who are being denied their basic rights of life that many of us take for granted.
And what does that mean for Community United Methodist Church? Well, through our ever-expanding mission engagement our eyes have been opened to the plight of people living in the shadow of our church. As we continue to work to meet the daily needs of the least, the last and the lost, we are now called to take on the role of advocate for those who do not have a voice. We need to be their voice. We have slowly been moving in that direction as I represent the church on the Sewer Working Group that is exploring ways in which Port Hadlock can obtain an affordable sewer system that will enhance our infrastructure and generate sustainable growth. I recently represented our church at a Habitat for Humanity Planning Retreat where it was recognized that affordable housing, a basic right for all, is increasingly inaccessible to many of the people of East Jefferson County. And, in that meeting, the issue of advocacy was discussed. The question was whether or not Habitat for Humanity should get involved in advocating for those who are seeking housing in our area, as opposed to what they’ve been doing in the past by just building when and where they can for whoever they can. I took the opportunity to state that I have been here for six election cycles, eleven years, and that every two years someone runs for county commissioner and promises three things: living wage jobs, affordable housing and a sewer for Port Hadlock, and that it doesn’t appear we are any closer to seeing any of those things. I told the people at my table that Community United Methodist Church has a history of providing affordable housing and told them about the South Seven Senior Housing units. I told them that our trustees met quite some time ago with representatives from Habitat for Humanity and OlyCAP (Olympic Community Action Program) and were amenable to more affordable housing being built on the church property near the South Seven.
We are called to be the voice of the voiceless and disenfranchised. Paragraph 164, subsection B, Political Responsibility, says; the strength of a political system depends upon the full and willing participation of its citizens. The church should continually exert a strong ethical influence upon the state, supporting policies and programs deemed to be just and opposing policies and programs that are unjust. The time is now for us to call upon our elected representatives to do more than make hollow promises every two years. The time is now for us to be advocates and put into action those things taught to us by Jesus Christ in showing the true love of Christ to our neighbors, the neighbors who live in the shadow of Community United Methodist Church. We are commanded in Proverbs 31: 8,9 to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. The prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 1: 17; Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. Jeremiah tells us in Jeremiah 22: 16; He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. “Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord. Is that not what it means to be an advocate for God’s most vulnerable children right here and right now?
Let us pray.
Righteous and compassionate God, move us to defend the cause of the poor and needy. Give us the voice to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, to speak for the rights of all who are destitute. Awaken us, through the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, the Advocate, and show us the way to speak up and defend the rights of the poor and needy, the lost and lonely children whom you love, our brothers and sisters. We love you and will obey what you command through the Holy Spirit whom you have sent in your name, who will teach us all things and remind us of all Jesus has taught us by his word and through his example. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.