There are two hymns that have been running through my head as I looked forward to today. “There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place …” and “Every time I feel the spirit …” There is something about today that makes me want to sing and dance, with you.
Now those last two words are the key words, “with you.” Not only am I too self-conscious to sing and dance without you, (remember I am, after all, a native of New England). But more important, the movement of the Holy Spirit is something that, by its very nature, is meant to be shared, to be experienced in community, to be celebrated together. As my seminary Professor Charlie Price used to say participation is a Holy Spirit word, and today is all about participation.
So many things to celebrate today, and such a joy to be with you. 15 years of the Church of the Advocate. 15 years of the gift of the Holy Spirit moving through you, through your community, through your leadership and your witness.
15 years of innovation and initiative grounded in the liturgical richness of our Anglican tradition. Or to borrow from the Orange County slogan – 15 years of living “around the corner AND ahead of the curve…”
Let me suggest a couple of visual images for today. One comes from our Presiding Bishop, who played a key role in your beginnings. Bishop Curry, in one of his first videos after he became Presiding Bishop, spoke about being asked what the Jesus movement looked like. And of course the video was filled on the streets of New York, and Bishop Curry is moving about walking and talking, and is in fact, himself, an embodiment of the Jesus movement. But he is also wise enough to know that we all need to be involved, to participate together. So he shared an image from our liturgy, of the moment, as the gospel is processed, where all the people turn together, to face the gospel. He said, that is an image of the Jesus movement. And you all here, have taken that to a deeper level with the opportunity to reverence, to touch or kiss the gospel as it moves through the community. For me, this captures a moment where the Jesus movement meets the movement of the Holy Spirit, in worship.
And as you well know, the Jesus movement is not just about what takes place inside the church. An equally vital dimension of the Jesus movement is what takes place outside the church. And here, the image that comes to my mind is the journey, literally the movement, of this building, which was St. Philip’s church, in Germantown, NC as it made its way to the Homestead Site here, in December of 2012. They had to remove the roof for the move, but the visual image of this church moving, on a flat bed truck, from that community to this one, is an icon of the church literally moving through the world.
The Holy Sprit is all about repurposing, reimaging, recreating and renewing. And in an age where many churches are struggling under the burden of what has come to be called our edifice complex, you were showing how the building itself can remind the church that we are called to be on the move: in, through, and for, the communities we serve.
And your name, Church of the Advocate, conveys this deep commitment, which is embedded in your missional DNA. You are the embodiment of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and you are all about what it means to be an Advocate – as your T-shirt puts it – “Be the noun, do the verb.”
And here there are numerous examples of the ways you have done just that. Compassion, justice and collaboration have been the values that stand at the center of your advocacy. And today, we celebrate with you two initiatives in particular, which have been at the heart of your connection to the community: the Piedmont Patch Collaborative and the Pee Wee Homes Collaborative.
The first is a model for how we are called to be good neighbors and stewards of the land, and the ways we can learn to “serve rather then harm God’s creation.” The second is an initiative which invites a broad cross-section of the community to collaborate in an innovative approach to affordable housing, partnering with town, county, individuals, organizations, and other non-profits, including Orange County Habitat for Humanity, to create another pathway to homeownership. This is the stuff of the gospel! This is what we are called to do and be!
Not that accomplishing all of this has always been easy. At times it has been discouraging, frustrating and disheartening. And occasionally, truth be told, bureaucratic impulses from within our own church structures have gotten in the way … imagine that. But here is where the Holy Spirit, the power of your commitment, faith in God, trust in Jesus, holding to your guiding values at the center have helped you to persevere and prevail.
Bishop Steven Charleston has written words which remind us that the spirit is at work even when we are facing challenges and resistance:
“Don’t let the dark clouds fool you. They may pretend to own the heavens, to stretch from horizon to horizon, ominous and commanding, a permanent shadow hanging over our lives, but don’t let the clouds fool you … there is world of sunlight behind them. One day, when the wind of change pushes them apart, that light will return to bathe the earth, to restore the vision of every person, to set right what has been broken. Stand firm then in what you know and believe. Look up and do not be afraid, for when you feel the first breeze of hope, you will know the clouds will soon be chased from the sky.”
The wind, the breath, the breeze, these are all signs of the Holy Spirit. And our readings today all celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Isaiah, the Spirit of the Lord is upon the prophet as justice, healing, and Good News are proclaimed. In I Corinthians, it is the variety of gifts that are celebrated, all in the one body. And Luke is a kind of backhanded affirmation if we, who are less than perfect know how to give good gifts, how much more does God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit, when we ask.
The Holy Spirit is a relentless advocate for justice, for compassion, and the witness of the Holy Spirit for generations has been that this is work we must do together, in concert, as part of the Body of Christ.
And today, we celebrate this gift and the 15 year journey that has brought you to here. The winds of change are blowing through you in a way that has opened us as a diocese and opened the wider church.
Not coincidently, this week, the Standing Committee and Diocesan Council both voted to recommend that a new church plant, Christ the Beloved Community, in Winston-Salem, be recognized and received into communion with our convention next month. There was great excitement as we talked about this. Christ Beloved Community serves a Latino neighborhood and it has been a partnership with the Lutheran Church from the very beginning.
A couple of people said they couldn’t remember the last time this happened in our diocese. But you can! It was in January of 2004, back when our convention was held in January. You were that mission! And there is a connection between that moment and the one we will celebrate next month.
Justice, compassion and collaboration are part of their values, too. Your journey has inspired theirs. Without your witness and your trailblazing, who knows if this community would ever have been started. Their journey is part of your legacy.
The breeze of the Holy Spirit is stirring among you and within you. And those being confirmed and received today are a testimony to that movement. They are part of it. All seven of them, and Lisa counted them just before the service to make sure they were all here. And we are all part of this movement of the Holy Spirit.
It is a movement that invites and involves all of us. It means to be an Advocate/ to Advocate: be the noun, do the verb. It is the Jesus movement alive and well in this time and in this place.
And today we celebrate loud and long the gifts of the spirit that have made this possible, and the compassion, collaboration and justice that through you, has been born in our community and reborn in our church There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place, and we know that it’s the spirit of the Advocate. AMEN.