Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 25, 2014
Jesus says, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” Advocate. Spirit. But actually, the best translation of that word is “Comforter.” “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Comforter, to be with you forever.” Clearly, this is where we received the name of our parish, Holy Comforter. Which, I think we can safely admit, is not your standard name for an Episcopal church. We run across other, standard names all over the place – St. Andrew’s, Trinity, St. Mark’s. But Holy Comforter is unique.
Just this week, Faith pulled out the file for me in the church office labeled “History of Holy Comforter.” I believe that in order to cast a future vision, we first have to understand our past. One of the documents in this file was titled: “How Our Church Received Its Name.” This brief little document was written by Gwen Bounds, a charter member of our parish, whom some of you remember. Written with her English sensibilities, it goes like this:
“In January 1969 when Walter and I moved to Spring, FM 1960 was known as ‘Jack Rabbit’ Road. One lane going east to Humble – one lane going west to Hempstead Highway [that’s 290]. Mostly wooded, not too many businesses and very few doctors in the area. During the early days of February 1970 I had need of a doctor and went to the Medical Center in Houston. Within three weeks I had major surgery, a week of chemo and three cobalt treatments. I was released and told to return five days a week for the next six to eight weeks for cobalt treatments. We were devastated. We were still attending our church – St. Alban’s – in the Lindale area of Houston. During our years of receiving the ‘Episcopal Churchman’ [that was the name of the diocesan newspaper back then] one church name had always caught our eye. Walter had passed by there one time whilst on a business trip to Dow Chemical at Angleton. Some time later after being contacted…with regards to supporting a church in the Spring area, seven families met and with the Bishop visiting was told to come up with a name for the mission [church] the next time he came by. [At this point, Gwen describes the voting process for the new name.] When the votes were counted there were two for St. Paul’s and two for Holy Comforter. After the second vote count it was Holy Comforter. Walter and I have always had a good feeling for seeing this name in the ‘Churchman’ and being able to suggest it. Holy Comforter and its families have always and will always be very close to us. We hope you will experience the same love and warmth we do when you say ‘Holy Comforter.’” In another account of the same story, Gwen says that she wanted the name Holy Comforter because she had felt God’s comfort with her during her treatments for cancer.
I think that Gwen’s words are remarkable. I do feel love and warmth when I say “Holy Comforter.” When I walk into those doors during the week to pray, I feel a holy presence. When I see old friends and new being welcomed and welcoming, I feel the love and warmth that Gwen felt. I feel the Holy Comforter.
But before we get too relaxed, I have to break down that word a little bit more. “Comforter” in the Greek is not so much about a relaxing or consoling presence. Rather, the word “comforter” means “one who strengthens.” It was a term used at the time to describe a defense lawyer, standing next to you, strengthening you and aiding you. In seminary, when somebody would sleep in past worship services, we would joke that they had attended “Holy Comforter.” And if they really slept in, we would say that they had attended both services. But that’s the wrong connotation. This is not a church of holy rest, it’s the church of holy strength.
And that’s precisely what the Holy Spirit does in our lives. The Spirit stands beside us and within us to strengthen us in our trials. When our life is unraveling, it’s the Spirit who holds us together. When we encounter pain, it’s the Spirit who gives us strength to continue. The Holy Spirit is what has strengthened the Church, in every generation, to do the good works of God. But it’s more than that. It’s more than the love and warmth that Gwen felt. It’s more than just the Spirit in us.
Because we are the Church of the Holy Comforter. That means that you and I are the ones who are sent by God to strengthen. Too often we we wait around for God to strengthen us; but what if we are the ones who are supposed to do the strengthening with the Comforter’s help? That gets much closer to the point.
And there’s the rub. If we are going to the be ones who strengthen, that means that we actually have to do something. Schucks. I thought this whole thing was free. Sorry, but no. If we truly believe that we have received the Holy Comforter, that we are the Church of the Holy Comforter, then it’s time that we get down to the business of comforting.
And I’m talking about you. Yes, you, in the personal sense. There is a whole lot of comforting that needs to be done, and I think you’re the one to do it. So let’s talk.
We have a whole bunch of kids coming to our church for Vacation Bible School. They will need to be shown the same love and warmth that Gwen felt. And the best people to show them that love is not somebody else, it’s you. You’re the one who can strengthen those children to love Jesus.
Every Sunday Deacon Bob or John Vancamp leads a worship service for the patients at the Broadmoor Rehab Facility. And you know who would be great to help them out? You. You’re the one who could show up and share the love of God with somebody going through rehab. You’re the one who is going to strengthen those people who are alone.
For two weeks this summer, we will house the underemployed and unemployed at Holy Comforter with the Interfaith Hospitality Network. Who will strengthen our guests by cooking dinner and staying overnight at the church? You will. You are the Church of the Holy Comforter, and you are the one given the strength from God to do so.
We have parishioners who are home bound. By reason of age or infirmity, they cannot be in church on Sunday. But they still want to worship on Sunday, and receive the Holy Communion. Who will strengthen them? Who is God sending to them? You. Because this is the Church of the Holy Comforter, and it is a church full of holy comforters.
Now, please don’t think I’m making all of you into gods. You are not the actual Holy Comforter. But pay attention to the words of Jesus: “This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” The Spirit, the Advocate, the Comforter abides with you and dwells in you. The work of strengthening that I’m talking about does not come from our own might, but from the might of God living within us.
And we all know that the Spring, Texas that Gwen Bounds knew is not the Spring, Texas that we know. I don’t think there are many jackrabbits running around on FM 1960. And our church has got a name, and a fine one at that. But some things have not changed. The people of this world and this area still need to hear the love of God. The people of Spring need to be strengthened. The love and the warmth that Gwen and Walter felt so palpably here, is the same love and warmth that many thousands are still seeking.
I firmly believe that is why this church is here. This church is here in order to know Christ and to make Christ known. To strengthen all those who need to hear the love of God. To strengthen anybody and everybody who is seeking for the warmth of the Holy Spirit. When we talk about buildings and capital campaigns, that’s secondary. Those things are the result of the ministry and the mission and the strengthening that we’re already doing. Buildings and capital campaigns are vital for our church, but they are not the end goal – we build buildings and do capital campaigns so that we can continue and empower our ministry, our mission, our strengthening. Because that’s the point. The point isn’t to have a giant church so we feel good about ourselves. The point is to have a sustainable place in which we can meet God. We aren’t out to build a youth room with flat screen TV’s and pool tables so we’re cooler than the church down the street. No, we must create a space in which the youth of Spring, Texas can be strengthened by the love of God. Offices aren’t just about creating more space for more staff to do more busy work. Offices are places from which ministers of the gospel prepare for the work given to them.
I ask each of you to stop, to think, to pray. To ask yourself, “who am I being called to strengthen?” And then brace yourself. Because God will always answer that question for you. For Gwen and Walter, it was helping to establish this parish. For you, it might serving the poor, remembering the outsiders, showing the love of Jesus to our children. When each of us has a ministry of strengthening, of sharing the warmth and love of Jesus, then we will truly be the Church of the Holy Comforter.