Good morning/evening. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Cabell Eggleston and I’m a senior at Patrick Henry High School. Now, some of you may be thinking, “Oh gosh ,what is this dumb teenager going to get up and try to speak about?” And to be honest, I’m thinking just about the same thing, so you may have to bear with me at some points. I will try to do my best, and it is only dumb luck that I get to preach the Sunday after the Bishop of our diocese preached.
It’s actually sort of funny because I went home last Sunday and thought, “All right, so how do I one up the bishop at sermon giving?” But in all seriousness, I’m really happy to be able to preach before you today, so happy in fact that today I am missing the last day of the last youth event in our diocese that I could staff, so I can be here with you to preach. And tonight I’ll be preaching and then leaving as I have to make it to Baccalaureate at PH [Patrick Henry High School].
You know, Baccalaureate is scary, if I’m being honest. Because we have that and then graduation and then I’ll be done with high school and I’ll be moving on to college. My life is about to change and that’s really scary for me. However, our church, well, the church as a whole, is all about change. People are constantly joining our church and leaving it. We always have new faces in the crowd and it for some reason it always seems to me that we have new versions of classic prayers.
Every time we say “Hallelujah,” we are ushering in change.
A lot of times when you hear that you think of something specific, whether it’s a church service or a song. But very rarely do we hear that and think of its actual meaning. As with many words, “hallelujah” has been changed from its original meaning and it’s certainly used freely in media today. For example, in Taylor Swift’s song “Change,” she sings, “The time will come when we can finally win, and we’ll sing hallelujah.” In this song she simply uses it as a sort of defiant term, sort of like “ha ha, we showed them.”
Then, in Leonard Cohen’s song, actually titled “Hallelujah,” he uses it more as a term of almost regret. His melancholy song gives the word a sadder tone.
I can happily say that Taylor Swift was more right of the two on this one. However, she still wasn't grasping what “hallelujah” means. Given time to think about it, most people would come to the conclusion that it means “praise God,” and those people would be about half right. “Hallelujah” is comprised of two Hebrew words, namely “Hallelu” and “Jah.”
“Jah” is a shortened version of God’s name spelled Yhwh. We do not know exactly how Yhwh was pronounced, but it is popularly pronounced as Yahweh today. Yhwh is usually rendered “the LORD” in most English Bible translations.
“Hallelu” is another form of the Hebrew word “Hallal,” which means “praise.” However, “Hallelu” is the second person plural imperative form of this word. This simply means that it is actually a call to other people to praise Yah - i.e. “praise Yah all you people.”
So when we say hallelujah we aren't saying “God rocks” – we're telling people that they should thank God. Thank him for what you have and for what you will have. It's kind of weird to think about, but just saying the word makes you teachers or apostles of God's path. It's spreading his message. And the best way to spread his message is to go out and proclaim Hallelujah. Which would suggest a changing of surroundings, and again that’s terrifying. Nobody likes change, even though it’s the one constant in our lives. Change can be good – don’t get me wrong. I’m going on to college and my life is changing, but I’m getting a better education. That’s an amazing change! But it’s still scary. Most all changes are scary.
That’s where the reading today comes in. Now I was telling some of my friends about the gospel from today and, being a teenager, I decided to try and summarize what happens, and here’s what I told them, “So before Judas betrays Jesus, Jesus is talking to all his bros and he says “All right, so like if I die or whatever, y’all don’t have to worry. My dad’s got you hooked up with the holy spirit.’” Which, I’d say, is a pretty accurate summary, although my opinion is a little biased. Jesus tells his disciples that his father will send to them an advocate. When hearing this, I’m sure most people think that that advocate is already here, the Holy Spirit. But that’s not quite what I took away from this passage.
Basically what I understand from this reading is that Jesus was talking to more than just his disciples – he was telling us, the children of God, that when something important, something that symbolizes the love of Christ in our lives – when that disappears or leaves us, God will send us an advocate. Now this advocate can be almost anything or anyone, but it always happens. Whenever something awful happens or someone leaves, we have advocates. These advocates are the Holy Spirit helping us by working through people or ideas or events.
Last summer I went on the mission trip with about 10 other youth and five adults. We went to Philadelphia to work with a service and help out with some community service projects up there. Before we went all the way to Philly, we decided to stop in D.C., tour around and see all the cool things the capital had to offer. It was the first Sunday on the trip and our group was in D.C. so naturally, we went to a service at the National Cathedral. So we went in and sat down and the service began. There was a choir visiting and they began singing the opening hymn, which was comprised only of the word Hallelujah, which as you’ll remember, means “go praise God, everyone.”
Now I’m sitting in my chair and I close my eyes to listen to the music and I hear this clattering behind me and I think “Okay, who is messing up this beautiful song I am experiencing? Ugh, honestly this is so rude.” So I try to ignore it but the clattering and chair moving gets louder so I turn around to see what’s happening and there is a man a few rows behind us having a heart attack. I was stunned. I didn’t know what to do. There were several doctors in the congregation and they all ran to his aid while his family stood by and watched. The church was silent. Dead silent. Occasionally I would hear the man gasp or groan or one of the doctors say something but for the most part everyone was quiet. Eventually the paramedics showed up and hooked the man up to a life support machine. The man, Dulaney, we later learned, died.
But what really struck me was that this man was dying on the floor and his family felt nothing but heartache, and yet, as he was leaving us, God sent an advocate. And that advocate, it sounds cheesy, was love. There were over 500 people in that church that morning and all of them were simultaneously praying for Dulaney. It was breathtaking. And in a way, he was fulfilling the command Hallelujah presents. He was going to praise God. And God was sending us an advocate.
Now, another example of this advocate sending occurs closer to home. Actually, in this church. For me to say that things in this church have changed over the last few years would be an understatement. We have seen so many people leave. Barkley, the Hensleys, Bekkah Manly, Joseph Paine, John Simpson, Sandy Webb. Yet every single time someone has left our church, whether it was to move to Texas or not, we received some sort of advocate that made the loss easier. We had Wesley help us through our transition time, we got our awesome rector Eric Long, and we even got cool people like Whitney who told me I should not put her in my sermon but I was going to anyway because she’s awesome too! Never before have I found a community so accepting of new people and I think that is the advocate God has given to this church. Our church endures so much change and loss but we’re still so happy to accept new additions into our folds.
Now my mentioning of everyone who has left our church is a tad hypocritical of me because this fall I’ll be leaving Roanoke to attend college at the University of Virginia. So I’ll be leaving the church too and it’s scary. I hate change. I don’t know what I’m going to do without all the groups I’ll be away from. I’ll be separated from my friends, my family, this church and all the great people in it – my home, my dog, all of the amazing communities I’m in will be gone while I’m away at school. And it’s scary. But God will send an advocate. He will send an advocate for me and he will send an advocate for you and for everyone. You may not always see it but he’ll send one.
Change is scary, and losing people is scarier. Trust me, I’ve had my fair share of change and loss over the last four years of high school.
Now, I’d like to revise something I said earlier. I mentioned earlier that change is the one constant in our lives, but that’s wrong. There are two constants in our lives: change, and the advocate that follows. No matter what happens, you will always have someone on your side. You will always have an advocate coming your way.
Go praise God, y’all. Hallelujah. Amen