5/17/2020 Sixth Sunday of Easter The text is John 14: 15-21.
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 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. 18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
In John’s gospel last Sunday, we found ourselves with Jesus and the disciples, in the upper room at the Last Supper. Jesus is delivering his final earthly message to the twelve, assuring them that he is the “Way, the Truth, and the Life”. He is going before them to prepare their place in heaven; but that they are to live as he commands so that they may experience abundant life in the here and now. They are already traveling on the road that he has prepared. This “Final Discourse” of Jesus continues this morning as he further reassures his first followers that although he is departing from them, they will not be abandoned. He must return to the Father, but will ask God to send to them another “Advocate”.
And this is important, perhaps critical to their, and our understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit that is being sent. “Another” indicates that this Advocate is meant to fill the role of the original person of the Trinity sent to God’s people, Jesus the Christ.
On previous occasions we have examined how some words in the original Greek of the New Testament have been translated for the sake of expediency; and that often, the true meanings may be more extensive. In John’s gospel this morning we find one of the more wide-ranging examples of this capacity of the Greek to be widely reworded. Jesus reassures the disciples that, although he is departing from them, he will ask the Father to send to them what is termed in the NRSV translation of the bible that we Lutherans use, an “Advocate”. The word in Greek is “Paraclete”, meaning “called to one’s side”. Other bible translations have rendered this as Comforter, Companion, Counselor, and Helper. All these, while slightly different, tend to hint at the same role; that of an advocate; to stand by, speak for, and assist the disciples, and as always, us. And all these terms refer to the very same “Holy Spirit’.
While the NRSV translation is the one we Lutherans are most used to hearing form, other versions, while taking liberty with the original language, might just zero in a bit more accurately for our post-modern ears. “The Message” is not a word-for-word bible translation, but a paraphrasing. And for these verses of John’s retelling of Jesus’ reassuring speech to his disciples, its rather plain approach tends to convey the “Advocate’s” meaning and function rather well;
“If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you with another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you! I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. I just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to become alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you.
The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and make myself plain to him”.
Here, “Paraclete”; Helper is translated as ‘Friend”. I rather like that! “Friend”. And in times of great distress, it’s in our nature to seek out a friend; or a counselor; or a comforter. Jesus often refers to his followers as his ‘friends’, and it seems appropriate that the Holy Spirit Jesus promises to send them should be declared as another friend; taking Christ’s place after he departs from them. Yet, here we are once again witness to Jesus asking the disciples to accept and believe in a rather vague circumstance. The unbelieving world will not be able to perceive this friend, the Advocate; but the followers of the Way of Christ will enter into an inseparable connection with the Holy Spirit. This will come about because Jesus tells them that the Spirit will abide in them; that is, the Advocate will live within each believer.
As in many aspects of faith, this must have seemed somewhat challenging for the disciples to grasp. In fact, even 2,000 years later, the wider church endeavors to come to a consensus regarding the identity of the Spirit; as well as the overall concept of the Trinity. Denominational differences are many and varied, regarding the Three Persons of the Triune God. But for Lutherans the Holy Spirit is both identified with Jesus and distinct from Jesus; is present with Jesus, comes before Jesus, and comes after Jesus. The Spirit, the Advocate is both revealed by Jesus and reveals Jesus. This understanding is rather more complex than Jesus’ initial promise that he is sending another “Friend” to be with and comfort his followers.
It can be daunting to try to grasp the manner in which the Spirit of Jesus Christ comes to abide, to live within us. And in doing so, serving as the very presence of Jesus in our lives. I’ve found that the imagery of the “sign of the Cross” is helpful in this understanding. We begin at the forehead, tracing a vertical line downward; followed by the horizontal tracing from shoulder to shoulder. While making these gestures, the Three Person of the Trinity are glorified. “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The Father is symbolized at the very top; the beginning, in heaven. Jesus, the Son, is remembered as coming down from heaven, as the world’s Savior. And the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Friend is represented by the horizontal line of the Cross; existing between the Father and Son, and on a level that places the Spirit traveling alongside each of us. And it is the faith we have in this mystery of the Spirit existing within us that connects us to Jesus, who asked the Father to send this friend to be with us. And through this connection we become active participants in the work of Christ. Through our eyes, Jesus sees the plight of those in need; through our ears he hears the cries of those in need; by our voice he speaks truth and comfort to those in need. By our feet Jesus walks alongside those in need, and with our hands, he reaches out to lift them up. And all this happens through the Advocate whom Jesus sends so that he might abide in us, and we in him.
And keeping with the mutual nature of our relationship with the Holy Spirit, we are also enabled, and encouraged to call upon our Advocate for exactly those things that Jesus told the disciples would be provided. This “Friend” whom Jesus sends may be called upon to be our Comforter, Companion, Counselor, and Helper. We do not act alone when we serve Christ and we are never left alone when we implore Christ for his presence; he abides in us in the form of this very same Advocate. In these times of distress, we followers of this Jesus are able to look within ourselves and know that the Spirit is with us; Jesus tells us that we will not be orphaned. “Do not let your hearts be troubled”, Jesus told the disciples last week. And we should not allow ourselves to be discouraged, either. Pandemic, worry, fear, and isolation are no match for the power of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.
We are strengthened by the knowledge that the Advocate, our “friend” sent by Jesus lives in us; and by this truth we can overcome any obstacle. We must trust in this Spirit of Truth to walk alongside and within us, whether we are traveling to the aid of another, or are seeking comfort, companionship, counsel, or help in our own troubles. Just make the sign of the cross and acknowledge that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit abide together; and that each of us exists as the fourth element in this family of God. “Do not let your hearts be troubled”.
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, we give you thanks that you have sent an Advocate for us, to serve as the connection to you and your Son. May we draw strength from the Holy Spirit, to enable us to serve where we are needed, and to be our comforter and helper when we ourselves are in need of a true friend.
And in the name of Jesus Christ, who sends the Advocate to abide within us, together we say…
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good.