“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever--the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” -John 14:15-21
“Another” by Pastor Tom Ream (May 17, 2020 Sermon)
Several years ago after I was ordained I had the opportunity to go on a trip to the Holy Land and got to travel with colleagues from around the Indiana conference along with Bishop Mike Coyner. We visited all of those Holy sites in and around Jerusalem and around the Sea of Galilee. One of the areas that we walked through when we were dropped at the Mount of Olives was a winding road down into the walled city of Jerusalem where we passed a cemetery. Because Jerusalem is kind of an arid rocky desert region, they didn’t dig a hole in the ground but rather there are vaults and the caskets sit above the ground. They had a concrete slab that was covering each of these and on top of these the surface of that vault had rocks just setting all along the edges of them.
One of the people in our group asked our tour guide why all these rocks were laying on top. He explained to us that as was the Jewish practice with burial that while flowers are pretty and smell nice, they don’t last, they wither, die, and fade away. But a rock doesn’t die and a rock doesn’t go away. So when family members and friends would come to those graves to mourn a departed loved one, they would pick up a rock and they would place it on top of the stone of the casket or the vault there. By putting that stone there they were letting other people know that someone had been there to pray, that this grave had been visited. It was also to say to the departed loved one: “You’re not alone. You’ve not been forgotten.”
This morning in our text we have Jesus talking to the disciples prior to His passion, arrest, and trial and persecution and execution. He’s offering them some comfort and one of the words, or phrases, we hear in verse 18 is Jesus saying “I will not leave you orphans, I’m coming to you”. Some translations of the Bible will say that Jesus said “I will not abandon you in life and in death”. That assurance from Jesus is that we’re never going to be alone that we will not be abandoned. So we have this promise that Jesus has made this morning of the Holy Spirit, the one that God would be sending now. I think often when we think about this role of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit sometimes people have in mind: that first there was God and then Jesus came and then the Holy Spirit came. And in our relationships with God we almost feel like we’re the baton in a relay: we’re okay in God’s hands and then Jesus comes and we’re with Jesus. And then when the Holy Spirit comes we’re with the spirit but it’s not sequential. It’s not a passing off and we only get to experience God in one way at any given time. But rather it’s a building and a growing of this relationship.
There’s so much relational language in this passage of Jesus talking about: I am the Father in you and me and I and you and all of the references to the love in the midst of all these relationships. That those who love Jesus will follow his commandments and those who love Jesus the Father will love. Jesus will love us as well and it’s a dynamic. It’s a moving, an active role in which we play and are invited into. So when Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit, I think it’s often easy for us to jump to that word: “advocate”. That God is going to send us an advocate. This word advocate, as we talked about in Bible Study this week, there are a number of meanings, and translations because there’s not exactly a perfect English equivalent for the Greek word “paraclete”. Advocate has kind of some legal connotations to it, as one who comes alongside and helps a person in a courtroom. But this word can also mean helper, comforter, encourager, guide, and intercessor. As we talked about it, all of those aspects and elements of the Holy Spirit are important for our understanding of it. That word, paraclete, in a literal sense means one who is called alongside of and for us. It’s that one who comes alongside of us in life, in this journey of faith, in ministry, in living to be the people God has created us to be. It’s important because we often go from Jesus saying “The Father will send another advocate.”
We miss an important word in there. He will give you another advocate, that word another implies that there’s been an advocate before the Holy Spirit. Indeed there was. It was Jesus himself. Again, some people may be tempted to say “Well, they’re just changing roles. That Jesus is stepping back and the Holy Spirit’s coming forward.” While there’s some overlap and a lot of similarity between what Jesus and the Spirit may do for us, Jesus was God incarnate, God in the flesh. He was born. He lived and He died to demonstrate God’s love for us. The Holy Spirit wasn’t incarnate, the Holy Spirit wasn’t God in flesh. The Holy Spirit serves a similar yet different role. So imagine that we have Jesus who has come alongside of us already to comfort us, encourage us, to teach us, to guide us, and to show us what God’s love means. In this journey of walking with Jesus we have another come alongside and take us by the arm, lift us up, prop us up, to help carry us, guide us, and encourage us in this life of faith that we live. Coming alongside is an important aspect of it. Though the literal meaning is one who is called alongside of Jesus even says that “I will not leave you orphans, I am coming to you.” The Holy Spirit comes alongside of us and meets us where we’re at. Jesus comes to us and there may be times in life where we’re struggling, floundering, grounding, doing all we can to simply survive. Survival isn’t a bad things, but it’s not a long term solution because God’s plan for us is not to just simply survive but to experience that abundant life that Jesus talked about. God wants us to flourish and thrive in this life. And so we have this confidence and hope. Because of Jesus, we have this advocate, another advocate in the Holy Spirit, that joins in the work of bringing us into that fullness of life.
In high school, I ran cross-country for one year. I know you’ll look at me now and think “Yeah right, you ran?” I wasn’t fast, never said I was. But we had a great coach, our coach could run circles around even the best of runners on our cross-country team. He’d run countless marathons but when we would practice his way of coaching and encouraging wasn’t to stand around with a clipboard and whistle and yell at us to go this and go and do that. Rather, he would go out and run the course with us. But he didn’t go out there and blow past all of us and lead us from miles ahead. Rather he would spend time coming alongside and running next to us, each of us in turn meeting us where we were, matching our pace, giving us instruction about our breathing, our form, or that our shoulders and arms are too tight that we needed to relax. When I think about this work of the Spirit, it’s that Spirit that God sends to meet us where we're at to match pace with us for a little but and then begin encouraging us and guiding us to a better form, a better practice, a better way of living into this faith that we’ve been called to be a part of. So the Spirit is at work and moving in the midst of all of these things, bringing us to a maturity of our faith, helping us when we’re weak and reminding us that we’re not alone. And we’re not when we face challenges in life, Jesus is there, the Spirit is there, God the Father and creator of the universe is there and so we’re not alone. It’s not just that we have this one-on-one relationship with God but rather we have a one on three that we’ve got God the Father, the Son and the Spirit who are in this relationship of love and interconnectedness with one another and Jesus. Jesus invites us to be a part of it, Jesus calls us in and says “Hey, come and be a part of what we’re doing now.”
I’m a visual person and we talked about this, actually laughed about it a little bit in both of the Bible study sessions this week and forgive my flights of fancy. But the way I imagine this is: imagine children laughing and playing and giggling, playing a game of duck duck goose (where a person’s going around and taps someone and they jump up and they make their laps around the circle).
Now imagine speeding that up so fast that everyone’s just a blur and Jesus says “Hey, come and be a part of this with us.” We could invite them into this wild, crazy, loving, and frenetic life of being in a relationship with God that has been revealed to us in different ways. God who created and ordered this world that we live in and who sent His son to redeem us to offer us hope and to make salvation possible. This gift of the Spirit breathed into the world breathed into the life of Christians that we might become more fully the people God created us to be, to have our eyes, hearts, and minds opened to the way that God is working and communicating with us. To see those joys that we experience God is there smiling with us, to know that when life gets tough and we’re grieving and hurting, when we’re struggling with our own health, or the health of a loved one, when life has run it’s course and someone has departed from this life and entered into the next: we’re not alone but we are comforted that Spirit is God’s presence in this world with us, among us, in us and through us. Apart from God, life is difficult but when we receive the gift of the Advocate, the Holy Spirt, life is opened up to endless possibilities, not just as an individual but what and who we can be as the body of Christ, as the church, as a community of faith together. So trust in God’s Spirit, receive that God’s Spirit allow Jesus the Advocate, the Holy Spirit the another advocate, to come alongside of you. Lean into them, allow them, and trust them to carry you, encourage you, comfort you and make this thriving, abundant life possible. In Jesus name, Amen.
Comment answering this question: What difficult time have you gone through where you had to lean into God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit?