Grace United Methodist Church
May 29, 2011
John 14: 15-21 (NRSV)
‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This 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. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They 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.’
There’s a story told of a rookie baseball player just up from the minor leagues who was sent up to bat against a great Hall of Fame pitcher in his prime. Just off the bench and about as nervous as someone on his first date, the rookie stepped up to the plate and took a couple of tentative practice swings as the great right-handed pitcher stared him down from the mound. Then, with a great windup and pitch, the pitcher blew two consecutive fastballs right down the center of the plate, so fast that the poor rookie didn’t even have time to swing his bat. With that, the rookie turned on his heels and started back to the dugout. “What’re you doing?” his manager shouted at him as he approached the steps. “Get back out there. You’ve got another pitch coming!”
“Let him have it,” the rookie said. “I’ve seen enough already! I give up!”
Have you ever felt that way? Outmatched by life? Up against what seems to be impossible odds? Depressed? Downhearted? Hopeless and helpless, overpowered by life? What do we do when life bullies us into a corner? Where do we turn when trouble traps us? Well, there is good news. As we gather here today, we encounter the resurrected Christ, the one who has triumphed over the cross and the grave; the one who stands eternal before the throne of our heavenly Father, our Lord Jesus Christ, who says to us as he did to the disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans.” I will not leave you alone. I will not abandon you. And we can know this because Christ also says, “The Father…will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” This Advocate is the Spirit of God himself, the Holy Spirit. This is where we find strength in weakness! We have a risen Lord! And God lives in us!
Can you imagine what it must have been like for those first disciples? After leaving their livelihood and families behind and following Jesus for three years, he is now leaving them! It’s like stepping up to the plate against a world-class pitcher. They don’t feel they have the expertise to continue on. What will they do without him? How will they go on? It’s a question we all ask at some time or another, is it not?
Think about a 55-year-old factory worker who is laid off when the plant closes leaving him with no prospect for another job. Feeling too old and too weary to consider re-training for something else, and without skills that can be reworked, this person feels alone. Unemployed and living off pension funds that will soon run out, what is he to do? Where is the hope? How many folks are there living like this in the world? How many haven’t heard Christ’s reassuring words that “because [he] lives, [they] also can live”?
Or how about the elderly person, alone at home after fifty years of marriage? Her spouse is no longer with her, she nods off in front of the television set, a half-eaten microwave meal sits cold in front of her. She is alone in a house too big for her, she has children with lives of their own living in different towns. What if she knew that “Jesus will not leave her as an orphan”… that “God will not abandon her”?
Or what about the person with a terminal illness? Her body is dying and she lies alone in pain. For her and the millions of others throughout the world who face dreaded disease, without hearing these reassuring words of Christ we heard this morning, who will say to them, “Jesus has not left you as an orphan. God will never abandon you.”?
And what about the teenager who is different from the rest, the wife or husband whose spouse has left them, the businessperson whose business is failing, or the parent whose child has rebelled and left home? Or any of the countless others in the world and in the communities which surround us who feel alone and without hope, rejected and orphaned. How will they continue on? Well, what we hear today is that there is hope for them, and for us.
Coming quickly to the close of his earthly ministry, Jesus can only speak to the disciples of love and the assurance that the God he knows so intimately as Father will continue to accompany them. And this is exactly what the disciples, and all the frightened people of this world (including us), need to hear. Because you see, in this passage we heard from John this morning, Jesus promises to send us his own spirit, his own breath, his own inner life. And the word translated as “Advocate” here is rich and many-sided. The original Greek word is Paraclete, which means “one who has been called to our side” and can be translated not only as advocate, but also as helper, counselor, or comforter. These are expressions of God the Father himself, and Jesus wants his disciples to remember, in the face of it all, that above all that God is love. The disciples saw that love in the sacrifice of the Son on the cross, and now says Jesus, they will know God’s love through the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Paraclete will be their advocate in recognizing that God’s love is what is most true.
You see, Jesus knew what his disciples were feeling as they gathered together in the Upper Room. Jesus knows that his disciples will face many challenges, and many claims to truth. He knew that life would be overwhelming and complicated. In his day, the primary challenge to the people came from the Roman Empire. And believe it or not, many of us know that challenge as well, not because of any occupying empire, but because of the occupying “forces” of the modern world; think politics, computers, jobs, smartphones, disease, and poverty. Jesus knew that we would be surrounded by many forces that would seek to separate us from God the Father, and so as he prepared to leave this earth, he gave the Holy Spirit to keep us united with God and God’s love. Think about all that means. We are not orphans, we don’t even need to feel overpowered by life, hopeless or helpless. In his great love for us, Jesus promises us help. He promises us the Holy Spirit. He promises us one whose presence will comfort us. We have a helper, a comforter, and an advocate.
When we think about the Holy Spirit as “helper,” it’s easy to imagine that’s only for our benefit. The Holy Spirit is OUR helper. But, this helper isn’t simply someone who comes to lend assistance in our various tasks. While it certainly does mean that as well: the Spirit comes to give God’s people the strength and energy to do what they have to do, to live for God and witness to his love in the world, even in the face of overwhelming circumstances. The Holy Spirit comes to help us, so that we might help others in service to God and God’s purposes.
Not only does Jesus give us the Holy Spirit as helper, but also as comforter. Comfort is a strange and wonderful thing, isn’t it? Have you ever noticed how, when someone is deeply distressed, after a great sorrow or tragedy, the fact of having other people with them, hugging them and being alongside them, gives them strength to continue on? Outwardly, nothing has changed. The tragedy is still a tragedy. The tornado won’t sweep back through and rebuild the houses; nor will the dead person be coming back. But the support of others changes our ability to cope with disaster. It gives us strength. When Jesus promises to us the Spirit as comforter, what he has in mind is this kind of extra strength in the face of a special need.
But there is something quite different to this Spirit as well. What comes to mind when you hear the word “advocate”? Many people think of a lawyer. An advocate stands up in a court of law and explains to the judge or jury how things are from his or her client’s point of view. The advocate pleads the case. More than a courtroom, this is what comes to my mind when I consider the word “advocate”. An advocate is someone who pleads the case for another. Or more particularly, an advocate is one who gives voice to the voiceless.
Now, obviously I’m a little biased because this is my family, but I am a huge admirer of my sister and brother-in-law. They are advocates for people with autism. Autism affects roughly one in every 100 children in the United States, and until only recently, most people in the U.S. had never heard of autism before. We still don’t know what causes it, or how to treat it. And as you are probably aware, among many other symptoms, a lot of people with autism have difficulty communicating clearly. They need people to advocate for them, to give them a voice. They need people to help them learn and develop so that they can function in society. My sister is committed to teaching children with autism, and my brother-in-law is studying developmental psychology; he, along with many others, are committed to discovering what causes autism, and then hopefully, what can treat it.
This is just one example in my life. But you all know of many advocates, don’t you? You know of people who make a commitment of their life to plead the case of another. We have advocates for the homeless and imprisoned. There are advocates for orphans and the elderly. We hear from advocates who plead the case of the poor, and the great need of innocent victims trying to survive in war-torn third world countries. An advocate is not just a voice to the voiceless, it is also help to the helpless, power to the powerless, and hope to the hopeless.
And Christ’s promise to his disciples in that Upper Room so many years ago and to us today is that we will not be alone. We will not be abandoned or orphaned. Because Christ is sending to us an Advocate — a voice, help, comfort, counsel, and hope. Through his Spirit, God will care for us, will offer hope when there is none to be found, help when we are helpless, comfort when we can find none, and life in the face of death. The Holy Spirit is Christ’s gift to us. The Holy Spirit is God’s presence in our lives. We can be assured that, even in the midst of often overpowering difficulties, we have a Father who loves us, a Savior who triumphed over death, and the Holy Spirit “who has been called to our side;” an Advocate of life and love.