Thoughts Between Sundays

Some of what crosses my mind between Sundays

Sermon: Different Names for the Same Thing

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This is the sermon I preached on May 8th at FPC.  I’m a little late in posting it here…

John 14:15-29

15 ‘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 for ever. 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.’ 22Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ 23Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

25 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate,* the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.


Different Names for the Same Thing

Audrey Penn wrote her children’s book The Kissing Hand for her daughter who was afraid to go to kindergarten.  The story is about a raccoon named Chester who is afraid to start school – afraid to leave his mom behind as he tries something new in the world.  His mother takes his hand, and kisses it, telling Chester that this kiss will stay with him always.  This kiss will be his reminder that he is always loved and care for by her, no matter what.  He cannot wash it off, and whenever he needs to be reminded of his mother, all he has to do is put the kissing hand up to his face to remember his mother’s love.  Chester does remember this, and on the night he goes to school for the first time – -raccoons are nocturnal animals – he suddenly turns, and kisses the palm of his mother’s hand so she will remember his love for her.

             Now, Jesus was not a raccoon, and the disciples were not children headed for their first day of school, but like Chester the raccoon and his mother, there was a time of separation coming for Jesus and the Disciples.  And like Chester, the disciples were anxious.  Our reading for today is in the middle of what is known as Jesus’s Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of John – his goodbye speech.  In chapters 14-16, Jesus explains in great detail the significance of his death and departure before they happen, so that the disciples will be ready to interpret them through the eyes of faith and not despair when the time comes.  Woven throughout the discourse are the themes of Jesus’ abiding love and continued presence after his death, the necessity of Jesus’ return to God the promise of the Holy Spirit, and the future of the community and centrality of love.[1]  It is in verse 16 – in our portion of the farewell discourse for today, that we see Jesus first mention the Advocate, the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom he will ask God to send to be with us forever after his departure.  Jesus will leave, but will not leave us without a reminder of his everlasting love for us.

It is in this Farewell Discourse that Jesus really brings home the point that he is actually leaving.  There will be no last minute change of plans, no replacement for him on the cross, no one to take his place.  Not only will he die, but after his resurrection, he will really leave them for good.  He will return to God and they will be left here on Earth to continue the work he has begun.  That must have seemed a scary prospect to the disciples – -to be left here seemingly alone to do work that they felt unprepared for.  This was a much scarier prospect than the first day of school or the first time away at summer camp without your parents or older siblings.  The disciples were probably scared, possibly anxious.  They may have wondered – who will replace Jesus?  Can anyone replace him?  Are we to be left here alone to fend for ourselves?

             Well, yes and no.  No, no one can replace Jesus.  And Jesus does not promise a replacement.  There will not ever be another human who will do what he has done.  There is only one Christ, only one savior who died for us.  However, Jesus promises to send someone to be the ongoing presence of God and Jesus with the community after he is gone.  Jesus says to them, “ ‘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 for ever…‘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…”  That word “advocate” – from the Greek Parakleos, or paraklete –  is an interesting one: Jesus promises to send another advocate when he is gone.  An advocate is someone to stand up for you.  Often we think of advocates in adversarial situations – in court proceedings, our lawyers are our advocates, and stand up to speak up for us.  As children, our parents are supposed to be our advocates when we need someone to argue for our best interests when they are not being met; often you will hear a parent of a special needs child talking about having to advocate for an individual education plan or accommodations when a school may not be providing them.  Patients in hospitals may need to enlist the services of a patient advocate to ensure they receive proper care if it is not given.  We often also hear the term advocacy in terms of legislature – there are advocacy groups for all sorts of political issues who will go before legislative bodies and speak on behalf of their causes.  Bartow Advocates for Children speaks up for children who may not have anyone else to speak for them in all sorts of situations.  The Central Outreach and Advocacy Center, where we volunteered last summer, speaks out on behalf of the homeless who have no political standing of their own.  So, perhaps we can read this passage as the Spirit being the one who will bring our case before God in hopes that God will be merciful to us. However,…it is just the opposite upon a deeper reading.  God has already done something merciful for us.  God has already done the most merciful thing for us God could do.  God gave us the gift of unconditional love through the death and resurrection of Christ, and that love is what creates genuine life.  The holy spirit, the advocate, the paraclete is who brings the truth of that love to people after Easter which makes faith possible.  So, when Jesus calls the Spirit another advocate, the assumption is that Jesus was also an advocate from God, communicating God’s message to us.

That’s a lot to take in.  Anyone feel a little bit like you are in the Charlie Brown Cartoons and I’m the adult going “mwah mwah…mwah mwah…”?  Think about it like this – -rather than the Holy Spirit communicating only the message of Jesus to us, The Holy Spirit and Jesus both communicate the message of God to us.  They are both sent by God, and are both sent into the world.  Jesus communicates what he has received from God, and the Spirit communicates what she has received from Jesus and God.  Both of them each bear witness to the truth, and the world fails to recognize each of them.[2]

             We need to be careful though, that we are not trying to put a square peg into a round hole here.  The Holy Spirit is not a replacement for Jesus.  I’m a big fan of those Tervis Tumblers – -the insulated glasses that are wonderful at keeping my drinks cold.  They have great lids that keep me from spilling all over myself when I take one in the car, and I tend to lose them, so I keep extras in my pantry.  What’s nice is that the lids are interchangeable for the same size cup – I don’t need to keep the exact same lid with the exact same cup like I do with my travel coffee mugs that all have specific lids that only fit one mug.  With the glasses, I can grab a cup and grab a lid and go.  When I leave a lid at church, or one is in the dishwasher, there is another one to take its place.  Well, the Holy Spirit and Jesus don’t work like that – I can’t grab the lid from my coffee mug and put it on my drinking glass just like the Holy Spirit is not interchangeable with Jesus.  Calling the Holy Spirit “another advocate” does not make her the same as Jesus.  The spirit continues the work of Jesus without taking the place of Jesus.

This all started when Jesus was born – the love of God was made known through the incarnation – that’s fancy theological language for saying that God sent God’s love to earth in human form as a baby.  That love grew up and taught us about how we are to love each other and how God wants us to live.  That love was a person named Jesus.  He had a real body and was a real human who was also God.  This real human had a ministry on earth, teaching and preaching and healing, and caring, and advocating for those who had no voice.  His ultimate ministry was his death for us on the cross.  And he was resurrected and then ascended, and his earthly ministry ended.  The sending of the Holy Spirit was a continuation of that ministry – a way the revelation of God that occurred in Jesus Christ was extended in to the future.  The Holy spirit was sent to the community by Jesus and God to be an eternal sign to the community – after the resurrection – of God’s love and care for us.

There are many names for that eternal sign.  We have heard several so far today – -Paraclete, Advocate, Holy Spirit.  Eugene Peterson uses the word “friend.”  We can also translate it as counselor, comforter, and helper.  The idea is that Jesus did not leave us alone, but with someone to comfort us, to care for us, to walk with us, and to be with us as we continue the mission God and Jesus teach us to do.  The Holy Spirit is the ongoing presence of God with the believing community.  The Holy Spirit is the bridge between what Jesus said during his ministry and what will happen in his absence.  The Holy Spirit is the link between the historical ministry of Jesus and the future of the church after his death.

As I was preparing for today, I was also thinking about images for the Upper Room service – -how to depict the Holy Spirit on the big screen.  There are several Biblical images that we have – -the flames of Pentecost, the descending dove, the rushing wind.  In Jesus we have a concrete idea of what that looks like.  God is a little harder to depict, but we can try hard to put imagery to it.  But if I passed out crayons to each of you and asked you to draw the Holy Spirit, I’m not sure how far we would get.  Have you ever actually seen the Holy Spirit?  In person?  Standing next to you?  David Lose is a preaching professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN and each week writes a letter to pastors.  This week’s letter was about this text, and I appreciated his comments.  He says that in this week’s text, we get a really good example of exactly what the Holy Spirit looks like in two ways.  I’ve dropped both clues to you so far…let’s see if you got them.  First, the Holy Spirit looks like an advocate – the one who stands by you when you need it, the one who speaks on your behalf.  The Holy Spirit looks like the one who helps you when you need it and will not leave you when you feel abandoned or lost.  How is your mental image coming?  Does it have a face or faces?  Are there names coming to mind?  Is the amorphous blur of fire and wind beginning to take shape?  The second clue is when we thought about “another advocate”.  The Holy Spirit looks like Jesus.  Jesus was indeed the first advocate.  The spirit came to remind us of what Jesus taught, and to be the bridge between him and the future.  So, as David says, the Holy Spirit is an advocate that looks a lot like Jesus.  And acts like Jesus.  So, anytime someone bears the love of Christ to another we have seen the Holy Spirit.

Advocates.  Comforters.  Friends.  Companions.  Helpers.  Have you seen them?  I invite you to think for a moment about your everyday activities.  When you get up, go to work or school or the store or to get gas or to eat.  When you go to the ball-field or the pool.  When you come home.  Have you seen the Holy Spirit at work in the world?  Have you seen someone standing up for another?  Perhaps a parent cheering for another child at a baseball game, even if the child was not having a great game.  Did someone carry your groceries to your car?  Offer a seat on the bus?  Serve at Friendship table?  Come help prepare for VBS?  What would your picture look like now?  Because my friends, the Holy Spirit is indeed at work in each of you.  I see it every day – perhaps the first place you should look is in the mirror.  I see it when you care for each other’s children, or drive one another to church.  I see it when you agree to disagree and then find ways to continue to be the body of Christ together.  The Holy Spirit was at work when several of you went to volunteer at Habitat last weekend and showed the love of Christ to and for your community. The love of God taught through Jesus Christ flourishes in us.  We may not always recognize it, and we may not always look for it, but it is there. 

Yes, the Holy Spirit is known by many names.  Many names for the same thing – the continued presence for God and Christ in the world.  The assurance of God’s love and encouragement to follow Christ’s command to continue God’s work – The Holy Spirit calls and inspires us to be advocates for those who do not have one, to love those who are alone, and to embody the love of Christ.  Amen.

[1] New Interpreters Study Bible.  Page 1937, footnote at 14:1-16:33.

[2] Koester, Craig.  Commentary on the Gospel.


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