“I will not leave you orphaned…and I will ask the Father who will give you another Advocate to abide with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth…You know the Spirit, because the Spirit abides with you, and will be in you.”
On the last night Jesus spent with his disciples he gave them many gifts. He washed their feet to remind them that the greatest among us is one who serves. He gave them bread and wine, saying, “This is my body. This is my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.” He offered a summary of his ministry: “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Finally, he told his disciples that they would receive a final gift: the Advocate, the Holy Spirit who would abide with them forever.
I’m not sure what it is about Lutherans, but we have no problem talking about the towel and basin, the bread and wine. We have no problem talking about loving one another, as Christ has loved us. But the Holy Spirit…We’re often at a loss for words when this subject comes up. We don’t want to sound like Charismatics. Speaking in tongues is right up there with snake handling from our perspective.
We might sing at the top of our lungs “Shine, Jesus, shine, fill this land with the Father’s glory. Blaze, Spirit, blaze, Set out hearts on fire.” But we don’t want to shine too much, that would be showing off. And we certainly don’t want our hearts to be set on fire. Perhaps, a warm glow would suffice.
So, how do we understand the way the Advocate functions in our lives? What do we do with this gift that Jesus promises will abide with us forever?
Well, if you haven’t noticed by now, your pastor has no trouble talking about the Holy Spirit. Maybe it’s the time I spent in the Assembly of God. Maybe it’s because I’m a songwriter. Maybe it’s because I enjoy meditation. Whatever the case may be, the subject of the Holy Spirit is near and dear to my heart. I consider myself to be a Spirit-led person. I dine at Lady Wisdom’s table frequently and invite others to do the same. And, in the midst of this global pandemic, the Holy Spirit, has become the persona of the Trinity I seek out the most so I don’t feel like a spiritual “orphan.”
When speaking of the ways the Holy Spirit functions in our lives, John uses a word that no one else uses, PARAKLETOS, which is translated in the NRSV as “Advocate.” I think it’s helpful for Lutherans to look at this specific name for the Holy Spirit. It tells us a great deal about the way the Holy Spirit functions in our lives.
Let’s start with the word itself: PARAKLETOS. According to Karoline Lewis “It’s a compound word merging the preposition PARA, which means “with” or “alongside,” with the verb KALEO, which means “to call.” Therefore, the Advocate is called to be alongside us.
When John speaks of this accompaniment, he uses two specific words: “abide” and “know.” Both of these are terms of relationship. “Abide” is a beautiful word in John. He uses it to talk about our relationship with Jesus. Last week, Jesus promised he was going ahead of us in order to prepare “abiding places” for us.
A little later, in chapter 15, he compared this abiding with a beautiful analogy: “I am the vine. You are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. “ [Jn 15:5]
When Jesus says we “know” the Spirit, this is also code language in John for being in relationship with someone.
What we learn about the Holy Spirit from our gospel lesson, is that the Advocate desires to be in relationship with us. It’s not a casual friendship. It’s creating an “abode,” a home where we can live together. This abiding with the Spirit helps us to feel less like orphans in this world, and more connected to God and to each other.
The challenge for Lutherans is to be as comfortable with the Spirit’s abiding in us, as we are with Jesus abiding in us. In this time of sheltering in place, I think this connection is vital. We cannot physically be with one another, but we are most definitely connected in Spirit. You can even feel this during Sunday Morning Coffee and Communion on Zoom. It’s more than simply seeing each other’s faces. There’s a connection I can’t quite put into words. I feel it. And I hope you feel it , too. I believe it is the Spirit’s abiding in us that makes this happen.
As the gospel of John continues, Jesus begins to talk about the specific functions of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Later in chapter 14, Jesus says “The Advocate…whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” [Jn 14:26]
Perhaps, we can think of the Spirit’s abiding as a holy GPS system that was installed in us when we were baptized. The Spirit is there to give us wisdom, so that know how to navigate the road ahead of us. The Advocate is there to help us with all the unexpected twists and turns that come our way.
This function of the Holy Spirit is vital as we navigate this pandemic. I’ve never been though anything like this before. You’ve never been through anything like this before. Together, we need to trust that the Holy Spirit will give us the wisdom we need to keep each other safe and healthy, and find creative ways to continue the ministry of Abiding Savior.
The next function of the Advocate is found in chapter 15. Jesus says the Advocate “will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. [Jn 15:26-27]
So we can see that the function of the Advocate is to empower us to share the message of Jesus with others. In this function, the Holy Spirit empowers followers of Jesus to be salt and light in the world. We do this through our words as well as our actions.
If there was ever a time when this was vitally important, that time is now. There are so many voices around us, saying so many things, that often contradict one another. In the midst of this cacophony of words, we need to be living examples of the qualities Jesus said we should possess. We need to show love to our neighbors, which includes those we disagree with theologically and politically. That’s enough to keep all of us busy!
We need to take care of the least of these, the poor and marginalized, the sick and imprisoned. We need to stand in solidarity with our African American siblings who have far too often been the targets of violence and murder at the hands of us white people. We need to find ways to help those communities who have been disproportionately affected by the virus, including LatinX and Native Americans.
The Advocate gives us the inspiration and conviction to do this holy work. The goal is that we may all be one, just as Jesus and God are one.
The final function of the Advocate I’d like to cover is in chapter 16, where Jesus says, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do to go away, the Advocate will not come to you.” [Jn 16:7]
It’s interesting that Jesus says this to his disciples, because, it is our experiential reality. When Jesus walked this earth, the only ones who experienced his presence had to be in the same physical location. But after the resurrection, the risen Christ transcended the bounds of space and time. His presence was able to be experienced everywhere.
Jesus appeared behind locked doors and offered peace to scared disciples. He appeared on the road to Emmaus and offered word and bread. He cooked a meal of fish for the disciples and offered forgiveness to Peter. When he ascended, the Spirit enabled us to feel his presence everywhere we are. Jesus says this is possible because of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit.
This Spirit helps us to feel the presence of the risen Christ while we are sheltered behind locked doors, and while we are out on the road walking in nature or shopping for groceries. The Spirit helps us to feel the presence of the risen Christ, while we are watching pre-recorded worship on YouTube and sharing bread and wine on Zoom. I can’t explain how this happens. I just know that it does. I’m grateful that Jesus gave us the Advocate, especially during these difficult times when we cannot be physically together.
So friends, these are some of the ways we understand the function of the Holy Spirit, in our lives and in our world. I think even us Lutherans can understand and embrace the ways the Advocate is experienced by us and others. Amen.
Copyright ©2020 by David Eck