Advocate and Comforter: The Holy Spirit
Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Trinity and St. Jacob’s on May 21, 2017, the Sixth Sunday of Easter. This gospel reading is John 14:15-21.
Dear Friend in Christ,
Today the gospel writer John wants us to understand the role of the Holy Spirit. Most of us “get” the roles of God as Father and Son. The Father creates everything and the Son is our Savior. It is the Holy Spirit that is a bit more mysterious. It is my hope and prayer today that God will help me in this sermon to express to you what is so special about the Holy Spirit.
John records in his gospel the “farewell discourse” of Jesus. Chapters 14 to 17 are the things that Jesus wants the disciples to remember and pass on after he has departed this life. The six verses we have today as our gospel are the heart of what Jesus wants to say.
Jesus says, “I will not leave your orphaned (vs. 18). The Greek word “orphanos” means “without a father” and is the word used to describe disciples who were left without the presence and teaching of a beloved master. It is what Plato said he felt when Socrates died. This is what Jesus thought could happen to his faithful followers after his death. He knew that they were so human and so vulnerable. They could easily fall apart, forget him, be drawn to false ways of thinking and believing. “So he said, “And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever” (vs. 16). The word for Advocate in Greek is “Paracletos”. Some of our Bible translations read, “and he will give you another Comforter.”
A paracletos in ancient Greece was one who was called in as a favorable witness for the defense; it was also used of one called in to give advice or revitalize depressed and dispirited soldiers; and it was used of someone called to assist those in trouble or doubt or distress or disbelief. Jesus was promising a called-in one who would enable the disciples to be courageous enough to continue the gospel ministry he was entrusting to them.
There is another word that Jesus uses today that I have too often overlooked. The word is “abide” He says to the disciples, “You know him (the Paracletos) because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (vs. 17).
The word “abide: is such a gentle word that some of you might start going to sleep on me in this part of my sermon. Therefore I would like us to say that word aloud. Please repeat after me: Abide!
When Jesus went away to heaven, he sent another in his place to take care of us. This is the sense of what abide means: To be firm, to wait for someone, to endure without yielding. The one he sent to abide with us has a variety of names. The best known names is the Holy Spirit. It can also be called the Spirit of Jesus. The other names we have learned today for this spirit are the Paraclete and Advocate and Comforter.
Here is how the Holy Spirit works. Jesus in his earthly form went away. In his earthly form he could only be in one place at a time. The Spirit is Jesus in another form. The Spirit Jesus unleashed to be present at all times and at all places he chooses, at the same time.
You and I cannot go back in time and be with him in Galilee, but Jesus can be with us here and now. He can be with each and every one of us believers wherever we are. You and I cannot go back and listen to him preach, but Jesus can teach us still today. The Spirit of Jesus is present in each and every Christian congregation that is worshipping today. The Spirit of Jesus is present in all Roman Catholic and United Methodist and Presbyterian and Baptist and Lutheran Churches. This multiplication of himself is why Jesus needed to leave in order that his Spirit could be everywhere present.
Here is another truth about the Spirit of Jesus: we believe the Spirit is our encourager and guide. We believe the spirit shows us the way to Jesus and prompts us to be bold. The spirit whispers truth in our ear just when we need it the most.
There is a story about of the great blues masters, Jimmy Reed. He recorded mostly in the 50’s and 60’s on 45-rpm records. In his records, it is said, that you can hear something curious. If you listen very carefully, in the background you will hear ever so faintly a soft woman’s voice murmuring in advance the next verse of the song. It is said that Jimmy was so absorbed in the bluesy best and the throbbing guitar riffs that he simply could not remember the word of his own songs. He needed help with the lyrics, and the woman’s voice was none other than that of his wife, devotedly coaching through the recording session by whispering the upcoming stanzas into his ear as he sang.
I can’t wear to that story, but we Christians will surely recognize a parallel experience. Jesus tells his followers that the role of the Holy Spirit, is, in effect, to whisper the lyrics of the gospel song in the ears of the faithful. When Jesus was present with the disciples, he was the one who instilled in them the right words, coached them through the proper verses, and taught them the joyful commandments. But when Jesus was approaching his death, when he knew that they would be own their own, that task is handed over to the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the idea of God and Jesus. They determined that this is how they would abide in us and we in them until the time when Jesus returns in bodily form as he promised he would. This day, friends in Christ may God’s Spirit abide in this congregation and in the hearts of every one of us present. Amen!