An Advocate for Us

John 14: 15 – 21 

Beloved, this week in scripture, we are on the brink of a transition – it is the 6th Sunday in Easter – Christ is Risen, he is risen indeed! And nestled between the 6th and 7th Sundays is the feast of the ascension – marking the risen Christ’s departure once again from earthly presence with the disciples to sit at the right hand of the Father. 

Our reading this week has Jesus pointing to the promise of the Holy Spirit – another advocate to be among the people, just like Jesus has been an advocate. The Easter season officially ends as we celebrate the arrival of that Holy Spirit on Pentecost in just two more Sundays. 

Traditionally, in the revised common lectionary, the three-year cycle of readings used by many churches globally, this part of the Easter season is marked by several weeks of readings from a LONG stretch of John’s gospel known as the “farewell discourse.”

That farewell discourse is Jesus’s words to the disciples as they gather BEFORE his arrest, trial and crucifixion. As I think that I noted last week, it feels like a step backward in time in some way. But now that Easter has happened, now that the tomb is empty, now that so many have spent time with the risen Christ, we can revisit these words with a different perspective. We can come to these words KNOWING that Jesus will be tried, be crucified, die, and be resurrected to walk, teach and eat again with his disciples.

So from that context, from that place of knowing the story, let’s take a look at this week’s text.

In this text: 
Jesus sets a high bar for love.
Jesus names himself as an advocate.
Jesus promises another advocate, and advocate who will be the Spirit of truth.
Jesus suggests that the disciples already know Spirit, because that Spirit dwells in them…
And that dwelling of the Spirit in them is just as Jesus dwells in the Father.

There is a lot there. Like 5 sermons.

The text begins with a big if-then statement:
If you love me, Jesus says, [then] you will keep my commandments.

This is a high bar. Jesus has demonstrated his way of love to the disciples.

Back John’s 13th chapter, where this farewell discourse begins, Jesus takes off his robes, kneels on the ground, and washes the disciples’ feet – serving them in a very concrete way. 

Just a few paragraphs later, he offers them a new commandment. Jesus says JUST as I have loved you, you are to love one another.

Just as I have JUST loved you….
Concretely. Wash one another’s feet. Serve one another humbly in the grime of life.

From the place we find ourselves now, now that we are post resurrection, we AND the disciples can look back over Jesus’ ministry and see how ACTIVE Jesus’ way of loving was – healing the sick, feeding the hungry, sitting with folks that society would rather forget.

Just as I have loved you…
That is the kind of love that Jesus references in his tough “if-then” statement.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

Over the course of the Gospels, there is a lot that helps us get a glimpse of the kind of love Jesus knows and lives.

Then in the text for today, Jesus says he’ll ask the Father to give ANOTHER advocate – which highlights the reality that Jesus himself has been an advocate with the disciples in his lifetime. That word has some legal connotations. To be an advocate in the midst of a society dominated by Roman authority where folks are regularly stripped of their rights, an advocate places themselves in the breach. Like his love, his advocacy has been evidenced by being in solidarity with the marginalized, the oppressed, the “othered.” 

And that advocate that is to come in Jesus’ absence is the Spirit of truth. One commentator suggested that we can almost imagine the shape of Jesus moving throughout that ministry. And then when Jesus is absent, we can kind of imagine the “Jesus-shaped” void that is filled by the Holy Spirit. 

Do you remember those sticker books that had rough shapes on story pages, and a page of stickers – and the work of the book was to find the sticker that went in the certain place in the story.  Where are the places that we see a vaguely “Jesus shaped placeholder” in our life stories? How might the Holy Spirit fit there?

Jesus talks about how the Spirit abides with us….

For the Holy Spirit to abide in us, for the Holy Spirit to be near to us LIKE Jesus was with his disciples in the flesh – that is powerful stuff. Like Jesus was with the disciples, the Holy Spirit will be with Jesus’ disciples going forward.

The word “abide” most often gets used in our times to mean to tolerate or endure. But scripturally, it was more often translated as dwelling or remaining, words that feel like a deep shared experience rather than mere tolerance or endurance.

This week working with this text I kept coming back to the way that Jesus loves and the way that Jesus sends an advocate so that we continue to know that love. And the word love just kept washing over me.

Talking this over with Janice in our weekly meeting, she reminded me gently that while LOVE is the focus of our summertime sermon series after Pentecost, we’re still exploring what it means to BELIEVE the good news of the Gospel. Right now. Maybe I was getting ahead of our plans.

But scripture is funny that way – we believe that scripture is the living word of God meaning it can land with us the way it is intended to land with us by the power of the very Holy Spirit Jesus has promised.

There is good news to BELIEVE here.

At the most basic level, when I am asked to summarize the good news of the Gospel, I say this – God loves you no matter what.

And this text offers up a compelling image of how the Triune God – Father, Son and Spirit – comprise a framework for our BEING loved and our BEING ABLE to love others.

And so, I found myself drawn to the call to BELIEVE in the loving framework so that I can fully accept that God loves me, that Jesus walked in love, and that the Holy Spirit abides with us as the power of the love of God through Jesus with us here and now.  And therefore called to demonstrate that love to others…. To BE LOVE in the world.

We don’t often recite the Apostle’s creed here at Faith. As United Methodists, this creed is an important part of our baptismal and membership vows – but we don’t require a proclamation of any specific creed as a confession for belonging. YET this text from John did take me back to the fundamentals of the creed that shaped my own confirmation in 8th grade.

Last week I introduced a practice of contemplation and reflection – a time of silence at the end of a sermon. And last week, after explaining that I would share a text, sound the chime and hold silence that would end in another chime – I forgot to share the text…because I was so excited to get to the silence.

This week, having just received new members, thinking about this key text that helps us to see who Jesus is but also to see how the Holy Spirit exists and functions, I think it might serve us well to hear the Apostle’s Creed as we enter into our time of silence. Let it be the backdrop to our stilling our hearts to be with God.

Feel free to join in…we’ll share the creed, sound the chime, contemplate in silence for a few minutes, and hear the chime again to end our time.

So we begin with a deep breath and our feet firmly planted on the ground, perhaps our hands open on our laps in a spirit of receptivity…

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic** church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.


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