Acts 17.22-31; Psalm 66.8-20; 1 Peter 3.13-22; John 14.15-21
But like most initial thoughts leading up to writing a sermon, they quickly went by the wayside as I read and worked. I stuck with the word, but unearthed layers of richness to it that brought new meaning to this passage for me. Because packed into two little words, ‘another advocate’, we find an intricate, beautiful way to understand the Holy Spirit.
‘Another’ is a word that tends to slip by. But if we don’t let it, we see that the Holy Spirit isn’t the first advocate, Jesus is. He has been their Advocate, but since he is leaving, he tells the disciples he will send another. The Holy Spirit doesn’t come to start something new, but comes to continue ongoing work. The work they do is one in the same. The Holy Spirit makes it possible for an incarnate love to remain not only present, but abundant even after the incarnation itself has ended.
And since the Advocate is another, not the only, we know that ‘Advocate’ is not the name for or definition of the Holy Spirit, but instead describes one aspect of how the spirit works in the world. This description of the mysterious third person of the Trinity gives us a glimpse, but not an easy answer. So what is the author of the gospel of John getting at here? What has Jesus been doing for the disciples? What is the Holy Spirit going to continue to do?
Many English translations say ‘Advocate’. The original Greek word here is Paraclete (not parakeet!). Many scholars argue that the English translations of the Bible should use the Greek word itself because there are so many translations and this word is meant to hold them all at once. Paraclete, at its core, is about being called to walk alongside someone - correct translations would include someone who is an advocate, who comforts, encourages, counsels.
What might this mean for the disciples? Why is Jesus telling them about the Paraclete at this moment? They are hearing a farewell address from him before his arrest. They have been told what is to come, and they are in crisis. Earlier in Jesus’ ministry, when many of his followers left, he asked the twelve disciples “Do you also wish to go away?” Peter’s response - “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!”. This confession seems obvious, common sense. Where else would we go? We know who you are! Yet now, these words carry new meaning. If there is no one to follow but Jesus, to whom shall we go when he is gone? What was a confident confession becomes a desperate question from followers in crisis. How can they love someone who is no longer there? How will future generations come to know the love of Christ they have experienced?
Into this moment of crisis, Jesus promises the work and love will continue. Because of the Holy Spirit, another Paraclete, God will still be revealed to people through the incarnation, even though Jesus is incarnate no more. God will never leave their side, not for a moment.
God goes nowhere, God continued alongside those disciples, generation after generation, to today and into the future. Reflecting on the Paraclete, the ones who walk alongside of us, I can’t help but think of the footprints poem. Where in someone’s dream, they see their life stretched out, and two sets of footprints, theirs and Jesus’. But in the hardest times of their life, there was only one set. When the person asks ‘where were you?” Jesus responds - it is then that I carried you. Understanding this word Paraclete brings new depth to the understanding of God walking by our side and those footprints. Sometimes that means we are carried. But sometimes that means a Paraclete simply sits with us until we are ready to get back up again, or speaks words of encouragement to remind us we are capable, or holds our hand when we are afraid so we can keep walking, or calls over others who remind us we are surrounded by love on all sides. A Paraclete is someone we can always call on for help, and the Spirit’s help comes in many ways.
Where have you seen the Paraclete at work in the world, in your life? I am grateful for the many comforters, counselors, and encourages in my life. And this week, I let a few of them know what they mean to me, as my Paracletes. Yes, I used that word :) Yes, it makes for a fun conversation.
Thinking about the Holy Spirit working through people in my life, I found myself right back where I started - with the word advocate. But instead of thinking about what I could do, I was thinking instead about the times other people have advocated for my benefit. So this coming week, I plan to reach out to some people I haven’t been in touch with for many years. My college advisor who rose to my defense in a faculty meeting when I was falsely accused of plagiarism. Some of the first Lutheran female pastors I have had the privilege to learn from and work with, whose persistence and faithfulness in the face of discrimination and stereotypes carved a path for me and other women to come.
I invite you, in the next few days to reach out to your paracletes - the comforters, friends, mentors, advocates that have come alongside you in your life’s journey. Text them right now, if you want, set up a coffee date or phone call.
Because when that professor stood up for me, what I felt was great relief. When those first female pastors raised their voices, they empowered all the women who came after them. The resilience, persistence and empowerment that come when we know someone is at our side is incredible. It is what the disciples were afraid to lose. To them and to us, God always sends another Paraclete. When you feel afraid, unheard, or alone know that you have an advocate by your side. A Paraclete not just for your time here on this earth, but for all of your eternal life. You see, the paracletes, Father, Son and Holy Spirit have been dancing in the winds of creation since the beginning of time. They have been walking with you since before you were born. And they are never going to stop.