The Holy Spirit: Advocate and Comforter
This sermon was prepared by Pastor Jim Kniseley and presented at Resurrection on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 1, 2005. The gospel text is John 14:15-21.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today in worship we want to try our best 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.
St. 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 you 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 of his faithful followers after he 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 name 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 is 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. So this morning the Spirit of Jesus is with each of our teachers and is with every one of our Sunday School learners. The Spirit of Jesus is present in each and every one of the 11,000 ELCA congregations at worship this day. The Spirit of Jesus is present in all of the Roman Catholic and United Methodist and Presbyterian and Baptist 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 one 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 every 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 beat and the throbbing guitar riffs that he simply could not remember the words 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 her husband through the recording session by whispering the upcoming stanzas into his ear as he sang.
I can’t swear 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 on their own, that task is handed over to the Holy Spirit…
Yesterday at Christ Lutheran, Pastor Carol and I attended the ordination and installation of Pastor Laura Synche-Vetucci as the assistant pastor there. The preacher was her intern pastor from Philadelphia. He reminded her that she has been called to Fredericksburg to preach the Word of the Lord, even when that is uncomfortable. He reminded her that the power of the Holy Spirit will be with her to guide her, inspire her and comfort her. And then in the service came the part when all of us who are pastors were invited forward for the laying on of hands. Bishop Mauney and Pastor Carbaugh and Pastor Carol and Pastor Wally and about 15 of us pastors. For us it represented the Spirit of Jesus that came into the first disciples, was passed on through each generation of Christians, was passed on to us at our calling and ordination, and now was being passed onto Pastor Laura.
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. May God’s Spirit abide in this congregation today and in the hearts of every one of us present.
Thank you, Lord Jesus. Amen.