Sunday, May 21, 2017

Counselor, Comforter, Cheer Captain- The Holy Spirit according to John 14:15-21

Rev. George Miller
May 21, 2017
John 14:15-21

Enter into the world of Scripture, and you will encounter unforgettable stories. Each book is a multilayered, immersive encounter with the Divine, transporting us into realms of adventure, mystery, and discovery.

As we come up to the end of our Read the Bible in a Year program, one thing that’s clear is how the Bible is so full of details, so many which are obscure, that anyone can miss them.

Our scriptures may be 2-3,000 years old and yet they continue to surprise us, to speak to us, and to say “Hey, have you thought about God this way???”

Our Bible is composed of stories that were passed down generation to generation, modified by each teller to appeal to their current audience.

For example, the Gospels were written 40-60 years after Jesus walked the earth. They are composed of stories of what Jesus said, what he did, how he lived and what he taught. Stories filled with humanity, with the holy, and yes, even with humor.

Each Gospel writer took those stories and found their own unique way to convey an experience of the Incarnate God.

With an economy of language, they presented details and information that spoke volumes beyond what a simple word could mean.

Because each writer was living in a specific time and a specific place, they presented the Jesus-Experience in a way that folk could understand.

Mark was earthy. Matthew was churchy. Luke was cosmopol-ity. John was brainy.

Each writer takes what they know of Jesus and shares what speaks to them, what they think matters to their readers, and presents different shades of Jesus that contains hints of how the author speaks.

Thus, the Jesus in Mark talks more like a local who is attending a state college, while the Jesus in John talks more like a legacy who’s attending Yale.

Mark was writing for people during a time of war in which survival was paramount. John was writing post-war to friends who were being kicked out of their places of worship because they dared to go against the status quo.

So when John has Jesus speak, he does so in a way so his comrades in faith can comprehend.

For example- John 14. We are in the middle of a farewell discourse that Jesus is having with his disciples during a dark, dark time.

The hour of his arrest has come near; Jesus knows that soon he will no longer be physically there with his friends.

He has already told them that in their Holy Parent’s house there are many “monai”. Now, he is expressing to them that they will not be left alone, they will not be orphaned, or helpless.

This is Jesus so assured, so strong as a leader that he is confident that his ministry will live on even when he is gone.

This is Jesus delegating authority and empowering his partners to move forward, finding ways to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with the Lord.

Jesus does this is by making them a promise, a promise that the Holy Spirit will be with them. He calls the Holy Spirit the Advocate, which is Greek is the word “Paraklete”.

Now I know you’re wondering “Did pastor just say parakeet?”

“No, no- I think he said ‘a pair of cleats.’”

“Paraklete? Isn’t that the name of your cousin’s new baby?”

You heard correctly. Paraklete is a fancy-schmancy way of saying “Holy Spirit”.

Now keep in mind- Jesus was a Jew who spoke in Hebrew or Aramaic, but the Gospel is written in Greek, and we’re experiencing it in English.

Paraklete is a Greek word for the Holy Spirit that only appears in John’s gospel, and it is a word that points to John’s education and peer group.

Say Holy Spirit to different people and you’ll get many definitions and ways to describe what the Holy Spirit does.

For John, Paraklete is a legal word, meaning Advocate or Counselor, and not the kind you have in junior high or the kind who asks you to talk about your mother, but the kind you would have in a court of law.

John uses the word Paraklete to describe the Holy Spirit as someone who comes into your life to speak out and to act on your behalf, stepping up to the judge’s bench to plead your cause.

Another definition of Paraklete is Comforter. Not the kind you have covering your bed, but a person who comes in during times of sorrow and helps you to cope. Think of a home health aide, or a hospice worker, or someone from the Red Cross called in after a disaster.

You can hear how this attention to detail allows the words of Jesus to speak to people who are being kicked out of their synagogue, who are being challenged by local authorities, and have to choose between their faith or their family.

A third definition of Paraklete is one I really like- to put courage into soldiers who are depressed and despondent; to empower desperate people to be…brave.

Wow- this image and immersion into the word allows a whole other way to see the Holy Spirit other than an intuition or inspiration.

This definition means that Jesus is saying to his followers- “Listen, when things get tough, when things seem hopeless, when it appears there is no way out, call upon the Holy Spirit and you will find the courage to go on, and you will find a way to be brave.”

Counselor. Comforter. Cheer captain.

All these ways in which we can view and experience the Holy Spirit; all the ways Jesus is saying to his disciples that he will still be present in their lives.

Notice this- there’s something all these words have in common.

These are not roles that involve magic wands or do all the work for you.

These are not job descriptions that solve the problem for you, like a mechanic, or clean up after up you, like a maid.

The Paraklete, as used by John, inspires, empowers, and advocates, which means that there are still things we have to do.

There is still responsibility we have to take. There is still ownership of our issues.

There is still the need, on our behalf of action and wisdom.

This Holy Spirit will empower them, encourage them, and inspire them.

The Holy Spirit will plead their case for them, comfort them so they can cope, and fill them with courage when they are very, very afraid.

I think about our modern times, who we are, and how we live.

If John was writing today, what words could be used to describe the Holy Spirit?

Maybe the word “App.” Like the Holy Spirit is an application we can access to assist us in a task or to get information.

Or maybe “Home Repair Guide.” Like the Holy Spirit is a manual on how to face and fix things without doing all the work for you.

This week I am inspired to think of “Social Worker.” Like the Holy Spirit can be instrumental in bringing two individuals together so they can become a family.

What other ways or words would you use to describe the Holy Spirit?

If Jesus or John were talking with you today, what would inspire you, console you, and empower you so that you could step into tomorrow and brave whatever the world may bring?

The world of Scripture is full of unforgettable stories, featuring immersive encounters with the Divine, encouraging us to dive into discovery.

Our Bible is so full of details, that although our scriptures are thousands of years old, they continue to surprise, to speak, to say “Hey, have you thought about faith this way???”

With an economy of language, our Bible delights in details that speak far beyond what our own words and experiences can.

And because we live in a specific time and place, we experience the Holy One speaking in a way that each of us can comprehend.

Let us continue to listen, let us continue to learn, and let us continue to allow the light of Christ into our lives.

Amen and amen.

(Interestingly enough, the 1st and ending parts of the message were inspired by Susan Veness’ Introduction to The Hidden Magic Of World Disney World- 2nd Edition (2015; Adams Media, Avon, MA).

While trying to grease the creativity gears, searching for what to say about scripture, I picked up Veness’ book as a time-filler, pleased to discover that her description of Disney’s success/attention to details is in alignment with my feelings about scripture.

The Paraklete works in many, many ways!!!)

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