1 Peter 3:13-22
Let us pray: Father in heaven, for Jesus’ sake, stir up in all of us the gift of your Holy Spirit; confirm our faith, guide our lives, empower us in our serving, give us patience in suffering, and bring us to everlasting life. Amen.
In the Gospel reading this morning Jesus sits with the disciples in the Upper Room. The candles of the Passover meal have burnt down and it is time to go. One disciple has already fled their gathering, his betrayal a shock to all. Another disciple’s denial is predicted and the pain of the cross awaits them all. In the midst of this uncertain gathering, Jesus reaches out to them in love. Listen again to what he says:
“I will not leave you orphaned—I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live…And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”
I will not leave you alone, Jesus tells us. I will not abandon you as orphans. I will send you an Advocate, a Counselor, a Comforter and Friend... who will care for you, who will offer hope when there is none to be found, help when you are helpless, comfort when you can find none and life in the face of death. The Holy Spirit, God’s gift to us in our Baptism. The Holy Spirit, God’s presence in life. The Holy Spirit, Christ’s gift to us and the promise to all the faithful.
At a Vestry meeting a number of years ago our opening prayers used the word “Paraclete.” When we were finished with the prayers someone asked what’s a Paraclete?” Before I could respond a discussed developed: “A Paraclete is a little green bird that people keep in a cage.” And another: “A Paracletes is what football players wear to keep from slipping.” And so it went. (A Vestry in action.)
Well, I finally did get a chance to explain that Paraclete is another word for the Holy Spirit. The Greek word for advocate is “parakletos” which means, literally, to “call beside,” or “to call alongside to help” and is used in some translations. This word is variously translated in different versions of the Bible as, “advocate, or comforter, or counselor, or helper.” However, as with many translations none of these can really capture what the word means. It is the same word used in a court of law to describe the role of a person who is called to stand beside a defendant and plead his or her cause. Interestingly, in French the word for lawyer is “avocat.” It can mean anyone who is called upon to give practical assistance to someone in time of need. And it was used in military circles to refer to an officer called in to boost the morale of a dispirited company of soldiers. 2
This Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, is Someone who comes to our side, helps us cope with the things of life, encourages and energizes, strengthens and empowers for living.
Joyce Rupp, the Catholic spiritual writer says, in her book, Pieces of Light, “I am always assured by the stories from Scripture of all those women and men who had tough times, because God continually gives two messages over and over to those in darkness: ‘Do not fear’ and ‘I am with you’. I find great comfort in these assurances and clutch them to my empty heart when times are tough.”
The Bible is certainly filled with tough times and empty hearts. We have Joseph sitting alone in a prison cell; the children of Israel wandering, wondering if they will ever arrive at the land of promise; Elijah fleeing for his life and feeling totally alone; and the disciples, hiding for fear that the same fate that came to their beloved teacher and leader will come to them. Our own lives have their share of empty hearts and tough times; times of fear and “not knowing.” Yet as we look into those same stories from scripture, stories which resonate in some ways with our own experiences, we find more than someone who “knows” what we are going through.
The phrase “Do not be afraid” appears 71 times in the New Revised Standard Version. It seems that fear was a common response to either an encounter with the holy or a new and understandably frightening situation. The Word of God came to those folks and before the message was even proclaimed the people were told, “Fear not. Fear not, I am with you.” The angel brought that message to the shepherds in the fields, “Fear not, I bring you good news of great joy,” and we know the rest of that story.
Now it is many years later and Jesus is preparing to finish his earthly ministry. As he is preparing to leave his disciples behind, Jesus’ message is almost identical to that of the angel, “Do not be afraid.”
The promise is not exactly, “I will always be with you; I will never leave you”, but it is: “I will send an advocate. I will send another who WILL be with you.”
There is a story told of a rookie ballplayer, just up from the minor league that was sent in to bat against the great Hall of Fame pitcher from the St. Louis Cardinals, Bob Gibson in his prime. Just off the bench and as nervous as a kid on his first date, the rookie stepped up to the plate and took a couple tentative practice swings as the great right-hander Gibson glared down at him from the mound. And then, with a great windup and pitch, Gibson blew two consecutive fastballs right down the center of the plate, so fast that the rookie didn’t even have time to swing the bat. With that the rookie turned on his heels and started to walk back to the dugout. “What are you doing?” the manager hollered. “Get back in there. You’ve still another strike coming.” “Let him have it,” the rookie sighed. “I’ve seen enough already.” 3
Have you ever felt that way? Outmatched by life? Up against what seems to be impossible odds? Depressed? Downhearted? Hopeless and helpless, overpowered by life? What do we do when life bullies us into a corner? Where do we turn when trouble traps us alone? Where do we turn when it seems there’s no help in sight? Well, this morning the Resurrected Christ, the One who has triumphed over the cross and the grave, the One who stands eternal before the throne of our Heavenly Father, our Lord Jesus Christ says to us (as he did to the disciples) “I will not leave you alone.” “I will not leave you orphaned.” Or as another translation says, “I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.”
I will not leave you alone, Jesus tells us. I will not abandon you as orphans. I will send you a Counselor, an Advocate, a Comforter and Friend... who will care for you, who will offer hope when there is none to be found, help when you are helpless, comfort when you can find none and life in the face of death. The Holy Spirit, God’s gift to us in our Baptism. The Holy Spirit, God’s presence in life. The Holy Spirit, Christ’s gift to us and the promise to all the faithful.
I think it's interesting that Jesus begins by saying, "If you love me." We forget sometimes that it's not enough to just say, "I love Jesus." Or "Jesus is Lord and Savior of my life."
The important part is living that love. The important part is the manifestation of the love of Jesus in all that we do and say. Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." Or as The Message by Eugene Peterson puts it: "If you love me, show it by doing what I've told you."
Why did Jesus promise this Advocate, this Paraclete to us? Just for our comfort when times are tough and seemingly hopeless? I believe it is for more. To come beside us and help us keep his commandment to “Love one another.” As His advocate to give practical assistance to someone in time of need.
The Holy Spirit, sends us forth then as messengers of God’s love to the poor, the unemployed, the young and the elderly, the sick and the rejected, the unhappy, the sorrowful, the lonely and the dying. Who is there to say to them, “I will not leave you as orphans...” Sometimes, God willing, it can be us. For we are the ones whom God entrusts with the Good News. We are the ones sent forth with his love.
Let us pray: O God, your Holy Spirit is alive in all the earth. Help us to see signs of your goodness in each moment. Let us be uplifted by your promise. You have not left us as orphans. let us not be fearful. So, we may walk boldly forth, knowing that you are at our side. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.