Date: May 17, 2020
Festival: 6th Sunday of Easter
Text: John 14:15-21
Preaching Occasion: St. Paul Lutheran Church, Union, MO
Sermon Hymn: LSB #693 O Holy Spirit, Grant Us Grace
Exegetical Statement: This section of John’s Gospel comes right after Jesus tells His disciples that He’s returning to the Father (His ascension). Yet He is not leaving them completely alone; He is sending them another Paraclete—another advocate, meaning they’ve had one all along. This first advocate is Christ Himself. Now they are promised an additional one: the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth. This Advocate will be with them forever to give them the enabling power of keeping Christ’s commandments. The world cannot know Him because it relies on materialistic sight, and the Spirit is immaterial and invisible. Nevertheless, the disciples know Him. And they will see Christ again, particularly in His resurrection, which will bring to them (and us) the eschatological resurrection—the eschatological sight of Christ. Hence, “Because I live, you also will live.”
Focus Statement: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are with you in spite of what you may feel.
Function Statement: That my hearers will know that God is with them—particularly through the Holy Spirit—during these times of quarantine and isolation
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I was bullied a lot as a kid, and for multiple reasons. First, as a multiracial kid growing up in the ghetto of Detroit, I was bullied by racist children nearly 10 years older than me because they hated the fact that I have a White dad and a biracial mom. They would beat me up nearly every day and call me all sorts of racial slurs. Other times, I was bullied for reasons I can’t say because I have no idea why these kids hated me so much. My mom would say it’s because I was smart and they were jealous, but I didn’t feel very smart at the time. Later on, I was bullied for being a “band geek” because I loved playing in Wind Ensemble and marching band. Music is a tremendous part of my life.
For much of my childhood, because of all this bullying, I felt very much alone. Sure, I had friends, but they weren’t bullied. In fact, my friends were all well-liked. But they didn’t help me. Neither did they advocate for me. And I certainly didn’t help myself either by bottling everything up. I was too weak to advocate for myself.
Trouble in the Text
This absence of help is the situation in which we find the disciples in John 14. You see, they had just feasted with Jesus in the Upper Room. Little did they know this would become what we now call “The Last Supper”—their last supper with Jesus. Jesus had just given them His body and blood in the bread and wine of the Supper that He instituted that night.
He had just epitomised the essence of His servanthood as their Master serving them in the washing of their feet. Feet are disgusting! I don’t know about you, but after a day’s work, you don’t wanna’ smell my feet! Especially in those days! They walked around in the dirt in sandals all day. After their feet are all covered in dirt, sweat, and blood after stubbing their toes on little rocks all day, Jesus their Master stoops down and washes their gross feet.
After having this special supper with Jesus and after getting their feet washed by their Master, He then drops this bomb on them in verse 12: “I am going to the Father.” They’ve been waiting their whole lives for the Saviour! Indeed, all Israel had been waiting thousands of years for their Messiah! Before this, no one had seen God. But for three years of Jesus’ ministry, they had finally seen God in the face of Jesus, they touched Him, dined with Him, kissed His feet and face, and now He says He’s going to the Father in Heaven. Their Help—their Advocate—had finally come. Now He is leaving? He’s leaving them to be bullied by the unbelieving Jews?
They spent all these years with Jesus imagining what it’ll be like when He finally reins in His kingdom. But now their Advocate is leaving. Now they will be alone.
Trouble in the World
Perhaps absence captures our common experience, especially during these times of quarantine. Most obvious to us right now is the absence of the life of the Church in each of our lives. Might I remind you, though, from a couple weeks ago that the Church is both hidden and visible. It is hidden in the sense that the Church is found wherever faith and the Holy Spirit are, which is where you are and with the saints currently resting in the Lord. Yet the Church is also visible in that the Church is found wherever the Word is preached and the Sacraments rightly administered, where God’s people gather to receive these means of grace. In this visible sense, the Church is certainly absent. We are longing for each other. We are longing to hear the Word in person and to receive the Sacrament of the Altar again.
Or perhaps absence is felt in a more dreadful sense. Perhaps you feel God is absent, especially during these times of pestilence. Thousands of people have died. Perhaps you know someone who is afflicted or has died from this virus. Or maybe you have a loved one who is suffering with something unrelated to the virus, like some other kind of disease or illness, someone with depression, or someone who’s grieving, and so on. During these struggles, it’s easy to feel alone; and these times of quarantine certainly don’t make that any easier. We can’t even visit our loved ones in the hospital and nursing homes for their own protection.
So, like the disciples might’ve asked themselves, we wonder, “Where is God? Where is my help? Why am I all alone?”
Grace in the Text
Except they’re not alone, and they never will be again. Jesus is going to the Father, yes, but it’s for their own benefit. He is going to ask the Father to send them another Helper. Not a Helper, but another Helper. Another παράκλητος [parakletos], or as you might have heard before: another Paraclete. “Paraclete” can be translated several different ways. We usually translate it “comforter” or “helper,” as the ESV translation we use renders it. Both of these are fine translations, but they present some problems due to our contemporary context.
In the Elizabethan era, “comforter” served its purpose just fine because as it comes from the Latin word, confortare, that means “to strengthen,” to comfort someone in those days meant to strengthen someone. Today, we use it to mean care for the emotions—to help someone feel better—rather than strengthening of faith and character.
“Helper” is not a bad translation either, but in our day it has the connotation that it’s inferior to something or someone—to the person they’re helping—rather than its original complementary or equivalent sense. The “helper made fit” for Adam, the woman, was not one whom God made inferior to man, but to complement him and give reciprocal aid in his tasks. She was the same, but different. Similarly, the Holy Spirit is not inferior to God the Son or the Father, but the same, though distinct.
Rather, the word that better captures the Greek culture of the day is the word “advocate.” In Greek culture, a paraclete—an advocate—was someone who spoke on your behalf in court. This isn’t just any simple advocate, however. Capturing the equivalence He has with the Son, this is another Advocate, meaning the disciples have already had one all along, but now they are receiving another one.
Their other advocate was none other than Jesus Himself. As John later writes in his first epistle, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate [that same word paraclete] with the Father, [who is] Jesus Christ the righteous” [1 John 2:1].
Grace in the World
That is precisely why Jesus is leaving the disciples—why He ascended to the Father: to paraclete—to advocate—on theirs and your behalf in Heaven. Every time you sin, Jesus is advocating on your behalf in God’s court of law. Whenever you sin, Jesus points to the evidence of your faith in Him—in who He is and what He has done in the event of the cross.
Yet that is not enough for Jesus. He doesn’t want to be the only advocate between you and the Father. So, it pleased Jesus to send you another Advocate: His own Spirit. Not as if Jesus isn’t enough, but that you might have even more help. As Jesus advocates for you before the Father in Heaven, the Holy Spirit advocates for you here on earth.
To be sure, this is not a feeling. There is too much talk among American Christians today about “feeling” the presence of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit is not concerned with Himself. The work of the Holy Spirit is not to be felt, but to perpetually point you to the one who sent Him: Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit does not want you to feel Him; He wants you to know and to hear Jesus.
Jesus talks about His ascension and this coming of the Holy Spirit for quite a while, of which He says the Holy Spirit “will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak” [16:13]. The Holy Spirit speaks only what He hears from the Father and the Son. Last week’s Gospel reading was verses 1-14, in which we read Jesus say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him… Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father… Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me” [14:6-7, 9, 11].
Though the Father and the Son are distinct and not the same, nevertheless they are in each other, thus they are also the same yet remaining distinct. We know God the Father by looking at Jesus, and we know Jesus because the Holy Spirit continually points us to Christ. The Holy Spirit never preaches Himself, but only the Word of Christ.
So, if you can’t feel the Holy Spirit to know He’s with you, how do you know He’s present despite your feelings of absence? Because this promise of Christ depends not on your feelings and your ability to understand, but solely on the power of God’s Word, and that is everything. Everything comes down to the Word.
How did God create the universe? Let’s go back to Genesis, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” How did He create everything out of nothing? Verse 3, “God said…” God spoke, and everything as you know it (and don’t know) was created. When you were conceived, when you were developing in the womb, and when you were born, God spoke. As you live, God speaks. God’s Word is spoken. This is why we gather as a congregation—to continually hear God’s Word speak to us to do His work of sanctification in us.
Again, though, we cannot gather as the visible church. Thanks be to God, then, that His Word is not only spoken, but also written, which can be read aloud so that it is spoken. And His Word is not only spoken and written; His Word is also a person.
We’ve been spending a lot of time in the Gospel of John this year so far, and he re-emphasises Genesis at the beginning of his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He—[notice he’s calling the Word “He”]—He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” Then the Word did something remarkable, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” [1:1-3, 14].
The Word is spoken, the Word is written, and the Word is Jesus. When God speaks, stuff literally happens! Jesus is God speaking. Therefore, whatever Jesus says, happens! Jesus is God’s Word in action! And Jesus has said lots of things! But what is our focus for today? “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” Forever! That’s a pretty long time!
The same Word that created the whole universe is the same Word—the same Jesus—that has promised to be with you, whether you feel Him or not. The Holy Spirit advocates for you even when you do not know it. But sometimes you do know it. When you hear or read the Word and you are strengthened by it, which is “comfort” and “help” in its true sense, that is the Paraclete doing the work of Christ. And all this through simple words, but not just any words—the very Word of God.
Because you have been baptised and believe the words of God confessed in the Creed, you have the Holy Spirit. Only a person who believes such words has been given the Holy Spirit. Therefore, He is already here. Help is already here.
People often view Christianity as a ladder you climb. There’s even a famous song that kind of captures this: Stairway to Heaven. But there’s no way for us to get to God. God solved this problem by coming down to us. He came down to us in Jesus, the Word made flesh. We don’t “get” the Holy Spirit. Jesus gives us our Advocate by speaking to us. In Baptism, the Father spoke, “You are Mine,” and He made you His. Always. Forever. The words He spoke at Jesus’ Baptism, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” are the same words He spoke in your Baptism as the Holy Spirit descended upon you” [Matthew 3:17]. Thus, you have been made God’s child, and God is not an absent Father.
Similarly, Jesus has spoken in our text, “Because I live, you also will live.” Thus, when Jesus returns, we don’t fly up to Him, but He comes down to us. Again. We will see Him descending the same way He ascended, bringing with Him the new creation—the new heavens, the new earth, and the New Jerusalem. This is the oracle of the Lord It is certain to happen. It is only a matter of time… Let us pray:
May this peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in the duality of our Advocates: Christ the Lord and His Spirit. Amen.