Reverend Philip Stringer
LET US PRAY: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Speak to us now with your Holy Spirit-- through our worship-- through this meal-- and through this sermon-- that we may be filled with your endless love, now and forever. AMEN
When I was 14, I got a pet parakeet. It was pretty to look at. I kept it in a cage in the corner of my room where it made a regular racket. Some of its chirping was pleasant, but its squawks were not. You know you can teach parakeets to talk-- I made a halfhearted effort at this, but I didn’t have the patience to stick with it, so it never said anything.
Or maybe it was because it never liked me. When I put my finger near the cage, all the bird did was snap at it. Didn’t want to be held. I would say that we never really “bonded.”
You know, of course, that there is a biblical precedent for imaging the Holy Spirit as a dove-- but I’ll bet you didn’t know there is a similar precedent for referring to the Spirit as a parakeet.
In our gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”
The Greek word we translate as “advocate” is “paraklete.” Which made me think of parakeet. I started thinking about how they are similar and how they are different.
Do we try to tame the Holy Spirit for our purposes, and box it in with a cage? So we can say, we have it-- that it— and our religion— are pretty to look at. Maybe try to make it say what we want it to say and do what we want it to do.
Well, that won’t wash with the Holy Spirit because, for starters, the Holy Spirit is not an “it” that can be owned or possessed. The Holy Spirit is a “who.” The Holy Spirit is God’s own presence with us. Most language about God is in masculine terms, so referring to the Holy Spirit as “him” is always appropriate. But often reference to the Holy Spirit is made in feminine term-- “her” and “she”-- this is also appropriate and perhaps reminds us of the nurturing work of the Spirit which we (rightly or wrongly) associate more with women than with men.
In either case, the Holy Spirit should be understood as a “who,” not an “it.” If we try to manipulate the Spirit into saying what we want said or to do what we want done, that’s when we end up with things like the crusades . . . . and slavery. .. . . and people picketing with signs filled with messages of hate in the name of God. . . . . or perhaps not as severe, we find ourselves with a “faith” that is full of platitudes and cliches, but doesn’t require anything of us.
If we try to manipulate the Spirit into saying what we want said or to do what we want done, we will find the Spirit nipping at us like my pet parakeet who didn’t want to be tamed.
And like a parakeet, while the presence of the Holy Spirit is good news for us-- music to our ears, so to speak-- the other reality is that much of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is uncomfortable. Like the squawking of my parakeet, the paraklete often speaks to us about things that make us uncomfortable. Yes, I believe there is much my parakeet can teach us about the Paraklete
Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate.”
Many scholars don’t like to translate the word, “Paraklete” because there is really no good English translation. A word similar to it, parakaleo, means literally, “to call to one’s side,” usually for the purpose of helping. In ancient times, the word took on a legal meaning, referring to one’s “helper in court”-- one’s legal counsel. That’s why we see various translations use “Advocate,” Counselor, or Helper.
But if that’s the case-- who’s helper is she? Does the Advocate come to help you. . . . . . or Jesus?
The Spirit comes to us in order to speak for Jesus. She reminds us of all that Jesus has said. She testifies to what Jesus has done, and helps keep alive his ministry. And Jesus tells us she is the Spirit who tells the truth. . . . . . the one who tells the truth. . . and testifies. . . . . this is sounding more like a legal matter by the minute.
If you and I stand in the judgment court of God, and the Paraclete tells the truth about us. . . . . . is she speaking for the prosecution or the defense? The Gospel of John tells us that the Spirit speaks the truth about sin, righteousness and judgment. She proclaims the truth about you and me-- we are sinners. We don't always like to hear that. The Paraclete confronts us with our sins and God's judgment against sinners. Like a prosecuting attorney, the Paraclete makes your sins known to you and to God, the Judge.
But of course, that is not the whole story. The Paraclete also proclaims the truth about Jesus-- Jesus came to save sinners!
The Paraclete tells the truth about God’s love revealed in Jesus.
The Paraclete tells the truth about God’s love at work on us-- and within us, as the Holy Spirit.
Parakaleo— to “call to one’s side.”
In last weeks reading, Jesus told his disciples that he is going to the Father and preparing a place for us. He also told them that he is in the Father and the Father is in him.
Today, he promises that before we go to be with the Father— the Father comes to be with us! Jesus promises this, too. “I am with you always.” By your side.
So when we hear these words of Jesus from our Gospel text (those who love me will keep my commandments), you and I should come to them, not with ears that are listening to learn “what is expected of me.” Rather, we should listen with ears that seek to understand, “what does it mean for me to be in Christ, and for the Holy Spirit to be in me?”
Jesus tells us that it means that you are able to love others as Jesus loves you. It means that you are able to love your neighbor as Jesus loves your neighbor-- you are MADE able, because the Holy Spirit has come to dwell with you.
Your presence in the world is an important part of God’s plan to save the whole creation. That is a consistent and clear message of Jesus throughout his ministry, and he expresses it here, too. Jesus promises to be present with us, that we may live and love as Jesus lived and loved-- and Jesus lived and loved for the sake of the world.
When I was first learning how to row a rowboat, I had a terribly hard time going straight-- and it’s no wonder. Where you’re trying to go is behind you! I can pull, pull, pull with the oars-- trying carefully to exert even force with each arm-- but invariably I’d turn around and discover that I was WAY off course, and then I’d have to crank it around and try again.
Eventually, I learned that the trick to getting to where you want to go in a rowboat is to look at where you’ve been— fix your eyes on a point on the opposite shore-- in the direction you’re looking, but opposite from the direction you want to go-- the way you keep the bow on course is to remember where you started.
Actually, if you want to be truly accurate, you will want two points in line with each other— one point on the shore where you began, and another directly behind it. That way you know for sure you’re going in a straight line.
Jesus said that the world is not able to receive the Spirit. It seems to me that is so-- at least in part-- because the world is not willing to hear -- or see-- the truth about itself. If it will not be convinced of its brokenness, it also will see no need for Jesus. If it has no need for Jesus, it has no interest in the Advocate who comes on his behalf, nor does it value his commandments. Someone has defined evil people as those who are unwilling to hear the truth about their sinfulness.
The Spirit of Truth speaks this truth-- and the Spirit of Truth dwells in you. The Spirit of Truth speaks this truth through you and me. But, like a person rowing a boat, we can’t really understand where were going if we don’t remember where we came from.
We can look back and remember our brokenness. But before the truth of our sinfulness, there was God.
It all begins with love. The perfect love of the Father for the Son. The perfect love of the Son for the Father. The perfect love of the Father and the Son that is the Holy Spirit, through whom all of creation is given life.
You and I are created
steeped in love. And so is this world.
That is the starting point we must keep our eyes fixed upon if we are to speak the truth of God’s love to the world.
Remember who you are. Remember that the Spirit of Truth dwells in you, and is at work within you, creating in you a heart like God’s heart. For us to be in him and him to be in us means that we are made able to love the world in Jesus’ name. And part of loving the world is telling the world the truth about itself.
As with my pet parakeet-- the world may try to cage you and tame you. The world may tell you what to say and value— it may even tell you to shut up when you speak the truth. But my parakeet could not be tamed, and neither can the Spirit who has come to dwell in us.
We have a song to sing. A song that will not always be pretty, but it will be the truth. It is a song that announces the brokenness of sin like one calling out to a rower off course-- but only so that we may point to the more excellent way of God— the love of God that is the beginning of all things— and at the end of all things— the shore to which we are guided.