“The Love of Christ” Colchester Federated Church, May 17, 2020, (John 14:15-21) Sixth Sunday of Easter (**Virtual Worship)
A minister, priest, and lawyer all die on the same day at the same time and appear before Peter at the pearly gates. Peter looks at the minister and says, “Welcome to Heaven! My friend, you have lived a wonderful life, here are the keys to your heavenly hovel.” So the minister takes the keys from Peter and walks over to her new humble home. Then Peter turns to the priest and says, “Welcome to Heaven! You have also lived an exemplary life on earth; here are the keys to your heavenly shack.” The priest takes the keys from Peter and walks over to his heavenly shack. Finally, Peter turns to the lawyer and says, “Welcome to Heaven! You have lived a wonderful life too, and here are the keys to your heavenly mansion.” The lawyer happily takes the keys from Peter and walks over to her luxurious heavenly mansion.
Now the minister and priest were carefully watching this interaction and they walk back up to Peter. The minister says, “Listen Peter, I know that I just got here and I’m not trying to complain, but I didn’t have a lot of earthly possessions.” The priest chimes in, “Yes, I even took a vow of poverty! So we both thought that once we got into heaven, well, we thought that we would get to own mansions like the lawyer over there.”
“Ah, yes,” Peter said, “I do understand your concerns. But you both have to understand that priests and ministers are a dime a dozen here in Heaven. But lawyers? Well, we hardly ever get any of them!”
Now before going further, please remember that my one and only sister is a lawyer (a Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney), so the joke is one of my favorites and truly all in good fun. It does point out some of the terrible (and sometimes funny) stereotypes we may have about lawyers. Though the legal profession is one of the oldest professions. Most would say that it dates back to Ancient Greece since the Athenian orators often functioned as lawyers. We certainly have examples in the Old Testament of judgments being handed down by those in power, whether that was a judge or a king.
Practices were in place in the ancient world of having moral or legal codes and requiring people to abide by those codes. If someone violated them, having a trial to argue one’s case occurred. At the end of the trial, judgment would be handed down. All of these practices seem to be in the mindset of some cultures thousands of years ago. We have Hammurabi’s Code and the Levitical Codes. We have the woman caught in adultery and Jesus pardoning her before the religious authorities. And we have the trials of Jesus himself before the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate. When we look for it, the Bible is full of stories about the ethical codes required of the faithful for good conduct in the community.
Though what’s so interesting is that in today’s passage from the 14th Chapter of the Gospel according to John, the Holy Spirit is referred to as the “Advocate.” The Greek word used in verse 16 is Paraclete which can mean Helper, Comforter, or Advocate. The word is actually the equivalent (and used elsewhere in the Greek world) of a defense attorney—perhaps much to Maureen’s chagrin that it’s not a prosecutor. So Jesus basically says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Defense Attorney, to be with you forever.”
This one word brings out the unique nature of the Gospel according to John since John is the only Gospel writer who refers to the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete. John presents the Holy Spirit as our Divine Defense Attorney. The part of the Trinity charged with defending Christians from the attacks of the world and defending Christ’s cause to humanity. Even though Jesus is leaving and will no longer be with the disciples physically, he reassures them by saying that the Holy Spirit will remain to be with us forever.
Jesus says, “I won’t leave you as orphans. I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Because I live, you will live too.” Widows and orphans were the most vulnerable groups in the highly patriarchal society in which Jesus himself lived. This is part of the reason why in a later passage in John, Jesus makes sure to entrust the care of his mother to his beloved disciple even as he is dying on the cross. Jesus was making sure that Mary would be cared for, that she would have a home and an older son to be her advocate in a society where she lacked power.
It is telling that Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will be with us forever and that we will not be orphans. These are words of comfort. After all, the role of the Holy Spirit as our Defense Attorney is to provide protection, to even clear a path for us to have a clear path to God. Sometimes the Spirit seems to take us by the hand and lead us to the action. Sometimes the Spirit is our Defender and blazes a trail to witness the miraculous world we inhabit and take part in the glory of God’s good creation. Sometimes the Spirit works through others and inspires people to reach out to those who need help.
In the end, the role of the Holy Spirit throughout the Bible is all about movement and new horizons. The Spirit often leads people through the wilderness and reveals the glory of God along the way. Maybe the Holy Spirit works through people too, to inspire them to show forth the love of Christ. As Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The greatest commandment Jesus taught was loving God, loving our neighbors, and loving ourselves. Maybe the Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways to help us see and understand that we are neighbors one to another, and therefore we are called to be one another’s keepers. We would do well to take to heart this call during this pandemic.
The Holy Spirit evolved in our Christian understanding over time to be God’s primary agent in the world and evolved by the time of the Council of Nicaea to literally be the third person of the Trinity. The presence of the Holy Spirit points us to valuable ways in which human beings experience God. We can experience God as an unseen, empowering presence, as a force that compels us forward to do good in the world, as an impulse that opens our eyes and our hearts and hones us in on the divine in everyday living, on the life-affirming wonders of God’s creation we are called to experience. The Spirit remains our Advocate, the force that gives us courage and sheds light on the interconnectedness of creation and all of humanity. In these uncertain days let us remember that we do indeed have an Advocate that will be with us forever and help us to do good as we pay attention to the movements of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Thanks be to God. Amen.