The Advocate

John 14:15-31       In this time when both Dan and I have been working from home, it is hard not to overhear one another’s zoom meetings in a small house! Dan works for Court Appointed Special Advocates in Baltimore County– CASA—a non-profit organization which trains community volunteers to advocate for children in foster care, from babies right up to those about to turn 21 years of age. Without seeing any faces, I have had an insider’s ear to the work of these volunteers who commit to hours of training, sometimes getting a severe lack of welcome and appreciation from the child they are advocating for. They are struggling with how to be creative with ways to reach out to a child they can not physically see in this pandemic time, working hard at advocating for the child’s well-being with a variety of service providers and through the legal system.
The word “advocate” comes to us from the legal field—our English word is directly from a Latin word meaning to add a voice, to speak up in support of a cause or a person. I think of an Advocate as one who sticks up for someone else. In the words from the gospel of John which we heard this morning, Jesus is continuing his instructions for his disciples, preparing them for the day when he will no longer be with them. In this segment of his good bye, he offers them the promise of another Advocate who will come alongside them, supporting them, guiding them, teaching them, reminding them of what they already know. The Greek word used four times in Jesus’ farewell discourse in John’s gospel is paracletos–scholars usually anglicize the word to paraclete– meaning advocate, helper, or even comforter and companion. It is a unique way of understanding the function of the Holy Spirit—found only in this gospel– that brings clarity for us today as well. Jesus tells his disciples that this Advocate will be the Spirit of Truth, and promises that he will not leave them as orphans. This is another Advocate, because they have had him as their Advocate while he has been with them and they have gotten used to his support, his comfort, his help while he has been with them in person. The good news for these disciples is that they will be cared for in the future just as he has cared for them in the past.
As the words of Jesus’ message to those fearful, anxious disciples sinks in, I can’t help but be mindful of the fearful, anxious disciples all around me. As we move toward re-opening businesses and some of our familiar activities, we still have lots of questions. Is it safe to go out more frequently now? Can I meet with a couple of friends at a park? Can I meet a family member who does not live in my home and talk between our vehicles? What about returning to my work-place with other colleagues in a shared space? What about meeting at church with a few people for Bible study or prayer? Or gathering at a safe distance in the church parking lot, as our partner Berea Centro de Oracion has begun doing on Saturday evenings? Will I be comfortable with that? What kinds of activities am I comfortable for my children and grandchildren to participate in? These kinds of questions and more swirl around in our heads, feeding the anxiety and trouble in our hearts.
Many of us are not feeling at peace in this world these days. When Jesus promises to send them an Advocate, he offers to give them peace that the world can never give. In my mind, this Spirit who he will send, this Spirit of Truth, this Advocate and Companion, IS the peace that he gives, when he says, “Peace, I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I give you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.” Later in this same gospel, when Jesus returns to the gathered disciples after he has risen from the dead, he greets them like this: “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The giving of the Holy Spirit is closely intertwined with the giving of a peace that only Jesus can offer. The world does not provide us with this peace. We can not manufacture this peace. We can not bottle it or sell it. It is a peace that goes with us like a comforter and companion. It is a peace that walks with us like an advocate and a helper, or guide. It is a peace for all times, even when we face anxious and fear-filled days.
I don’t know how many of you are checking out our facebook page or our website, but both are vehicles that can be used to stay in touch with Hunting Ridge while we are physically separated from one another. On our website we post the sermon for each Sunday, and I have also added an occasional short video message from your pastor that is easy to share with friends if you are so inclined—you can find it on our facebook page as well. Also I have been posting in both places “a word for my week” each Friday, together with our question of the week for reflection. Each Friday I select a scripture passage for you to ponder—I invite you to check it out! You might write it out for yourself and post it on your fridge or your bathroom mirror, draw it, expand upon it, pray it, even share it with someone else. You could call a fellow church member and talk about your reflections with one another around the word for my week or the question of the week. All of those are ways to stay connected to one another as we ruminate together ton the same weekly themes. This past Friday the text was very, very short. Just one verse from Hebrews chapter 13: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.
In a sense, that message was what he was encouraging those first disciples with and also the disciples in all times—the message of continuity. Even when things around us change, Jesus stays the same. He continues his presence in the form of the Advocate, coming alongside us, guiding us, reminding us, dwelling with us. We have the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Peace living with us. It is the very presence of God in our midst. When Jesus says that the Father and the Son will make their home within us, dwell within us—it is the mystery of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, the peace that only Christ can offer, which is living within us, around us, above us, beneath us, behind us, in front of us. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. In the moments when we are most troubled or afraid, let us remember that we have not been left alone like orphans. We have an Advocate, a Companion, the Spirit of Truth.
So, what difference does that make in our day to day lives? Do we really need an Advocate? Until March of 2020, many of us have tended to think more individualistically, figuring that we can do it on our own, not wanting to depend on another. I hope that we have begun to learn a bit more about our interdependence through this pandemic, how our actions indeed impact our neighbors and vice versa. Jesus describes this Advocate as one who will accompany us on the way, assuming that we will accept this Companion for our journey. An Advocate does not give up. One of the things I have heard Dan reiterate to multiple CASA volunteers is the importance of being there for the child when you say you will be there: following through. Being consistent is essential in building trust for a child who has experienced disappointment after disappointment from other adults in her life. An Advocate is consistent, faithful, trusted. Not in every case, but in many, over time the child and the volunteer advocate do develop a strong bond, as the child grows to trust in this volunteer who has chosen to advocate for him, who is not getting paid, who is not biologically related to him. The Advocate always seeks the best interest of the child. The Spirit of Truth, God’s Holy Presence in our lives seeks our best interest. When you think about the relational roles of God as our Parent, our Sibling and our Advocate, we are surrounded with love on all sides, supported and cared for in a way that the world can never give us.
Perhaps you will find that looking at the Holy Spirit as your Advocate, your Companion, your Comforter can be helpful to you as you make your way on the path of life. I am grateful for this window into the work of the Spirit provided to us in this gospel. I am grateful that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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