John 14: 15-21; 05212017; 6 Easter
Early on in my career as a police officer, I was on my way to a call when I heard what no cop ever wants to hear. Two officers were being dispatched to my own address at one o’clock in the morning! The dispatcher informed the officers that some guy was banging on our front door, and yelling at the top of his voice! I reached over to grab the radio, intending to tell the dispatcher I was heading for my home. But after a few deep breaths, I let go of the radio and sat back in my seat.
Our house was several miles away, on the far side of the city. Even with lights and siren, the call would likely be resolved by the time I got there. My wife at the time was home with our daughter Jenni, who at that time was just an infant. I knew she wouldn’t open the door until the officers got there.
As the adrenaline began to recede, I began to think a little more calmly. I knew the two officers who’d gotten the call and I knew they were competent officers. They’d been classmates of mine, at the police academy. I’d been on calls with them, and I knew they were both of good character. I also knew they would treat my family in the same way that they’d treat their own. I knew they would even risk their lives, if need be, to protect my family. And so, I slowly relaxed and focused on the call that I’d been given. I knew the folks that I’d be assisting deserved the same care as my own family.
As things worked out, the guy who’d been banging on our door had done way too much partying. He actually lived just a few houses down from us, and he thought his wife had locked him out! All his hollering and banging on the door was to get his wife’s attention, so that she’d unlock the door. The two officers later told me the guy’s wife was none too pleased to see him. He’d had way too many beverages and she said she’d just as soon that he’d sleep outside!
Character these days is leaving much to be desired. And so, in those times when we find folks of good character, we find that we’re attracted to it. I believe it’s always been that way, even back in Jesus’ day. People with good character tend to be good leaders. You get a sense that they’re not just in it for the money or just in it for themselves. They are in it for the long run, because they want to make things better.
In our story from John’s Gospel, there are great changes coming. Jesus will soon be crucified, and the community of early Christians will be without their leader. Some of those folks will gradually wander off. The Apostles’ time as leaders will be coming to an end. How will the young church adapt to the loss of Jesus and find a way to pass on his teachings and traditions?
Jesus knows, of course, that he’ll soon be leaving. He’s made no secret of how his life will end. He’s taught the disciples many things, but he knows they’re still unstable. And so he promises to send someone to help in their transition. He tells them that he’ll send them an Advocate, a Comforter to be with them.
The Greek word those two words are translated from is “Paracletos”, or more simply, the Paraclete. The word “Paraclete” is translated to be a counselor or comforter, in terms of wisdom. But it also can be translated to mean an Advocate, that is, one with a legal interest. In that sense, the Advocate is a witness, and testifies for those who find themselves on trial.[i]
Up to this point in the story, Jesus has been the disciples’ Advocate. But soon he will be leaving them, and going to the Father. Jesus knows that he must leave, but he will not leave them helpless. He promises to send another Advocate, a witness for them.
The Advocate that Jesus sends them will guide the Christian community into the future. And so, Jesus models an important quality of a leader with good character; an effective leader prepares his or her people to successfully make it through times of transition.
Think of all the great characters that were a part of Jesus’ community. Mary Magdalene, the Beloved Disciple, Peter, whose Letter we heard a portion of today; Mary and Martha, Matthew, and of course old doubting Thomas. But none of them would be around to teach the next generation. And so Jesus had a strategy to address the dearth of leaders. He sent the Comforter, the Advocate, to help the young church hold together. Or as Jesus said, “teaching them all these words that I have given you.”
It’s really amazing when you think about it. Jesus sent the Advocate over two thousand years ago. And yet the Advocate still walks with us, assisting us in discerning the teachings of the church. The Advocate is speaking truth to the churches of all nations. As the United Church of Christ continues to proclaim, “God is still speaking”.
Of course, it isn’t any secret why we’re hearing this lesson now. We’re just a few short weeks from the Day of Pentecost. Through the years we have come to call the Advocate “the Holy Spirit.” The Advocate is an integral part of the Holy Trinity. Whatever we decide to call it, the Comforter still brings Jesus’ teachings into the hearts and minds of Christians.
With this gift, Jesus was preparing his disciples for the tough times that lay ahead. He was about to ascend to the Father and he would not leave his people on their own. Nor will he leave each of us to wander through this world by ourselves. He is always with us, through the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.
It’s been said that in the year of our Lord, 1520, the great Spanish Sea Captain, Ferdinand Magellan, battled for an entire year to find a passage around South America. At the very southern tip of the continent, in its icy waters, he encountered some of the worst weather found anywhere on earth. He battled raging seas, towering ice floes, not to mention a mutinous crew. When he finally made his way through those treacherous waters which still bear his name, the Straits of Magellan), he entered into a great body of water that lay to the west. As he and his men lifted their faces up towards heaven and prayed their thanks to God, Magellan named the new ocean “The Peaceful One”, that we know as the Pacific Ocean.[ii]
As we consider John’s Gospel words this morning, we know that Jesus wants to bring us comfort, and to know God’s peace. It’s his plan to guide us on the stormy voyage, and to steer us to a place where we can find his peace. May his Spirit and his teaching fill us with his grace. May we learn to hear his words, and the peace that dwells beneath them. As Jesus said to his disciples, Did Jesus not say, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, and believe also in me.”
[i] Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, Conversations with Scriptur: The Gospel of John, (New York City, NY: Morehouse Publishing. 2007), pg75.
[ii] Lee Griess, “A Place of Peace”, Illustration, https://www.sermons.com/sermon/a-place-of-peace/1339023, accessed 05202017.