My sermon from May 21, the sixth Sunday of Easter, focused on the Holy Spirit, which in John’s gospel is called the Paraclete. It also considers the question, “What does love look like?” How ought we love one another in the image of God?
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” I’m glad I practiced those couple of verses, because they are quite the tongue-twister. The first time reading it, it felt more like “I am the Walrus” than the Gospel of John. It is convoluted and confusing.
And I thought, maybe this is why we don’t talk about the Holy Spirit too much. Because it is convoluted and confusing. Of course we talk a lot about the Spirit every year at Pentecost, which is coming up in a few weeks. There we hear the story of how the Spirit descended upon Jesus’ followers like a flame, and they all began to preach in different languages.
Here in John’s gospel, though, the Holy Spirit works a little bit differently. It’s hard to nail down exactly how it does work, though, and so we don’t talk about it much. And because we don’t talk about the Holy Spirit much, it sometimes gets boiled down to good feelings. The Holy Spirit is that inner feeling of contentment, or peace, or even burning zeal that we get from time to time.
If we listen to what Jesus is saying, though, we realize that the Holy Spirit is so much more than simply an individual feeling. It has much more to do with community, than with individuals.
Here is John, Jesus calls the Spirit by the Greek word Paraclete. This word can be, and has been, translated in many, many ways. In our version today, we have advocate, but other translations say comforter, counselor, helper, or encourager. Some simply say, Paraclete, leaving this messy word untranslated.
The Paraclete literally means the one called to our side to stand up for us. And this Spirit, Jesus says, this Advocate called to stand with us, will be revealed to those who keep Jesus’ commandments. Well, in the Gospel of John, Jesus famously gives only one commandment: to love one another, as Jesus himself has loved us. This is Jesus’ commandment.
Love is another concept, like the Holy Spirit, that can easily get abstract. But in Jesus, we see that love is not an abstract; love is not a nice feeling; love is not merely cherishing someone in your heart. Love is a concrete way of being in the world—revealed to us in the life, relationships, and actions of this simple man from Nazareth.
In love, Jesus feeds the hungry. In love, he touches lepers and heals the sick. In love, Jesus speaks and acts towards women with care and regard. We see love concretely in Jesus’ actions, in his service and compassion. We also see love played in Jesus’ protests against those who abuse this vision.
Love can be fierce and angry—especially when it is standing up for those who need an advocate. The love that Jesus commands for us is not merely about a feeling—it is about a master washing the feet of his disciples. It is about a king dying the death of a criminal.
Loving one another, following Jesus’ commandment to love as he loves, looks like this. It looks like loving others with that same kind of action, that same kind of passion and compassion. The Spirit will be revealed to those who keep Jesus’ commandments. I would also add that the Spirit will be revealed not just to, but also through, those who keep Jesus’ commandments.
When we love one another, as Jesus loves us, love in actions and words, not just our thoughts and feelings, we see the Spirit of God in our very midst. We were created by love, created by God out of sheer love. And though we stray from that love in our lives, God never tires of sowing love and spreading love.
Throughout Scripture, God sends messengers to share love and to call us back into that living, breathing love: the judges, the prophets who shared the vision of a community where all are included and valued, where the poor had food and worth, where justice flowed like waters.
And God sent us Jesus, God’s own Son, who was love incarnate. Love in human form. Jesus came to this earth to remind us of God’s love for us, which is stronger than our mistakes. Which is stronger than our injustice. Which is stronger than our hatred. God’s love will never, ever leaver us.
As John Freestone is baptized this morning, we are reminded once again of how everlasting that love from God is. He will be marked with the cross of Christ, sealed with the Spirit, sealed in God’s love—forever.
I love that we baptize infants in our church, because there’s no way around realizing that God’s love is always there for us, whether we’ve earned it or not. John is just a baby, and while he’s really super cute, he just isn’t capable of earning anyone’s love. But he still has it.
God’s love, much the love of parents, comes without us ever needing to prove ourselves, or to earn it. And as we will hear in the baptism rite, it never goes away. Jesus promises not to leave the disciples or us as orphans, and that promise is fulfilled when we are all anointed with the Holy Spirit.
Through God’s love, we are also called to love one another. We remind parents during the baptism that they are entrusted with bringing their children up in the Christian faith and life—and at the end of that list, they are responsible for teaching their child to proclaim Christ through word and deed, to care for others and the world God made, and to work for justice and peace. In other words, to love others concretely, as Jesus loved.
Jesus promises us an Advocate, who will be by our side and stand with us. The Spirit of truth will abide with us and be with us. We can see this Spirit every time we act in love, when others act towards us in love. Sometimes that Spirit at our side is the helping hand or listening ear of a friend. Sometimes we are that Spirit when we treat all people with dignity, and work for justice and inclusion fo everyone.
The Spirit continues to appear to us in order to encourage us, and look out for us, and stay with us, and walk along side of us. God comes in the Holy Spirit to be like Christ for us…every day! God comes in the Holy Spirit to be another Advocate, our Advocate, who will not give up on us…ever. Amen.