Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.
Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 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. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
Note: My sermon on this text can be found here.
This text is frequently read at funerals, and for good reason. Here Jesus is preparing his disciples for his eventual departure, seeking to give them both direction and comfort for the days ahead. Whether they like it or not, the day will come when Jesus will no longer be with them physically. Yet, his ministry will continue. Rather than instruct his disciples to carry on his work the best they can until they can find something else do, Jesus explains to them in no uncertain terms that his ministry is a permanent one. This is the first of many “passing the torch” moments in John’s gospel, and it’s an appropriate reading not only for funerals but for the day of Pentecost as well.
Reading this passage on the day of Pentecost gives us a rare opportunity: here we have all three “persons” of the trinity in one text, with emphasis on the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has been called the “forgotten member of the trinity”, and most Christians have a better understanding of God or Jesus. What are our notions of the Holy Spirit? What is it? What does it do? These questions are addressed by this text from John 14.
The first point that must be made – and I cannot emphasize this enough – is that there is a very strong communal element to Jesus’ vision of how the Holy Spirit will be with and be in his disciples after he departs. We make a serious mistake when we read interpret the comfort, guidance, and blessing of the Holy Spirit as comfort for me, guidance for me, and blessing for me. Jesus simply was not speaking to his disciples on an individual level. While it’s true that the Holy Spirit does indeed bless us with things like personal comfort during difficult times, it’s clear that the action and presence of the Holy Spirit is best understood in the context of community. The ministry to which Jesus calls his disciples, who will be aided by the Holy Spirit, is not an individualistic one. It is communal, both in its form and its focus.
So who is this mysterious other person of the trinity who will come to be in and with the disciples and their ministry? The word Jesus uses for it here is parakletos, which can be translated into one of several English terms: Comforter, Advocate, Helper, Counselor. The word really means all of these things, but we unfortunately don’t have one English word that encompasses the fullness of the Greek one. What does it mean to say that the Holy Spirit will be a Comforter to us? Or an Helper? Or an Advocate?
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus said, “and neither let them be afraid.” I can only imagine the look on the disciples’ faces as Jesus said this to them. They were probably scared to death. Jesus, their teacher and Lord, was telling them that he would eventually leave them. This is the Jesus who they had seen perform amazing signs and wonders. This is the Jesus who claimed to be one with God. “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me?” he asked them. This is the Jesus who called them away from their endless toil on the shores and the docks to a life of profound meaning and vital ministry. This Jesus was everything to them. And he was leaving.
Yet, they will not be alone. They will have a Comforter, the very Spirit of the living God to bless them with strength when they are weak and peace when their world is anything but peaceful. They will encounter things like illness, oppression, persecution, and death, but even in the face of those things they will live in the hope that some things are stronger than the evils of the world. Even stronger than illness, oppression, persecution, and death is the presence of God and the love of Christ. They’ll remember that in their moments of fear and grief, and it will be the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, who will remind them. They’ll remember, and so will we.
The term “helper” sounds like an overly simplistic descriptor of God, but the reality is that a “helper” is one who helps someone accomplish something that he cannot do for himself. Does that sound like something we need? Of course! If left to our own designs and our own judgment, we would be mired in an inescapable mess (and perhaps we already are). Scripture teaches us that we ourselves cannot overcome the limitations of our sinfulness. We are imperfect, flawed, and unfaithful human beings. The good news of the gospel, however, tells us that God doesn’t just sit back and let us try to climb up to him. No, God comes down to us in Jesus Christ. God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. God helps us.
If the Holy Spirit is a “helper” to us, then the saving grace of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not something bound to the years of Jesus’ earthly life. Instead, it is something that continues in the lives of his followers. Even now, God is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves, and helping us to accomplish far more in ministry than we are able to accomplish by ourselves. Whatever successes or accomplishments we see in ministry, we owe to the help of God’s Holy Spirit.
An “advocate” is one who speaks on behalf of the accused in a courtroom setting. In fact, the term “counselor” invokes an image of a defendant receiving legal counsel as well. The courtroom setting is one that appears throughout scripture in connection with God’s judgment. By using this term, Jesus is suggesting that his followers will find themselves playing the role of the accused, the defendant, more often than not. In an earthly sense, they will be the targets of persecution because of their faith. In a cosmic sense, the day will come when they and all people will be judged by God. In both scenarios, the image of an Advocate or Counselor reminds us that the followers of Jesus will not be alone. They will have someone on their side, taking up their case and defending them. John Calvin famously envisioned a grand courtroom as the setting for the final judgment, and described that moment in which we accused sinners enter the courtroom with our heads down, knowing beyond all doubt that we have fallen short and will be sentenced harshly. However, when we take our place at the center of the courtroom and look up to the judge, we see something remarkable. The judge is… the Redeemer! It is Jesus Christ himself who judges us, and the sentence we receive depends not on our faithfulness but on his. Now to this image add the notion of a Holy Advocate, defending us and pleading our case. It is as if the deck has been stacked enormously in our favor.
A Final Word: Breath
It’s difficult to read this passage from John 14 without thinking ahead to John 20, which reads:
After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’
This is the moment at which the disciples receive the Holy Spirit/Comforter/Helper/Advocate/Counselor, and it comes in the form of breath. This is the same breath that hovered over the waters, the formless void, at the moment of creation. This is the same breath that blew through the windows and doors on the day of Pentecost, fanning the tongues of flame poised above the disciples’ heads. This is the same breath through which God speaks new things into being. It’s the breath of which we are reminded when we ourselves breathe together as we sing and pray.
When we sing hymns, we sing the same words together. We pause to take breaths at the same moments. We breathe out words praising God, thanking God, singing the good news.
We use our breaths to pray together, forming words and phrases that ask God for forgiveness, for strength, for comfort. We speak the words of the Lords’ Prayer, and our breaths are transformed into a remembrance of Jesus saying that prayer and teaching it to his disciples. When we say it together we are speaking powerful words that are much more than words, because Jesus has prayed that prayer… with his own breath. And then we also pray in silence, letting only our breaths speak what is inside our hearts.
We use our breaths to read scripture. Through our breath the Word of God becomes audible. It can be read in a loud and booming voice in front of a congregation, or it can be whispered at the bed of a child. God speaks to us and to other people through our breaths.
We breathe together in countless other ways – laughing together as we share our joys, and sobbing together when we share our pains. Whatever we do, we do it together. No one will be left crying alone, or laughing alone. No one will be left singing alone, or praying alone. No, God intends us to live in community, sharing our lives together, sharing our very breaths!
This is Pentecost! As we live and breathe together, God is breathing new life into us and into our broken world.
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First Look is a weekly commentary on the upcoming gospel lectionary text written by Rev. Lee A. Koontz. It is usually published on Mondays.