“Advocates of Love”
15”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This 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. 18”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They 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.” (John 14:15-21, NRSV)
My friends Meg and Susie know what it’s like to be an advocate. Meg, an ordained Baptist minister, and her wife, Susie, made the decision a little over four years ago to become foster parents. Living in Columbus, Georgia and working for years in ministries and organizations that serve Georgia’s most neglected, Meg and Susie know firsthand what it’s like to come alongside others in life. Their decision to begin the foster parent process was not as much a decision as it was a shared calling in their marriage. I have been following my friends and their foster parenting journey from the beginning. In the last five years they fostered more than five children of different genders, backgrounds and ethnicities. Within the last year, Meg and Susie were able to finalize the adoption of their daughter, Sam, the first child ever placed in their care, at only a few months old. Currently, their family is made up of Sam, their four-year- old, and two foster children, ages 3 and 1. Their days are filled with court appearances, in-home evaluations and countless meetings. Their home is filled with baby gear, toddler toys and baby dolls galore. Meg and Susie know what it is like to be advocates of love.
In our scripture lesson this morning, Jesus reminds us that we too have an advocate, working, leading and guiding us in the midst of our lives. The Easter story continues as Jesus appears to his disciples in the days leading up to his ascension. For many of us, and perhaps even so for the disciples, we find ourselves asking in regard to our journey with Jesus, “now what?” Jesus’ words in John shed insight into the world of the Spirit that is to come. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus alludes to a spiritual helper or guide. The night of the Last Supper, Jesus speaks words of comfort and assurance to his disciples as they wait with him amidst anxiety and fear. In John, Jesus first promises the Holy Spirit as a gift of his continuing presence. In the beginning of John’s narrative, we recall the story of Jesus’ baptism, where the Holy Spirit is described as descending in the form of a dove, signifying him to John the Baptist as the son of God. In John chapter 3, we meet Nicodemus and we learn that it is not only possible, but crucial to be born not only of water but of the Spirit. In Jesus’ last words to his disciples, the Spirit is promised and as one theologian suggests, “Jesus expands on the implications of such a gift. [In the gospel accounts] we learn that the Spirit abides with and within us forever; is a teacher; is one who works on the memory, reminding us of what Jesus has said; is an advocate with the Father, a comforter, a helper; testifies on Jesus’ behalf; proceeds from the Father; guides into all truth; and is a mediator of words from the [God] declaring what will come.”
Jesus’ words today lay the groundwork for the coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives. Like the disciples, we too are assured that we will never be alone, for a helper, an advocate is to come. Jesus proclaims, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” Jesus says “another” advocate, indicating that he in fact is the first. But there is “One” that is to come and will never leave us abandoned. The Greek word for advocate in this passage is “paracletos” and can be interpreted several different ways. New Testament scholar David Lose writes, “[Advocate] can function in a legal sense, meaning literally one who advocates for you before a court of law. And it can function more relationally by designating one who brings help, consolation, comfort, and encouragement. All of these however, derive from the most basic meaning of the word to “come along side another.”
Growing up Southern Baptist, references to the Holy Spirit were sporadic at best. We mostly stuck to Jesus and his teachings, the Old Testament classics and the story of the resurrection. This Spirit of God was mysterious and even foreign for we mainline Protestants. My Pentecostal and Holiness friends however, seemed to slip in casual references to the Holy Spirit on a daily basis – even at the lunch table. They spoke of this “Spirit” in ways that caused me to wonder if I was somehow less faithful. I wondered what it meant to listen to the Spirit of God, like they would suggest. How would I know what it sounds like? How would I know what it looks like? How would I let it come alongside me and offer direction?
Eugene Peterson’s translation of Jesus’ words states, “This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you. I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive.”
God’s Spirit of Truth is an advocate of love. God’s Spirit of Truth looks a lot like lives overflowing with gratitude. God’s Spirit of Truth looks like loving our neighbor as ourselves. God’s Spirit of Truth looks like caring more about people than things in our lives. God’s Spirit of Truth looks like setting down our phones and turning our gaze to the ones beckoning for our attention and love. God’s Spirit of Truth looks like engaging with others that are different from us and allowing their stories to transform us into people of compassion. God’s Spirit of Truth looks like a subtle “hmm, well that’s a strange coincidence” during moments in our life. God’s Holy Spirit looks like a change of heart and sometimes perhaps a change of life direction. God’s Spirit of Truth looks like courage to start a conversation that alters someone’s life. God Spirit of Truth looks at times like a deep knowing from within. A knowing of assurance. A knowing of belonging. A knowing of peace that all shall be well.
Shannon Schaefer, a spiritual writer and author expands on this notion of the Spirit of God as she writes, “To receive means to abide together in devotion to one another and God, to lean into this power in reliance, and allow ourselves to be moved in and through, conduits of the presence of God. But perhaps as part of that act of receiving, we might also be moved to gratitude, wonder, and even awe… We are no longer strangers, but friends; no longer orphans, but chosen children; no longer individuals, but knitted together as one body, taken up into the body of God in Jesus by the Spirit.”
God’s Spirit comes alongside us amidst the vast experiences of our lives. It says to us, we are not alone. It says to us, I am here to help and I will never leave you orphaned. It says to us, I am here to guide, encourage, give wisdom, and direct you deeper into abundance – deeper into love.
Thirteenth century Persian poet, Rumi describes the essence of the Spirit of God as he once wrote:
There is a glory that breathes life back
in a corpse and brings strangers together
as friends. Call that one back who fills
the held-out robe of a thornbush with
flowers, who clears muddied minds, who
gives a two-day-old infant wisdom beyond
anyone’s learning. “What baby?” you ask.
There is a fountain, a passion circulating.
I’m not saying this well, because I’m too
much in the scatterbrain sweetness. Listen
anyway. It must be said. There are eyes
that see into eternity. A presence beyond
the power and magic of shamans. Let that
in. Sink to the floor, full prostration.
In the way that my friends, Meg and Susie, serve as advocates of love, God’s Spirit of Truth guides us into intentional living and lives of purpose. The Spirit of Truth comes alongside us and like Rumi notes, “helps us to see into eternity.”
My friend Meg started a blog more than six years ago. Her blog entitled, “roomfortheunimaginable” states Mary Oliver’s infamous quote at the top of her page. “Leave some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” On this blog, Meg has shared ways in which God’s Spirit of Truth has led her and Susie to unimaginable places of abundance and joy. It is on her blog that she gives witness to the lives of the children that they have loved and served as advocates for. It is here in this blog space that she has so beautifully articulated each child’s unique journey. Recently she posted the following as she shared the good news of Sam’s adoption with the world. Meg writes, “We knew that when your adoption happened we wanted to have a big party so we could all celebrate together. One of things I wanted out of the party was a picture of your whole village together and we got one! After Rev. Grace offered a blessing for our family and gave others a chance to voice their blessings – we shuffled everyone to the stage and gathered for a picture. I was delighted that everyone played along – but of course they would – you have the best village! There were lots of people who wanted to be with us that afternoon to celebrate and couldn’t be, but I wanted to tell you now who was there and who the people are in this picture. I want you to always know who they are and why they matter to our family.
Most of all know that love looks like all kinds of things and all kinds of people. We need to make sure that we always have people around us with different gifts and knowledge and experiences. Looking for those things in others and sharing those things that we have with others makes life so much richer. [Your mom] and I believe that it really does take a village to raise a child. We are grateful for the villages that raised us and the village that is forming to raise you. Look at these faces, kid. They are your village. You’ll add people to this group as you grow and we will add some people too, but these are the people who celebrate you now and celebrate our family. Learn from them. Pay attention to them. Know them and listen to them. The world is a better place because they are all here and you’ll be a better person because each of them is in your village.”
Church family, go now that we might be led by God’s Spirit of Truth. Might we leave room in our hearts for the unimaginable? Might we sense a power beyond our knowing? Let us go now to listen to the gentle nudges of God’s spirit that we too might become advocates of love. AMEN.
Holy God, we come together to worship, a people who would like to think that we love you with all our hearts and souls, with all our might, but there are so many other things in our lives that clamor for our attention.
Loving God we want to be the ones in whom you live and move and have our being.
We really do want to hear your voice above all of the other voices in our lives.
But we get bogged down in the daily routine.
We forget who we are.
We forget who you are.
We forget what the church is supposed to be.
May your spirit make itself known to us, that you would help us to recognize the presence of the Holy, that you would continue to challenge us, inspire us, and make us into the people you want us to be.
Prepare us now in this time of worship and reflection. May your spirit guide us and give evidence of the places in our lives that need mending.
We ask these things in the name of Christ, who came so that we might have life,
Adapted from a prayer by Katie Cook, in Sacred Seasons.
 Schaefer, Shannon; www.ekklesiaproject.org
 Lose, David; President. Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (workingpreacher.org.)
 Schaefer,Shannon; http://www.ekklesiaproject.org
 “Scatterbrain Sweetness” in The Soul of Rumi, Barks, Coleman, ed.