The One Who Comes Alongside
Readings: Genesis 2:1-7, John 14:8-20, 25-27, Divine Providence #324:1a, 2 (see below)
Often times, on Pentecost, (a day of celebration of the Holy Spirit) we will read a passage from Acts. Something like:
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
This is why we often wear red for Pentecost, in line with this ancient image of the Holy Spirit as fire. However, the lectionary this year also gives our reading from John as an option. It is very different in tone from the public mayhem of the Acts reading. Like last week, with Jesus’ prayer for unity, this scene is intimate. Jesus is talking with his disciples during their last meal together. They are grappling with the knowledge that Jesus will be leaving them and so Jesus tries to comfort them. He tells them: “you know the way to the place where I am going.”(14:4) They have been through a lot together, and Jesus believes in them, even as he knows the road will be challenging.
As with anyone who we love who is leaving us, in small and larger ways, we want to know something about how we will stay in contact. When my daughter leaves for a sleepover with a friend, I tell to her bring her phone in case she needs to text me. When I leave my brother in Australia, we promise that we will Skype. When we can’t be there for a friend at an event, we tell them that we will be there in spirit. Likewise, the disciples want to know how Jesus will remain present to them after he is gone.
So Jesus starts to speak to them about it. He invokes something called the paraclete, from the word in greek: parakletos (par-rah-clay-tus). This word is variously translated as advocate, helper, counselor, comforter, consoler, intercessor. It was a word used in those days to mean someone who represented you in court, one who pleads another’s cause, and more broadly it meant anyone who helps of assists. It literally means “one who comes alongside,” from the greek para, meaning beside or near, and kletos, meaning one who is invited or appointed.
This is what Jesus will leave the disciples with: the knowledge that there will still be something or someone walking alongside the them in their continuing journey. What exactly will that be? The gospel here calls it The Spirit of Truth, and later The Holy Spirit. The third part of what is known theologically as the Trinity.
Christian Theologians have argued throughout the ages about the three-fold nature of the divine: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Some make a very clear separation between the different divine figures and treat them essentially as different people, in action if not in thought. Swedenborgianism, or the New Church, however, teaches a strict monotheism; that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit represent three different aspects of God’s nature: Divine Love, Divine Truth and Divine Outreach or Use.
Now it is easy to see why some trinitarian theologies lean towards distinct persons. Jesus does often speak to “The Father” as if separate, and does speak of the Holy Spirit in these terms: “I will send another comforter to help you…” This certainly sounds separate. But there are two kinds of words in greek that mean “another”: allos, meaning another of the same sort and hetero, meaning another of a different quality or kind. This verse, verse 16, uses allos, meaning another of the same kind. There is a clear continuity implied. Now, with our own temporal human minds, we mark our lives through beginnings and endings. To the disciples, Jesus was leaving and something would need to replace him. To human beings, that’s the way it works, that is our experience. In God’s time however…this replacement, this holy spirit, was and could only be, that which has always been.
We are see this right from the beginning. The spirit of truth in the greek is pneuma aletheia. In a sense that is lost to English translations, pneuma means not only spirit, but also breath, or wind. The use of this word recalls the breath of life breathed into us by God in Genesis. “Then the Lord formed a human from the dust of the ground and breathed into the human’s nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living being.” (Gen 2:7) The breath gave life, and with that breath came movement, lungs expanding and contracting, the flow of air, the absorption of oxygen. Likewise, that sacred breath, the spirit of truth, continues and contains the movement and flow of our own spiritual journeys. Our hearts and minds expand and contract, we are challenged, we are inspired, we spiral upwards, two steps forward one step back, the flow of life taking us along, in-breath, out-breath. The holiness and the diligence of the spirit comes alongside and within us, breathing us into new realities and perspectives.
So although Jesus brings his disciples’ attention to the spirit in the moment that they understand that he is leaving them; the spirit has always been there, layered intrinsically into the very moment of our creation and the very movement of our life. We read in Swedenborg’s book, Divine Providence:
Everyone is created to live forever. Everyone is created to live forever in a blessed state. This means everyone is created to go to heaven. Divine Love cannot do otherwise than intend this and divine wisdom cannot do otherwise than provide for this.(1)
All people are created for heaven. This is the purpose of the spirit bringing us life, and purpose of the spirit attending to our journeys, the one who comes alongside. Thus Jesus says: “I will not leave you as orphans…I will come to you.” The Divine is incapable to leaving us. The moment God created us, it sealed us and God together, as our life is composed of God’s breath, our spirit a gift of God’s outpouring.
As we heard in our reading, God could not create anything less intimate. Divine Love could not and would not create playthings, create human beings for amusement, to be enjoyed at a distance. Divine Love could only create that which could continue to accept love to eternity, and moreover that which could learn to recognize and reciprocate love. Divine love could only create that which has the potential to increase ever more blessedness.
From our reading:
What divine purpose would there be in all these changes unless they were serving subjects who would accept something divine more intimately, who would see and sense it?
Of course Jesus would not leave us with nothing, no connection to him. The purpose of our creation is so that we might have an intimate, seen and sensed relationship with God. But, the spirit is not new. The spirit is naturalized in creation, in our creation. In this moment, in our text, Jesus is lifting up what has always been true, that the spirit comes alongside, that the spirit is breath and life. That the spirit is an advocate, counselor, comforter, helper. That the spirit is a part of the sacred reinforcing circle that is the trinity.
The trinity: God placing the holy spirit, the holy breath, within our creation, so that we might come to know our belovedness and our destiny. Jesus, revealing to us what God is up to, how God will never stop reaching for us. The Holy Spirit reminding us how Jesus showed up, and that love is for living. The trinity is a dynamic interplay between the ways that God has made provision for us, the ways that God wants to love us, the ways God calls us to respond.
From verse 25: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” As breath moves us forward in life, one inhalation at a time, so the spirit moves us forward in the living of our life, reminding us what is important, reminding us of our grounding in God, urging us onward into new truths, new perspectives, new insights. The Holy Spirit as it is with us now becomes the re-interpreter of Jesus’ words, the great contextualizer of divine truth (2), the maker of usefulness and meaning, application and growth, so that Jesus’ life can be ongoing in the here and now. So that we can realize love in the everyday, so that we can accept and engage with the breath of life.
Now, the sad reality is that sometimes we will want to opt out this amazing opportunity that God has set up for us….some of us will refuse heaven, refuse the blessedness that God offers because it requires the loss of ego, requires making space for being open and being wrong, requires sacrifice. But that doesn’t change the fact that God still comes alongside. “Divinity, though, gives what truly is, or what does not cease to be.”
The Father creates, the Son comes, the Spirit contextualizes. The Creator loves, the Redeemer reaches, the Comforter reminds. May we all choose to consciously participate in this sacred process, and this sacred gift.
(1) Divine Providence #324
1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. 2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. 4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the LORD God made the earth and the heavens. 5 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, 6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. 7 Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
John 14:8-20, 25-27
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. 15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Divine Providence #324:1a, 2
(a) Everyone is created to live forever.  What would the Lord have been doing with all this creating of a universe if he had not made images and likenesses of himself with whom he could share his divine nature? Otherwise, it would only have been making something so that it existed and [then] did not exist, or so that it happened and did not happen, and doing this only so that he could simply watch its permutations from far away, watch its ceaseless changes like something happening on a stage. What divine purpose would there be in all these changes unless they were serving subjects who would accept something divine more intimately, who would see and sense it? Since Divinity has inexhaustible splendor, would it simply keep it all to itself? Could it keep it all to itself? Love wants to share what it has with others, to give to others all that it can. What about divine love, then, which is infinite? Can it first give and then take back? Would this not be giving something that was bound to perish--that was intrinsically nothing, since it would become nothing when it perished? There is no real "is" involved in that. Divinity, though, gives what truly is, or what does not cease to be. This is what is eternal.
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