The One Who Comes Alongside
Readings: Amos 5:21-24, John 14: 8-20, 25-27, True Christianity 138 (see below)
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We continue in John’s version of the Last Supper, as we have for the last couple of weeks. Again, the 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 or 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. It is 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 Action, as we heard in our reading today.
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 recall that the greek word for spirit is pneuma, meaning breath, reminding us of the way that God breathed spirit into the first human being in the book of Genesis.
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. And so, the spirit is not new. The spirit is naturalized in creation, in our creation. In the John 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, and helper. That the spirit is a part of the sacred reinforcing circle that is the trinity.
But, we also remember that the disciples were moving forward into a new story. They were not going to return to their previous lives as fishermen, they were going to lead a new movement, and this would be challenging and dangerous work. Which means that the Holy Spirit was going to be an active force alongside them.
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.” Even as an important function of the spirit was and is presence and comfort, so too a function of the spirit was and is to move 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 and new action. The Holy Spirit as it is with us now becomes the re-interpreter of Jesus’ words, the great contextualizer of divine truth (1), 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.
And so in this active way, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, is present with us to teach and to remind. We heard in our Swedenborg reading that “the divine actions and powerful effects [of the Holy Spirit] also include the acts of renewing us, bringing us to life, sanctifying us, and making us just.” The Advocate sent to defend and support each of us individually, will naturally, necessarily, call us to defend and support others. To be the one who comes alongside others.
And this is needed so desperately. My favorite cartoonist posted something recently that used the term “life ache.” How real that is. The recent shootings in the last two weeks, first in Buffalo and then at an elementary school in Texas, shred our hearts apart because of the innocent lives that were lost. There were and continue to be, on the ground, many who have come alongside, to tend to the wounds and to the grief. Such an important ministry. But being at a distance does not absolve us from coming alongside as well, in different ways. What might these ways be? The Holy Spirit also serves to remind us of what God has said. Like this famous passage in Amos we heard earlier:
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:21-24)
Listen now to this adaption of the same verses from the minister Emily Elizabeth Ewing(2):
"I hate, I despise your vigils,
and I take no delight in your school shooter drills.
Even though you offer me your thoughts and prayers,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your collection plates
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your lament;
I will not listen to the melody of your tears.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."
- an adaptation of Amos 5:21-24
This is the Holy Spirit, heard in this moment as the great contextualizer of truth, the force that takes these ancient words and uses them to reveal to us a truth about our current circumstances. Such truth is not easy to hear. Sometimes the coming alongside for the Holy Spirit will be comfort, but if it is also to teach and remind then sometimes it will need to be a rebuke, sometimes it will need to be a call to action. And this will likely make us feel very uncomfortable, overwhelmed, afraid, and uncertain. This is to be expected. We heard in our Swedenborg reading that another function of the holy spirit is to purify us, to help us to act when we are afraid and to keep going when we are despairing.
We need this, we need this holy balance. The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, both the one who consoles us and defends us, and the one who pleads another’s case to us. In John, we hear Jesus saying “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.” As we recognize the inherent responsibility in accepting and engaging with the Holy Spirit, we can hear this not only as Jesus speaking to us, but to the people who we can serve and defend. I will come to you. I will send another comforter; this allos, this another of the same sort, it can be us as well…we too can strive to live forward God’s love, and Jesus’ courage.
I Love Jesus final words in this text; 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. I don’t know about you but to me these words seem comforting but also tricky. There is a caveat sandwiched in there. I do not give to you as the world gives. Of course, not, Jesus gave as Jesus was and is. We might want an external peace, we might want only the comforter part, but that is not the whole of who God is; God speaks truth when it needs to be spoken. And so the Holy Spirit too draws us toward holy action that needs to occur in the service of others.
21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
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.
True Christianity 138
Chapter 3: The Holy Spirit and the Divine Action
UPON entering the spiritual world, which generally happens on the third day after death, all…who have developed a just idea of the Lord our Savior are first taught about the divine Trinity. They are specifically taught that the Holy Spirit is not a separate God; the Word uses the phrase to mean the divine action that radiates from the one omnipresent God.
1. The Holy Spirit is the divine truth and also the divine action and effect that radiate from the one God, in whom the divine Trinity exists: the Lord God the Savior.
2. Generally speaking, the divine actions and powerful effects meant by the Holy Spirit are the acts of reforming and regenerating us. Depending on the outcome of this reformation and regeneration, the divine actions and powerful effects also include the acts of renewing us, bringing us to life, sanctifying us, and making us just; and depending on the outcome of these in turn, the divine actions and powerful effects also include the acts of purifying us from evils, forgiving our sins, and ultimately saving us….The Lord has these powerful effects on those who believe in him.
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