John 14:15-21 NRSV“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.
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.
Evil. What is it? Does it have a name? Does it have a face? Whether or not we believe in physical evil our collective understanding does give evil a name, and a face. Some call this character Beelzebub; others use the term devil while still others say Satan. Even early versions of the fairy tale Rumplestiltskin made the repulsive little man pure evil with multiple versions naming the creature the local name for “devil.” It seems our imaginations are much more creative when personifying this character. Besides the obvious view of the devil as a red creature with a pitchfork, pointy tail, and horns, we also have movies where the devil is a child, a normal man, a bald lady, and even a sexy woman. If you ever visit North Carolina there is a place named The Devil’s Courthouse. It is a location, believed by local legend, where the devil holds court to decide the fate of human souls.
Now I try to keep from personalizing evil. I think it mainly takes away from our accountability to only focus on the personification of evil. If there is a devil out in the world trying to turn us from God we still have the freewill to listen or to turn away. This, ‘the devil made me do it,’ mentality only means something if we lack the freewill. Also, we have to be more intentional about giving and taking credit where it is due. Sometimes life is about calling someone out when they make a mistake or do something intentionally wrong, even if that person turns out to be ourselves. A devil has no power over a person who does the right thing to begin with.
So I don’t like personifying evil but I have to do it today to make my point about scripture. (Life is like that sometimes.) I turn my attention to one of the earliest biblical representations of evil: Satan. A few of you might know where I am going with this. The book of Job introduces Satan as ‘a man who walks to and from the earth’ looking for humans to accuse. The name itself, Satan, is Hebrew. It is pronounced Say-tawn. It actually means accuser. The name has legalistic ramifications. This makes sense in light of the whole book of Job because Job in many ways is a legalistic book. Continually throughout the scripture Job wants to bring God to court. Job wants to rightfully defend himself. Yet, there is a problem. Or actually, there is a realization. Job understands there is no possible way to defend yourself against God. Who wins every time: the all-knowing all-encompassing creator of heaven and earth, or a human? God hands down. Not to mention the accuser, Satan, is basically the prosecutor. In this scenario it is impossible to win because the prosecution has four star legal support while you only have you, trying to defend yourself.
OK, putting all that aside for a moment, Jesus introduces an idea to the disciples: the spirit of God. Now the Spirit was not a new realization for the time. The Spirit breathed over the waters in Creation. The Spirit dwelt in the prophets and with the Israelites. It might not have been a really radical idea for Jesus to remind the disciples the Spirit was going to be present after he was gone. It’s just; the diversity of the spirit following Jesus is a radical transformation from Old Testament understandings.
First there is the elemental concept of Spirit. In the Old Testament this was mostly understood as breath or wind. The word for spirit in Hebrew is ruach, which literally translates as breath. How does the spirit dwell among and in the people in the New Testament? Of course we can also say breath as Jesus literally breathes the spirit on the disciples. But, it is so much more complex than that. The Spirit can be seen as water as we look at the baptism. The Spirit can be seen as fire as it lit upon the heads of the followers in Acts. All three are life giving and destructive forces in their own right. It also expands how we can see God in nature and ultimately our lives. Wind-fire-water.
Second, the New Testament expands this idea that the spirit will draw us together. It makes me think of one of my favorite hymns, They Will Know We are Christians. The first line of the song reads “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.” This unifying nature of the Spirit is amplified by the connection it has to Jesus. What used to be termed, almost solely, Spirit of God is also labeled Spirit of Christ and Spirit of the Lord in the New Testament. It gets pretty specific in Galatians which names the Spirit the Spirit of the Son. We are unified in Christ through the Holy Spirit.
Thirdly, and what is going to bring this sermon back around again, is the legalistic introduction of the Spirit in the New Testament. The word Jesus uses to describe the other, or the Spirit, is Paraclete. In Greek it literally means “called to the side of.” Different versions of the bible choose different English words to define Paraclete. The NIV uses Counselor, while KJV uses comforter. The NRSV uses advocate. The most recent translation, the Common English Bible, chooses to define the word as companion. It’s not an easy Greek word to define. I am going to lean towards the NRSV use of Advocate. I tend to move in this direction because Paraclete has clear legal history behind it. Advocate sounds like a legal term. By definition it means a person who pleads the cause of another in a court of law. Advocate is the legal term for someone who is called to the side of another. In my mind, it fits perfectly. The Spirit that Jesus is going to send, in short hand, is our defense attorney.
When the disciples discovered Jesus was going to leave them they did not want to know about fire, water, or air. They were not terribly concerned about their personal unity within the group. They wanted to know they were not going to fight the fight alone. Evil, in whatever form it takes usually seems to have the higher ground, the bigger guns, and the better offense. The disciples knew what was coming their way because they saw what happened to Jesus. They were scared and they were about to embark into their ultimate human trial. They feared they would be doing it alone while the other side had four star accusers.
Jesus introduces the Spirit in a new way as a counselor, a companion and a comforter. But, most importantly, Jesus introduces the Spirit as a reminder that the disciples would not be fighting alone. God was with them and was their advocate.
Today, we do not have to do the work alone. As Jesus said prior to this scripture, he will bless any endeavor done his name. Part of the way those endeavors will be blessed is through the Holy Spirit. We have the best defense attorney out there standing behind us! And, with God standing with us, what in the world could we possibly fall for? Nothing.