The Advocate (July 31, 2022)

A uniform lesson for July 31, 2022.

Richard Boyce

Uniform Lesson for July 31, 2022
Scripture passage and lesson focus: John 14:15-29

We finish up our unit on the Word with a passage where the Word, who has accompanied the disciples thus far, promises to ask the Father for another person to accompany them once this Word departs. This partner/counselor/mentor is named the Advocate (paraclete, in Greek), and they will abide and travel with God’s people until the Word comes again. The other three Gospels refer to the Advocate as the Spirit. Now it’s time to unpack this term to understand the kind of creative peace this Advocate brings.

The Paraclete

Volumes have been written on this title for the Holy Spirit in John. Some point toward the adult coach or mentor whom Greek culture charged with guiding a young person toward adulthood. Others pick up the role of advocacy with the Father and push this term in the direction of a defense attorney who will plead the disciples’ cause moving forward. Surely this title must include some aspect of a teacher or coach: “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.”

Regardless of the best translation or metaphor, the relational nature of this Person is evident. As Jesus has been with these disciples in the flesh, so this Advocate will be with them in a deeply personal and communal sense. Indeed, if the Word came to dwell among us, this person will be sent to abide within us. While we Presbyterians may not talk a lot about the Holy Spirit, John makes clear that this person is the primary way in which God’s people will experience God’s presence from the time of Jesus’ ascension to the time of Jesus’ return. The creative power and presence of God, active in the creation of the world, is now also active within the bodies of God’s people, both individually and communally. We thus are being coached or mentored or trained to serve as embodied and creative advocates for the world.

The gift of peace

While today we may be most apt to hear these words from John at a Service of Witness to the Resurrection, following the death of someone we love, the peace the Advocate offers is broader and wider than the promise of eternal life for the deceased. Let’s remember the setting for this passage. Jesus is getting ready to depart from the disciples as he is first lifted up and glorified on the cross and then lifted up and glorified in his resurrection and ascension. This promise of an Advocate is meant to bring God’s people peace – not only after we die, but especially while we are still living – so that we might keep God’s commandments and love one another and God’s world until Jesus comes again. This is not primarily the peace that comes to God’s people when we sit in the sanctuary, momentarily freed from the trials and temptations of this world. No, this is the peace that comes from continuing to learn and grow as Jesus’ disciples in a way that continues and spreads God’s creative work in the world. Jesus goes so far, earlier in this chapter, to declare that these disciples will do “greater works” (John 14:12) than he has done. This is an active peace that continues the kind of creative, healing and saving work that the Word began in creation and continued in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This must be a peace with legs.

Journeying alongside

So we must close this unit by emphasizing the “para” in paraclete. It denotes a drawing-alongside and accompanying, a traveling-with, that must not be lost in translation. This portrait of our creative God is not the “Unmoved Mover” of some philosophies, the one who created and wound up a world and then left it to run on its own. Rather, this is a God who tabernacles and travels with God’s people all along the way. The God revealed in this Gospel is more like an embedded journalist than an objective reporter. God, in Jesus and in the Advocate, journeys with us. God’s people are meant to be a people on the move, a community on patrol, a traveling circus full of the creative and surprising Spirit of their Creator. Though it’s beyond the limits of our passage, note how Jesus concludes this section of his farewell address: “Rise, let us be on our way” (John 14:31). This is peace on the move.

For discussion:

How are we called to be a “church on wheels”?