The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - May 21, 2017
Scripture Reading: John 14: 15-21
Sermon Title: The Advocate

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     Just like the reading from last week, this one was taken from Jesus’ farewell speech.  It is the night before he is killed, he has told his disciples what is going to happen and last week told them not to worry, or don’t let your hearts be bothered because Jesus is going to prepare a place for them in his father’s house.  
We ended last week by learning that when we can see Jesus, we know what God looks like, but more important when we see people following Jesus’ example, we know what God is about.  But now we come to the third part of the trinity, the spirit, the advocate, the Holy Ghost. 

     Let me be honest, for me, the Spirit is the hardest part of the trinity to relate to.  God is often described as Father, or Parent, all knowing, all seeing, so hard, but at least I can imagine God as a parent.  A parent cares about me, wants to be in relationship with me, not always a smooth relationship, but still in a relationship with me.  As a child I don’t always do what my parents wish I would do, but I still love them and they still love me. 

     And Jesus, friend, brother.  Also an image that I can relate to.  I don’t have a biological brother, but I can imagine someone, maybe a little bit older than I am, telling me what I can expect, teaching me the best way to do things.  And Jesus was a great teacher.  Kind of like the parent, sometimes I have to figure out things on my own.  But when I really look at situations, doing it the way that Jesus shows me is probably the best way.

     But now we come to the Spirit.  The Greek for this word is paracletos, often translated as “Advocate” but can have several overlapping meanings. It 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.”

     John tells us that Jesus says another advocate will come to them.  This next advocate is what we call the Spirit.  The advocate that has been with them is Jesus. 

     Last week the question was asked “What does God look like.”  This week the question for us is “What does the spirit look like?”  This is probably a harder question.  Jesus said that since his disciples knew what he looked like, they also knew what God looked like.  So what does the spirit look like?

     We had two descriptions of the spirit.  John describes the spirit like a “freely blowing breeze.” (John 3), and the author of Acts describes the spirit as tongues of fire (Acts 2).  I like freely blowing breeze, you cannot see a breeze, but you can see its action upon other things.  Leaves flutter, water ripples, you can feel it, cool, refreshing. 

     Tongues of fire, I don’t like as much.  I tend to think of the destructive nature of fire.  But fire also keeps us warm in the winter.  Inside your furnace, your oil or gas is burning to produce heat.  The filament in our lightbulbs are almost burning, just will not produce a flame because there is no air.  Fire also is very important for some plants to survive.  Some pine trees produce cones that are sealed shut with a waxy substance, will only open up and release its seeds after being exposed to high temperatures.  In many areas of the country they do prescribed burning, gets rid of the undergrowth, and allows new plants to grow.  Also gets rid of the extra fuel load, so when it is really dry and an uncontrolled fire comes through,  there is less to burn, the fire will be cooler and easier to control. 

     Maybe the spirit works sometimes in the same way.  Maybe the image of fire is intentional because there are some things that we all need to get rid of in our lives.  Maybe the spirit can clean out the undergrowth and the extra fuel load.  Maybe the spirit will lessen these things so when big things hit us they are not as bad, and easier for us to control.

     But I really wanted to focus on the image of advocate.  Buried deep in one of our state laws, there is a piece that says that every business over a certain number of employees, must have a safety committee.  This came up when I was working for the New Hampshire Conference.  We were right at the edge of needing one, but I think our insurance company pointed out that we should have one.  We read the law and it spelled out how many people needed to be on it, how often you had to meet, what you were to do during your meetings, and who needed to be on it.  One of the requirements was an employee advocate.  Since our office was so small, it was just two of us, and both of us were kind of the employee advocates.  I believe the idea was that you might have a factory, with 10 people on a safety committee.  One of the employee advocates might point out that it gets really hot during the summer, and workers are making mistakes because they are too hot.  They would be responsible for speaking up. 

     Now in our office, there were only 7 employees.  We were working in a newer climate controlled building, doing office type work.  So really there was not a lot of advocating to do, but we met quarterly, took notes on our meetings, and would address something if anything ever came up. 

     But I think that there are other places in which we have all acted as advocates, even if we didn’t see it that way.  Most of us have, at some point, had someone in the hospital we cared about.  Hospitals are busy places, and sometimes the nurses are overworked and things might get overlooked.  It is 7:00 at night and my diabetic mother got her insulin 2 hours ago, but has not gotten anything to eat yet.  My father was allowed to get some pain meds an hour ago, really wants them, but nobody has been in to get them for him yet. 

     Even as a church, right now some of our members are talking about serving a meal for the homeless in Keene.  If I have been following the emails right, there are meals available to them every day except for Saturday, so some of our members have volunteered to bring in a meal on Saturday.  We are advocating for the homeless through our actions.  We have all written letters, or emails, or called our representatives about something that we support or object to.  We show up to a town meeting to discuss issues, we vote in elections. 

     So maybe God’s spirit, looks like you or me.  When we stand up and say that we need to welcome the stranger, or feed the hungry, or do any of the advocating that Jesus called us to do, we look like the spirit, because the spirit of God is in us. 

     The spirit of God is also around us. This last Thursday I attended a workshop for interim ministers.  The topic was creating liturgies for times of transition, such as when you have an interim minister.  You may see some of these things come up in the next few months.  In our last exercise, we were talking about Pentecost.  This is coming up in a few weeks, and we call it the birthday of the church.  The lectionary for that day is often Acts 2, when the disciples were gathered, and tongues of fire came and touched each of them.  So we got to talk about how we might represent the Spirit of God in words and visuals.  We had a projector on, and there was a candle on the front table, below the screen, so you could just see the top of the candle casting a shadow.  It was not planned that way, but all of us started to see that the heat from the candle was distorting the light on the screen.  The flame did not cast a shadow, but as the heat from the candle was going up, you could see waves on the image, where the heat was raising up. 

     Although many of us saw it, it was a few minutes before someone spoke up.  They pointed at the screen and said “that maybe a very accurate visual symbol of the Spirit.”  It was there before the projector was turned on.  As soon as the candle was lit, it was producing that little trail of heat, going straight up, and then curling down and around as the air moved in the room.  But nobody could see it until the projector was turned on. 

     Some weeks I have given you something to think about during the week, and I would like to do that again this week.  We have 3 different images of what the Spirit may look like.  A gentle breeze, something you would not see, but you can see its action on other things, or might even feel.  We have tongues of fire, which can be comforting, giving us heat and light, helpful in maybe cleaning unneeded things out of our lives, but also could be destructive, or at least seem destructive at the  time.  And now we have the advocate, the one who comes along side.  But these are often hard to see unless you have the right light to see them in.  

     I would encourage you to look for the spirit this week, both in yourself and around you.  When do you feel the spirit, when has the spirit in another been an advocate for you?  When have you acted with the spirit inside of you to be an advocate for others?  And feel free to let me know.  Seriously.  I don’t need a phone call at 3:00 in the morning, but send me a text, drop me an email, post it on our churches facebook page, write it on a piece of paper and drop it into the offering plate next week. 

     I will also be looking for the Spirit this week, because I honestly do not always recognize it.  Maybe between now and Pentecost, we will all have some experience of the Spirit, so on Pentecost when the service is centered around the spirit, you will be able to say “Yes, I know what the spirit it, I have seen it in my neighbor.”