Sermon by Steve Hitchcock
May 17, 2020
Gospel: John 14: 15-23 (note additional verses)
I don’t if it’s a great irony or perhaps it’s a paradox, but in this year’s Easter Season, all of us have been stuck in one place, pretty much alone – while the Gospel readings for these eight weeks have taken us all over the place. And we keep going back and forth in time.
The second week of Easter, we were in the locked room with the disciples a week after Easter. Then, the third week we were back to Easter day, taking a walk to Emmaus and then rushing back to Jerusalem. For the fourth week, we went even further back to Galilee, just before Jesus started to Jerusalem, and we found ourselves in a kell or sheep paddock. Last week, we were gathered in a room for Jesus’ final meal with his disciples before his death, but all the talk seemed to be about heavenly dwelling places.
This week, our Gospel reading continues with the verse right after the last verse of last week’s Gospel. And the really startling news is not where we find ourselves, not where our dwelling place is. Rather, it is where God’s dwelling place is.
It turns out that God’s dwelling place is in Jesus, and because Jesus is our dwelling place, God dwells in us. The question of where home is – the question Ethan helped us wrestle with last week – is answered by the promise that God finds a home in us.
All this is possible because of the Spirit, which is the breath of life that Jesus breathed on the disciples in the locked room on Easter day – and that Jesus breathes on us today in our locked rooms. It is the Spirit of peace that we pass on to each other when are together on Sunday and which do virtually now.
In today’s Gospel, this Spirit is called the Paraclete, what the New Revised Standard Version translates as Advocate. Note, though, that this is another Advocate, another Paraclete. That’s because the first Paraclete, the first Advocate, was Jesus himself.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus isn’t an advocate because he’s an attorney, defending us before a divine judge. A legal or forensic view isn’t the good news John wants to recommend.
Rather, the Paraclete harks back to Moses and Isaiah when a Consoler or Comforter announces a way out of the wilderness. John is telling us that we are on the way – on a new Exodus – to that dwelling place announced in the first verses of John: the new tabernacle of God’s presence in the wilderness and darkness of our lives.
Of course, in John’s Gospel, that way takes us to the Cross. There, the First Paraclete lays down his life for the sheep. In freely giving up his life for us, Jesus acts out the self-giving love of the Father. As he is being lifted up on the cross, Jesus returns to the Father.
At this point, we might as well grapple with the thorny matter of all this Father-Son talk in John’s Gospel. With good reason, we are troubled by these exclusively male terms and patriarchal images. I know this language keeps some people from experiencing the grace and love at the heart of our Christian faith.
Perhaps we could talk about Mothers and Daughters, but both my wife and my daughter find that metaphor fraught with its own sore points. And Parent-Child sounds so anonymous, so nonspecific.
The reason for the Father-Son image is expressed in Hebrew 1:3, where it says that Jesus “is the exact imprint of God’s very being.” John’s first readers didn’t have microscopes and advanced knowledge of biology. They mistakenly assumed the male sperm was solely responsible for creating offspring. That’s why we hear in John’s Gospel that when you see Jesus, you see God. God’s self-giving love is passed on biologically to God’s offspring.
What makes all of this good news for us is that we have been adopted – or, as today’s Gospel states it, we are not orphans. We are part of God’s family and fully privileged siblings of the number one Child.
Jesus, the first Paraclete isn’t with us in the flesh. In fact, his disappearance was intentional; Jesus willing accepted death. But, by leaving the scene, Jesus made it possible for another Paraclete to get to work in our lives.
And the Paraclete has a lot to work with because we are talking about the Spirit of Truth. Beginning with the first chapter in John, Truth is all the good news that in the beginning the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word became flesh and dwelt – made its home among us – so that that we might be part of God’s new creation.
As we hear listen to those words of truth Sunday after Sunday, the Paraclete reminds, nudges, and – yes– cajoles us into believing that the Father and Son have found their home in us and that our home includes all the other children God has adopted because of Jesus: you, me, Ruth, Larry, and everyone else.
Yes, like small houses in Albany, it’s a crowded home, but it is full of love. Love that does not wear out or give up. Love that fills our loneliness, overcomes our fears, and conquers death. Love divine, all loves excelling. Amen.