Reading: John 14.15-21
Introductory words
Dear Folks all, another lengthy homily for you to read in bits over the coming week of
isolation. Analysing the Holy Spirit proved a challenge for me. We will go back to the usual
when the period of isolation lets us back to Church.
Clergy seem to be puzzled by the Third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. On this Sunday,
finding the topic too difficult to parse, analyse and paralyse, vicars usually leg-rope a locum,
reach for their golf-clubs and are away.
At his Last supper farewell meal, aware of his imminent arrest and execution, Jesus told his
disciple team he must leave them to return to Father God to prepare a place in heaven for
them all. His return would fulfil the whole godly plan for us and for our salvation. “Jesus said,
‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them
and make our home with them’” [John 14.23]. His women and men disciples were naturally
gloomy. They had been expecting Jesus somehow to overthrow Rome and to establish an
earthly kingdom. They could not understand why he would not do the equivalent of a Clive
Palmer and take out pages of a Jerusalem daily to shout out “Roll up! Roll up! I am the
Messiah.” Many had left homes and livelihoods to follow their Messiah. With him gone, so
might also be their source of income; he was the drawcard for donations, not they.
Jesus stressed the necessity for his going. At present and earth-bound, he was limited to one
place at the one time. Once risen from the dead, he could send down his Holy Spirit upon not
only the Holy Land, but the whole world, even as far away as a Terra Incognita, on as yet
unknown land that bore his name, Austrialia (sic) del Espiritu Santo, the South Land of the
Holy Spirit. From heaven, he could do greater works than possible if earth bound. The
separation, the anxiety, still made the team feel abandoned, left severely alone and
unsupported in a hostile anti-Christian world. At the Last Supper, what sounded like a
disturbing prospect of sad separation at his leaving, turned out to be the very best news for
his team and for us.
Homily
John 14 Verse 15: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Jesus was not speaking of holding fast to the Old testament Decalogue, all ten “Thou shalt
nots.” It may be a trifle difficult living near St. Philip’s today to find a prohibited ox or ass to
covet [Deuteronomy 5.21]. John continued the example in verse 21: “They who have my
commandments and keep them are those who love me.” Love is more than lovely words; it is
commitment and right conduct. Jesus was presenting new guidelines for his disciples, inviting
his hearers to check their ethical ideals, to willingly go the extra mile, to turn the other cheek,
to render to Caesar what was rightfully Caesar’s without demur. When we live by his
standards, he will never leave us, but will come to us; he will be in us, and will show himself
to us. We may have wrongly believed that we can only be loved if we are good. Jesus loves us
not because we are good, but, because he is good. In the degree that we answer his new call to
love in deeds as well as in speech towards God, our neighbour and life itself, will begin the
growth of eternal life in us. If we fail in love, we fail in all things else. Yet, sometimes, we are
like a group of porcupines on a cold night. Dearly, we would like to huddle together to get
warm. But, if we get too close, we get pricked. We are by nature, social. In the neo-natal room
at Cabrini Hospital, if one of the new-borns cries, all the babies cry. So, the staff plays a
recording of a mother’s heart beat: “Boom, boom.” The babies feel secure and the crying
stops. This is the comfort that the Spirit brings.
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Verse 16: “I will ask the Father and he will give you another advocate.”
This is not a fleshly assistant. In real life, an advocate is a counsel who assists the defence by
offering evidence to help in a court of law. Risen Jesus will defend us by sending the Holy
Spirit to be our advocate. An advocate is many varieties of helper; a comforter, encourager,
intercessor, mediator, protector, supporter. Jesus is our first advocate. He asks the Father to
send “another advocate.” Who is this? It must be the Holy Spirit of truth, the very presence of
God, who, in Jesus’ absence, comes alongside to continue the mission that Jesus began, but in
Spirit form, and, to remain forever. The distance or physical limitations on the living Jesus are
no longer an impediment or constraint with the Spirit. Thus, the possibilities are endless and
everywhere. Of what kind is this Spirit which communicates truth? It is a Spirit of revelation
of God in the world, who cries in our dispirited, dark depressions “Courage. Be of good cheer. I
have overcome the world” [John 16.33]. It is a dynamic power to strengthen our faith in Jesus,
when Jesus is absent, and to make him powerfully present, but only to those who have
responded to him. Human nature being what it is, there is another realm that rejects Jesus and
is committed to the untruth of all that it can control. The Holy Spirit comes to give strength to
endure the hostility that many harbour towards Jesus. The Spirit will act as a defender, to
encourage us in our struggle against the power of what moderns term “the Dark Side.” The
Spirit of truth, the Spirit who communicates truth, comes to keep us going when tempted to
ease up or give up, and lead us into our future. “You will receive power, when the Holy Spirit
has come upon you and you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth” [Acts 1.8]. “Power”
believers will receive from the Holy Spirit courage, boldness, confidence, insight. We may
wish to get on the job and end up, running ahead of God. Waiting and listening for directions
is part of God’s complete instructions. “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from
the Father, the Spirit of truth, he will testify on my behalf” [John 15.16].
Jesus offers hope in a sometimes hostile world. The Advocate conveys the helping,
encouraging and strengthening work of the Spirit. The Spirit of truth illuminates the teaching
work begun by Jesus on earth. Thus, the Spirit ministers to both our head and our heart.
Twice, Risen Jesus may have shown the Spirit’s future role. When Thomas lost it and shouted
“Unless I can touch the very wounds, I will not believe!” Jesus converted his disciple’s dogged
unbelief into courageous, unshakable faith, saying “Stretch out your hand and touch me. Doubt
no more but believe.” Secondly, when blustering, blundering Peter crumpled as a cowardly
custard and thrice denied “I do not know the man!” Risen Jesus came to forgive and restore
the bumbler, thrice saying “Do you really love me? Feed my lambs, tend my sheep” [John 21.15-
16]. Jesus always comes up trumps when we have messed up and missed the mark of our full
potential, to help us redeem ourselves. “The Spirit will guide you into all truth…he will declare
to you the things that are to come” [John 16.13]. The Holy Spirit would tell the disciples the
nature of their future mission, the opposition they would face, and the final outcome of their
efforts. The Spirit would go on to reveal truths forgotten to be written on scrolls that became
the New Testament, the Christian Scriptures. Q. How much do we allow the Spirit to inject us
with sympathy towards the poor and down-trodden? Do we let the Spirit instill in us an
unconditional forgiveness to those who have injured us? Do we let the Spirit point us to share
our time, talents and possessions with those in need? Do we allow a Spirit impelled thirst and
hunger for justice? Will we practice peace in our lives so that the Spirit may encourage us to
bring peace, hope and joy to this virus-filled world? When we face these challenges and try to
respond in a positive way, then, the Spirit of God is active in our lives.
In his incarnation, Jesus came alongside us as a human, to introduce us to the invisible God.
When leaving, he called us to be his Spirit advocate executors, energizers, equippers and
encouragers. Executors carry out a last will and testament. This was Jesus’ final instructions
at the Last Supper. The executor is responsible for discovering potential heirs. Paul wrote
“You have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit
when he adopted you as his own children. And, since we are his children, we are also his heirs”
[Romans 8.14]. We are no longer “fearful slaves,” we are the Master’s children. Because we
are God’s children, we share in great treasures as co-heirs. Thus, God has given us his Son, the
Holy Spirit, forgiveness and eternal life. In Roman culture, the adopted person became a full
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heir to the new family. When a person becomes a Christian, she or he gains all the privileges
and responsibilities of a child in God’s family. One of those privileges is being led by the Spirit.
Paul continues this adoption thought: “When the right time had come, God sent his Son, born of
a woman. God sent him to redeem those who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as
his very own children” [Galatians 4.4]. As adopted children of God, we share with Jesus all
rights to God’s resources. As God’s heirs, we can claim all that he has provided for us.
Executors disburse property to beneficiaries. The Holy Spirit disburses the promises of God,
such as special gifts and talents to the would-be heirs of salvation. It is said that when a
person dies, his beneficiaries shout “You little bewdy! What did he leave behind?” When a
person dies, the angels of God cry “What did he send ahead?”
The Spirit advocate asks us to be Jesus’ Energizers. We are to be a battery Energizer Bunny.
The Holy Spirit gives unlimited power so that we can live our lives for Jesus in a world that
was certainly opposed to him, and may well be downright hostile to us. Ascending Jesus
promised “Now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. Stay here in the city until
the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven” [Luke 24.49]. Jesus has given us
his Holy Spirit to encourage us in sorrow, to enlighten us in darkness and to enbraven us in
weakness. If we are held in any sort of bondage, addiction, depression, discouragement, the
power of the Holy Spirit will break apart the claims that bind us.
The Advocate executor as an Equipper enables us to live effective lives for God. Paul wrote
“the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness
and self-control. There is no law against these things” [Galatians 5.22-23]. Because the God
who sent the law, also sent the Spirit, the by-products of a Spirit-filled life are in perfect
harmony with the intent of God’s law. A person who exhibits the fruit of the Spirit will fulfil
the law far better than a person who observes the rituals, but has little love in her or his
heart. The fruit of the Spirit is the spontaneous work of the Holy Spirit in us. The Spirit
produces these character traits that are found in the nature of Christ. When we come to faith
in Christ, he imparts these qualities in us. These reproduce the character of Jesus in us. If we
want the fruit of the Spirit to grow in us, we must join our life to his. We must know him, love
him, remember him, and imitate him. While Jesus walked the earth, his ministry and
effectiveness was limited to Palestine. With his departure, his disciples, numbering as many
as 120, became fully apprenticed revealers of God’s love. In turn, these original disciples
made disciples of other disciples down to St Philip’s in 2020, none of whom saw the original
Jesus.
Fourthly, the Spirit advocate wishes us to be encouragers. As the years course along,
Christians will be asked to believe in a Jesus whom they have never seen nor heard. Jesus’
words and actions will be conveyed to them through the tradition of the Church, and he was a
super optimist. Unhappily, we experience negative emotions, which will come out when we
seek to bury them. Bury? Hubby was dying. As he floated in and out of consciousness, his
faithful wife sat beside him. For an instant, he became lucid. “Darl, you have been with me
through all the hard times. When I was laid off, you were there to support me. You were there
when my business folded. When we lost the house, you were at my side. And, now you’re here as
my health’s fading.” “Yes, dear,” she answered, smiling. He said, “You know what?” “What,
dear?” “You’ve been nothing but bloody bad luck.” We are responsible for our attitudes. The
important thing is not what happens to you, but what happens in you. Jesus, the great
encourager, impacted eternity, because his influence never ceased. Like him, we have to turn
our stumbling blocks into stepping stones
May I give an example of a partnership of encouraging advocates? At the outbreak of World
War 11, newly elected British Prime Minister Winston Churchill still carried the opprobrium
for opting for what became the disaster of the Gallipoli campaign in 1915. His failed dream
had been to open a third front up “the soft underbelly of Europe.” By 1939, he was derided as
a warmonger by the English war-naysayers, who had a benighted dream of appeasement
with the Axis powers. Yet, King George V1 approached Churchill to say “You have my
confidence. I have full faith in you.” It was not ever thus. In 1940, the Royals were part of the
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establishment appeaser-group. Rambunctious Churchill had taken the side of Edward V111,
George’s brother, urging him to fight his corner in his abdication crisis. KGV1 was the very
opposite, shy, modest and retiring, given to stammering, (possibly from the harsh upbringing
handed him by KGV). In no time, KGV1 realized the great good fortune that the Allies had in
Churchill’s stature, and the pair were thrown together in mutual collaboration. The one, given
to stammering, had been an advocate to the other, at times, disarmed with depression.
Verse 17: “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.”
Medical science can detect corona, but cannot see the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s radiation does
not register on a Geiger counter. Yet, the Holy Spirit exists to connect the Christian to God.
The Spirit was often painted as a tiny dove. This image was based on the scriptural account of
the dove descending on Jesus at his baptism. In medieval art, at the annunciation, the angel
was usually portrayed as announcing the Good News, while a tiny dove hovered ready to
zoom in with the goods if Mary’s reply was positive. The Holy Trinity depicted the same
diminutive dove. In Masaccio’s image of The Trinity from 1427, from behind, Father God
holds up the Cross on which hangs the Saviour of the world. Fluttering above Jesus’ head is
the dove. The “world” that Jesus came to save is generally portrayed as the realm where
people are alienated from God. They are hostile to Jesus and his followers and will remain
estranged and unchanged. They cannot receive “the Spirit of truth,” because they cannot
recognize truth.
Jesus revealed to Thomas that he was “the way, the truth and the life” [John 14.6]. He
promised “when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” The very next day, at
his kangaroo court trial, Pilate will sneer “What is truth?” The proud pagan cannot be
expected to know. At his trial, Jesus’ defence was “everyone who belongs to the truth listens to
my voice” [John 18.37]. Jesus assured us that he would “ask the Father and he will give you
(church people) another Advocate to be with you forever” [John 14.16]. We Christians truly
need this promised advantage, when people point to all manner of complaint against Christ’s
Church. In days of yore, one could hear bigots say “You piano-fingered parsons! You’re always
willing to swap treasure in heaven for our cold cash down here. You’re only looking after our
spiritual affairs to better your temporal affairs!” People may well complain about aspects of
the Church, but few can complain about Christ Jesus. If these people are honest, then, deep
down, the world senses that Jesus is the contemporary answer to contemporary problems.
Deep down, they believe that Christ and Christianity has not reached their use-by date yet.
They own that religion has real answers for the needs of each successive generation. But, that
may be as far as it goes with them. They deny themselves the presence in their lives of the
helper, the advocate, the Holy Spirit of encouragement, who cries “Be of good cheer. I have
overcome the world” [John 16.33]. If only the unchurched had been with the dumbfounded
disciples on Easter evening when Risen Jesus breathed on his team and said “Receive the
Holy Spirit.” Once the Holy Spirit has been welcomed into life, the old restrictive barriers of
sexism, classism, prejudice and abuse become open to scrutiny, and can be seen as imperfect.
They must be put down and values of justice, mercy, equality and peace be raised up.
Verse 18: “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you” as a living presence.
Jesus was aware that his imminent departure would cause distress, the like of which children
might have once felt when institutionalized in an orphanage. Q. When will this coming of the
departed Jesus take place? Is it at Pentecost only, or does the Spirit come to us every day as a
companion with all the energy, vitality and vigour of Jesus himself? Jesus would not leave us
in a situation without hope. He promises his followers the Advocate, who will stay with them
forever. Without the Holy Spirit, the followers of Jesus would be thrown back on their own
inadequate and meagre resources. Their defaulting at the time of Jesus’ Passion proved how
insecure and unsafe they were. With the help of the Spirit, the disciples can face the future
with a power much greater than themselves, namely, the Spirit power of Godself. The only
way that the persecutors will catch something of the reality of the Spirit is when they see the
courage and hope of disciples who remain steadfast in witness. “As those who belonged to the
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synagogue were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he
had said this, he died” [Acts 7.59-60]. His dying words were similar to those of dying Jesus:
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” [Luke 23.34].
Orphaned means parentless. None of us wants to be orphaned and vulnerable. None of us
wants to be exposed to the vagaries of bullies in this world and unable to grow into all that
we were created to be. The disciples needed more than just the memory of who Jesus was to
carry them forward alone. They needed an Advocate, a Protector to help them fend off the
brutal peace-keeping tactics of the Romans and the nauseous nit-picking legalism of the
merciless religious authorities.
Let me tell of my early years. In Adelaide, The Refuge was a large home for former aged
streetwalkers. (Woody Allen bemoaned that his girl-friend left him to become a street-walker
in Venice, and drowned). In the late 1940’s, I was raised up by fallen women from the
Magdalen Refuge. My Catholic mother had romped home in the maternity stakes. Beginning
with twin girls, the fertile filly had five children in six years. The Magdalens would help
during the day and sometimes stay overnight. At night, Mother was somewhere down a long
corridor, well out of earshot and of no help to me. At about four years, I felt abandoned.
Around my corner bedroom, car lights darted like Min-Mins. I could hear monsters creak the
corridor floor boards. I would roll up tight, hugging myself for comfort, hoping the monsters
had eaten the latest baby and wouldn’t want me. It was no use crying for comfort. The
Magdalens were loving grandfather’s whiskey too fondly to hear my plaintive cry. Can you
recall a time when someone walked alongside you as protection? Can you recall the last time
you were called on to step up and to do the same for another? Can you see how that may have
been a reflection of the promised Advocate-helper?
The fully-grown disciples were freaked out at the thought of being abandoned, with enemies
of holy religion snorting threats of hatred. At his going, their whole world was flipped upside
down. Yet, no matter how alone we may feel in the social isolation of corona, we are still a
member of the family of Christ. In the Holy Spirit, we have a helper, who will always be with
us. We will never be mere onlookers to a love we cannot possess. John stresses the promise
that the Word can never leave us forlorn: “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he
gave power to become children of God” [John 1.12]. When the Spirit came, this promise was
fulfilled.
Verse 19: “In a little while, the world will not see me, but, you will see me; because I live,
you also will live.”
Risen Jesus returned to his team for a space, and showed himself only to those who loved
him. He didn’t shirt-front Pilate or poke out his tongue at Caiaphas. Jesus probably knew that
any post-resurrection confrontation would do little good. He knew that the world opposed to
him would still choose not to see him, but to blind its eyes to the truth. It is only through the
eyes of faith that we can “see” Christ. Jesus taught “My light will shine for you just a little
longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. While you
have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light” [John 12.35-36]. A
little girl passed her parish church at night, and saw a saint’s window wonderfully back-lit.
When asked in class “What was a saint?” she knew. “A saint is someone, through whom God’s
light shines.” As Christians, we are to be his light-bearers, letting his light shine through us. Q.
How brightly is your light shining, even when socially distancing? In a time of shortage, can
others see Christ in your actions, or will you take the last rationed item from the Woollies’
shelf?
At the Ascension, Jesus was “lifted off” back into heaven, job done. As the years passed,
converts were asked to believe in the “new life” won on Calvary by Jesus, someone they had
never seen nor heard. The words and acts of Jesus would be conveyed to them through the
tradition of the Church and through a cultivated personal relationship with Jesus, present, not
absent, and with the living God. A third person, the Holy Spirit, made the presence known.
Coming to faith in Jesus was like falling in love. (You may remember the radio soap “When a
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Girl Marries,” always opened with the drivel ”For those who are in love, and for all those who
can remember?”). We cannot “fall” in love in the abstract; love must come through an
encounter. Our faith is a loving relationship with a living person, Jesus, who was crucifieddead. To “see” him, we need the Spirit to make the presence of Jesus known.
Verse 20: “On that day, (of Jesus’ departure for Heaven) you will know that I am in my
Father and you (are) in me, and I (am) in you.”
This would take place at the Ascension, the moment when Jesus physically parted from his
team. From then on, he would no longer be humanly present. Just think of the thoughts of the
saved passengers in the inadequately few Titanic lifeboats on the icy waters and those left to
face their certain fate aboard. It is so hard to let go of someone we love. At the last funeral I
took, as the hearse moved away, a woman saddened to a state of dementia, ran after it crying
“Take her out of the box. Would someone please take her out of the box?” It may have been even
sadder for the disciples, who had come to depend and rely completely on Jesus. Returning
from their first mission they had rejoiced, ”Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your
name.” And he said “I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and
nothing shall hurt you” [Luke 10.17-19]. In the thrall of the tightly woven relationship
between Jesus and those who abide in him, the disciples had assumed that charismatic,
enthralling, ever amazing Jesus would be with them forever. But, once he was gone, their
world fell apart. Jesus’ promise was that he would be with them in spirit forevermore. Think
of the poor students in present Limbo because of the virus. All of them wish to know the
future, so that they may plan for the ‘new normal’ condition. In truth, has God given us
sufficient knowledge already to prepare for life in this world? We know that God will not
leave us alone. God knows what will happen, and because God has promised to be with us
through it all, we must not fear. We do not have to know the full future to have faith in God;
we have to have faith in God to be secure about the future.
Verse 21: “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.”
The love of God the Father and the presence of Jesus will be given to every Christian as a
loving relationship by the Holy Spirit. How does this happen? Jesus established two
conditions for receiving Father God’s love: keeping the commandments and loving Jesus.
Obedience is the only proof of love. This obedient, trusting love leads to two things: ultimate
surety-safety in a crashing world and companionship with a loving God. While earthly Jesus
was with the disciple band, his followers performed signs and wonders. Now, remarkable
though it may seem, with the promised Spirit in attendance, his present disciples are in a
better situation, able to do even more and newer possibilities. At its best, the Church is a
community of love; that love gives the Church great power. As a community of love, the
Church can show the world a second way to live, a more perfect way, the way of God’s love.
No earthly logic has the persuasive power of an act of kindness. As Christians, we cannot
argue the world into faith, but, it is possible to love it into faith. Love is both commitment and
conduct. To love Christ, we must obey his word.