Today, we’re going to leave The Village smarter people. I’m going to teach you a new word. You probably don’t know this about me but I took three years of Greek when I was in college. Pretty nerdy, I know. But I got all A’s.
I took all those years of Greek so we might as well get something out of it. Today’s vocabulary word is “paraclete.” What’s a paraclete, you may ask? Well, paraclete comes from the Greek work, paráklētos, which means literally advocate. A paraclete might be someone who advocates for another in a court of law. A paraclete is also anyone who consoles and comforts. We also use the work paraclete to describe someone who is a healer, someone who steps into a situation of sorrow and brings healing and comfort.
In worship we showed a video from CNN about Taryn Davis, who at the age of 21 suffered the sort of tragedy no one ever wants to face, that is our worst nightmare. Instead of being defeated by that experience, Taryn reached out to others in a similar situation. She became a paraclete, one who brings comfort and healing to others.
When CPL Michael Davis, was killed in action in the Iraq war on May 21, 2007. Taryn found herself a widow. She searched for support for herself and others. She discovered that there were few resources to help young military widows.
Following her grief and confusion, four months later she began work on a documentary speaking to military widows, hearing their stories of love, tragedy and overall survival. The documentary was shown to military widows who gathered in Austin, Texas from across the country in July 2008, for the official "launch" of the American Widow Project. During the launch In Their Boots was on location to film and interview widows.
Since then, the AWP has conducted several events through the country to unite military widows (over 750) to celebrate their survival, honor their loved ones sacrifice, and provide a healing environment with others who share this journey. They lift each other and others back up, even doing work for others, outside of their community.
These women lift one another back up. That is what a paraclete does. We all know that when tragedy hits, we can easily fall into despair. The death of a spouse is way up there on the list of life’s most significant losses. But there are other losses that give us the need for a comforter, a paraclete, who will walk beside us. Those losses include: the end of relationship through divorce or a break up, the loss of a job; the loss of health, children growing up and leaving home; the inability to have children; a move that causes us to lose relationships in one place and have to start over; the loss of our dreams, one that will never come to fruition. These are some big ones.
There are tiny situations that give us the need for comfort, the help of a paraclete on a daily basis: just a bad day, a fight with someone, a bill we did not expect, a flat tire, a big decision to make… the list goes one.
Jesus knows that we need comfort and consolation. We need paracletes who will care for us. He had an important conversation with his closest friends, his disciples, on his last full night alive on earth.
I think you all remember the last supper, of course. He had a meal with his friends. Then, in John’s gospel, we have record of some last minute teaching that he gave them.
It reminds me of those last days before I went off to college. My parents kept trying to squeeze in all the last bit of parenting they could. Do you know how to sort your laundry? Now, remember to check the oil in your car? You will find a church to attend, right? They were cramming in this last minute advice and teaching.
Jesus gives what we call his “Farewell Discourse” – his last bit of encouragement to his disciples and close followers. Our reading for today (John 14:15-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) for those following along from afar) comes from this Farewell Discourse.
He says to them, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask God, and God will give you another paráklētos, to be with you forever.”
He calls this paraclete “the Spirit of truth.” And he says: You know the Sprit, because the Sprit abides with you, and will be in you.”
Now they are scared because they can tell from what Jesus has said earlier that his death is soon to some. But he makes them a promise. He says: “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.” He is telling them that after he dies he will be resurrected and they will see him.
But then he takes is a bit deeper. It is not just that they will see him in resurrected form. He says: “On that day you will know that I am in God, and you in me, and I in you... and those who love me will be loved God, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” Jesus is saying that he will live in his followers.
But let’s go back a moment. He says that he will ask God and God will send “another paraclete.” This means that Jesus was the first paraclete and there will be a second one. He calls the second one the Spirit and says the Sprit will live in us. So this paraclete – this advocate, or comforter will live in us.
Over time, well after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christian leaders came to develop a way for us to wrap our minds around all of this. We call it the Trinity. We think about God as being one God in three forms: God the creator is the first form. Sometimes we use the word Father, but here at The Village we like to use Creator because it helps us get away from the patriarchal tradition of the church being run by men – we know that God is way bigger than male or female. So the first part is the God who created the world and who is still creating.
The second form of the trinity is the Jesus Christ, God in the flesh in the world. Jesus is probably the most familiar part of the trinity for all of us. We talk a lot about Jesus around here.
The third form, the one that is the hardest to wrap our minds around, is the Holy Spirit. In a couple of weeks we will celebrate Pentecost Sunday. That is the day we celebrate that the power of the Spirit really made itself present with the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection. This is what Jesus is promising in our text for today in his Farewell Discourse. Jesus promises that after he is gone there will be a powerful Spirit that will live in us. This Spirit is the one he refers to as the Paraclete, or the Advocate. The Paraclete is the one who who gives us comfort and consolation. The Paraclete is the Spirit of God that lives in us.
Jesus said, if you love me you will keep my commandments, and I will be in you, and you in me. We have a connection with Jesus. That connection is the Holy Spirit.
This is the mystery of God, that unexplainable presence of God. The Holy Spirit is the force that connects us to God as our Creator, and draws us into a relationship with God. Even when we fall away from God and try to pretend that we don’t need God, God is always there. To me the source of that connection always comes back to the belief that God is my Creator.
Jesus came along to make that connection even more real. The people were getting disconnected from God. They had turned a relationship of love into a bunch of laws. Jesus came to make things real again – to show us that God loves us and that love is the heart of God. But Jesus could not stay here forever. So when it was time for him to go, he made a promise. I will not leave you orphaned. I will send the Paraclete – a Comforting Spirit. That Spirit will live in you and then you will comfort one another. You will love one another, and when you love one another you will show God’s love to one another.
The Spirit of God is alive in the world when we love one another. I see that Spirit in all sorts of situations. One example, is those beautiful women in the American Widow Project. Their husbands died serving our country in the military. And one by one, those women comfort one another. They bring a spirit of love and hope to one another. They bring healing to one another. Taryn Davis became a widow at age 21. She could have fallen apart, but she is a paraclete. She allowed the Spirit of God to pour out of her to so many other women, and to give them comfort.
This is what we do when we join a community of Jesus’ followers. We open ourselves to the Spirit of the Creator God that lives in us. And we allow ourselves to be used, to be paracletes, to walk alongside one another in our times of sorrow and challenge. I can’t think of any task more important in the world than walking alongside of someone and reminding them that they are loveable.
We all need to be encouraged. We all need comfort and consolation. We all need support now and then. I don’t know about you but I need support almost every day.
Sometimes, I don’t feel like I have anything left in the tank. I am worn out. That is when it is time to rest and pray, and remember that God’s Spirit lives inside of me, and the Spirit wants to bring me comfort and healing. It’s great when another Christian friend reminds me of God’s love for me on one of those days. They’ll say it’s OK, I still love you and so does God.
There are also many days when we see another person, and we know that person is worn out, by the day, or by their whole life. That is the time, that we, as followers of Jesus, can claim our role as paracletes, as sacred carriers of God’s love. We can say to them, I love you, I’ll be there with you through this difficult time, I’ll be that Spirit of God with you. Because you see that Spirit of God lives in us and so we are healers and comforters on God’s behalf.
In closing, I want to invite you to practice walking alongside one another this week, trusting that the Spirit of God is within each of us. We did this in worship, I’m going to invite you to try this as an online community too. Think of one situation in your life where you need comfort or support; and write it down in a message here. You can leave it anonymously if you want. But if you leave your name, we’ll be able to support you.
If you come on here and leave us a situation, pick one to be there for too. If you know how to contact this person (e.g. they leave contact info on here), contact that person and be there for them. If not, just pray for them.
This is your opportunity to be a paraclete for someone and vice versa. Trust that God’s love is inside of you. God’s Spirit lives in you. Pray for that person and whatever they have written. Offer the situation to God. We are just walking alongside one another. That is what a comforter does. Walks alongside someone through a challenge and offers comfort and support, not advice, but encouragement and hope.