Why do we need an Advocate?

Kevin Gasser

Staunton Mennonite Church

4/27/08

 

by Robert Munsch

A mother held her new baby and very slowly rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she held him, she sang:

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.

The baby grew. He grew and he grew and he grew. He grew until he was two years old, and he ran all around the house. He pulled all the books off the shelves. He pulled all the food out of the refrigerator and he took his mother’s watch and flushed it down the toilet. Sometimes his mother would say, “this kid is driving me CRAZY!”

But at night time, when that two-year-old was quiet, she opened the door to his room, crawled across the floor, looked up over the side of his bed; and if he was really asleep she picked him up and rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. While she rocked him she sang:

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.

The little boy grew. He grew and he grew and he grew. He grew until he was nine years old. And he never wanted to come in for dinner, he never wanted to take a bath, and when grandma visited he always said bad words. Sometimes his mother wanted to sell him to the zoo!

But at night time, when he was asleep, the mother quietly opened the door to his room, crawled across the floor and looked up over the side of the bed. If he was really asleep, she picked up that nine-year-old boy and rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she rocked him she sang:

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.

The boy grew. He grew and he grew and he grew. He grew until he was a teenager. He had strange friends and he wore strange clothes and he listened to strange music. Sometimes the mother felt like she was in a zoo!

But at night time, when that teenager was asleep, the mother opened the door to his room, crawled across the floor and looked up over the side of the bed. If he was really asleep she picked up that great big boy and rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. While she rocked him she sang:

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.

That teenager grew. He grew and he grew and he grew. He grew until he was a grown-up man. He left home and got a house across town. But sometimes on dark nights the mother got into her car and drove across town. If all the lights in her son’s house were out, she opened his bedroom window, crawled across the floor, and looked up over the side of his bed. If that great big man was really asleep she picked him up and rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she rocked him she sang:

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.

Well, that mother, she got older. She got older and older and older. One day she called up her son and said, “You’d better come see me because I’m very old and sick.” So her son came to see her. When he came in the door she tried to sing the song. She sang:

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always…

But she couldn’t finish because she was too old and sick. The son went to his mother. He picked her up and rocked her back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And he sang this song:

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my Mommy you’ll be.

When the son came home that night, he stood for a long time at the top of the stairs. Then he went into the room where his very new baby daughter was sleeping. He picked her up in his arms and very slowly rocked her back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while he rocked her he sang:

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.

John 14:15-21

15“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This 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.

18“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They 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.”

 

            It happens every spring.  Just when the weather turns nice, we start to have birds nesting in the underside of our back deck.  Now don’t get me wrong, I like birds.  I just don’t like the mess that they leave behind.  So when I see a nest being built, I try to encourage the birds to go and build their nest elsewhere.

            But I do think that birds are fascinating creatures.  Since the beginning of time birds have inspired humanity to want to learn how to fly.  A mother bird teaches her chicks to fly by demonstrating to them the proper method.  She flies around the nest, flapping her wings, swooping and diving.  There seems to be a lot of instruction from the mother to her baby chicks before they ever get the chance to spread their wings.  But once it is time to actually learn how to fly, the mother encourages the chick out of the nest where the chick is faced with two options; fly or fall.

            Large birds like hawks and eagles could possibly catch their chicks in their talons if they see that they are not going to be able to fly, but most birds can simply watch their young fly or fall.  All they can do is prepare their young for the big day and then watch to see what happens.

            Aren’t we thankful that this isn’t the way it is for us as Christians?  Jesus didn’t just come to this earth and demonstrate how we are to live as a part of the kingdom of God and then leave us to either fly or fall.  He gave us many helpers along the way.  And today I want to look at the scripture and see that Jesus has provided for us an Advocate, the Holy Spirit, and he has instructed us to help one another along the way as well.

            Our scripture for today picks up where last week’s scripture ended.  Jesus is giving final instructions to his disciples in the upper room and he starts with “Love”.  He says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  Jesus builds this connection between loving him and obeying him.  He isn’t telling his disciples to do as he says because if they don’t there will be trouble for them.  He isn’t saying, “Obey me or get cast into hell.”  He is saying be obedient; be obedient out of love for me.  That isn’t to say that there isn’t punishment for disobedience.  But that should not be the disciples’ reason for obeying Jesus’ commandments.  Their motivation comes from love for Jesus.

            But Jesus goes on to say that his disciples will not have to try to keep his commandments on their own.  No, Jesus is going to petition the Father, and the Father will send another to help the disciples to keep his commandments.  My version of the Bible calls this person the Advocate; others say the Counselor, a Friend, a Helper, or a Comforter.  But this Advocate is not just some other person, not just another believer to help the disciples along the way.  The Advocate is “To Pneuma Tas Alethias”, the spirit (of) the truth who will be with the disciples forever.

            Jesus desires for his disciples to follow his commandments so much that he is going to have the Father send the Holy Spirit.  And the Holy Spirit will help the disciples to discern God’s will, to help the disciples keep Jesus’ commandments.  The Holy Spirit is a helper, an advocate, a counselor, and a comforter.  The Holy Spirit will help the disciples to do just as Jesus said, to keep his commandments.

            So we know why the disciples are to keep Jesus’ commandments; they are to keep them out of love.  But why does Jesus make such commandments in the first place?  And why must they be so hard to keep?  I think a little story from my childhood can help us to understand.

            We were not allowed to play with fire as children, though we often found ways around the prohibition of matches and lighters.  I remember one time my two brothers and I found a firecracker and we wanted to light it.  We couldn’t use lighters or matches, so what other option was available to us?  My older brother had learned in school that if you hold a magnifying glass over something out in the sun that it could catch on fire.  So we took the firecracker outside and began concentrating the power of the sun on the wick of the firecracker.

            When things got quiet around the farm, mom knew we were up to something.  She came looking for us and when she found us we were all crouching around the firecracker, one of us with a magnifying glass in hand.  And guess where we decided to carry out our experiment?  Right next to the natural gas tank.

            Now the chances of us getting that firecracker to ignite were slim.  And if we did get it lit, the chances of blowing up the natural gas tank, the house, and everyone near it were even slimmer.  But there was a reason that these rules were in place; as little children we didn’t always know what the consequences of our actions might be.  We could have been hurt, and we could have hurt other people as well.  Rules like ‘don’t play with fire’ were in place for our own safety and for the safety of others.

            So what is it that Jesus is trying to get out of giving all of these commandments to his followers?  When he gives his followers commandments like “pray for those who persecute you” and “if anyone has two coats they should give one to someone who has none” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, Jesus does so out of love for human beings.  Like a mother that makes the rules that her children cannot play with fire, Jesus realizes that people don’t always know the repercussions of their decisions.  We need guidelines, we need rules, we need someone that can help us to see the larger picture.  That is why Jesus is going to send the Advocate, to help us to follow Jesus’ commandments that are intended to help everyone because Jesus loves people.  Like the children’s song says, “Jesus loves the little children/ all the children of the world/ red and yellow, black and white/ they are precious in his sight./ Jesus loves the little children of the world.  And I believe that at night, if we are really sleeping, Jesus will still hold us in his arms, rock us back and forth, back and forth, and if we listen today, we can hear Jesus repeating this song: I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always.  As long as I’m living, my children you’ll be.

            Jesus sends the Advocate so that the disciples wouldn’t be left without someone to turn to when they continued to have questions in life.  Jesus says in verse 18, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”  Now we really don’t know if Jesus was talking about his physical resurrection, his second coming, or if he was talking about sending the Advocate, the Holy Spirit.  But either way, we see that even though Jesus has done his job in teaching the disciples “the way” in which they are to go, he isn’t about to cut off all ties with them.  He will not leave them orphaned.

            But sometimes it seems like we need more than the Holy Spirit as we walk the way that Jesus has set before us.  The Spirit is a wonderful advocate, a wonderful guide along the way.  But we need more than just a spirit with us from time to time.  We need other human beings as advocates as well.

            Our English language doesn’t always do the original Greek justice because something is lost in the translation.  In English the second person pronoun is the same in the plural as it is in the singular form; it is “you”.  If I am telling one person I would like to invite them to lunch, I might ask, “Are you available for lunch today?”  If I would like to invite the entire congregation to lunch, I might ask, “Are you available for lunch today?”  You is both plural and singular, we derive the intended meaning from the context.  Maybe here in the south we can get away with saying ya’all as a plural form of you, but you probably won’t find ya’all in the Bible.

            Well in the Greek language there are different forms of the second person pronoun for both singular and plural forms.  And in our scripture for today (as is often the case), Jesus is using the plural form of “you”.  Try reading through the scripture sometime substituting “ya’all” for you.  It can really change the way we understand scripture.  Jesus is assuming that the disciples will continue to walk together on the path that he has laid before them.

Like the child in the story I read earlier, we grow up and often we move away.  Some stay close to home, but it is probably true that most people will never live as close to their parents as they did their first 18 years or so of life.  Now I assume that most parents are still willing to give their children advice after they have left the home.  Though I now live over 400 miles away from my parents and my in-laws, I know that I can approach any of them when life choices arise and I need advice.  But I also know that I have a much larger family that I can count on as an Advocate, a Helper, and a Friend.  I have my church family.

            Something that I have come to count on my family for is the celebration of special events: birthdays, Christmas, and Easter to name a few.  And my church family has become a part of that tradition as well.  Together we have celebrated religious holidays and birthdays.  We have celebrated milestones in my life and milestones in your lives as well.  Today we will have a bit of a celebration following the service.  And this is the third time we have had a celebration in my honor in the two years I have been here.  On October 22, 2006 Staunton Mennonite held an installation service for me.  On November 4th, 2007 you hosted my ordination.  Now today, April 27th, 2008 we are celebrating my graduation from Seminary.  No, you haven’t replaced my biological family.  But you have proven to me that you will be there for me in good times and I am sure that you will be there for me in bad times as well.  You are an advocate for me and Sonya, my family away from home.

            Now I know that this is a busy time of year for everyone.  Next week we have our retreat at Highland Retreat.  On May 18th we are having our church’s 50th anniversary party.  But you made time for me, to celebrate with me this occasion.  And I thank you.  In your actions I can hear you singing, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always.  For as long as we’re living, our brother you’ll be.”

            In verse 20 from our scripture for today, Jesus is talking about the time after his crucifixion when he and his disciples will be physically separated.  He says, “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”  Jesus is saying that he and his disciples will have a connection unlike any other.  They will be so close to one another that where one stops and another begins will be almost indeterminable.  Like a parent loving their children, there will be a connection between Jesus, the Father, and between the disciples that words alone cannot describe, and distance alone cannot separate.

            When a bird first learns how to fly, the mother bird shows them how it is done, but then must sit back and watch her chicks fly or fall.  But Jesus does not do this with his followers.  He spent three years living with the disciples, teaching them the way they should go.  And then when he had to leave them in the flesh, he sent the Holy Spirit as a guide for his followers.  And not only that, he gave his followers each other to lift one another up and carry each other as we follow the way of Jesus.  I am thankful that I have the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  I am thankful that I receive guidance from each of you as well.  Together we can discern Jesus’ commandments, seeking to live as a part of the kingdom of God.  As we do so, I hope that you can hear me singing, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always.  As long as I’m living, my family you’ll be.”

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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