By the Rev. Dr. Helen Svoboda-Barber
May only God’s Word be spoken, and only God’s word be heard.
Our reading from this morning’s gospel of John picks up in the midst of Jesus saying lots and lots about the Holy Spirit, which in the New Revised Standard Version translation of the Bible is translated as “the advocate.” Other Bible translations use the Latin word “paraclete.” (The word “paraclete” always brings a smile to my face because I imagine a very funny parakeet landing on the shoulder of Jesus as he talks.) But the origin of the word paraclete is really quite lovely. It’s a combination of the Greek words meaning “to call” (kletos) and “alongside” (para). And, you see, there is a double meaning when Jesus uses this word Paraclete:
In one sense, Jesus has called the paraclete to come alongside of each one of us: to strengthen us and give us clarity and hope. In a second sense, the paraclete gets called right alongside us. When we are called into anything in life, the paraclete is called with us. We are never alone in the work we do for God — whether it is something big and important and honored, or whether it is the simplicity of praying and connecting to another and being faithful day by day. Jesus called the paraclete to walk alongside us in our faithfulness. And in our faithfulness, each time we are called, the paraclete walks alongside us in the daily work and witness of our lives.
In this strange time when our community is a completely virtual community, it is more important than ever for us to remember the paraclete. I wonder how we might be paraclete to one another at this time. How might we remind others that they are not alone? How might we walk alongside another in the midst of proper social distancing and our stay-at-home order? Many of you filled out a survey recently about your connection to St. Luke’s during this stay-at-home time. One of the things that was mentioned time and time again is how much phone calls matter right now. Simply picking up the phone to call someone from your St. Luke’s directory (or your personal phone book) is a paraclete type of act. When you call someone, you are offering to come alongside of them in that moment of their lives. Small things can make a big difference. One 10-minute phone call can let someone know they have not been forgotten. When you call people this week, take a moment before you dial to imagine yourself as the voice of the paraclete–someone Jesus has sent to spend a few minutes walking alongside the person you are about to call.
Sometimes our “walking alongside” takes other forms. Sometimes we don’t actually have a connection with the people for whom we are called to walk alongside. This sort of walking alongside includes things like making financial donations to the Episcopal Farmworkers Ministry or the National Alliance on Mental Illness or Urban Ministries or any of the ministries which connect resources with those in need.
And a third way of being Paraclete, of walking alongside people is when we use our voice for advocacy work. When we contact our government officials and use our voice on behalf of the voiceless, we are walking alongside others we may never meet. When we advocate for the health and welfare of others, we are acting as the Paraclete in our broken world.
In a few weeks, we will be celebrating Pentecost, that day when the Advocate, the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit landed on the heads of the disciples, and they were filled with energy and hope and power. Pentecost is also the day we celebrate the birth of the church. At Pentecost, Jesus is no longer on earth. He has ascended into heaven. That first Pentecost was the beginning of a whole new post-Jesus world.
The disciples, with the help of the Paraclete, had to make a pivot from being followers to being leaders. They needed to learn how to be together in all new ways. They were being called to create a new way to worship and be in the world. I think the Pentecost story has an awful lot to teach us about how we live in our world in the midst of a pandemic. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Today, let us remember that Jesus has gifted us with the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. Let us remember that we are never alone, even in the midst of this stay-at-home order, because the Paraclete has been called to walk alongside us. And let us remember that we, too, can be outward signs of the Paraclete in other’s lives–by phone calls and donations and letter writing and prayer.
Over these next two weeks, practice noticing the Holy Spirit present in your life and practice being the Paraclete in the world, so that when we celebrate Pentecost on May 31st, you will have stories to share about how you have noticed the Holy Spirit coming alongside you in these strange, strange days.
I speak in the name of the One, Holy, Triune God. Amen.