Another Advocate

+ A sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on May 17, 2020 +

Texts: Acts 17:22-31; John 14:15-21

Video: LINK

Something I’ve noticed in the past couple months is how much more I’ve been trying to stay connected with people.
Whether by social media or text messaging or actual phone calls, I’ve been trying to stay in contact with friends and family since I can’t see them in person.
And if you know my feelings about phone calls, you can tell how desperate I am to keep in contact. 0_SFB9CERMfSJ0NZUS
I’m guessing we all have made some major adjustments recently, haven’t we?
I’m guessing we all have been doing things that may be a little uncomfortable or foreign to us as we try to stay connected.
I mean, as a church we’ve made some massive changes as we’ve moved worship to our homes and gathering online, redeveloping phone trees, holding each other in prayer now more than ever, and reimagining what it means to be this community when we can’t see each other in person.
And in some ways, it’s easier!
The miles melt away through technology and we can see each other in ways not previously possible.
In some ways, it reminds me of what the Apostle Paul said at the Areopagus as he described how the Greek people were groping for God, desperately trying to see God in their midst, but rather than seeking and reaching for God, we’re reaching out for each other however we can.

Because of this, many of us have noticed a precipitous rise in the amount of time we spend on video conferencing in the past few weeks.
Our regular routines like happy hours, conversations with friends, dinner with family, even school classes have suddenly moved online through FaceTime or WebEx or Zoom as we try to stay connected, to see each other, and make things feel as normal as possible.

But we know that Zoom is not the same as physically seeing each other and having in-person conversations, don’t we?
And it seems our bodies actually know this too.
In fact, there’s a phenomenon that has gained prominence in the past couple months that’s been termed “Zoom fatigue.”
Some experts say it’s to blame for why we may feel more drained after a video conference than we would after a normal meeting or social obligation.
It seems like there are a number of factors at play, but one of them is that our bodies can tell the difference, that we miss the non-verbal cues we rely on and without them normal conversational customs seem suddenly foreign and artificial in this digital medium.
In many ways, this research confirms what we already know: that while Zoom and other technologies may be a necessary fix for now, it cannot be a real substitute for physically being with each other.

In today’s gospel reading, we hear a portion of what’s known as Jesus’ farewell discourse in which he is preparing his friends for what it will be like when they are forced to be apart from each other.
We heard some of this discourse last week and we’ll hear another piece next week.
On the night we now call Maundy Thursday—on the night before his crucifixion, using some of his final hours before his death—Jesus spends three whole chapters preparing his disciples, his friends, for what it will be like when he’s gone, when they won’t be able to be physically with him anymore.
Jesus knows the entire world is about to change, in fact, it’s already changing; Judas has left and the betrayal is in motion and there’s no going back.
But even though they won’t be able to see him in the same way, Jesus spends his last night of his life to reassure and prepare his disciples and he tells them, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”
But if Jesus is getting ready to leave, if he’s about to be physically distant from his friends, how will he come to his disciples?
How will they see him?
Obviously they won’t be on Zoom calls together; they won’t be sending pictures back and forth or hosting virtual happy hours.
Instead, Jesus promises to send “another Advocate,” to send the Holy Spirit.

“The Holy Spirit our Advocate” Source:

Now, we have a lot of names for the Holy Spirit: Breath of Life, Spirit of God, Comforter, Counselor, and more.
But I must admit that I’ve always been a little confused, maybe even a little put off, by calling the Holy Spirit our “Advocate.”
It’s always given me the sense of a legalistic role, that the Spirit pleads our case to God, that she defends us, that she stands up on our behalf like a defense attorney in the courtroom.
And that gives me the sense that God is someone we need help with, that we need an Advocate to earn God’s love and favor as if God is some divine judge who is just waiting to dole out punishment if we don’t say the right thing.
And that just simply stands so fundamentally at odds with a God who loved the world so much that God sent the only begotten Son into the world so the whole creation could know God’s love.
Not to mention that it doesn’t square with our Lutheran confession that there is nothing we can ever do to earn God’s love, but instead it is a pure and gracious gift freely given despite our unworthiness.

But as I was studying the text this week, multiple commentators[1] pointed out that perhaps I had been imagining the role of the Advocate completely backwards.
That the Spirit is not interceding to God on our behalf, but instead is interceding to us on God’s behalf.
That is, it’s the Spirit who comes to us as reminds us of who we are as God’s beloved children—a reminder of our divinely given identity that we could certainly use when the world has been turned upside down and nothing seems stable anymore.
And that the Spirit reminds us that it is in God that “we live and move and have our being” and she binds us together with our neighbors and the whole creation.
And the Spirit comes to us, comes alongside us as the Greek word Jesus uses—Paraclete—suggests, to accompany us, to forever abide with us, and yes, to advocate for us.
Not to defend us against God, but to advocate for us against anything that would cause us to doubt our inherent self-worth, to remind us of Jesus’ promise to be with us, and to help us see Christ among us.

And did you catch how we can see Christ among us?
Especially these days when we may indeed be desperately searching for how to see God, did you hear how Christ said he will reveal himself to us?
Through keeping Christ’s commandment.
And what commandment is this?
Well, there’s only one commandment in the entirety of John’s gospel and Jesus just gave it to us.
Remember, this is Maundy Thursday, the night when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

So perhaps we can think about Jesus as an Advocate, too, who came among us, came alongside us, abided with us, and reveals the divine love of God in and for our lives.
The one who demonstrated what this love looks like by forgetting any self-importance and taking the role of a servant-leader, bending at the feet of his followers and washing them—and not only those who are perfect and worthy, but including the one who would deny him three times in just a few hours and even the one who would betray him even sooner.

God’s Hands and the Holy Spirit, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. Original source: – Jean Bean.

And now that Jesus is leaving, he promises that God will send another Advocate, the Holy Spirit, and she would remind us of God’s love for us and for the whole world.
In the time of despair that was about to unfold, when the world as they know it is about to change forever, Jesus promises his followers another Advocate who will continue to reveal Christ’s presence among us, within us, and in our neighbor.
Who would walk alongside us and remind us that we are never alone but remain forever united in the love of God, eternally connected with all people as fellow children of the same Creator, and to empower us to love the world just as Christ has loved us.

Now what does it look like for us to embody this love today?
How does the Spirit open our eyes to the presence of Christ within and among us?
In a normal time, I would say it looks like caring for our neighbors in need through acts of service, through acts of advocacy and solidarity, by getting our hands dirty and kneeling at our neighbors’ feet and living out the servant leadership our Lord Jesus exemplified.
But as we know, these are not normal times.
These are times when doubt and uncertainty and fear seem to reign, when the world is changing around us and we are realizing that that it may well be impossible for things to go back to how they were before, when we feel suddenly alone and abandoned wondering how Jesus can possibly be with us now.

So, in a time of pandemic, what does it look like for us to follow Jesus’ commandment to love one another?
What does it look like for us to search for the presence of God among us?
Strangely, it looks like staying home.
It looks like wearing a mask when we have to go out into public.
It looks like staying connected and caring for our neighbors from afar by supporting food organizations, supporting those who are suddenly unemployed, advocating for those who are incarcerated and incapable of physical distancing, providing adequate protective gear for those who are serving our neighbors in hospitals and grocery stores.
And it looks like continuing to do these things until it is safe for everyone to physically gather together again.
But it also looks like seeing our connection with each other—checking in, staying connected, praying more than ever, and realizing that it is not just technology that is keeping us connected to each other, but the Holy Spirit who binds us together, who unites us across the miles.
It means watching for how the Spirit shows us the ways God is working in places where we cannot perceive God and in ways we couldn’t have expected like how God was already present among the crowds at the Areopagus, and heeding the Spirit as she reveals the presence of Christ within us and in the masked face of each of our neighbors.

Unidentified, may have been made by Hardman and Co.. Spirit with Sevenfold Gifts, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. Original source:

Christ has promised that the Spirit, our Advocate, will be with us forever.
And we can see her handiwork in so many ways.
Each one of you, my friends, has the Spirit within you, alongside you, and among you.
She’s the breath of life within you, the promised gift you received anew in your baptism, and the force that is binding us together this morning.
She is advocating for you in the face of the fears and dangers of this world.
She is advocating on God’s behalf to remind you of your God-given identity as a beloved child of God.
And she is empowering you to do the works of the Spirit, to love as Christ has loved, to connect you with God and each other.

So this week, I invite you to look for the Spirit’s presence alongside you, to see where she is connecting you with God and your neighbor, and to notice where she is empowering you to enact the love of Christ.

My friends, I know it may seem like we’ve somehow been trapped in Maundy Thursday right now; caught in the sense of fear and abandonment and hopelessness, eternally preparing for the unknown trials before us, laid as bare as our stripped altar and betrayed Lord.
But we are a people who have boldly put our trust in our Savior who has conquered all infirmities and brokenness, all diseases and even death itself.
We find defiant assurance in our Risen Lord who has promised that life and love will triumph in the end.
And we give thanks for the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, who has and continues to unite us all with the new and abundant life of Christ’s resurrection.
And with that trust, and with the certain assurance of the coming fullness of Easter life, we dare to proclaim again: Alleluia! Christ is risen!

[1] David Lose, In the Meantime, “Easter 6A: Spirit Work”, May 14, 2020:; Craig R. Koester, Working Preacher, “Commentary on John 14:15-21,” May 29, 2011: