The Sixth Sunday of Easter – John 15:15-21
Many of you know that I practiced law before going to seminary. For fifteen years I advocated before judges and juries on behalf of my clients. I stood beside my clients interceding, presenting evidence, and arguing for rulings and verdicts in their favor.
I wonder if that’s how we often understand the Advocate Jesus speaks of in today’s gospel (John 14:15-21). That’s how I saw it for a long time. Maybe that is now or has been your understanding too. This advocate would stand with us before God and try to persuade God to forgive, love, accept. This advocate would intercede on our behalf, plead our case, and seek a favorable judgment.
But maybe we’ve misunderstood. Maybe we’ve gotten it backwards. What if the Advocate’s role is not to change God’s mind but to change our minds about ourselves and each other?
That we need an Advocate to change God’s mind about us just doesn’t fit a God “who so loved the world.” It’s contrary to Jesus saying that he came not to condemn the world but to save, heal, and transform it (John 3:17). “I came,” he says, “that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:9).
And it sure doesn’t seem to reflect the Jesus portrayed by the gospel writers: a Jesus who chose the poor, the broken, the sinful; a Jesus who healed and transformed lives; a Jesus who excluded no one; a Jesus who assures us there is a room for us in his Father’s house; a Jesus characterized by love, forgiveness, and welcome. And if that’s who Jesus is then that’s who the Father is too. “Whoever has seen me,” Jesus says, “has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
So, what if the Advocate’s role is the opposite of what we often think it is? What if the Advocate doesn’t represent us before God, but represents God before us? After all, Jesus said, “The Advocate … will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I said to you” (John 14:26).
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” “I am the bread of life.” “I am the good shepherd.” “I am the light of the world.” “Do not be afraid.” “My peace I give you, my peace I leave with you.” “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” “Love your neighbor as your self.” “Love your enemy.” “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” Forgive “not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” “Take up your cross and follow me.”
We all need an Advocate. We all need to be reminded, especially when the future is uncertain, life has been turned upside down, and we’re afraid or overwhelmed. We need to be reminded when we’re angry or frustrated. We need to be reminded when we are sad and grieving. We need to be reminded when we’re busy, successful, and self-sufficient. We need to be reminded when we’re lost and don’t know the way. We need to be reminded when we feel like an orphan – alone and lonely, on our own, having to look out and fend for ourselves.
None of us get through life alone. We need God’s advocacy and reminding. If you want to know where reminding and advocacy are needed, look for places of pain, diminished life, or disconnection. Look for those places in your own life and in the lives of others.
“I will not leave you as orphans,” Jesus says. “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate.”
This Advocate does not, however, just remind us of what Jesus said, Google can do that. And the Advocate is not some formless, invisible, “eternal essence floating high above the earth” (Caputo, On Religion, 99). It is a life lived in and with the spirit of God. This Advocate insists we give existence to Jesus’ words and life in our lives through our thoughts, words, and actions. The Advocate is felt as “the rumblings and restlessness of our heart” insisting, calling, luring, and soliciting our response “in the concrete conditions of life” (Ibid.) The Advocate shows up every time you and I embody God’s life and spirit.
We are the ones being sent. We are the ones who make God’s life present and tangible. We are the ones who give flesh to Jesus’ words. You and I are the Advocate filled with the spirit of God.
Have you ever thought of yourself as God’s Advocate? Have you ever thought of yourself as the one who gives existence to God’s insistence for your own life or the life of another? And what if each one of us started living like that? What might this advocacy look like in your life?
Advocacy always looks like love and affirms life. When your heart breaks for the pain of the world, when you reach out in compassion, when you weep over another’s loss you are the Advocate in that moment. When you offer or seek forgiveness, when you refuse to judge, when mercy rather than condemnation is your way, you are God’s Advocate. When another encourages and stands beside you, says exactly what you need to hear, or shows up at just the right time you are experiencing God’s advocacy. When someone listens to your life, celebrates your joys, or cries over your losses, the Advocate is with you. When you love or are loved the Advocate is there. When another speaks a truth or offers guidance that helps you change your life she or he is advocating on your behalf. When you speak words of hope, hold another’s needs and concerns as important as you own, or pray for another you are their Advocate. Advocates sit at the bedside of another. They care for the sick and dying. They console the bereaved.
And in the last couple of months advocacy looks like social distancing and wearing masks. It’s heard every time someone asks, “Are you ok? Do you need anything?” Essential workers are advocates for life; and the meals, recognition, and words of gratitude we offer them are our advocacy of love.
Wherever there is love, there is the Advocate. Wherever there is life and more life, there is the Advocate. Life and love are the advocacy of God.
Look around. Look at the concrete conditions of your life, relationships, and world. Look for the places of pain, diminished life, or disconnection. What advocacy is being asked of you?