“Planted Seeds” Colchester Federated Church, May 21, 2017, (John 14:15-21) Sixth Sunday of Easter

A minister, a priest, and a lawyer all pass away on the same day at the same time and appear before Peter at the pearly gates of heaven.  Peter looks at the minister and says, “Welcome to heaven!  My friend, you have lived a wonderful life, here are the keys to your heavenly hovel.”  So the minister takes the keys from Peter and walks over to her new home.  Then Peter turns to the priest and says, “Welcome to heaven!  You have also lived an exemplary life; here are the keys to your heavenly shack.”  So the priest takes the keys from Peter and walks over to his heavenly shack.  Finally, Peter turns to the lawyer and says, “Welcome to heaven!  You have lived a remarkable life; here are the keys to your heavenly mansion.”  So the lawyer takes the keys from Peter and walks over to her new and luxurious heavenly mansion.

Now the minister and the priest were carefully watching this exchange.  They walk back up to Peter and the minister says, “Peter, I know that I just got here and I’m not trying to complain, but I didn’t have a lot of earthly possessions.”  The priest chimes in, “Yes, I even took a vow of poverty to be a priest!  So we both just thought that once we got into heaven, well, we thought that we would have mansions like the lawyer over there.”

“Ah, yes,” Peter said, “I do understand your concerns.  But you have to understand that priests and ministers are a dime a dozen here in heaven.  But lawyers?  Well, we hardly ever get any of them!”

Let’s take a time-out for a second.  Before going any further, you should know that my one and only sister is a lawyer.  She’s a Prosecutor out in Washington State so this joke is really all in good fun as my older sister and one of my very best friends happens to be a good lawyer who I’ve even had the honor of seeing in action in court when going out to visit.  As we are beginning this new relationship as pastor and people I’m so looking forward to getting to know you, getting to know your stories, hear about your families and friends, what you’re passionate about in life, and just spend time with you.  By next Sunday I’ll have put together a sign-up sheet so that I can be sure to spend time with anyone who’d like to begin getting to know one another.  And there’s no ulterior motive in these gatherings—it really is just relationship-building.  Though I’m already so thankful for the warm welcome you’ve extended.

Okay so in the end what I appreciate about that lawyer joke is that it points out some of the terrible (but admittedly funny) stereotypes we may have about lawyers.  Though let’s face it everyone can make jokes about lawyers until you need a good one in your own life!  It’s interesting to contemplate our views of lawyers this morning because this passage from the Gospel of John may actually challenge some of our assumptions about this very old profession.  You see, John refers to the Holy Spirit as the Advocate.  The Greek word used here is Paraclete which can mean Helper, Comforter, or Advocate.  The word is actually the equivalent of a Defense Attorney.  Jesus basically says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Defense Attorney, to be with you forever.”[1]  Maybe we haven’t heard it translated that way often, but that’s one of the meanings that may get lost when we translate from the original Greek into English.  The Holy Spirit can be seen as our Divine Defense Attorney!

Let’s think of the word advocate today.  We may consider someone who speaks or writes in support or defense of a person or cause.  That often happens in a court of law–whether someone is speaking up for the person on trial or someone like my sister is speaking on behalf of the State.  Or people advocate for the rights of immigrants or human rights in general or for higher salaries for teachers or a livable minimum wage.  Folks advocate for the care of our environment or against the death penalty, for racial equality, for women’s rights.  When we consider advocates, it’s often linked to social justice, to causes we can get behind, causes we may feel passionate about.  Advocating for someone takes courage and tenacity, advocacy takes perseverance and deep love.

Thinking about the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the third “person” of the Trinity as our Advocate can give us pause.  After all, you have to have courage, tenacity, perseverance, deep love, and so much more to be an advocate in the first place.  We can ask ourselves what it really means when Jesus says that the Holy Spirit is given to us, to be with us forever, as another Advocate.

The Holy Spirit as Advocate also brings out the unique nature of the Gospel of John. John is the only Gospel writer who refers to the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete.  John presents the Holy Spirit as our Divine Defense Attorney charged with defending Christians from the attacks of the world it seems and also defending Christ’s cause of love and justice and peace to humanity.  When John was writing his Gospel, his small community was undergoing a painful separation from the Jewish society to which its members belonged.  They claimed that Jesus was the Messiah and this was sometimes met with disciplinary action from the synagogue authorities, including expulsion or even violence.  John wrote his Gospel to encourage folks to hold fast to their beliefs during incredibly troubled times, in the midst of a family fight really.[2]  Jesus giving this small community the Holy Spirit as an advocate to be with them would have had so meaning for these folks, meaning that it’s hard to comprehend as it’s not that hard to be a Christian here in Colchester or even in the United States.  We don’t fear getting violently removed from church just for showing up on a Sunday morning.

Even though Jesus is leaving and will no longer be with the disciples physically, he reassures them in these troubled times by saying that the Holy Spirit will remain behind.  Jesus says, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.  In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.”[3]  Widows and orphans were the most vulnerable in the highly patriarchal society in which Jesus lived.  This is part of the reason why in a later passage in John, Jesus makes sure to entrust the care of his mother to his beloved disciple even as he is dying on the cross.  He was making sure that Mary would be cared for and defended, that she would have a home and a son to be her advocate in a society where she lacked power.  So the Holy Spirit will be with us forever, and we won’t be orphans.  These are promises made and promises kept.  This call back to the love commandment in Jesus’ farewell address is planting seeds for the future, to show us how we will work with the Holy Spirit whom we know and in whom we abide.

It’s like the story of a pilgrim who one day set out on a long journey in search of joy, love, and peace.  The pilgrim walked for many weary miles and time passed slowly.  The landscapes she passed by were not always happy ones–through war, sickness, fights, rejections, and separations.  A land where it seemed the more people possessed, the more warlike they became because they had to defend what they had at all costs.  “Longing for peace, they prepared for war.  Longing for love, they surrounded themselves with walls of distrust and barriers of fear.  Longing for life, they were walking deeper into death.”[4]

But one morning, the pilgrim came to a little cottage and something about this cottage spoke to the pilgrim.  She went inside and inside was a little shop and behind the counter was the shopkeeper.  It was hard to know the shopkeeper’s age, hard to even say for sure whether the shopkeeper was a man or woman.  The whole place had an air of timelessness about it.  With a smile, the shopkeeper asked what the pilgrim would like.  The pilgrim questioned what the shopkeeper had to offer in the first place and the mysterious shopkeeper replied, “Oh, we have all the things here that you most long for.  Just tell me what you desire.”

Well the pilgrim hardly knew where to begin and just blurted out, “I want peace–in my own family, in my native land, and in the whole world.  I want to make something good of my life.  I want those who are sick to be well again, and those who are lonely to have friends.  I want those who are hungry to have enough to eat.  I want every child born on this planet today to have a chance to be educated.  I want everyone on earth to live in freedom.  I want this world to be a kingdom of love.”

The shopkeeper quietly reviewed her shopping list and gently replied, “I’m sorry, I should have explained.  We don’t supply the fruits here.  We only supply the seeds.”[5]

Often I think that God supplies the seeds.  And it’s up to us to go out and plant and bring in the harvest of joy, love, and peace–the very things the pilgrim went searching for in the first place.

Never forget that Jesus leaves us the Holy Spirit (our Divine Defense Attorney, our Advocate) to ensure that we are not orphaned and alone, to ensure that we have the presence of God to be with us forever in good times and in bad.  Jesus leaves us with instructions on how to live our lives and be part of our world.  But the Holy Spirit can’t force us to love God wholly and completely and love our neighbors and love ourselves.  We are given those seeds of love, and then we must go plant them to see what comes next in the realm of God we are trying to create on earth here and now.  And that’s why we have a faith community to be part of–to get strength every week, to know that we are not alone.  What seeds may God want you to plant?  What harvest may God want us to bring in together to spread a little more light and love beyond these walls?  Can’t wait to find out.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] John 14:15-16, NRSV.
[2] David K. Rensberger, “John: Introduction,” in The Harper Collins Study Bible, 2011-2013.
[3] John 14: 18-19.
[4] “Only the Seed” in One Hundred Wisdom Stories from around the World, Margaret Silf, ed.
[5] Ibid.