Ok, so we have a pre-Pentecost Gospel lesson for this Sunday, May 21. And it's a good one - like most passages in John's gospel, it's a good one! And it's especially good because we are still in the Easter season. Yes, it is still Easter and we hear the author of John's gospel recounting a portion of Jesus' farewell discourse as he prepares his disciples for his departure. In light of the Resurrection, in which all the Gospel accounts are written, we find comfort in Jesus' words as he promises that his followers will not be abandoned or orphaned (because we were given "power to become children of God" Jn 1:12). Jesus promises that he will give us another Advocate...another, because Jesus is our first Advocate, and in the wake of his departure from this earth, he will leave us another. He leaves us with the capital A Advocate, because it is the Advocate; the Holy Spirit. And we will have this Spirit - forever!
So what do we do with this "power" that we have received to become God's children being left this most gracious gift in the receiving of the Spirit? I think if we begin by looking at God's work in the world we find that we are created to be drawn toward resurrection life.
In the wake of the tragic stories we hear in the news of lives that have ended too short; whether by disease, murder, or neglect, we find the human spirit's drive toward life after death. Two examples that come to mind are the deaths of Penn State sophomore Timothy Piazza and eleven year-old Houstonian Josue Flores. Timothy Piazza, as we have seen in the news now for several weeks, died at the hands of his negligent fraternity community after a senseless ritualistic hazing incident. After consuming far too much alcohol during a hazing activity called "the gauntlet", Piazza became very ill and fell down several feet of stairs and was all but neglected during his unconsciousness. Other students reportedly walked over his unresponsive body, among other tactics that were unhelpful in trying to help Piazza. It was a horrible incident that is under investigation, and one that ultimately cost this young man his life. yet, even in their grief, the family of Timothy Piazza have begun a foundation to raise money and help children who need them, acquire prostheses. This is what Timothy wanted to do: make prostheses for children in need, as well as service women and men. The foundation is meant to honor the life of Timothy Piazza as well as his dream to grant others access to quality of life.
Last year in Houston, eleven year-old Josue Flores was stabbed to death by a madman as he was walking home from school. The Flores family worked to make sure that this would never happen to another child again by advocating legislation to better fund transportation in higher crime areas of Houston. Last week, upon the first anniversary of his death, the “Josue Flores Bill”, SB 195, passed the Senate. It would provide more transportation funding to schools in high crime areas.
Both of these tragic instances have caused the families to instill hope rather than lose hope. I believe God is active in the lives of people and this hope comes from our Creator, and I'd say further, the Advocate. Jesus promises that we will not be left alone. I believe there are infinite instances, including these examples, that Jesus made good on his promise. We are drawn not to wallow in death, but claim the life abundant that God offers in Jesus Christ.
And while Jesus promises this Spirit anew, we do find evidence of God's spiritual presence with his people throughout the Hebrew scriptures: Deuteronomy 30:14 "the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe." Isaiah 30:21 "And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Our drive to honor the life and legacy of those who have gone before, fits into the tapestry of God's intention and dream to reconcile and redeem the world.
I believe the work of the Advocate is very much at work in the world about us. And this Advocate that John writes about is translated in Greek as "Paraclete"; 'para' meaning "alongside". Jesus promises the Spirit who will literally be at our side; be with us in our daily lives. What great news for us this Easter season!
In our liturgical acclamation of Alleluia! this season we give thanks and praise for the eternally resurrected life of our Lord Jesus and also for his most gracious gift of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate who abides in us, walks alongside us, and who will do so forever.
Now, in light of of the promised life abundant and the coming of the promised Advocate, imagine if we came to church not for our own self-betterment or even for our own needs. Rather, what if we came to church thinking about how the world would be different because we came? The Piazza and Flores families were left with the choice to let grief take hold and paralyze them, or as grief took hold, to act...act for the good and security of others in the wake of their grief. Perhaps the word was near to them. Perhaps they heard the word saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
The lives of Timothy Piazza and Josue Flores cannot be brought back, there lives are in God's now. But the families have worked and are working diligently to ensure the safety and well being of other students and children. I believe this is as strong a Christian message as any.
God continues to come in the Holy Spirit to encourage us and care for us and abide with us and walk alongside of us, showing us the way to abundant life in Christ. Not just for us, but for all people; beyond even the Church. May we hear him and follow him always.