Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66: 7-18; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14: 15-21
The Rev. James M.L. Grace
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
It’s time to learn a fancy Greek word. Before you all think “wow, we’re learning Greek in church, the Rector is so sophisticated and smart,” just know that the Greek word I am about to share with you is one of like two actual Greek words that I know. Though I wish I were the person who could throw out Greek or Latin words at a moment’s notice, I am not. But there are a few leftovers from seminary that I still remember, and one of them is the word “paraklatos” (par-ah-clay-tas). Try saying it, it’s fun. Paraklatos is a word used throughout the Second, or New Testament, and translated into English, the word is “paraclete.”
I know all of this is deeply fascinating to all of you, but here is why the word is important. Paraklatos, or paraclete, literally means “to call alongside.” During the time of Jesus, a paraclete was a person you called upon if you were hauled into court on false charges. The paraclete would come to your defense, your rescue, and would defend you. A paraclete was like a lawyer.
We hear this word, paraclete, in today’s Gospel from John – sort of. Here is where we hear it, from the beginning of the reading when Jesus is having dinner with the disciples. Jesus says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.” That word – Advocate – is one of several meanings of the word paraclete.
So, why is this even important? It’s important because in saying all this I have used up five minutes of sermon time, which means we only have a few minutes left. But more importantly than that, it is important because “paraklatos” is the word Jesus used to describe the Holy Spirit when he was having his final meal with his disciples, the night before his crucifixion. Think about it – Jesus knows how all this is going to go down. He knows that he is going to the cross. The disciples don’t know as much, and they are nervous, and scared, and basically freaking out. They didn’t have Zoloft or Prozac back then, so Jesus is telling them “it’s going to be okay. When I leave you all, I will send the paraclete, the advocate, to be with you.” In saying this, Jesus is not telling the disciples that he is going to send a bunch of lawyers who are going to bill the disciples hourly for their work.
Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit. Jesus is promising to them that the Holy Spirit, the paraklatos, will be their advocate, will be a constant present among them, throughout their anxiety and their fear. Even though Jesus is leaving them, they will not be orphaned.
He says to the disciples: “I will not leave you orphaned.” And even though he was saying those words to the disciples, he is also saying them to us. Because God will never forsake us. It doesn’t matter what happens in our lives, how awful things get, nothing truly has the power to rob us of our hope, unless we allow it. We have hope because the paraclete, the paraklatos, the Holy Spirit, the advocate, whatever you want to call it, is with us, always.
And hope is one of the few things in out lives that is not constrained by our situation. Our lives can be giant mess – everything falling apart – but if we have hope, that means we know the Holy Spirit is with us, and if that is true, we will be fine, even if we are not.
I remember early on in my ministry in one week marking two events that were both characterized by hope. The first was the joyful news that former parishioners – a Jamaican woman, her Vietnamese husband, and their beautiful children became United States citizens after years of hard work. Their future was full of hope. The second event, though full of hope, was also tragic. The same week I celebrated this families good news, I was called in to grieve with a man who lost his wife to a brain anyeurism when she was only 35 years old, leaving behind two young children, a two year old and a four year old.
The woman was a nurse, and she was born in Nigeria, which means that she had a beautiful name: her name was N’kiruka, a Nigerian word which means “what is in the future is better.” Hope would be another way to define this name. It was not lost upon the community grieving her death, that they were not grieving the death of hope, but rather witnessing its resurrection. Like Jesus,N’kiruka departed the world prematurely – too soon. But her name, N’kiruka is a bold statement that even in death, we, as Jesus says, are not orphaned, because hope never dies.
In the midst of whatever scares us – fear, darkness, death – the paraklatos stands to remind us that we will never be alone, because we have been given a powerful gift: hope. We have been given a name: N’kiruka – hope. You have a precious hope within you. Don’t waste it. Share it. Because we need it. All of us. AMEN.