Summary: Through all the difficulties of life, Christ promises us the Holy Spirit, an Advocate, who pleads our case and brings us the very life, hope, and love of God.
There's a story told of a rookie baseball player just up from the minor leagues who was sent up to bat against a great Hall of Fame pitcher in his prime. Just off the bench and about as nervous as someone on his first date, the rookie stepped up to the plate and took a couple of tentative practice swings as the great right-handed pitcher stared him down from the mound. Then, with a great windup and pitch, the pitcher blew two consecutive fastballs right down the center of the plate, so fast that the poor rookie didn't even have time to swing his bat. With that, the rookie turned on his heels and started back to the dugout. "What're you doing?" his manager shouted at him as he approached the steps. "Get back out there. You've got another pitch coming!"
"Let him have it," the rookie said. "I've seen enough already! I give up!"
Have you ever felt that way? Outmatched by life? Up against what seems to be impossible odds? Depressed? Downhearted? Hopeless and helpless, overpowered by life? What do we do when life bullies us into a corner? Where do we turn when trouble traps us? Well, there is good news. As we gather here today, we encounter the resurrected Christ, the one who has triumphed over the cross and the grave; the one who stands eternal before the throne of our heavenly Father, our Lord Jesus Christ, who says to us as he did to the disciples, "I will not leave you as orphans." I will not leave you alone. I will not abandon you. And we can know this because Christ also says, "The Father...will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever." This Advocate is the Spirit of God himself, the Holy Spirit. This is where we find strength in weakness! We have a risen Lord! And God lives in us!
Can you imagine what it must have been like for those first disciples? After leaving their livelihood and families behind and following Jesus for three years, he is now leaving them! It's like stepping up to the plate against a world-class pitcher. They don't feel they have the expertise to continue on. What will they do without him? How will they go on? It's a question we all ask at some time or another, is it not?
Think about a 55-year-old factory worker who is laid off when the plant closes leaving him with no prospect for another job. Feeling too old and too weary to consider re-training for something else, and without skills that can be reworked, this person feels alone. Unemployed and living off pension funds that will soon run out, what is he to do? Where is the hope? How many folks are there living like this in the world? How many haven't heard Christ's reassuring words that “because [he] lives, [they] also can live”?
Or how about the elderly person, alone at home after fifty years of marriage? Her spouse is no longer with her, she nods off in front of the television set, a half-eaten microwave meal sits cold in front of her. She is alone in a house too big for her, she has children with lives of their own living in different towns. What if she knew that “Jesus will not leave her as an orphan”… that “God will not abandon her”?
Or what about the person with a terminal illness? Her body is dying and she lies alone in pain. For her and the millions of others throughout the world who face dreaded disease, without hearing these reassuring words of Christ we heard this morning, who will say to them, “Jesus has not left you as an orphan. God will never abandon you.”?
And what about the teenager who is different from the rest, the wife or husband whose spouse has left them, the businessperson whose business is failing, or the parent whose child has rebelled and left home? Or any of the countless others in the world and in the communities which surround us who feel alone and without hope, rejected and orphaned. How will they continue on? Well, what we hear today is that there is hope for them, and for us.
Coming quickly to the close of his earthly ministry, Jesus can only speak to the disciples of love and the assurance that the God he knows so intimately as Father will continue to accompany them. And this is exactly what the disciples, and all the frightened people of this world (including us), need to hear. Because you see, in this passage we heard from John this morning, Jesus promises to send us his own spirit, his own breath, his own inner life. And the word translated as "Advocate" here is rich and many-sided. The original Greek word is Paraclete, which means "one who has been called to our side" and can be translated not only as advocate, but also as helper, counselor, or comforter. These are expressions of God the Father himself, and Jesus wants his disciples to remember, in the face of it all, that above all that God is love. The disciples saw that love in the sacrifice of the Son on the cross, and now says Jesus, they will know God's love through the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Paraclete will be their advocate in recognizing that God's love is what is most true.