Scripture: Deut 31:1-3, 6-8 and John 14:16-23
Rev. Estelle Margarones
The Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, passage we heard was about Moses knowing he'd come to the end of his time with the Israelites. He wouldn't be going on with them, but Joshua, a successor would continue to lead them...and help them navigate the way to the Promised Land. It helps to have someone guide you along the way. Or at least to be there with you, to serve as a resource if you get lost or are unsure of how to proceed.
In the New Testament, the Gospel of John tells us that Jesus knows his time with the disciples is nearing an end. He tells them that he will send another to be with them and, we can infer, all people, forever. After all, Jesus said that he asked these things on behalf of all who would believe. Jesus said he would send an Advocate, a Comforter to be with us.
Last month, I went to church with my family in Maine. There was a visitor with two little boys, about 4 and 9. At the children's time, the woman brought the boys forward. The boys sat on the steps to hear the children's message and the woman sat in the first pew. The younger boy covered his face, in shyness, fear, and anxiety. His brother, about nine, put his arm around the littler one. With that comfort and support, the smaller child could take his hand away and face the congregation.
Each of us has had to face something challenging, or uncomfortable, or new. When we do it alone, it can be overwhelming, but when we have support and assistance, it can make even most unbearable conditions tolerable. Having someone alongside us can give us courage and strength.
The actual word the gospel uses is “Paraclete” which can be translated 'one called alongside or one called to help'. In old Greek, it means “strengthener or supporter.”
Who among us hasn't needed help, strength, and support at one time or another? Maybe it was during a time of illness or bereavement. Maybe it was during a time when you were not feeling very good about yourself. Maybe it was at a time you were secretly enduring some private shame.
There are places that can help with these kinds of issues, thanks be to God for that, but that doesn't absolve us of the responsibility to intercede and bring comfort and assistance where we can, when we can, however we can.
This may mean sending a donation check to a charitable nonprofit...or it may mean providing a ride for someone who otherwise has no means to get to a doctor's appointment.... It could mean writing to your government representative about an issue or taking a stand in other ways, but it means taking action.
One very well known advocacy group began when, according to their website, “...(a) heartbroken mother made a pledge in her deceased daughter’s bedroom. She would do something about the outrage of drunk driving—a decision that quickly inspired a handful of grieving, determined mothers to join in the fight.” The pledge that Cindy Lightner made over 30 years ago would help her process her grief over her daughter Cari's death, would help other grieving parents and families, and save countless of thousands of lives along the way. According to their website, it wasn't easy. “Though united in cause, they had no office, no money and no clout. In fact, all they had was sorrow, pluck and a picture of a pretty, 13-year-old girl killed by a drunk driver. Yet they initiated one of the great grassroots successes in American history. They were as their name suggests: MADD. As their fledgling organization grew, they stood toe to toe with politicians who knew the stats but did not act. They took on a powerful industry that put profit over safety. They challenged a society that viewed drinking and driving as acceptable...(a) nd they caused a visceral reaction”.( http://www.madd.org/about-us/)
The organization MADD, and hundreds, even thousands of others across the country began when someone wanted to make a difference. These organizations provide education, advocacy, intercession, and comfort.
Jesus was a teacher, helper, comforter, and advocate during his time here on Earth. In his time on earth, Jesus brought hope to the people. He interceded, working miracles from distance healing to turning water into wine for a wedding celebration. He brought comfort and support....and we feel it even today. Having Jesus in our lives can give each of us courage and strength. With God, all things are possible.
Jesus said he would send an advocate. The advocate would understand the ways of the law or the industry or the system help an outsider navigate it. This person may walk alongside us and be a guide like Joshua from our Old Testament reading. This person may be a counselor, an intercessor and a comforter.
Faith provides a strong foundation from which we can act. Our faithful actions can strengthen & support another's foundation. As people of faith, we can bring comfort to one another. We can help one another. We can intercede for one another.
When my father died, my mother was instantly plunged into a new reality. You see, the last time she regularly paid credit card bills or dealt with utility companies was in 1965. She just didn't know that long gone were the days of going to an office to meet with someone or pay a bill. You no longer call a local number and speak with someone you know. Today, oftentimes, you get a call center overseas and you begin the conversation with your account number, rather than your name.
My sister and I took care of notifying most of the creditors and utilities that my parents used. When she finally began to make some of the calls herself, my mother was astounded at being on hold for thirty minutes and at reaching a customer service representative who simply read responses off a flow chart. We had offered assistance because we understood the system and we could intercede for my mother.
Someone who can intercede...someone who could offer counsel and comfort....He said he would send someone, so Jesus must have sent the Advocate, but the Bible isn't specific about naming the Paraclete...
Could it be that the Advocate was named Paul and he founded several churches in Asia? We know from his letters that he talked a lot about relationship, responsibility, and interdependence. He talked about sharing when one had abundance and receiving when one was in need.
What if that Intercessor was named Martin, and he led Black Americans to a place of equality? He told his followers that as a people they would get to the Promised Land. 40 years later Barack Obama became the first Black US President.
Perhaps the Comforter was named Teresa, Mother Teresa, who worked with the poorest of poor in Calcutta. Teresa herself said, “As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”
People of God, has the Advocate walked alongside you? Have you walked with another? Is it possible that you already know the Advocate's name?
How can you help others navigate life issues? That feeling of going it alone can be terrifying and debilitating. Having another walking alongside can make all the difference. Just knowing that others care makes a tremendous difference. That presence, call, text, email, or hand you lend may go so much further than you ever know.
There's a simple children's with these lyrics: From you, I receive. To you, I give. Together we share and from this we live. We give and receive all of the time. We need each other not just when we fall, but when we fear. We need each other when we stray from right paths and need to be reminded that we can live a better life. We need to share our joys & excitement. All of us always need the other. And the others always need us.
In the gospel, Jesus said, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” What if...that home is in our hearts?
Jesus is our Savior, the one who saves, rescues and delivers. We are Christians, followers of Christ. May we all be inspired to step up to our calling to do our part to end all oppression and suffering in the world. Let us take action rooted in--and born of--a foundation in faith. May we do what we can, however we can, as often as we can to walk alongside others, bringing comfort where we can.
Blessed be and amen.