By Pastor John Johnson

May 17 6th Easter "Vocabulary Test"

May 16, 2020

Today's Gospel reading continues from Jesus' "Farewell Discourse" as given us in The Gospel According to John:

NJB John14:15 If you love me you will keep my commandments. 16I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete to be with you for ever,

"Paraclete"? Let's try a different version:

NRSJohn 14:15 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is theSpirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 18"I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will beloved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them."

Let us pray: O Lord, may the words of my mouth, but more importantly, the meditations of each of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and Redeemer. Amen.

There was a blurb in some news source on the Internet on Wednesday about a major university’s president — I think it was president of Southern Cal — suggesting that the celebrated SAT’s and ACT’s, the exams given to high school seniors who are applying to college, might be dropped for the next several years. I guess the reason is that “social distancing” makes impossible crowding exam-taking students into school cafeterias or gymnasia for three hours on a Saturday morning.

High school seniors, I suppose, will greet this with some relief, but it will come, I fear, at the cost of their acquiring a broader vocabulary than, “Like,” since having a grasp of some generally previously unfamiliar vocabulary was one of the things tested, and students preparing for the “College Boards,” as they are more commonly known, put some effort into expanding their vocabularies in anticipation of the test.

As any of you who have listened to me over time know, I enjoy vocabulary, which is one reason crossword puzzles have regained my attention, but I hope that I do not try to show off when I am preaching, since my objective is to be understood, not to cause confusion nor to cause you to reach for a dictionary to understand me, but part of the fun I have with vocabulary carries over into the pleasure and, yes, excitement I get as I study the Bible, both in English and in its original languages of Greek and Hebrew, though in those languages the longer I am out of seminary, the greater the challenge they present me.

At any rate, focusing on a the various English versions of a Greek word in our Gospel lesson today got me to thinking . . . got me to thinking about one of the oldest stories in the Bible, the story told in Genesis 2 of the creation of woman. Now, I am not going to say about woman what I once said about cats, that I don’t know why God created cats, that cats serve no useful purpose, because not only do women serve a multitude of useful purposes, indeed, the central role in my earthly life, but God’s original purpose is spelled out in explaining why God made woman: Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man — by which God is referring to the male, Adam, made from the dust —It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”

Now, you might think I am only trying to complain with Patricia’s not being here that I am the one who in fact does most of the work at our home and that I need more from my helper, but “House hubby work” is the cross that I bear, and I would rather she feel guilty — though she has yet to feel so — rather she would feel guilty than be able to tell me about the work she has done or does do, so that is not why I raise this helper term from the first appearance of the specific woman we know as, “Eve.”

By the way, the creation of Adam and subsequently of Eve is the first of the Yahwist stories in Genesis; those who take Bible study with me know of my admiration and fondness for the work of the Biblical writer we know as “the Yahwist” because of his use use (or perhaps, according to the late literature professor, Harold Bloom, her use) in the Hebrew of the four consonants YHWH that lead us non-Jews to speak of “Yahweh,” translated in our English Bibles as “the LORD (in small capital letters) God.”

“But John, I thought you said five weeks back, that you deserved sympathy because there are no Hebrew Bible lessons other than a psalm to be read during the seven Sundays following Easter. Why are you sneaking in this passage from Genesis?”

Well, there are no Hebrew lectionary readings these seven Sundays, but in today’s Gospel lesson, depending upon which English translation we use, we encounter Jesus as saying, “I will send you another” — and there is a problem with the “another,” though it appears in the most ancient of the existing Greek manuscripts of the Gospel — “I will send you another paraclete.” Let me simplify that a bit: “I will send you a paraclete.”

It’s from the Greek word, parakleitun, variously translated into English in Bibles, where it is not left simply as paraclete, as advocate or comforter . . . or helper; each appears in the four different English translations of the New Testament from which I select each week, but in each case, we find out that Jesus is speaking of the “Spirit of Truth,” or as we understand, The Holy Spirit.

Paraclete, comforter, helper, advocate. I have had fun over the years, for advocate is another word for lawyer; indeed, in Spanish and Portuguese and French, their equivalents of advocateabogado, advogado, avocat, —  are the terms used for “lawyer,” so I once had a sermon on this Gospel lesson that I titled, “Lawyer jokes,” which, like lawyers, are hardly in short supply.

But shame on me that until this past week, I never really paid attention to what the Greek parakleitun might mean other than advocate, for I do indeed believe that advocating is one of the functions of the Holy Spirit: the Holy Spirit  both advocates on our behalf — pleads our case — to God, and advocates to us — pleads God’s case to us, although the Holy Spirit is itself one of the three persons of, one of the three manifestations of, one of the three ways in which we encounter God.

But I have to say, my vocabulary was not so good as it should have been the many times I have read or preached on this passage. I have overlooked comforter and helper. Wow, as current times show us, we need help, we need comfort; in simplest terms: we need what in today’s passage Jesus promises God will send to us: a paraclete; we need what Jesus tells us God as Holy Spirit will provide us: Comfort; help.

That from the time God first created humans God has not wanted human beings to be isolated individuals living solo lives is shown by that very Genesis story in which God created a helper, help mate in the King James, r‰zEo {ezer, ay´-zer, in the Hebrew in Genesis.

As a matter of God’s intentions, God did not want the male human to be without a helper . . .  and comforter, I think I can read that in . . . and God does not today want any human to be without a helper and comforter, though perhaps he might like us at times not to resort to lawyers.

God in the person of the Holy Spirit as our helper and our comforter, now that is an easy to understand concept; paraclete does not have to be part of our vocabularies for us to grasp this idea, and lawyer is a distraction.

There is an interesting source of theological and Church disagreement about the Holy Spirit that arises from our lesson for today.

We mainline Protestants do not often refer to the Nicene Creed, which dates from the fourth century and, as its name suggests, came out of the Council at Nicea called by the Emperor Constantine who had made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Nicene Creed — slightly more elaborate than the older Apostles Creed that we often — or at least, sometimes, — use, was written in Latin, and as you and I would know it today in English refers very eloquently to the Holy Spirit this way:

We believe in the Holy Spirit,

   the Lord, the giver of life,

   who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

   With the Father and the Son he

       is worshipped and glorified.

   He has spoken through the Prophets.

Who proceeds from the Father and the Son; in Latin, one way of expressing “and something” was to put the word que onto the end of the second word — to append it, that will be my fancy word for today, — to append the que and then to append the second word to that que, for instance, “BJ que Larry,” and in Latin, “from the Father and the Son” in the Nicene Creed is expressed,    

ex Patre Filioque procedit.

Filioque, “and the Son,” which is to say, the Holy Spirit comes from God the Father and Jesus the Son. But in the Gospel lesson we just read, Jesus says,

And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth

Note that passage does not say that the “Advocate” comes from the Son, and in 1054, when the Eastern Church, what we call the “Orthdox Church,” split from the Western or Roman Church, it used the Nicene Creed without filioque, and this unfortunate division has remained to this day. A week ago this past Friday, May 7, marked the anniversary of the opening two-hundred-twenty years later, in 1274, of the Second Council of Lyons, whose goal was to end this “Great Schism,” but the reunion it sought to achieve failed when, to quote “Today in Christian History,” “the majority of Orthodox clergy and laity fiercely rejected the union,” and that filioque was one of the two bones of contention.

I suspect it does not really matter to many of us who got that right, there are forgiven Christians on both sides, though as a Presbyterian minister, I need to say that “from the Father and the Son” is what we hold.

But more important than our theological conceptions of the origin of the Holy Spirit is what God as that Spirit is for us: a comforter, a helper, and, yes, an advocate, but more importantly, and succinctly, God with us.

The Methodist Hymnal has a wonderful Affirmation called a “Modern Affirmation,” “modern” in comparison with the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, and it includes these words:

We believe in the Holy Spirit as the divine presence in our lives, whereby we are kept in perpetual remembrance of the truth of Christ, and find strength and help in time of need.

The divine presence in our lives. No fancy vocabulary, no College Board words are necessary for me to understand what that means.

And with that divine presence in our lives, we have the help and comfort we need.

Thanks be to God and to the Son of God for this wonderful gift.


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