Craft of Preaching

Dear Working Preacher

Insights, ideas and inspiration related to the coming week's lectionary texts.

A Paraclete Kind of Life

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"Friendship," Image by gaidele via Flickr, Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Dear Working Preachers, I absolutely love this passage in John. Ok, I know what you are thinking -- is there a passage in John that you don’t love, Karoline? Fair question. So, why do I like this passage so much? Because this is a pneumatology like no other in Scripture.

It’s a pneumatology that gives us a new perspective on Jesus’ ministry. It’s a pneumatology that gives us a new perspective on the purpose and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It’s a pneumatology that gives us a new perspective on how God calls us to be in the world God loves. This is a chance to preach the power of the Holy Spirit on a Sunday other than Pentecost. And if you are a member of my denomination, for example, the shy member of the Trinity does not get much airtime.

It is no accident that the fullest expression of John’s pneumatology appears in the Farewell Discourse. At the same time Jesus is saying goodbye, he promises the presence of the Holy Spirit. At the same time Jesus anticipates his arrest, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, he assures his disciples that his presence will still be known in and by the Holy Spirit. At the same time the hearts of the disciples are troubled, they hear that the Comforter will come and be present with them always.

What are these new perspectives seen in John’s pneumatology? A new perspective on Jesus’ ministry -- Jesus is sending another paraclete, which means that everything that the Spirit will do what we have already experienced in Jesus’ ministry. A new perspective on the purpose of the Holy Spirit in our lives – the Spirit is the paraclete, the one who is literally called to be alongside us. A new perspective on how we are called to be in the world -- can we, will we be the paraclete for others, walking alongside our friends in faith or those who need a friend? Any one of these three perspectives could be a sermon on its own.

But it’s the last new perspective to which I am particularly drawn this week. That John’s pneumatology shapes our presence in the world. That the activity of the Holy Spirit in the Fourth Gospel lays claim on what our discipleship looks like. That the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives affects how we are present in the lives of others.

For whom in your life are you their paraclete? Who are your paracletes? We need these paracletes in our lives, friends. These people who walk along side us in our ministry, in our daily living. As Emilie Townes says, “Keep integrated, resist pulling apart. Have friends tell you when they see pieces of you drifting away.” Who are those friends who will say to you, “I don’t see you anymore.” And, who are those friends who will tell you when they see you being fully you?

Maybe this week identify these two or three people in your life and make an effort to share this with them. “Hey, I have something to tell you -- you are my paraclete!” At the very least, you are guaranteed a humorous reaction! But more seriously, it may very well change the dynamics of those friendships -- and what a powerful moment that could be.

We are called to paraclete discipleship, paraclete ministry, paraclete leadership. Not leadership that establishes power over, because Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants, but friends.” Not leadership that blames or shames, guilts or goads. Not leadership that instills fear or demands silence. Not leadership that seeks only to preserve the self or that demands agreement at all costs. Not leadership that holds others captive. No, we are called to paraclete leadership and paraclete leadership is recognized by one primary way of being according to John, according to Jesus -- accompaniment.

I know, this seems too simple. Too easy. Just walk alongside people and have people walk alongside us? This is when we need to remember that Jesus’ words about paraclete discipleship are words said as he anticipates his own death. This is when we need to remember that these words are said just after Judas departs into the night and Peter’s denial is foretold. This is when we need to remember Jesus’ words, “I am sending you another paraclete,” and then look back on Jesus’ ministry, the entirety of Jesus’ ministry.

Not just the wonder of signs, but the wondrous times -- those times when you see and share the pain of another. Those times when you are a part of someone coming to realize that God needs her to fulfill John 3:16. Those times when people walk away because the truth is too much to bear. Those times when others can’t hear the truth of who you are. Those times when you find the one that the world casts out and say, “I will be your friend.” Those times when dear friends die. Those times when you experience abundant love.

Dear Working Preachers, we are called to this paraclete kind of life.

Karoline

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