Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Helper

John 14:23-29, the gospel text appointed for the 6th Sunday of Easter in the Year of Luke is a sort of pre-Pentecost text, introducing the One who is to come, whom the Father will send in the name of Jesus, the One called the Advocate.  As a preview of coming attractions the Jesus in John's gospel announces that the One who is coming will come bearing many gifts.  This One will teach [us] everything, and remind [us] of all that [Jesus has] said to [us].  This One will bring a peace that the world (i.e. the powers that do not know God) does not know.  This One will come to help, not to hinder, to mend hearts, not to rend them, to intercede rather than to interrogate.  This One is generous beyond words.  We have a grand Pentecost to look forward to!

(The following questions are a sample from my guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  The Word functions almost exclusively as gospel here since it details the many gifts that the Spirit will bring.  In the same way that the gospel function of the Word is what happens when the Word proclaims "Here is Jesus!" in this text the gospel function happens as the Word proclaims, "You have an Advocate!"  Gospel words also related to this are:  "This One will teach you and remind you and give you peace."

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  The word that raises up our need for Christ is absent here.  There is a reference to troubled hearts at the prospect of Jesus' departure, but by-and-large there is little hint of our human need for a Savior.  Of course, there are many other texts which show clearly our need for a Helper/Advocate.  We do well to search them out.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are those whom Jesus addresses here.  We are those who are in need of a Helper/Advocate.  We are those who fear being abandoned by our God. We are those who seek peace and wisdom.  We are those who stand in need of the Spirit always.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The first verses of this text have several curious lines about loving Christ and keeping his word.  This, of course, is the bare bones call to obedience:  love Jesus and obey him.  But in this little section Jesus seems to say that the Father will only love those who love him and keep his word, a far cry from Jesus' proclamation that the Father loves "the world." (John 3:16)  Then there is the business about "the word you hear" does not belong to Jesus , but "is from the Father who sent [Jesus]."  It is unclear how our behavior effects the source of the word from God.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet  is suggested by this text?  The gifts that the Spirit brings suggest a number of couplets:  abandoned/provided for; defenseless/having an advocate; helpless/having a helper; troubled/at peace.

6.  Exegetical Work:  A concordance is sometimes a great source of insight, especially in a text like this.  As an example, the texts which speak of "spiritual peace" are as follows:  Psa 4:8  "I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety."  Isa 26:3  "Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace - in peace because they trust in you."  Rom 5:1-2a  "Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand."  Eph 2:13-14 "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us."  Phi 4:7  "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."  There are certainly other texts as well, but these are some of the key ones.  They all highlight the key role the Spirit of Christ plays in our peace.

7.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic?  Henry Mitchell always urged the preacher to be the first one to experience the ecstasy of the gospel word.  He advocated an unabashed celebration of God's gifts on a regular basis.  This Sunday, with its announcement of the multiple gifts of the Spirit, might be an excellent opportunity to celebrate with gusto.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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