Inheritors of the Spirit, Doing the Work of the Spirit

May 14, 2023

Sermon 5-14-23
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Text: John 14:15-21
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     Mother’s Day blessings to all of you! We had an encounter with mothering on Wednesday here at the church, just when I should have been writing this sermon. As some of you know, a Mallard duck made her nest in an extremely safe place, a corner of our courtyard, and laid 10 eggs. She had been sitting on the nest for a month, and on Tuesday afternoon all 10 hatched. The ducklings enjoyed their first hours surrounded by the safety of the church.
     But, as we knew would be the case, by Wednesday morning Mama was ready to take those babies to water but needed help to get them out of the courtyard. So, with guidance from member Susan Wiedman who is a naturalist and master duck herder, Dineen Dowling, Em Antal, Nancy Tobar and I blocked off a pathway to the narthex doors and using towels herded the duckling family outside. This sounds easy but was a bit of a challenge since Mama was not thrilled about the invaders in her quiet courtyard, even though she had spent much of the morning at the doors leading into the narthex, as if she knew that was the route of her exodus.
     Once outside, what did she do but head straight for the Catholics! And here I had been claiming her as a Lutheran duck. (Maybe she’s ecumenical!) She rested near the angel statue by their parking lot door, but then set out.
     Our goal was to direct her away from the parking lots, which we did, and we left her nestled in the soccer field with her little ones, who must have been exhausted from all that walking.  But, it turns out, that was not the end of the story. Later, she was spotted at St. Hilary again, but then headed west. Who knows what body of water she had in mind? So, on this Mother’s Day, may God bless the Mama duck and her 10 ducklings who chose us as a sanctuary. May it also be so for others who need a safe place and come to us.
     That duck tale, a story of new life and hope, seems appropriate for this Easter season. In contrast, just as was the case last Sunday when we focused on Stephen, the first martyr, today’s Gospel may not seem to fit. This week it’s not so much the content as the context that seems out of place. That’s because John 14 occurred just before Jesus’ death. The crucifixion and the resurrection have not even happened yet, and Jesus is bidding farewell to his followers knowing that a violent death awaits him.
     The disciples were, no doubt, confused as Jesus had focused on denial, betrayal, death and his departure in his comments to them. They were afraid. It is in that tense atmosphere that Jesus says, “I will not leave you orphaned,” which follows the promise, “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”
     It’s interesting that Jesus uses a specific Greek word in John’s gospel for the Holy Spirit; it’s paracletos. (One commentator noted that whenever he types that Greek word, his spell check changes it to parakeet, which amuses him as he thinks of that brightly colored bird replacing the dove as a representative of the Spirit.)
     Anyway … that word is translated a variety of ways – comforter, helper, counselor and encourager. The closer translation, though, is “the one who comes along side”, the advocate. Dr. David Lose defines this as “the one who pleads your case, who takes your side, who intercedes for you and who stands up for you.” (1) I’m not sure how often we think of the Holy Spirit in those terms; what a difference it might make if we did!
     This is how much Jesus loved his followers; now that he will no longer physically be we with them, another Advocate is coming. Of course, that implies that Jesus was the first Advocate. One commentator points out that for the Holy Spirit to be active while Jesus was on earth would have been redundant. But the Advocate’s arrival upon Jesus’ departure is good news; that’s because when Jesus was on earth his ministry was limited to one locale. But when the Advocate came, his followers were empowered to be revealers of God’s love near and far, and not just them, but all who followed, including us.
      So, in this farewell discourse, along with his comforting words, Jesus described what it meant to follow him after he’s gone. “If you love me,” he says, “you will keep my commandments.” But we ask, what commandments? In John’s Gospel the answer to that question is clear in the passage we always read on Maundy Thursday.
     That night Jesus became a servant to his disciples, washing their feet, then he gave them THE new commandment, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. “(John 13:33-35) The Greek word used here for love is agape and, especially when paired with Jesus as its example, it implies sacrificial, selfless, self-giving love extended unconditionally.
     I’ve read that it is the highest form of Christian love. But how can we possibly love in that way? The answer is clear in today’s text: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” The Advocate gives us the gift of faith and the ability to live out that faith. This “one who comes along side” stands up for, and intercedes for, us when we need help, especially when our faith is shaken, and empowers us to love.
      I like to think of it as a never-ending circle: God, through Jesus, loves us unconditionally and sends us the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. That Spirit empowers us to keep Jesus’ commandment to love others. As we do so, God’s love for us becomes more real, and the presence of Jesus is more profound, so that our faith is strengthened. Then, the cycle begins again.
     As we love, Jesus is made known through us. As Dr. Lose points out, there is, in this broken world, a legion of advocates, empowered by THE Advocate who are helping, comforting, encouraging, counseling and lifting up others. Therefore, even though we live in challenging times, we also live in a times of profound sacrifice, generosity and encouragement. (2) Did you catch that, my friends? We are the advocates, empowered by THE Advocate, to make God’s love known in our hurting world.
      We are not alone as we follow Jesus in this world; that’s Good News. Also, though, those who do not know that they are not alone can come to a new understanding because we are empowered to love them. We are inheritors of the Spirit, doing the work of the Spirit … for God’s people, God’s creation, and yes, even God’s creatures, especially ducks. AMEN
  1. “Easter 6A: Spirit Work” by Dr. David Lose, May 14, 2020,
  2. Same as #1