Rick and I were married 33 years ago this November. If your math is as good as mine, that makes it 1984. We met through YMCA camp, I was the waterfront director and he was a camp counselor. But the point of this is baseball. When Rick and I met and were dating, we went to the Metrodome for Twins baseball. Now, in those days, I rolled my eyes at baseball, boring! And actually fell asleep during baseball games. But I went, because he seemed to enjoy it and I loved him. We got married, and had kids, and brought our kids to the Metrodome for Twins baseball. As long as the kids could walk under the turnstile, they were free, we packed our own hotdogs in our picnic basket, and got to the dome early so we could sit way down in front, or on the third base line to watch batting practice. Before the game began, we'd move up into the nosebleed section into our own seats. I grew to love baseball, our kids love Twins baseball, and we go whenever we can, even to Miller Park! These days, if you see me checking my phone, it’s to get the score of the game. It's crazy what we'll do for love.
In the fifteenth chapter of John, following what we hear today is, "This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you." And what we have from John this week is a follow up to what we heard last week. John reminds us, you know how to do this, love is hard, and you can do hard things. John reminds us that love is about a relationship, love God, love yourself, love others. And in John, Jesus reminds us that we will not be left alone, love is a hard thing after all, and so Jesus gives the Advocate. Advocate is one way to translate the Greek word, Paraclete. Paraclete can function relationally by designating one who brings help, consolation, comfort, and encouragement. All of these meanings however, derive from the most basic meaning of the word to “come along side another.” A colleague was telling me that there was a time when a person who was standing for trial literally stood in the box the entire time. A Paraclete is the one who stands with, the one who holds up, and the Paraclete was the one to come along side to help the person stand throughout the trial, and if needed, to stand in for that person. This is the image that John evokes in this passage, this is the truth of what Jesus does in this passage. Jesus shows us what God's love for God's people looks like, we are not left alone, we are not left to our own devices.
What is hard about love, is that our world has led us to believe that love is about a feeling, that love is the same as romance, or passion, or sex. Love comes and goes. You can fall into and out of love. But that is not this love that God commands, that is not the love that this story shows us. A real love story is a story that shows a relationship that endures, a relationship in which the lovers treat each other well, respectfully, compassionately, lovingly, even when they don't feel like it, even when they don't want to. A real love story is a story in which a father pushes his son's wheel chair for the whole race, so that the son will know what it is like to run. A real love story is when one friend, who is blind, puts his friend who has no legs, on his back and they go about living life together. A real love story is when a couple watches baseball together, because they've grown to love baseball together.
Love is holding another person up, when all we want to do is fall down. Love is holding another person up when it seems impossible to stand another moment. Love is standing there for another person, speaking on behalf of the other, being the voice for the voiceless, love is showing up. And it is hard, so Jesus leaves this Spirit, this Advocate, this Paraclete, with us, we are not left alone.
Love is hard, and you can do hard things. Have you ever known that Spirit, that Advocate, that Paraclete coming along side of you? This Spirit, this Paraclete is hard to identify. But it lives somewhere in the wind and the flame of compassion, of grace, courage, faith, peace, laughter, music, strength, and joy.
Love is hard, and you can do hard things. When is a time when you have wanted to just lie down and quit, or even die, but someone came by your side and held you up? When have you been broken and spent, and someone came by your side and gave you words of encouragement? When have you been ready to throw in the towel, when have you been ready to call it quits, and someone came by your side and said, that's why a baseball game is nine innings. When have you stood by the side of one you love, when doing so may have seemed doomed.
An understanding of Advocate is "to speak on behalf of another." In John, this is a manifestation trinity that is different than the more familiar Spirit, as in wind or fire. We’ll hear more about that manifestation of the Spirit in the coming weeks, when we celebrate the feast of Pentecost. But here, in this part of John, the Advocate will stick up for you, and you will stick up for others. You will bear witness, you speak on behalf of love, you will stand by the side of the other or the beloved, you will hold one another up, because you can do hard things, because God loves you, and because Love wins even if the Twins don't.
What amazing good news this is, especially as we face the challenges of these times. The Advocate has our back and will never give up on us. It feels empowering, like when someone is with you and for you, you can take risks, you can try things you didn’t think you’d try, not because you won’t ever fail, but because failure won’t destroy you when you’ve got this kind of support. You can try, and try again, and try yet again because you have an advocate.
And it’s hard to be generous, brave and compassionate when it seems like so many are not; when we witness people in all aspects of our civic lives, and even our personal lives, use language that is divisive and hurtful. It’s hard to be generous, brave, and compassionate when you feel that no one hears you, or even when you are afraid. Remember though, you can do hard things, because the Advocate stands with you, and even stands for you. You can do hard things, because God’s love wins, and God’s love welcomes all. We can do hard things, because we stand with and for each other, because we are nourished with bread and wine, body and blood. We can do hard things, because we are sent into the world bearing God’s love. Amen.