The Comfort of the Advocate

Posted on 26 May 2020

The Comfort of the Advocate

(“The Good Voice Speaking Truth”)


Around 10 or 11 years ago, I was a seminary intern at First Presbyterian Church of Bartlesville, OK. I’d finished my seminary coursework and I’d moved to Oklahoma to a place I didn’t know to intern full time in a church. I functioned like an associate. I was thrown into the deep end. I was allowed to fail, get back up, and try again. I was nurtured and supported. I learned to be a pastor. My internship was so very thorough. I spent time in each area of the life of the church and I remember well a particular foray into youth ministry. I was set to lead a bible study for our small group of high school and maybe also middle school youth. For some inexplicable reason, on my first outing teaching teenagers, I decided to teach on the Holy Spirit. I shake my head to think of it now. Really, Alex? The most mysterious person of the trinity? Not God, the creator, or Jesus, the redeemer, but the Holy Spirit? What perhaps may be the hardest to grasp? Good plan. It didn’t go particularly well. I distinctly remember a lot of blank faces. 

You can safely chalk some of that up to inexperience and nervousness. The rest was simply the challenge of teaching on the Holy Spirit, the most mysterious person of the trinity. I didn’t rock anyone’s theological world that day, I’m certain. I hope I made them think a little more about the presence of the Spirit in their lives. We see a wide variety of images for the Spirit in scripture. Tongues of fire, a gentle breeze, a dove, a companion, a feeling of peace, safety, and comfort that we can’t quite explain, and on and on. In John 14 we are introduced to the idea of the Spirit of God as our advocate. Let’s see what John has to say:

{Read John 14:15-21

I don’t know about you but I find great comfort in these words. Our current situation has influenced all of my reading of scripture and I see the Word come alive each and every time I open my bible. We can use some words of comfort now, I think. A reminder that we are not alone. God has not abandoned us and will not abandon us even when the landscape of the world is hard to recognize and all that we thought we knew has been called into question. Things we knew to be safe (gathering, singing, even with distance even with masks) are no longer safe and it’s disorienting. It’s anxiety inducing and our hearts are likely very troubled. What does the future hold? We don’t know and that uncertainty weighs heavily on our hearts. So, these reminders of presence are reassuring. I will not leave you, says the Lord. You are not alone, says the Lord. You’re not orphans, says the Lord. I am with you. 

What we are promised specifically in these words of Jesus is the spirit, here called the advocate, paraclete in Greek. An advocate is one who speaks in support of another; one who stands with another; one who intercedes on behalf of another. How many of you long for an advocate? One who sees you and knows you, one who stands with and for you, one who speaks in support of you. My guess is we all long for an advocate. We all long for someone to speak in support of us, to stand with us, to intercede for us. In these extraordinary, upside down days, we need reminders that we’re not alone even when we feel alone. We need reminders that God is, indeed, with us. Here in John, Jesus was preparing the disciples for a time when he would no longer be physically present with them. They wouldn’t be able to lay eyes on him and he wanted them to know that even when that day came that he had not abandoned them and left them to fend for themselves. “The Advocate is coming, Jesus said. You’re not alone, not now, not ever. I promise.” 

Do you ever run out of words when you pray? I’ve seen an image recently of one of those message boards with letters that you place on it. This one says “Dear Jesus” then there’s a jumble of letters all stacked up and scattered followed by “Amen.” Have your prayers ever felt like that? Mine have. I run out of words sometimes or I simply can’t put my words together in any way that makes sense. Sometimes all I can do is cry. Scripture tells us that it’s in those moments that the Spirit intercedes for us. The advocate speaks on our behalf. Romans 8:26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” When all I can do is cry or all I can do is groan and mumble, the Spirit steps in, comes alongside and prays on my behalf making sense of the jumble in my mind and heart. When I can’t quite put my words together and everything feels mixed up, the Spirit steps in and prays for me. Advocates for me. Articulates for me.  

The Holy Spirit is, indeed, the most mysterious person in the trinity. We have some idea about God the divine parent, the creator and we have some idea about God the son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. The spirit, though, can be hard to grasp. Do you recognize the spirit when she intercedes for you, stands with you, speaks encouragement to you? Do you hear the spirit of God in music or in the wind? Does the Spirit come to you in your dreams or in the reassurance of a friend? Where does the Spirit of God show up for you? What reminders do you receive that assure you of your worth, value, belovedness before God? 

A couple of weeks ago, I let our dogs out into the backyard as usual. They took off for the back fence, as usual, and as I turned back onto the porch to grab something, they took a hard turn toward the side fence. I heard hissing and growling and snapping. I went running out the door. Our dogs had caught a cat and were in an active throw down with this cat. I yelled their names and for them to stop as I ran to where they were. Keenan heard the commotion and came running, too. We managed to pull the dogs off the cat and he escaped over the fence. As Keenan hauled the dogs inside, I stood there in the yard trying to catch my breath. I’ll go ahead and let you know that no one came away unscathed but all the animals are fine. As I stood there in the yard, our neighbor opened her window, leaned out and said “You did great. I saw the whole thing. That was scary and you did great.” I didn’t know she’d seen what happened. I didn’t know she was there sitting near the window. It was an odd Holy Spirit moment for me. 

I hear her voice in my head now. “You did great.” I hear it in all kinds of circumstances not about pulling our dogs off of a cat. Especially in this unusual time it’s an assurance of presence and encouragement and support. It’s the voice I want us all to hear. You did great. You’re doing great. You got out of bed today or you stayed in bed knowing you needed it. You took care of yourself, your kids, your parents, your partner, your pets. You worked from home or went to work. You took deep breaths and made it through the day. You did great. I see you. I know you. You’re not alone. We’re all doing hard things and hard things are certainly worth doing. We’re looking to the well-being of others even though it may be an inconvenience for us. We’re taking on responsibilities that have never before been ours to take. We’re sacrificing face-to-face time with our families and friends. We are forgoing many of our typical ways of coping. We’re no longer able to hang our hopes on future plans. These are hard things. 

It’s a scary time and the world continues to turn. It’s a scary time and we move forward. It’s a scary time and one that will change us. I’m hoping we won’t go back to the way things were. I’m hoping we won’t go back to disconnection and disinterest and emotional distance. I hope that we’ll maintain intentional connection, ask intentional questions, and be emotionally available. I hope that we’ll continue to find creative ways to celebrate one another, to rejoice together, and to weep together. I hope that we’ll continue to look outside of ourselves for the sake of others. I hope that we’ll grow accustomed to noticing the hurting places of this world and those disproportionately affected by global crisis. I hope that we’ll be visible signs of God’s presence for one another leaning out of our windows with words of affirmation and encouragement. 

It is the Spirit of God who transforms us; changing us into the new creation that God intends for us to be. It is the Spirit of God who nudges us to look outside of ourselves and to speak words of comfort to those who are hurting. It is the Spirit of God who gives us courage to stand up and speak out in the face of injustice. It is the Spirit of God who reminds us of what it means to live as a follower of Jesus Christ. It is the Spirit of God who reminds us that we are beloved children of God. 

When you see the flicker of a flame or the breeze move through the trees, when you hear a reassuring voice or experience peace in the midst of chaos, know that the comforter, the advocate, the Spirit is with you. You’re not alone. You did great. You’re doing great.

Rev. Alexandra Rodgers
Assoc. Pastor for Faith Formation and Congregational Care